8 May 2002 | wmorrow59
Charming puppet animation from Wladyslaw Starewicz
You don't have to be a fan of obscure animated shorts to enjoy this film, which tells the familiar tale of the Town Rat and the Country Rat (or mouse, or hamster, or what-have-you) with puppets. This film was made in France in the '20s, and the print I've seen hasn't been translated into English, but it won't matter if your French is rusty, for the title cards are brief and simple. Director Wladyslaw Starewicz was born in Poland, worked in Russia and in Europe over a period of many years, and deserves to be better known, for his films are a real treat.
The Town Rat and the Country Rat kicks off with hectic shots of the urban rat dealing with city traffic, careening through intersections in front of what looks like a rear-projection screen, then leaving Paris for the country, where he promptly smashes his car into a haystack on his cousin's farm. They return to the city together, and the bulk of the film consists of the floor show at a swanky rat nightclub. The star performer is an amusing parody of Josephine Baker, then in her prime. The revelry is interrupted by the arrival of a cat -- a real cat that is, not a puppet -- at which point the country rat, recognizing that city life is too much for him, returns to his farm, where he dreams of his urban adventure.
Like other silent films this one uses title cards to convey dialog and explain the action, but Starewicz also devised a clever method for the rats to warn each other about the approaching cat: when they scream, the animated face of a sinister cat flies from their mouths! Nice idea. My only quibble with this film is that the climax (i.e. the rats' escape from the cat, which clears the nightclub) is followed by a brief but distinctly anticlimactic sequence involving a worm, before the country rat announces his intention to return home. Even so, this is a charming piece of work that ranks with the director's most enjoyable short films.