Monday, May 27, 2013

DUCKTALES RETROSPECTIVE: Episode 36, "Catch as Cash Can, Part One: A Drain on the Economy"

OK, about this "Catch as Cash Can" business... Not until very recently did I know that the four-part serial that Joe Torcivia and I had originally called "The Firefly Fruit Contest" (catchy, eh?) even had an "official" name.  And to what purpose, might I ask?  The phrase "Catch as Cash Can" doesn't seem to have any relevance whatsoever to the overarching plot of Scrooge and Glomgold having a money-weighing contest.  By contrast, when Carl Barks wrote "The Money Champ," it was plain as day from the get-go what was at stake.  However, I will admit that "Catch as Cash Can" does fit this story in a technical sense.  The MERRIAM-WEBSTER DICTIONARY's list of synonyms for the phrase "catch as catch can" includes such terms as "erratic," "slapdash," and "hit-or-miss," and the firefly-fruit serial definitely qualifies as any or all of these.  Parts one and three are arguably weaker than parts two and four, but all four segments have both "up" and "down" moments, making for a real toboggan ride of a story.

A lot of elements in "Catch" -- character reactions, character conflicts, gags -- seem to be pitched an octave or so higher than they normally should be for a DuckTales epic.  The infamous juxtaposition of Scrooge, a "sea monster," and "ice cream" in "A Whale of a Bad Time" is only the most noteworthy example of this tendency.  Right out of the gate, in "A Drain on the Economy," we get more exaggerated, cartoony gags and situations in 22 minutes than we did in ALL of "Treasure of the Golden Suns."  It almost seems as if writers Jymn Magon, Bruce Talkington, and Mark Zaslove wanted to unburden themselves of all the expected cartoon tropes that they had purposely suppressed in the action-dominated pilot story.  When they tapped Len Uhley, late of "Where No Duck Has Gone Before," to do the teleplay of "Drain," they must have known what they were getting themselves into, but Len really went over the top here, giving us a Scrooge who suffers not one but two near-nervous breakdowns, a veritable plague of Beagle Boys attacking the Money Bin, HD&L sustaining a physical battering in the sewers of Duckburg, and enough leaps of logic to sustain an entire Triple Jump competition.  It's enough to tucker out even the most dedicated of elderly multiquadzillionaires.

It's certainly possible that the creative team consciously borrowed the plot of "The Money Champ" to serve as the serial's throughline.  If they did so, then they missed a golden opportunity to shore up some of the Barks tale's questionable logistics.  In fact, as GeoX correctly pointed out in his reply to a comment on his review of the episode, "Drain"'s money-matching match actually makes LESS sense than did Barks' version of the same scenario.  Barks, after all, had Glomgold propose that Flinty and Scrooge convert all their holdings to silver dollars in order for there to be a "like vs. like" comparison:

Needless to say, with Scrooge and Flinty both in charge of global business empires, neither could ever pin down exactly how much he was worth at any given time.  But even Barks' modest attempt at applying some logic to the situation is missing in the DuckTales version.  Instead, the Grand Kishki of Macaroon simply asks the Ducks to "weigh [their] money" -- no conditions whatsoever.  What if Scrooge brought coins and bills to the weigh-in, while Glomgold brought gold bars?  Scrooge might still have more actual wealth, but Flinty might win the contest anyway.  (As it happens, Flinty ultimately does try to use metal bars of a different sort to cheat his way to victory.)

Early in "Drain," we are constantly reminded of the importance of Scrooge bringing "every penny" of the money in his Bin to Macaroon.  HD&L, in particular, seem to be tasked with verbally hammering this point home to the audience.  Oddly, this doesn't seem to be an issue in "The Money Champ"; the boys' sole concern during the money-transport process is that the trucks carrying Flinty's wealth are larger, roll faster, and have louder horns.  "Drain" is slightly more realistic, I suppose, in showing just how difficult it actually would BE to move all of one's wealth to a remote location, especially if one of the competitors is trying to actively sabotage the other (as opposed to getting an early jump, as a "thinly disguised" Glomgold did when he messed up some of Scrooge's business ventures in Barks' story).  Given Scrooge's headlined need to keep his fortune "all present and accounted for" (and with no Fenton Crackshell around to help!), it's hard not to notice just how damn near impossible it would be for Scrooge to do so as his money drains out of the Bin, goes into the sewers, is strewn hither and thither, etc.  With the Bin's floor having been cracked by the explosion of "Bertha," I even found myself wondering where Scrooge stored his money after he got it out of the penthouse and before he unleashed his "ice cream gambit" at the start of "A Whale of a Bad Time."  That's what happens when you leave too many holes in your plot and give the viewers the freedom to fill them in as they see fit.

The alliance between Glomgold and the Beagle Boys (which will be resumed in "Working for Scales") is a precursor of a number of similar cooperative ventures to come, especially in the second and third seasons.  Interestingly, Big Time doesn't show the same initial hostility to the idea here that he did when Magica asked for the B-Boys' help in "Send in the Clones." Once the ice is broken, however, the Beagles become "thugs for hire" to an extent they rarely were in the comics.

Given the Beagles' later success in commandeering/stealing the Money Bin in the "Time is Money" and "Super DuckTales" serials, the "ultimate Beagle Boy raid" that dominates the latter part of Act One might be considered a case of severe overkill.  Of course, the Beagles used a frontal assault here, rather than chicanery, and any Barks fan will tell you that those seemingly silly signs posted on Killmotor Hill are there for a reason.  The armor-suited Big Time's appeal to standard Toon operating procedure -- producing an oversized can opener from OUT OF NOWHERE to carve open the vault door -- isn't nearly enough to counteract the hailstorm of Warners-style pratfalls that rain upon the heads of his brothers, cousins, and such.  Though some of the gags push the bounds of believability (for the quasi-realistic realm of DuckTales, that is), this is one instance in which the somewhat more exaggerated approach of "Catch as Cash Can" actually matches what we might expect (hope?) to "really" happen if the Beagles were to train all their forces on Scrooge's property.

Greg questioned the presence of a tank in the Money Bin.  Frankly, I'd have been surprised if Scrooge hadn't had some kind of last-ditch defensive device stashed away in a corner somewhere, just as he had a Boer War cannon primed to fire in the 1951 Barks story that introduced the Beagle Boys.  The later presence of "Bertha" is more problematic, given that HD&L, at the very least, would have had to have seen the giant gun brought from Scrooge's "warehouse" and assembled on the premises, and thus their "surprise" at its sudden presence rang false.  The only reason that I can think of for the ordnance overkill is to make the ensuing "shell mishap" that cracks open the Bin a bit more "visually dramatic."  Not that Barks' original depiction of the exact same scene was anything to scoff at, but it's easier to imagine a huge gun like "Bertha" causing such massive damage.  (BTW, I don't recall this scene being cut in the aftermath of 9/11.  Given that it would have been near-impossible to have explained the explosion of "Bertha" without showing the shell's progress, WDTVA would probably have had to deep-six the entire episode, an unlikely occurrence in a multi-part story.)

The "Bertha blast" is one of the first examples of a "grafting" of an incident or a device from a Barks story into an unrelated TV story line.  "Time and Money" and "Super DuckTales" would later take this notion and run (if not sprint headlong) with it.  Seeing as how the essential backstories of the two scenes are basically the same, the selective swiping works quite well here.  Scrooge's comparative demeanor during the two scenes, on the other hand...

I have to say, I have always found Scrooge's quick descent into a crazed state in "Drain" to be highly questionable.  Of course, I'm looking at matters from the perspective of a Duck comics reader; a viewer who had had little exposure to Scrooge outside of the TV series wouldn't have been as likely to have picked up on the oddity of this transformation.  But even in 1987, at a time when I hadn't read most of Barks' stories, something about Scrooge's "nutsoid" fit rubbed me the wrong way.  It just didn't seem a likely thing for the Scrooge I knew at that time to do.  I had somewhat less of a problem with Scrooge's penthouse panic attack near the end of the episode, because at that point, Scrooge really had been through the wringer (an apt metaphor, given the importance of water in the sewer scenes), and he was probably far more tired and stressed out than he had been when he was drooling over "Bertha."  The "sea monster"/"ice cream" fit likewise didn't bother me as much because it was so ridiculously over the top that it possessed more "camp" than shock value.  But if just one big Beagle threat was enough to tip Scrooge over the mental edge, then why hadn't it ever happened before?  Scrooge's reactions here aren't even internally consistent when it comes to DuckTales itself; just look at the passive manner in which Scrooge reacted to the Beagles zapping his fortune away in "The Money Vanishes."  

The "A Christmas for Shacktown" scenario of Scrooge's money caving in the Bin floor and falling "down, down" into a pit over a swamp of quicksand was positively... well, believable compared to what happens to the money after "Bertha"'s big blowup creates the floor fissure.  Due to the nature of the disaster caused by Scrooge's addition of that "one coin too many" to the Bin in "Shacktown," it was easy to keep track of where "every penny" of Scrooge's fortune was ; the fortune's physical form (coins vs. bills vs. gold bars, etc.) made no difference.  When Scrooge's money falls into the sewers, logic would seem to dictate that the bags full of greenbacks would float away, while the coins and similar heavy objects would sink to the bottom.  (Indeed, the latter is exactly what Scrooge, Flinty, and HD&L assumed was the fate of the ship's treasure in "Wrongway in Ronguay.")  Instead, the physical rule followed by the laundered loot here seems to be, "whatever makes for a good visual."  Thus, for instance, there's no logical contradiction between money bags and piles of golden coins being piled up in various locations, despite the fact that it's easier to imagine the bags (if they're filled with banknotes, anyway) amassing in a pile.  It's a short step from here to the risible scene of ice makers and ovens spitting out cash in the penthouse.

For Scrooge's sake, I hope that the utility companies in Duckburg are as forgiving as they presumably must be in St. Canard.  After playing havoc with electricity in "Robot Robbers" and "Magica's Shadow War," Scrooge (with the assistance of the Beagle Boys) causes a water pumping station to blow up here, inadvertently mauling HD&L in the process.  (Lucky for the boys that their trip through the pipes was taken in accompaniment with only a dozen or so moneybags; otherwise the weight of Scrooge's fortune would have crushed and/or asphyxiated them.)  Add payment for the damages to the station and the penthouse to the bills for buying the penthouse and fixing the Money Bin's floor, and it's a wonder that Scrooge didn't quit the contest by episode's end.

"Drain" hasn't aged that well.  The Beagle raid, for all its goofiness, is admittedly amusing, but the balance of the rest of the episode is either overexaggerated to little purpose or reflective of various misunderstandings of what makes the main characters drip, er, tick.  Happily, the framework on which the "silly skin" will be stretched in part two will be much stronger, and the firefly-fruit narrative will get back on track.  Only for a while, though.  In this serial, momentary impressions typically prove to be as ephemeral as water flowing off a duck's back.   





(GeoX) The central plot is painfully contrived: there's an India-ish country called "Macaroon" that has a magic kind of fruit that can provide illumination to replace lightbulbs and whatnot. But, according to the country's risibly accented ruler, "the only person qualified to market our fruit is the richest man in the world," which is about as flawed as premises get. But alas, it turns out that Scrooge and Glomgold are, as far as anyone can tell, equally rich, so the only way to tell which of them is "the only person qualified" is to lug all that cash down and weigh it. 'Cause it stands to reason that the one who has .001 milligrams more money is going to be qualified, whereas the other one would fatally botch the operation, right? Of course.

Actually, the charming naivete reflected in the Grand Kishki's assumption here matches up quite well with the attitude he'll display at greater length in "Working for Scales."  Risible it may be, but at least it's consistent

(GeoX)  In the sewers, the kids are easily scared away by Beagle Boys in a really fake-looking alligator suit. Just an example of poor characterization; the Junior Woodchucks I know would never be fooled so easily.

Agreed.  At least they balance out the moment of weakness by building a raft on short notice using a penknife and the Guidebook.

(GeoX) "Boy, the Department of Water and Power's gonna hear from me!" "Yeah! First fluoridation, now alligators!" Um…what? I know it's at least meant to be joke-y, but I feel about the same about this as I would if the show just casually stuck in a reference to the fakeness of the moon landings. 

Strangely enough, this joke is arguably less dated NOW than it was in 1987, given the current anti-vaccination movement.  I wonder why HD&L would be so concerned about fluoridation in the first place, given that they don't have teeth.  (At least, most of the time.  I remember the German "Donaldist" who crafted an elaborate theory as to where the Ducks' occasionally-seen teeth were "stored" when not in use.  Among his arguments was the contention that the Ducks could only develop tooth decay if they ate sweets while they were "angry or stressed," since that was the only time that their teeth would be visible.)

(Greg)  So we logically go to a look out tower in a prison as three dogsperson guards in brown security uniforms are guarding with billy clubs and the binoculars. We pan south east as Bouncer Beagle (Chuck McCann) is telling Bigtime that they need to get out of jail again as we see the Beagle Boys...  walking around in a circle as Bigtime blows Bouncer off because they are watching them like buzzards. Geez; I wonder why.

Stop the presses!  The Duckburg police department finally shows some intelligence by keeping a special eye on the B-Boys.  The extra vigilance doesn't prevent the Beagles from escaping, but, hey, you have to start somewhere.

(Greg)  So we head to a red fox (!!!) wearing a red suit with a pencil in his blue cap throwing a ball and jacks on the desk. Then he hears a weird bong and in through the door runs Scrooge demanding to know if this is the department of water. The fox blows him off as this is an oak counter top and asks how he might serve him. Scrooge wants the blueprints to the water systems or he's ruined. You know; telling someone they might be ruined isn't a good way to get something Scrooge McDuck. You sound like your panicking as the fox asks if he's kidding and Scrooge blows him off because he never kids about MONEY, MONEY, YEAH, YEAH. The fox gets upset over Scrooge's treatment of him as he has another set of blueprints as Scrooge demands answers on that while holding the fox's ears. The fox (Frank Welker) tells him some guys were in there asking for the same thing. Scrooge asks if they look weird and the fox answers that he did notice that they were wearing black masks which brings out the LIGHTBULB OF BLOODY CLARITY from Scrooge. Scrooge takes the blueprints and storms out as the fox drops on his ass with a wussy bump welcoming him despite getting no thank you from Scrooge. How nice of him....

This scene works rather well, starting with the Barksian bit of the bored fox playing jacks (wouldn't YOU find your work tedious if YOU worked for the Department of Water and Power?).  It could just as easily have been a throwaway bit to help Scrooge get from Point A to Point B, but I appreciated the attempt to inject humor into the situation.  The use of a fox as a one-shot character is also intriguing, and rare for the Duck "universe"; in the later "Down and Out in Duckburg," of course, Fritter O'Way (nee Chisel McSue) will simply be carried over from the Barks original.

Next: Episode 37, "Catch as Cash Can, Part Two: A Whale of a Bad Time."


Joe Torcivia said...

The Big Bad Beagle Raid, as “toon-y” as it may seem, was one of the highlights for me -- especially the “Bullseye” gag. Alas, poor Bullseye… We didn’t know him from slop, but he gave his life (such as it was) for a good combination physical / verbal gag.

Barks had the B-Boys “hiring-out” in such tales as “The Status Seeker” and “Isle of Golden Geese”, never mind TWO of the seven PHANTOM BLOT issues, so it wasn’t that far off the mark. Besides, why should only “Hero[es]” be “for Hire”!

Also, Scrooge’s “state” had its precedents in “Tra-Lala”, and several Scarpa stories – like where he went onto the roof and howled at the moon.

Still, nowhere NEAR the level of care used to craft “Golden Suns” was employed here, and the serial suffers for it. If “Barks Bits” were good enough to BORROW, and graft onto often inferior stories, why not just do “The Full Carl-ie” in the first place?

Which brings us to my final observation… Here, the seeds were planted for something I really wanted (and expected) to see, but that never occurred – perhaps because later seasons were more concerned with Bubba and Gizmoduck, than the Gold Standard of Carl Barks.

That being a DuckTales version of one of my favorite Barks tales – “The 24 Carat Moon”! (See my Icon!)

Scrooge, HD&L, and Launchpad subbing for Donald, the Grand Kishki (from this very episode), J.R. Mooing – and Glomgold with his hired Beagle henchmen would compete in the rocket race for the prize.

It would have been wonderful – especially seeing the “planet-genesis” scene animated! And a final fade-out that would make Scrooge look VERY SMALL indeed, against his treasure – that isn’t “as much of a treasure” as the paltry dust he gave up to get it.

Oh, well… We wouldn’t have wanted to be deprived of “Bubba’s Big Brainstorm”, or the horrible ending of “Yuppy-Ducks” for that sort of nonsense, would we?

Daniel J. Neyer said...

Hmmmmm.....I know this is definitely a questionable opinion, but I confess a slight preference for "Catch as Cash Can" OVER "Treasure of the Golden Suns." Suns is unquestionably more dramatic and features more moments of characterization, but Cash is faster-paced (all four episodes move like lightning), almost completely eschews sentimentality ("Cold Duck" in Suns is good, but always makes me a little queasy in spots) and contains lots of great humorous scenes that recall Barks' funniest stories. The setup is contrived, definitely, but as you point out, the naive Kishki is so well-characterized that his extremely literal-minded insistence on the money weigh-in seems plausible, coming from him.

I will allow that the physics in Drain on the Economy are questionable at times, but I disagree that the characterization of Scrooge is off; Rosa may depict old McDuck as hard-bitten in the face of calamity, but (as Joe points out) Barks had him frequently melting down in times of stress, particularly in earlier stories. In "Only a Poor Old Man," for example, Scrooge completely collapses in the face of a Beagle onslaught much less aggressive than the one in Drain (admittedly, the moths and rats contribute to the collapse, but still...). Barks' "Hawaiian Hideaway" also has Scrooge first deteriorating into a blind panic over the unlikely possibility of his crew being "FIENDS for spinach!" and then going to pieces when thrown in the brig by the Beagles; the nephews literally have to sit on him. Scrooge may be tougher than the toughies and smarter than the smarties, but in Barks' stories he's also a duck of very extreme moods--one of the reasons I like the Cash four-parter so much is that it shows more of this manic side of Scrooge than many other Ducktales episodes, which usually feature a more grounded duck.

I also can't object too much to the nephews' being fooled by the alligator charade; they're Junior Woodchucks, but they're also just kids, and Barks and even Rosa supply plenty of examples of their nature lore being less than infallible (falling for Donald's giant bird tracks in one of Barks' New Year's Resolution stories, being fooled by Donald's array of "mythological" beasts in that Rosa ten-pager).

While I think the episode actually hangs together pretty well, I agree that the Beagle raid is the highlight--I particularly enjoy it for the fleeting appearance of so many classic Barks-like "clone" Beagles; what Greg calls Scrooge's "Clint Eastwood promo" is pretty funny too.

I'm looking forward to your next Cash entries; judging by some hints in this piece, you don't think too highly of "Aqua Ducks;" I'll have some more arguments to offer in favor of that one when we get to it.

Oh, and by the way, I like Joe's idea of a Ducktales 24-Carat Moon; it's always bugged me that while the second season featured several good usages of Barks' stories (Tralla La in particular was a lot more faithful than most first-season adaptations) they simultaneously got further and further from the comics with their adoption of a sitcom-style tone.

Comicbookrehab said...

had that epsiode been made today, the fox would have been playing some variant of "words with Friends", perhaps with hidden Mickey-head shapes. :)

Having just seen footage of an infant rescued from a toilet pipeline in China, I find that the nephews were AWFULLY lucky to travel through pipes that were more comfortable! And with bags of cold,hard cash that could have crushed them like eggshells!

This was the only multi-part storyline that wasn't edited into a feature length primetime special - was it initially intended to be braodcast that way when they conceived it? It ws only around that time that reruns of cartoon series began to appear more or less in the order they first appeared. In fact, it wasn't until the very end that they tried a 2-part episode!

Chris Barat said...


"The Big Bad Beagle Raid, as “toon-y” as it may seem, was one of the highlights for me -- especially the “Bullseye” gag. Alas, poor Bullseye… We didn’t know him from slop, but he gave his life (such as it was) for a good combination physical / verbal gag."

Yep, at least Bouncer recovered from being flattened and went on to many more appearances.

"Scrooge’s “state” had its precedents in “Tra-Lala”, and several Scarpa stories..."

This is correct, yet somehow I find his breakdown in "Drain" to be more questionable. The "Tralla La" chipmunk routine was brought on by multiple pressures, whereas the breakdown in "Drain" followed a more regular occurrence, namely, a Beagle Boy raid. What if the Beagles had attacked like the zombies in the trailers for WORLD WAR Z? Would Scrooge have gone completely insane?


Chris Barat said...


I suppose that I simply prefer the more self-possessed Scrooge. I should note that at the time I first saw "Catch as Cash Can," I hadn't READ a number of the Barks SCROOGE stories, and the ones I'd seen hadn't featured Scrooge breaking down. Thus, I was taken a bit aback by Scrooge's behavior here, and I guess that the hangover has lingered a bit. So much so that I didn't mention other examples of him losing his temper and such from the comics.

Joe and I have talked about a DUCKTALES version of "24-Carat Moon" for years. I don't know, however, whether WDTVA would have had the guts to go with such an atypical, low-key ending. It'd be hard to fade out on laughter if Barks' ending were used!


Chris Barat said...


I believe that "Catch as Cash Can" was always intended to be strictly a four-part strip serial. Magon, Zaslove, and Talkington may have started writing it as a shorter tale (perhaps inspired by "The Money Champ") and then realized somewhere along the way that the canvas needed to be broadened in order to do the story justice. What drove me crazy during the first few cycles of reruns was that the episodes were run out of order at times! Same with the five-part version of "Golden Suns."