Fritz the Cat (1972)

Oh man… This one is long overdue.

Welcome to this week’s new B-Movie Enema review. If you’re roughly my age (46) and frequented cable TV and video stores in the 80s and 90s, there were a few titles that almost seemed mythical in their reputation. These are your Faces of Death movies or Heavy Metal or Flesh Gordon or Wizards or maybe even something like a movie that had a tad more mainstream acceptance like Watership Down. These were movies that were full of wonder in the fact that they were either seemingly explicitly adult or were gory or, as is the case with Wizards, Heavy Metal, and Watership Down, were animated movies that were either not for kids or featured some pretty extreme stuff that would scar kids.

Then, there was Fritz the Cat.

Fritz the Cat was a comic strip that began in 1965 written and drawn by Robert Crumb. However, Fritz appeared as early as 1959 in a homemade comic by Crumb called “Cat Life” before making subsequent appearances in other strips prior to getting his own series. The series would get bounced around a few magazines, but would ultimately become one of THE most prominent adult comic characters of all time. Robert Crumb, who was often known professionally as R. Crumb, is a fairly interesting person. In fact, I could probably do an entire article on him, but if you really want to know him and his surrounding family and where he came from, I would definitely check out the 1995 documentary Crumb which has been made available through the Criterion Collection.

The Fritz the Cat strip came to a close only about five months after the release of this film we’re going to go balls deep on momentarily. However, despite that, the character is still hugely influential to other indie and underground comic creators. If you are of a certain age or have a fairly deep interest in independent comic books, then you likely at least know who R. Crumb is. If you’ve never heard of Fritz the Cat, or of Robert Crumb, I suspect you’ve seen something of his creation and not even know it was him. May I turn your attention to what’s perhaps his most recognizable piece of art that is not Fritz the Cat – Keep on Truckin’…

That was the first panel and title of a one-page strip that was a visualization of lyrics to a song called “Truckin’ My Blues Away” by Blind Boy Fuller. It was published in 1968 and became kind of an iconic image of the hippie era. It’s actually lasted to this day thanks to unauthorized use on t-shirts and bumper stickers and posters and so forth. I have always felt that Crumb’s style reminded me of some of the various characters that populated the Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons of the 30s and 40s.

Crumb, because of the subject matter of his comic strips, had to deal with a considerable amount of criticism in his career. A large number of that comes around the graphic sexual themes and how women in his strips were often abused. A lot of this was an extension of Crumb’s own struggles with insecurity and hostilities toward women. He admits it himself. His work has been looked at as self-indulgent fantasies by the feminist writer Deirdre English. He’s taken heat from female colleagues who refer to Crumb as a sexist pig for what he displays in his artwork. Crumb is, without a doubt, along with several other underground artists of the time, an extremely complicated guy.

As I said, I could go on for a long time about Crumb and his various contributions to sequential and visual art. There is one more thing I do want to bring up. In 2017, Crumb’s original art cover for the cover of his 1969 collected book featuring the Fritz the Cat strips published up to that time went up for action. It sold for a whopping $717,000. That was a record at that point for any original piece of original cartoon or comic art. So, yeah… He’s kind of that big of a deal in the medium.

Now, to bring the focus back to this 1972 adaptation, this is the debut film for Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi is best known for his work on films like this one, Wizards, The Lord of the Rings (the 1978 animated one), and American Pop, though he did try his hand at a mix of animation and live action a la Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with the 1992 stinker Cool World. Bakshi is well regarded as an adult animation filmmaker. Previous to making Fritz the Cat, he did work on shows like Mighty Mouse and Deputy Dawg and served as an executive producer on the late 60s Spider-Man cartoon series. He also created some series too like Hector Heathcote, The Mighty Heroes, and eventually brought Mighty Mouse back for the 80s.

Bakshi was swept up by the Fritz the Cat strip when he stumbled across the collected edition from 1969 (the one whose original cover art was sold for over $700k). He immediately saw this as a potential film. Bakshi shopped the idea around until, finally, Warner Brothers came along and agreed to fund the film and released it. However, when Bakshi and his producer, Steve Krantz, showed Warner what they had completed and what some of their animatics were for later scenes, the executives nearly shit their pants. I’m not kidding. There was shit nearly coming out of their butts into their pants. Warner demanded the sexual content be softened or removed, but when it wasn’t, they pulled their money and in came Cinemation Industries to come through with the funds to complete the film. Fritz the Cat was released on April 12, 1972 and was the first X-rated animated film in history. It also made $90 million against a reported $700,000 budget, making it one of the most successful independent animated films to date.

It also led to copycats (no pun intended). For more about its most famous copycat, go to the B-Movie Enema: The Series episode for Down and Dirty Duck to hear more about that.

The movie opens in the 1960s – “Heavy Times, Happy Times.” We hear a trio of anthropomorphized blue collar construction worker animals talking about life during their lunch break. In particular, we hear about how the pig gentleman tried to raise his daughter right to go off to college and get an education and career before getting knocked up, but she came home on break to say she’s livin’ with some guy. As he tells the dog that, the hippo stands up on the beam, whips his dick out, and takes a credits-long whiz off the beam and unloads on the street below.

That should pretty much tell you what you have in store for you. Animal people, doing regular people things, and pissing off high rises onto the people below. If that’s not enough, we get the Fritz the Cat theme song as it then shifts from those fellas on the construction site. The very first line says, “Hey you fuckin’ intellectuals. You think you’re so where it’s at?” But don’t worry! Fritz the Cat is here to help you learn what life’s all about.

However, ol’ Fritz here is frustrated at how crowded the park is with other musicians like himself and his buddies. Apparently Fritz was late to meet his rabbit and dog pal to busk and make a name for themselves. They try to correct course when some good lookin’ tail walk by. They play their guitars feverishly, and actually play them to literal pieces trying to impress them, but the girls saunter by to go talk to a crow standing in the park minding his own business.

This is something about this movie that would likely make a lot of people uncomfortable today. The crow is meant to represent someone of the black community. In fact, all you see of him is his green coat, his yellow hat, and his shades. Okay, fine, whatever, color of an animal will help diversify what race the characters are if that’s all part of the story, right? Well, what the girls do is kind of funny – and this is where, five minutes into the movie, younger audiences might bounce. They are obviously white girls. They are likely college educated or, at the very least, trying to ingratiate themselves into intersectionality of feminism and the freshly minted civil rights stuff that was happening at the time. So they are bombarding the crow with questions and commentary about how he feels about how certain words are used or what a particular black author said about what or how Freud didn’t write for black folks or why does James Earl Jones always have to be pigeon-holed into playing black characters and so forth.

So, Fritz is a bit annoyed by this. The girls are overlooking everyone else and going straight to the black guy in the park. It’s not that he’s so much mad that these chicks are apparently race/species mixing. It’s that they are going out of their way to try to impress the crow while saying some pretty stupid things to a stranger who was minding his own business. Eventually, the crow reveals himself to not just be uninterested in this trio of chicks but that he’s gay.

Fritz gets a kick out of the conclusion to this conversation and comes up with an idea. He decides to fake being a tortured soul. As he begins to walk away moaning and groaning about how tortured he is, the girls follow. He claims he’s lived a great life full of sex and spiritual discovery, but he still cannot seem to find the ultimate truth and that’s what’s torturing him. When one of the girls says he’s handsome, he’s got his in.

He invites this girl to a party where he hopes they will find the truth about… whatever. The other two girls decide they need to get in on this spiritual discovery. In fact, they think he’s going to be saving their friend’s soul, so they really think it’s not fair that they are being left out. Thinking it over, Fritz realizes he’s never played the kink of being a born-bad religious zealot, but he’s game.

He gets to his buddy’s party where everyone is stoned out of their minds and hanging out. Fritz comes in with his three dates and asks for an unoccupied room. He’s told no one is in the john so they go in there where they get undressed in the tub to have an orgy. Fritz immediately takes a liking to the red-headed fox (for real, she’s a fox), Winston. When the other girls think they should take off, Fritz repositions them so they can join in on the fun too. Soon, a couple other friends at the party come in and bring their pot. They ain’t so sure about Fritz bogarting all the orgy for himself, so they join in. Soon, everyone in the party is now in the bathroom getting high and fucking’ in the bathtub and Fritz is no longer finding any of that “truth” he had earlier.

Now, while all that is going down, there’s been a report about a loud party going on, and a couple cops, portrayed as pigs (because cops are pigs, ya dig?), are there to check it out. They get outside the door where one suggests to the other that the deeper voiced pig bang on the door and say, “Open the fuckin’ door!” and be sure to use the word fuckin’ because that makes him sound tougher. They eventually beat the door down only to discover that the entire party has moved to the bathroom where everyone’s high and balling like animals.

Just as Fritz gets high, the pigs start banging on the door. Thinking quick, Fritz hides in the toilet just before the pigs knock the door open. One of the participants of the orgy stands up in the tub and pisses on the pig while one of the girls from earlier, naked, leaps into the other pig’s arms and distracts him with her giant tits. Fritz comes out of the toilet and nabs the pig’s gun in the bathroom and shoots the toilet, flooding the apartment and washing everyone out of the apartment.

The pigs chase Fritz. He tries to find shelter in a synagogue down the street from his friend’s apartment. Fritz hides in the ladies’ room. The pigs come in and aren’t able to find Fritz at first, but the non-Jewish pig’s loud talking keeps disrupting the services. Fritz is just about to be found, but he’s able to get out when a radio announces that the President has decided to send more military aid to Israel. The attendees at the service go into a raucous celebration allowing Fritz to slip out without the pigs able to follow.

Fritz gets back to his dorm room at NYU. His roommates are too busy studying to even acknowledge him. Fritz is frustrated about how his roommates are bores and lame-os with their noses buried in books. Fritz says that going to school sounded so cool at first. Sure, show up and get your head full of all this big-brained intellectual shit. Then, you want to set out and try to out-intellectual all the other bullshit intellectuals out there who took all the same classes you did and read all the same books. It’s not for him, man. He’s a poet and a writer and he wants to get out there and experience life and bang chicks and start a blog about B-movies and come up with the very clever name B-Movie Enema because it rhymes with cinema and be rich and famous…

What was I saying?

Oh yeah. Fritz feels like it’s his duty as a writer and poet to go out and dig the world. He’s going to live every day like it’s his last. So he gathers up all his papers and notes and so forth and lights those bitches on fire. Fritz immediately regrets this as he’ll probably flunk out and his folks will get pissed at him. So, he says he better get a blanket to put out the fire. Well, that would be swell but the blanket is now on fire too. The whole dorm burns down.

Well, his life is turned upside down, but Fritz keeps on truckin’. He goes to Harlem where he meets a new friend, Duke, another crow. Fritz, down on life, tells Duke that he wishes he was a crow too and he’d just fly away from this shitty city they live in and never look back. Duke chastises him and says all cats like him think they know what it’s like being a crow. Fritz says he knows about the race thing. He’s read books about the “race problem”. However, Duke says he doesn’t know anything. He says that Fritz can’t possibly know about the race problem if he’s not a crow. Fritz says he’s tormented by the crisis because his kind has historically always brought problems and misery on the crows. He wants to make amends.

Duke’s been shooting pool while this conversation goes on and hasn’t hit anything. However, when Fritz continues to make his point about his cat guilt, he bumps Duke which causes all the balls to begin bouncing off each other and going into the pockets one after another like a miracle trick shot. Finally pleased he’s made a shot, and a spectacular one at that, Duke tells Fritz he’s going to buy him a drink. Great! Fritz finally has someone to talk life with.

But, like a fucking dumbass, Fritz calls to the bartender and says, “Can I get a drink, boy?”

That goes over about like a lead lifejacket. A fight nearly breaks out, but Duke comes to Fritz’s aid. Fritz and Duke leave the bar and head down the street. Duke spots that some asshole has left his keys in the ignition of a pretty sweet pink convertible. Fritz decides he wants to drive it and they go for a joyride. The drive ends when Fritz runs off a bridge. Duke saves Fritz by grabbing him before he and the car go over the side.

Duke brings Fritz to Big Bertha, a crow who runs a club that was once much more profitable when whites would come down to Harlem more often. After talking with Fritz for a bit, she gives him some of her weed that’s better than any other weed he’s ever had. Not just that, it also increases his libido and he’s particularly horny for Big Bertha. He chases her out of the building and into a junkyard where he chases her and eventually gets naked with her in a bus, but, considering he’s just a cat and she’s used to crows, he just ain’t black enough for Big Bertha.

But don’t feel too bad for Fritz. She still wants to get laid by him. However, Fritz suddenly has an idea. He needs to tell everyone about the Revolution! He goes out into the streets and tries to lead the people in Harlem to revolt. He goes on and on about how the bosses of capitalism have gotten rich off the backs of the crows since the start of the country (I mean, he ain’t wrong).

When the pigs show up to see what all the commotion is, Fritz says they are the ones who keep the bosses in power. Suddenly, the people who were trying to tell Fritz to shut the fuck up are now turning to surround the pigs to get rid of them. This backfires something terrible when the rookie pig, scared of the encroaching crows, pulls his gun and starts shooting. A riot breaks out. Duke tries to get Fritz off the top of the car he was proselytizing on, but gets shot and killed.

The whole animation sequence of Duke dying is actually brilliant. When he’s shot, it’s like a racked set of billiards balls breaking. Then, as he begins to bleed out, each of his final heartbeats are represented by a ball going into a pocket in order until the 15 ball bounces off into a yellow background and shatters the background like glass representing his bloodshot eyes as he dies. This movie has been, up to this point, kind of zany, but generally funny while dancing a fine line about race and what have you. However, this moment is incredibly serious and kind of tugs on you a bit as you watch this affable character dying because our hero has started a riot trying to help the crows of Harlem fight back against the system.

To me, this sequence is telling me that, despite all the good intentions of this type of character, the “white savior” trope, when applied to real issues and scenarios, doesn’t work out the way stories tell you it will. Fritz is trying to help. He’s not consciously trying to cause harm to any of these people in Harlem. He just wants to help them rise up against the injustices of society and the system. First of all, it’s not like these folks need him to tell them what the problem is if he’s never really lived in their shoes. He went to college and got high and became some sort of fuckin’ pseudo-intellectual. That doesn’t give him the insights they have. His commotion brought the pigs. And the combination of what he says and the other unwanted presence of the pigs mix… Well, Fritz got people killed.

These people didn’t need an outsider to come in and tell them what they needed to do to fix a system. If anything, they just needed someone to be their ally as progress came.

Later, Winston (not his fox girlfriend from earlier, I’ll explain in a bit) finds him in an alley. To help him evade any heat he’s picked up over the earlier party and now an entire race riot, Winston convinces him to take a road trip out to San Francisco. There, she figures they can get jobs, find a nice little place to rent out, and they’ll get married and start a family. As they traverse the landscape of America, they see the countryside between the cities littered with factories and oil rigs and all sorts of ugliness. Cities are loaded with lewd and ugly advertisements.

Fritz is enamored with what they are seeing and the experience of their cross country road trip. Winston isn’t so much. She wants to stop and get a bite to eat. Fritz wants to flag down one of the many truckers they are seeing on the road to ask them what it’s like to live on the road like that. Some of that older personality of Fritz’s is returning. He’s finally kind of living up to that whole thing he talked about as he burned down his college dorm (and possibly killed his roommates) about digging life and finding things to be inspired by in the world.

One thing that most anyone watching this movie and paying attention to characters’ names will find weird is the animation model for Winston Schwartz has changed. Originally, she did have more of a dog/fox look to her. She did have red hair. But she had a different haircut. She also had a different style of speech too. You might wonder if this is meant to be something that is a passage of time, perhaps? We don’t know how long it’s been since he met Winston and her friends and they went to that party and had an orgy. She seems a lot different too. She was trying to get laid and party earlier on. Now she’s talking about marriage. It’s possible this is either Winston aging a little bit or she’s just sober or not on the prowl.

Well, I did more digging on this because I started getting really confused and curious about these two seemingly different Winstons, and here’s the deal with that. A red-headed fox named Winston was a recurring character in the comic strips. The film’s script never properly introduced her into the movie, even though the plan was always for her to show up to get Fritz out of New York and go to the west coast with her. So, with there being a red-headed dog at the beginning with the other two dogs as seen above, it was decided to drop in the name Winston there. Yet, it’s very clearly two different characters. Sure enough… there are TWO Winstons in this movie. The younger, more up Fritz’s alley of wanting to get laid and get high, and the older, more mature version that is his actual girlfriend… up until he abandons her later in this movie.

Mystery solved, but it is a bit of a sloppy fix to the script issue not really introducing her properly.

Meanwhile, Fritz does seem to be more pleasant than we’ve really seen for most of this movie too. He’s not frustrated by the girls trying to chat up a crow just because he’s a crow and saying stupid shit to him. He’s not trying to get laid. He’s not neurotic over having cat guilt and how his kind treated crows throughout history. He’s a little more mature, but he’s also wide-eyed and dreamy about being on the road and, as he said earlier wanting to do, digging life. But I can’t say he and Winston are meshing all that well with each other.

That is starting to show as they stop at a Howard Johnson’s to get something to eat and Fritz seems dissatisfied with not having a conversation with a trucker or getting much of anything new on this part of the adventure.

We meet two new characters after Fritz and Winston get back out on the road. First, there’s Blue, a heroin-addicted rabbit. He rides his motorcycle all over the place, and he’s got swastikas all over his bike and vest. Second, Blue’s girlfriend, a big-tittied hippo named Harriet. They’re out in the desert as Fritz and Winston come to a stop. Winston’s VW Bug is broken down. Fritz thinks it’s great that they are out in the desert. Winston’s pissed that he’s been asleep for two whole days. Fritz initially takes a look at the engine but can’t seem to figure anything out.

A chicken farmer dog stops and he tells them they are actually out of gas. He drives off after telling them there’s a gas station a couple miles down the road. The couple get into a fight and while Winston tells Fritz that he’s lucky to have someone like her, a mature, grown-up woman, to care for him and actually love him and support him to get more out of life, he’s basically mocking her out of frustration.

This whole moment all might line up with Robert Crumb’s view of women.

Anyway, Winston tells Fritz to beat cheeks and go get them gas. However, Fritz decides to abandon her out of spite. It’s at this point that Fritz meets Blue and Harriet. Blue gives Fritz a lift. They go to a graveyard where Blue introduces Fritz, whom he believes is a revolutionary, to two more revolutionaries, a lizard person and a snake in a weird cult like robe and hood. The two reptiles are planning on terrorizing the city. Harriet wants to leave and go get some Chinese food. Blue beats the hell out of her and chains her up and Blue and the two reptile revolutionaries rape her.

Fritz, who previously tried to stop the trio from hurting Harriet, comforts her later, but leaves with the lizard to blow up a power plant. He thinks this is all part of the revolution until he actually learns what it is they are doing. He then argues with the lizard saying he doesn’t think they have any idea what a real revolution is. They are cruel and Harriet didn’t need to be messed up like she was because she’s a kind loving person. He decides that he’s not going to go through with the bombing, but the lizard has already abandoned him and lit the fuse on the dynamite he is positioning for them.

The dynamite explodes right in front of Fritz and he’s taken to a hospital. Harriet disguises herself as a nun to sneak in and see him. With her are Winston and her two friends from the beginning of the movie. Fritz begins reciting what he said to the three girls at the beginning of the movie that convinced them to have an orgy with him. As he continues to recite this monologue, he pulls his three girls from earlier onto the bed and begins to vigorously have sex with them much to the surprise of Harriet. Fritz the Cat is healed through the power of fuckin’.

Crumb was not pleased with the finished result. He had a great many criticisms about everything from the voice actor used for Fritz, Skip Hinnant, to how the far left was portrayed in the film and how down right fascistic some of it came off as, and more. In particular, Crumb felt that all the portrayals of sex felt far more like Bakshi was working through some repressed stuff in his own sexual life than anything else. Ultimately, Crumb just did not recognize the film version of Fritz at all. He wanted to have his name removed from the film, but the lawyer he inquired about this with never filed the motion. He pretty much felt, since the day he first saw it in early 1972, prior to its release, that he made a mistake allowing anyone to adapt his creation. Due to the ridiculous popularity of this X-rated film, Crumb infamously killed off Fritz the Cat months after the film was released. He’d rather have the character not exist anymore than for people to come to this different character he wrote and drew expecting it to be more like the film version.

Bakshi also didn’t care much for Crumb. Decades later, in an interview, Bakshi referred to Crumb as a hustler and someone who was really difficult to work with. Crumb, according to Bakshi, took both of their cuts. He would say that he has no respect for the comic artist and felt that he languishes in just doing the same tired old thing over and over again. Bakshi felt he did more for Fritz the Cat than Crumb ever could and therefore should be thanked for that.

Neither Bakshi nor Crumb were involved in the sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat.

As for me? I do think this is a fine adult animated film. There are a lot of really fascinating things going on with it. There’s a cultural aspect to it that, while somewhat uncomfortable, I think is unabashed at discussing issues of the time. Remember, all that race stuff is put into a movie that is less than a decade after the Civil Rights Act passed. An Act, I might add, that there are STILL some detractors of in mainstream conservative politics and commentary. So, yeah, this stuff was still pretty damn raw at the time. There was a sexual revolution that was also new at the time. So that rawness does feel quite heavy, but it’s an explosion of that expression of what’s happening around regular people’s lives at the time – especially in a lot of cities.

Fritz the Cat does live up to its reputation. I know Robert Crumb pretty much hates it. But divorced from the comic book it’s based on, it’s a fairly important film that got 50th anniversary screenings last year and launched the feature film career of Ralph Bakshi, a figure that is important in animation history. It’s lurid, rude, lewd, and irreverent, just like you’ve heard it is. There’s that raw social and sexuality level to it that I mentioned above. God, I’ll probably regret typing and publishing this, but I can’t say that there isn’t an attractiveness to some of the sexier lady animals in this.

Oh God… Am I furry? No, I am not. I can say, for certain, that this is miles better than the hot-off-its-coattails “ripoff” Down and Dirty Duck.

Next week, it’s Mother’s Day weekend. Hey, Mom! Your son just published a review in which he admitted to being slightly turned on by some of the girl animals in Fritz the Cat! Happy Mother’s Day! For real, though, I’m going to do the sequel to last year’s Mother’s Day treat and cover Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day. So be here for that. Until then, I’m gonna go take a shower and scrub this shame of some of the things I’ve admitted in these last few paragraphs off me before it’s too late.

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