Saturday Matinee #125: "Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Firing Line" (July 30, 1942)
Published May 25, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone. While many in America look to this May weekend as the beginning of the summer season, the end of school, or the day when the ole barbecue grill can be lit up, we must first remember that Memorial Day began as a commemoration for soldiers lost in the Civil War. Now, we pay tribute all those who lost their lives serving in our Armed Forces. Of course, that shouldn't stop anyone from busting out that ole barbecue grill. After all, outdoor potlucks have been a traditional way of celebrating Memorial Day since the holiday's inception. Grilling on the barbecue or frying at the stove are mainstays of summer. And, appropriately, frying is the topic of this week's Saturday Matinee. We'll be taking a look at the educational short "Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Firing Line," which showed us just how bacon could help win the war.
Minnie Mouse has just finished frying up some eggs and bacon (in the same pan, no less), but doesn't know what to do with the leftover bacon grease. Its pungent aroma draws the attention of Pluto, who would like for Minnie to pour the waste fat into his bowl of dog bones. Minnie is about to comply when the radio tells her not to. Fats can help win the war! Fats make glycerin, which can be used for explosives. The radio then shoots some fat facts to Minnie and Pluto in order to convince them what to do with the fat. Every year, for example, two billion pounds of waste fat is thrown away. If it were conserved, they could make ten billion rapid-fire cannon shells - which could circle around the earth six times!
"It's a little munitions factory," the radio tells Pluto. "Meat droppings sink Axis warships." Most importantly, saving a pound of waste fat can provide a clip of cartridges for "some boy at the front." We then cut to a shot of a saluting Mickey, who is Minnie and Pluto's boy at the front. Pluto valiantly rejects the bacon fat on his bones, and instead, they pour it into a clean, wide-mouth can. Once a pound has been collected and preserved in the freezer, Pluto takes it to a local butcher who is doing his patriotic duty by collecting fats for the government. Rather than accept money for the fat, Pluto takes wienies, much to the butcher's amusement.
"Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Firing Line" is not meant to be some grand masterpiece of any kind. It was a message, brought to life through Disney's animated characters as they related to the American audience. Watching shorts like these today seem almost strange, but saving waste fat was a common-place occurrence. In my experience, the practice of saving bacon grease in the freezer continues to this day. I obviously wasn't around during the 1940's when such a practice was in its heydey. But after I fry something in a pan, I'll often put the leftover oils and grease into a container, which goes in the freezer. It was something I always saw when I was younger, as my parents would always save bacon grease the same way. I never really knew why they saved it, nor what they did with it once a container was full. Saving the grease obviously was something they grew up with, even though they grew up after the war. Looking back on it now, it's probably a tradition that kept up for so long since they have no reason to doubt it.
This actually harkens back to the well-known "Pot Roast Story." As the story goes, a young woman was making pot roast by cutting off both ends of a roast and sticking it into the pan. Her husband asked her why she cut off the ends, to which the young woman replied that her mother did it that way. But the young woman then began to wonder why the end pieces would be cut, so she called her mother one day to ask. Her mother replied that she learned that from her own mother, the young woman's grandmother. The young woman then called up her grandmother, who simply told her, "the roasts were always bigger than my pot, so I cut the ends to make it fit." An amusing story, but one that shows how a slight change to the norm can become the norm over time. Saving bacon grease is my "pot roast," so to speak.
Of course, saving bacon grease or frying oils won't garner me any money at my butcher's, but it was still a valuable practice in the war years. "Out of the Frying Pan..." served as one way to inform the American audience on the values of changing their norms in order to preserve their way of life. Save the bacon grease now so that when the war is won, things will go back to normal. This is the kind of forward-thinking modus operandi that went into many educational shorts. "Do it now, you'll benefit later." The same treatment can be found in the five-for-four war bond shorts, or the pay-your-taxes shorts. Food, and its uses, were another way to appeal to the audience. Other shorts from the era that focused on how food helps were the aptly-titled "Food Will Win The War" and "The Grain that Built a Hemisphere."
This short also features one of the more evocative images from the Disney wartime era: Soldier Mickey. While Donald Duck was given a series of shorts that showed his military escapades, Mickey Mouse was largely absent from the war scene. He was largely absent from the theatrical scene as well, headlining only three shorts between 1942 and 1943, with no new shorts in 1944 or 1945. This absence became just as real as those of Disney animators who were drafted or signed up. Fortunately, Mickey did make a return, although it wouldn't be until 1946 in "Squatter's Rights."
"Out of the Frying Pan..." can be found in "Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines," released in 2004 with a print run of 250,000. However, the short also is in the public domain, and can be found for free on YouTube, or as a download from the Internet Archive.