It looks like the third and final volume of Warner Brothers’s Tom And Jerry theatrical shorts collections will not be as complete as once thought as the label has decided to drop two cartoons — Mouse Cleaning (1948) and Casanova Cat (1951) — from the package due to “inappropriate racial stereotypes.”
In a statement released to TVShowsOnDVD.com, the studio stated “Although [The Tom And Jerry Spotlight Collection, Volume 3] is intended for mature audiences and collectors (not for children), Warner Home Video made the decision to omit these two shorts because, regardless of their historical context and artistic value, the offensiveness of certain scenes containing inappropriate racial stereotypes would diminish the enjoyment of the Collection’s 35 other classic cartoons for a large segment of the audience.”
Mouse Cleaning features an appearance by a character known as Mammy Two-Shoes (seen at right in Mouse Cleaning). A recurring character in the Tom and Jerry series who was een only from the shoulders down, she was a heavy-set black woman whose instructions to Tom often inspire Jerry to mischief. Mammy Two-Shoes’ character was inspired by Hattie McDaniel’s portrayal of Mammy in Gone With The Wind and was voiced by Lillian Randolph. In the mid-1960s, an effort was made to alter many of the cartoons Mammy Two-Shoes appeared in, including Mouse Cleaning, by editing out her appearances and adding new animation of a white woman and/or replacing Randolph’s voice work with that of June Foray’s.
In Mouse Cleaning, Mammy Two-Shoes warns Tom that she has just finished cleaning the house and that he better not dirty things up. Needless to say, Jerry proceeds to try and create as big a mess as he can. The film ends with Jerry arranging for a coal delivery to be dumped into the house’s living room, burying both Tom and Mammy Two-Shoes. Tom’s head emerges from the coal, his face in blackface, and talks to Mammy Two-Shoes in a stereotypical black dialect. Although Mammy’s appearance remained unchanged in this cartoon, her lines were re-recorded to eliminate her racially stereotypical accent. Most copies of the cartoon that have aired on television omit this last scene.
Casanova Cat finds Tom heading to the city to woo a rich and pretty female cat, with Jerry as a gift for her. Although Mammy Two-Legs is not in this cartoon, there is another blackface joke. In this case, Jerry’s face is blackened with cigar smoke by Tom who then forces the mouse to do a minstrel-like dance. This scene has usually been cut from television airings.
I have to admit that I am more than a bit upset and insulted by this course of action from Warners. In their release, the studio clearly states their Tom And Jerry Spotlight Collections have been “intended for mature audiences and collectors (not for children).” Yet they still feel the need to protect us from this material, stating that they did not want to “diminish the enjoyment of [the set’s] other classic cartoons.”
I think Warners is severely underestimating the intelligence of its audience, or at least mine. I think that most adults can watch or read something that has racist overtones in it and can reject those racist notions but still admire the non-racist elements of the work. We’re not even talking about a film like Griffith’s Birth Of A Nation (1915) or Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will, two films that are studied and admired for their technical achievements but not for the themes that permeate the works. These are cartoons, where the offensive, racial joke only adds up to a small fraction of the run time of the shorts.
How difficult would it have been to have the two cartoons mastered on the DVD with both an “original” and “edited” version using seemless branching? I’d hazard not difficult at all. Instead, Warners took the easy way out and decided that it is better to just chuck the two cartoons into the back of the archive and hope that everyone forgets about them in time. This is revisionist history at its worse.
Now I’m no big Tom and Jerry fan. I don’t own any of the previous DVD releases, so I can’t tell you if Warners has used any alternate edits of the cartoons that eliminate the Mammy Two-Shoes character. I do have to wonder though if this is some new policy at Warner Home Video. Will this effect the possibility of other cartoons held by Warners from being released, specifically Warner Brothers own “Censored Eleven” and the handful of other shorts that have been out of circulation for years due to their content? I hope not.
In their original form, these cartoons are important documents showing us where society was in terms of race relations at the time they were made. While the blackface gags in the Tom and Jerry shorts don’t appear to be mean-spirited in anyway, they do illustrate the casual attitude towards such things nearly sixty years ago.
And you can’t tell how far we’ve come if you don’t have some sign posts in your rearview mirror.