Dr. Toon: Revisiting Barbera's Swan Song
The film then features Barbera going from channeling his old cartoons to borrowing from them. The Ancient One, surveying Jerry's defeat, provides him with a gong that will summon a protector (2:12). The same device was used in both The Bodyguard (1944) and Fit to be Tied (1952), and both times the protector was Spike the Bulldog. It makes sense that when the gong is struck, Spike shows up as a six-foot-tall armored samurai, since that is consistent with his role in past cartoons (and because Spike had to appear in this classic reunion). Still, one wishes Barbera could have come up with a new twist on his old routine, or that Brandt could have inserted some of his and Cervone's more modern sensibilities.
There are several nods to the late Chuck Jones in the film (he directed the series from 1963-1967 and was an influence on Brandt). After receiving the precious gong, Jerry mischievously waggles his eyebrows at the audience (2:37), a move not seen in HB's cartoons but typical of Jones. Barbera's style takes over during the first violent encounter between Samurai Spike and Tom, but then the inconsistency between the two directors rears its head again.
We see Jerry happily munching on cheese in front of a window just before Tom reaches in and grabs him. Jerry squirms in his paw before freeing the gong, and the film jumps to a cut of Spike outside the house regarding Tom's rear end. Cut back inside just as we see a sword flash downward behind Tom. There is a very disturbing squishy plop on the soundtrack, and we see Tom's face freeze in horrified bewilderment. He gently puts Jerry down, hands him his morsel of cheese, and keels over backwards away from the camera.
It is difficult to believe this scene is the work of Barbera, who had no problem with graphic, painful violence in his T&J cartoons. Dismemberment was regularly shown on-screen with little regard for audience sensibilities. Since storyboarder Takamoto worked extensively within HB's avowedly non-violent TV manifest, Brandt may have influenced this action. Again, this is far more similar to how Chuck Jones might have (under) played this scene. Moments like this make The Karate Guard an interesting but uneven ride for the audience, especially one that is familiar with Barbera's earlier work.
Not that Brandt and his animators were deficient in any way; they just differ from Barbera's traditional style. One place where this works well occurs 5:31into the film when Tom is skinned alive by a toy airplane propeller. The denuded cat is nothing like the one Barbera would have depicted; he usually had a pair of silly underwear appear beneath Tom's dermis. The version presented in this short had more in common with something that might have come out of Spumco studio rather than classic MGM, and it somehow works.
Barbera summons up the Ghost of Cartoons Past for the film's final scenes. In desperation Tom dials up "Bad Boy Exterminators" (led by Butch the cat) in the hopes of destroying the all-powerful samurai (6:12 – 6:28). This is a direct steal from Barbera's own Jerry's Cousin (1951) in which Tom calls "Dirty Work, Inc." to deal with a seemingly super mouse. The feline hit squads in their respective cartoons have identical, coordinated walks, both appeared to win the first round, and both meet the same disastrous fate.