Saturday, November 21, 2015

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus (1916)

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus (Hearst International Film Service, 1916)
Animator: Leon Searle
Cel Bloc Rating: 6/9

So, what would you rather have from a cartoon titled Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus? A cartoon that truly reflects the original Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse as they were portrayed in one of the most original and important pieces of art ever created (my opinion), the famous comic strip created by George Herriman? Or would you rather have the characters engaged in a full adventure that takes place in a circus setting and uses all of the elements that one expects to see when placed in such an environment?

You won't get either from Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus. While the two characters certainly look exactly like their comic strip versions, and even talk in the "slanglish" speech that Herriman employs for his characters as well (albeit in word balloons only, since this is a silent film), at no point does the film attempt to duplicate the famous backgrounds and perspectives of Herriman's wonderfully rendered and surreal imagining of Coconino County, Arizona.

Instead we get a very basic white background at the beginning, along with the back end of a ticket wagon and opposite it, the entrance to the "Big Circus" tent. Krazy Kat, looking pretty much as in the comics, wanders around the ticket booth, and asks via word balloon, which lays out each letter in her statement in order, "A ticket an' a half." The ticket seller gives Krazy the ticket and a half, and after Krazy moves to the entrance to the show, she turns around and waves her paw. [Note: Krazy Kat is notoriously non-specific, and quite fluid, as to sexuality, but to make things easier in describing the action, I have gone with Krazy as a female in this case.] 

Krazy commands, "Come on Ignatzes darlink!" and then moves inside the tent. Into view comes Ignatz Mouse, himself looking exactly as he does in the comic, with his stick legs and arms, his round little body, his face all wound up in frustration at the world, and his curled tail. He stops at the entrance and motions that he is listening to what is occurring inside. Instead of moving through the open entrance (he has a half ticket after all), he decides to look under the edge of the tent and then enter that way. (I guess mice are rather prone and used to sneaking about, so maybe this way is more natural to him.)

We get a telescopic view of Krazy Kat's bottom perched on the stands inside the circus, with her tail swishing back and forth in excitement. Ignatz strides up and looks at her tail quizzically, and then ascends up its length to take his place alongside the Kat for the show. Krazy's tail continues to dance around a little before the camera switches angles. We next see Krazy put her arm around her beloved, but Ignatz takes a look around and then hurriedly hides in fear behind Krazy, peeking out a couple of times at what is coming towards them.

A dog, no larger than crazy herself, walks into the frame, and stops in front of Krazy and looks up at her. Krazy greets the dog with "Hello! Lynxie How is it by you?" The dog responds, "Oh, putty nice! Seen any nice fat mice about, Krazy I'm hungry as a bear?" [Note: The punctuation use is as it appears in the word balloons.] Krazy, worried for Ignatz's life, shakes her head back and forth to tell the dog "No". Lynxie responds, "Well if you see any let me know even if they ain't so fat!" The dog wanders off and out of the picture for good.

Ignatz ducks back out from behind Krazy, runs forward to watch the dog depart, and we see his knees quake in fear. Krazy asks him, "Ignatz why is mice sech cowards?" in her strange argot. "Fool I ain't a coward!" he replies instantly, but we see his knees rattle together once more to negate his statement. Krazy picks up on this and challenges him. "You gota show me!" she says. "Poof I'll show you Krazy!" he spits back. 

The scene cuts to a series of dressing room doors outside, with the large circus tent as the only feature in the background. Ignatz marches with purpose up to the door in the middle, marked with a number "2" and a large star. He leaps up and peers through the keyhole, and we see the legs and bottom torso of a seated human female preparing for the show. Ignatz breaks the fourth wall and turns and gives a wink and a knowing smile to the audience. Then, without even knocking, he pulls open the door to the dressing room and runs into it.

He flies up to the female and throws his arms into the air, yelling "Boo!" at her. We must assume there is a scream, for the only reaction we see if that the circus star pulls up the hem of her dressing garment and reveals two shapely legs clads in stockings. Her knees also rattle together briefly, and then she steps up on stool to get out of the reach of the invading mouse fiend. A word balloon spells out "POLICE HELP!" as Ignatz casually strolls out of the dressing room.

Krazy asks, "Well?" and then follows up with, "Shux that ain't brave Anyone can scare a mere womans". Ignatz replies, "All right Krazy Let's see you do it!" Krazy walks into the dressing room, points her fingers at the female like guns, and yells, "SPOOF!" The next thing she knows, Krazy is swatted hard into the ground with a broom. She is told to "Skat" and then pushed down with the broom again and again. The End.

Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus is only three minutes in length, and never tries to do too much within that span. It gives us a simple comic situation and carries it through. It never comes close to approaching the complexity or far more robust language of the comic strip, and granted, this is pretty much a given considering the severe limitations of the animated art form in 1916. There were relatively few studios and animators growing the art form at that time, and conveying a storyline based around the joys of linguistic gymnastics would also have been impossible in the silent era as well.

So you have to take your pleasures where you may. I may be disappointed that the true possibilities of Krazy, Ignatz, and the missing member of the love triangle, Offisa Pupp, were never really explored onscreen, except in a couple of brief instances (those would be the 1936 Charles Mintz cartoon, L'il Ainjll -- which I will be writing about next week -- and a short cartoon that appeared on Sesame Street in the early 1970s, where brick-throwing explains the word "love" to the prepubescent audience. (That wouldn't happen just a few years later, and it may explain why, apart from possible copyright violations, the Sesame Street piece has sadly disappeared from view, even on DVD reissues.) 

But if you want to see Krazy and Ignatz where they still look something like the Krazy and Ignatz in the strips, then you need to take advantage of the few silent cartoons that have survived. Krazy Kat and Ignatz Mouse at the Circus may not be Herriman's vision, nor gives us much in the way of circus antics, but it's better than nothing.


For my first take on the later cartoons of Krazy Kat and my love for the original comic strip, visit my post from May 11, 2006 at

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Pal Paul (1930)

My Pal Paul (1930, Universal)
Dir.: Walter Lantz
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

The King of Jazz? Paul Whiteman? Surely not, though the big band leader from the early part of the 20th century certainly called himself that. And he was a big, big deal back in the 1920s and 1930s, recording scores of huge, popular hit songs, and featuring many of the top musicians of the day in his orchestras (some of whom went on to become stars on their own). Perhaps his biggest contribution to the world was that he commissioned George Gershwin to create Rhapsody in Blue in 1924. If anything remains today of his legacy, it is surely that.

Oh, but there is something else, though few outside of animation buffs would consider it to be of note: Whiteman appears in an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon. And, to make things even, Oswald makes a cameo in a feature film that was produced about Whiteman. See how these things work out?

In 1930, Universal Pictures produced a huge spectacle of a film called King of Jazz. It was produced in early two-strip Technicolor and was pretty much wall to wall with lavishly produced sets, costumes, stilted comedy bits, and boisterous musical production numbers. It was also a notorious flop for the day. But there was much of note about the film. Apart from not only surviving the decades in fairly decent condition, the film features a rather young (only 26) Bing Crosby taking vocals on several songs as a member of his vocal group from that time, the Rhythm Boys. The music bounces along merrily throughout King of Jazz, and displays a good cross-section of popular music in 1930, though hardly any of it could be considered jazz as it is understood today. The film won an Oscar for Art Direction, and watching the film now certainly shows the award was well deserved (or at least a nomination would have been).

And best of all, not far from the beginning of the picture is the very first Technicolor sound cartoon in history. Directed by animation studio head Walter Lantz, the cartoon is introduced by Walter Brennan, who tells us of Whiteman's travels to darkest Africa. Dressed appropriately in his safari garb, Whiteman is set upon by a lion, and after battling him with a rifle (in which the lion drops his skin and reveals his skeleton before the bullet even hits him), Whiteman seeks to soothe the savage beast through jazz-inspired dance music. The lion dances, the flowers dance, the trees dance, the natives dance, and for a few brief seconds, Universal's big (and stolen) cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, dances alongside a snake (who is wearing a derby) while a snippet from Streets of Cairo (you know, the song you sang as a kid that you thought went "There's a place in France where the naked ladies dance") plays on the soundtrack. After an elephant sucks up and then releases the water of a pond rhythmically, a monkey wings a coconut at Whiteman's noggin while he conducts, which makes him see stars.

The segment is brief (only around two minutes), but it is goofy and entertaining and gets the moviegoers tapping their feet and prepared for the music to come. The highlight of the piece, of course, is the chance to see Oswald in color (though the only part of him that really changes are his blue pants and red tongue), and long before other cartoon characters received the chance to do so.

But Oswald and Lantz weren't done with Whiteman, and vice versa. Universal had Lantz create a short called My Pal Paul, which not only would feature Whiteman and his music in it, but would also serve as direct promotion for the King of Jazz film. When My Pal Paul opens -- with a jazzy melody playing over the credits -- we actually see a billboard promoting the film, that reads "Paul Whiteman in King of Jazz A Universal Release". Between our view and the billboard is a silhouette that we assume is meant to be the rather portly Whiteman, waving his arms as he is supposedly conducting his famous orchestra.

Then the silhouette turns around, and it is revealed that it was only Oswald the entire time. From a medium shot, we see that Oswald is performing in front of a group of other cartoon animals, who are watching the Lucky Rabbit torment a cat by playing his tail with a violin bow. And then, because the tails of cats are hollow, as you should well know by now, Oswald turns the cat into a saxophone and blows through the tail for a brief solo. A small baby bear (but don't quote me on that; the ears on some of these critters in early cartoons could represent many things) finds out that behind one of the boxes Oswald is using in his show, the rabbit has hidden a record player, and he is only faking the performance. The baby holds the phonograph over his head and yells, "Looky! Ha ha!" The crowd goes crazy. They start yelling, "Throw him out" at Oswald, and the rabbit leaves dejected.

It is always important to remember the year in which something was created when watching older films. A few years later, and the following scenario would never have happened. Oswald, spurned by his barnyard friends, runs behind a tree, crying madly and utterly despondent. From off of the single branch jutting out from the massive tree hangs a noose. Oswald spies the noose and without hesitating, he leaps up to grab the branch and pulls himself up to stand upon it. He pulls off his head, places the loop of the noose onto his neck, and reattaches his head. Holding his nose as he is about to jump into a body of water, he jumps off the branch to kill himself.

That's right. We are barely a minute into a cartoon, and the star wants to commit suicide. However, his attempt is unsuccessful, because as he hits the end of the noose's length, he uproots the entire tree (terrible root system, this thing), which falls straight over on top of Oswald. He holds the tree at bay with his skinny cartoon rabbit arms, and yells "Help!" several times at the top of his lungs, straining with the effort of keeping the tree from crushing him.

Enter Paul Whiteman. He zooms into view with his Oliver Hardy-like face and his body crammed into a speedy little sports car, honking his horn and making the car leap along with the music. Engaged in his drive, he pulls the steering wheel off and plays it like a flute for a brief moment, before replacing it and continuing on his merry way. That way becomes blocked by a very long dachshund, who stretches across the roadway. This upsets Paul, but the dog is helpful and swings its long midsection up into an arch tall enough to let the car pass.

He speeds off but suddenly hears Oswald's cries of "Help! Help! Help!" He runs to the tree where he sees the rabbit struggling mightily with the enormous trunk of the tree. Paul, about four times the size of the rabbit, easily pushes the tree back to standing but just stretching his arms out to place it without moving his feet at all. However, this causes Oswald to go back to being hung by the noose. Paul casually pops the rabbit's head off again, removes the noose, and puts Oswald's head back. All appears well for our hero and his new pal.

Or maybe not. Oswald is still sad from the rejection of his friends, and Paul can see it in his body language. He asks, "What's wrong, sonny?" and Oswald answers, "Who wants to know?" Paul stands up proudly, tugs each whisker of his mustache on each side of his face straight out, and says, "Paul Whiteman!" Oswald is astonished. "P-P-P-Paul Whiteman?" This causes Whiteman to puff up his chest to outlandish proportions, and with a tone for each button corresponding on the soundtrack, pops out all three buttons on his shirt and all four buttons on his pants. The pants fall down, and he is revealed to be wearing polka-dotted underwear. He pulls his pants back up sheepishly and quick.

"Ha!" says the rabbit. "Get a load of this, Paul!" Oswald runs to the bandleader's car and pulls out the muffler. He starts a jaunty tune by playing the muffler like a trumpet, blowing into the end while magically transforming a section of it into what looks like a derby that he uses as a mute. Partway through the solo, he points at the hood ornament, which reaches down to the grill on the front of the car and plays it like a harp. Paul Whiteman has a very strange moment where he is shown in closeup as he pulls his whiskers away from his face in time with the music. Oswald cranks the engine and causes the hood to roll up so we can see the pistons pump along in rhythm.

Oswald has since pulled the crank from the car and starts playing it like a flute. The hood ornament dances on top of the radiator cap to a tribal drum beat, looking for all the world like he is wearing a warbonnet. Oswald moves over to the front tire, where he pulls the valve off and starts and stops the whistle of the air escaping along with the tune. On the last note, the tire pops loudly, sending the rabbit rolling off, and causing the car to collapse.

Not to be outdone, Whiteman tries to get in on the fun. Standing next to a sawed off tree trunk, just like Oswald, he can't wait to blow into something else that people don't normally put their lips around. He grabs the tree branch and fingers the holes on the side of the trunk so that it makes horn sounds. Meanwhile, Oswald has picked up another tire and somehow turned it into a stringed instrument. On a helpful cue from a woodpecker within the tree trunk, the pair team up on a short version of the old standard, It Happened in Monterrey. When Whiteman sings, "Broke somebody's heart..." and pulls a large heart from his pocket, Oswald grabs it and sings back in a falsetto, "...And I'm afraid that it is mine!"

The following solo by Whiteman raises Oswald's ire and the pair spar back and forth, trading licks until Oswald decides he will determine the winner by laughing, "Ha ha ha ha ha! Nyah!" and sticks his tongue out at Whiteman. Back to the radiator cap, the hood ornament does some nice toe dancing, before the tune changes again. This time, a pair of pliers and a hammer jump out of the toolbox on the back of the car, and take to dancing. They are a nicely matched pair, with their limbs stretching out as it suits their moves, but when the hammer tries to kick the pliers in the rear, it misses and the hammer gets flipped. The pliers jump onto the back of the hammer and rides it like a pony for a measure before the pair return to their gentle stepping from the start of the song.

After the hood ornament once again dances to the beat of the tom-tom, we are ready for the finale. Oswald sticks a horn into the tailpipe and four figures much like the hood ornament (they could be musical notes) pop out of the holes on the horn. The quartet link their skinny little arms and start dancing to the popular tune, Happy Feet, marching back and forth and causing music to play as they step across the holes. Whiteman, the tree trunk, Oswald, and the car are then seen dancing together in a line, stomping their feet and jumping up and down to the crazy rhythm. 

The song switches to Song of the Dawn, with Paul singing "Dawn is breaking and a new day is born!" (It's not really his voice.) For an unknown reason (maybe the rabbit doesn't like Paul's singing), Oswald picks up Paul's car over his own head and then smashes to the ground in a jumble of pieces. Paul immediately looks overhead to see the noose still hanging from the tree and grabs Oswald. He puts the noose back over the rabbit's head and pulls down the rope. Instead of hanging Oswald (it only stretches him upward), the rope pulls the tree further and further down into the ground until both Paul and Oswald have been pinned to the ground by the tree branch holding the noose. Crawling out from under the branch, the two sport huge bumps on top of their heads while each see stars swirling. They look at each, say "My pal!" in tandem, go to shake each other's hands and then purposefully miss, sticking out their tongues instead.

That's Oswald!"

Sure, it's cartoon insanity, but for a tie-in that is meant to promote a major motion picture release, they sure weren't worried about showing its main cartoon star as being manic depressive suicidal. It does point to how these films, at the time, were considered for all audiences and not just children. Such details in cartoons would largely go away, as they did in all mainstream fare, once the production code kicked in a few years later. While I like finding odd events like Oswald's suicide scene in these early films, I must admit that the scene bothered me slightly if only because of my own recent problems with depression (part of why I stopped writing on this blog for a few years, all of which is documented on my other blog if you are interested in such things).

In the end, the cross-promotion between cartoon and film probably didn't help all that much, given that the film failed at the box office. Still, the music in My Pal Paul (all of which is featured in King of Jazz) should appeal to fans of period music, even if this cartoon is nowhere near as interesting as the previous Oswald release, Hells Heels (written about on this site last week). There is a decided downturn in quality from that film to this one. It does show how even with the same staff working on the same films, inspiration is truly of the moment. And if you had to draw the rather dull Paul Whiteman over and over and over again, you might not feel all that inspired either.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Hells Heels (1930)

Hells Heels (Universal, 1930)
Dir.: Walter Lantz
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

The recent news that a long-lost Oswald cartoon has been found by the British Film Institute (BFI) and restored by Disney has filled my heart with joy, especially since I was watching a couple of Oswald shorts, albeit Walter Lantz ones, earlier in the day. Of course, we will have to wait until after the premiere of the short -- titled Sleigh Bells -- in December at an event in London, and then even longer until Disney does some sort of release -- my guess is in a holiday Blu-ray collection -- to see the damned thing. For now, only a short snippet has been given as a preview (follow the link at the beginning of the article), and so Oswald fans will need to make do with what we already have at hand.

And I certainly have more Oswald films on my shelves than I did a few years ago when I stopped writing for this blog. In that time, Disney, having regained the rights to the character, put out The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 2007 as part of their then flourishing Walt Disney Treasures series. It came in a limited edition, golden metal box, and featured thirteen of the 26 shorts Disney and Ub Iwerks created before Oswald was whisked away from them by Charles Mintz (some of those shorts are lost films, though obviously there is one less now).

Also in 2007 and 2008, eleven restored Oswald films done by Walter Lantz came out on two separate Woody Woodpecker and Friends collections. And finally, Thunderbean put out a disc in 2013 titled Lantz Studio Treasures starring Oswald, which featured eight Lucky Rabbit shorts, including two Disney titles (The Ocean Hop and The Mechanical Cow) with the soundtracks that were added to them when Lantz reissued them in 1932. Still, with 195 Oswald titles in total, that means there is a lot of Oswald we are not getting to see yet. Sure, you can find a lot of the unreleased shorts online at various sites, but the quality is very mixed. Not knocking it... seeing something in any sort of condition is better than not seeing it at all. It just seems to me that in this age, where studios are finding success with archival sites where customers can order DVD-R copies of their long lost favorite films, thereby cutting down the costs of printing untold thousands of unsold copies in stores, that we should have access to all of these cartoons with ease. Not the way it works, apparently...

But on to the film I was watching the morning the news came out about Sleigh Bells. When I first saw the title Hells Heels when I opened my Woody Woodpecker and Friends Volume One set, and saw what year Hells Heels was released (1930), I immediately thought it was going to be a spoof of Howard Hughes' Hells Angels film, also released that year. Until I watched the cartoon, I assumed Oswald would be taking to the skies in a World War I era plane and fighting the Germans. Never gave it a second thought, except that I assumed I had it all figured out like some big shot. How wrong I was (as usual). Turns out, the film takes place in the desert, and after a quick bit of research, I discovered Hells Heels is actually a spoof of another film released earlier in the year by Universal, Hell's Heroes. (And it turns out it couldn't have been a spoof of Hell's Angels anyway, because the Hughes film wasn't released until November of that year, well after the Oswald short.)

While I have yet to see the film, I have seen the story before, as Hell's Heroes is only the fourth of six versions released through 1948 of Peter B. Kyne's Western novel, The Three Godfathers. (The most famous version was directed by John Ford and starred John Wayne, of course.) The basic premise is that a trio of robbers, having been unsuccessful in their efforts to steal from the bank of a small town, escape into the desert and are close to perishing due to lack of water. They discover a woman who has just given birth but is close to dying herself. She begs them to bring the child back to its father, and so they essentially become the three godfathers of the title, and risk life and limb to save the child. It all ends both miraculously and tragically at Christmas. (The three godfathers basically represent the Three Wise Men of the birth of Christ story.)

Hells Heels pretty much establishes this same premise from the start of the film. We first see Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in his classic look (no shirt, but with pants) strutting alongside Pegleg Pete (actually a Disney character, but Lantz made use of him or a character roughly like him deep into the '30s) and a dog wearing overalls and an eyepatch. As they strut, the trio sing a tough tune full of boasts:

"We're heading for the desert
and three bad men we do be.
We're heading for the desert
and a good ocean that's free."

Oswald breaks away and sings:

"We're bad babies!"

And then the other two join him again:

"As you very soon will see.
We're a highfalutin',
rootin', tootin',
shootin' company!"

The three come to a stop at a sign hanging off a dead tree, with a series of skulls piled on top of its trunk. The sign reads "To Heela City -- a Naughty Town for Naughty Men". At the end of the branch is a sign that reads "Welcome" and just below it, hanging off the branch, is a noose. When they stop, the skulls hop up one at a time in order, and then the largest skull at the bottom of the pile, replete with bull horns, starts to sing:

"How dry I am!"

The tiny skull at the top of the pile repeats the same line. The bull skull continues:

"Boom boom boom boom!"

The tiny skull adds:

"And so are you!"

The bull skull sings (joined by the tiny one on the last three words):

"Nobody seem
to give a..."

The tough guy trio have heard enough. Pete pulls out his gun and with four shots sends the quartet of smaller skulls flying. Oswald takes aim and shoots with his own gun at the bull skull, but he misses. The bull skull sticks out his tongue and blows a raspberry at Oswald, but the rabbit's second shot finds its mark and knocks the skull away. The trio pick up the final refrain of their song where they left it:

"We're a highfalutin',
rootin', tootin',
shootin' company!"

The trio enter the street of a small Western town and sneakily approach the bank to the strains of Mysterious Mose. On the last few notes, their necks shoot upward from their bodies, and then their heads rattle and jut forward, puffing up and pointing at the bank. Then the two other robbers say to Oswald in unison, "You're gonna rob that bank! Here!" Pete forces a giant stick of dynamite into Oswald's hands. Oswald asks, "Who?" and they respond "YOU!" The rabbit quakes with fear as Pete lights the TNT. Pete picks up Oswald and throws him inside the bank. There is a huge explosion! When the smoke clears, the only thing left standing where the bank was is a safe, and the only thing left standing where Pete and the other robber were are their skeletons, still wearing their hats. (Pete's leg has seemingly been restored, as you can clearly see he has bones where both legs are.) The skeletons dance off, and Oswald falls from the sky and lands with a bounce upon the street.

Oswald tries to open the safe, but then he hears a voice, as if on radio. "When the gong rings, it will be exactly one minute past." The gong rings, and the top of the safe pops open. Out jumps a large bulldog sheriff, whose badge leaps forward from his chest towards the viewer to inform them exactly who he is. He glares at Oswald, who prepares to flee. The rabbit runs towards the screen and we get a perspective shot of him running with the street rolling behind him at an angle, as he yells for help. The camera cuts to the sheriff, who seems to be barking with each step, but then he stops to say, "And if you ever come back, I'll..." He runs a finger across his neck in the commonly accepted cutthroat sign, but all he does is severe his own head. It falls before him onto the ground, and his body starts searching blindly for it. His hand reaches for his head, but the sheriff bites his own hand, yelling "Ouch!" His hands then grab the head and put it back in place, only facing the opposite way, and he starts walking back towards the town in this manner while his body is still facing forward.

The scene changes to that of a baby crying in the back of a wagon, which sits behind the skeleton of a cow, which still has a bell on its tail and somehow has a working udder. The baby leaps out of the wagon with two cups, and attempts to leap up and pull the udder down from the body. His first two leaps end in failure, as the udder keeps pulling its nipple up away from the baby, but on the third leap, he stretches the whole udder downward and fills up one of the cups with milk. He puts the second cup on top of the other and shakes the concoction a couple of times merrily. He then throws the milk straight up in the air and catches it in his mouth, only to have the cow skeleton bonk him on top of the head with the bell on its tail. The baby starts bawling wildly, just in time for Oswald to reach him.

Oswald asks the baby, "Who are you" in his usual falsetto, and the baby pulls a photo out of nowhere and answers in a far deeper voice, "That's who I am!" The photo is one of the sheriff holding the baby, with the word "DAD" printed below. Oswald yells, "WOW!" and splits, but the baby's arm stretches out and drags the rabbit back into the frame. "You're gonna take me to my dad. Oswald sweats bullets, but the baby starts crying again. Oswald pulls himself together and tries to find something to ease the baby. He reaches into the wagon and finds a diaper, but the baby pulls it away from him, and puts it on himself. He grabs Oswald's hand and pulls him away on their journey.

They first come to a large sign reading "Wanted! Oswald" and a large skeleton pops up from behind the sign, points to the rabbit and says "Aha!" Oswald runs in fear, but the baby stretches out his arm to catch him, which reels the baby all the way up to where Oswald is. When the baby starts crying, Oswald starts to tap dance to calm the brat down. On top of a strange-looking cactus formation with a flat top and stairs, he starts to bounce around on all four limbs, his head, and bottom, even breaking into a quick soft-shoe bit before resuming his tap dancing. He ends up falling down the stairs on the cactus and landing on his butt. He yells "Ow!" and pulls a chunk of cactus with needles out of his rear.

The baby grabs Oswald and they begin their trek anew. They come to a second sign, this time reading, "Wanted! Oswald -- Dead or Alive". Two skeletons pop up from behind it, point at the rabbit and yell, "Aha!" Oswald flees yet again, the baby stretches and catches him as before. With the baby bawling again, Oswald dances over to a half-buried bull skeleton, picks up two bones, and starts to play the ribcage like a vibraphone. A crow caws along with the song, a donkey skeleton (still with flesh on its tail, feet, and head) brays along, and the bull skeleton rattles its tail bell to Oswald's merry tune.

The baby has had enough and pulls Oswald away once more, where they encounter a third sign reading, "Wanted! Oswald DEAD". When three skeletons pop up this time, Oswald hits the bricks, and the baby repeats his arm-stretching trick. Oswald forms his ears into the hat of a parade marshall, grabs a bone and throws it around his body like a baton. He starts to march to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever. The tune is kicked off by a rattlesnake who knocks his nose on a skull and then rattles his tail. A cactus is inspired to march along, taking on semi-human form (only with bristles) and is joined by a tree, whose leaves drop about the tree's middle to form what is supposed to either be a tutu or what really appears to look like ostrich feathers (or both). The cactus and tree dance together to the music for a bit, but then Oswald spies danger!

He drops the bone and he rushes to where the baby is attempting to drink water at a small pool, which sits next to a dead tree with a branch sticking through a skull on top of it. A small sign reads, "Poison Water -- Help Your Self". (There is even a handy cup on a hook to help the thirsty traveler.) The baby tries to drink but Oswald pulls him away. The lad breaks free by punching the rabbit in the face, and then drinks down everything in the pool. When he does, the screen goes black, and then the black moves downward on the screen to reveal the inside of the pool. We see a walrus wearing a professor cap, three fish playing trombone, drums, and cello respectively, and a lone frog with a clarinet. The walrus commands, "Eins, drei, Spielen!" and the band starts to play How Dry I Am. (The walrus prof is not very pleased with their performance.)

Back on the ground, the baby finds his father sitting under a makeshift Christmas tree (a cactus with a combination of pipes, branches, bottles, corkscrew, sombrero, umbrella, and an old boot) with a sign that says, "Piece [sic] on Earth". "Merry Christmas, Dad!" the baby cries, and he pulls Oswald up to the sheriff by his rabbit ears. The sheriff is joyous to see his son but even more so to catch Oswald. When he reaches to grab the rabbit, Oswald jumps out of his skin, revealing his skeleton, but falls back in as the sheriff misses. Oswald runs, but the sheriff grabs his powderpuff tail. Oswald keeps running, and his tail stretches tremendously far, until the sheriff lets go. The tail snaps back violently at the would-be robber, and splits Oswald briefly into eight tinier Oswalds, which then form back into the full-sized one.

On the soundtrack we hear a chorus sing as Oswald continues his escape:

"I'm heading for the desert...
That's Oswald!"

The film cuts to a cartoonish Universal Pictures logo, signifying the end of the cartoon.

Hells Bells is exactly the sort of early '30s comic surrealism that I adore, and it is a really fun cartoon. Adding to the fun are the backgrounds, which really remind me of Herriman's Krazy Kat (the comic strip, of which I am a big fan, but not the cartoon series, which goes far afield of the original creation). I love the roughness of the background drawings. Rather than have the polished and painted backdrops of later films (which I love as well) for all studios, every pile of rocks and tree and even the town looked like they were sketched really fast and thrown up on screen. This works because the draftsmanship is excellent. And combined with the rubber hose animation, everything comes together in a very pleasing way. A lot of the credit for this goes to Bill Nolan, who not only wrote the story but also animated portions of the film, and who previously worked on Felix the Cat and Krazy Kat as well before coming over to Lantz.

I know that as a Disney fan, I was immensely pleased to find out that Disney had somehow found their way back to owning Oswald again where he started. But Oswald has been around for so long, and gone through so many iterations, I have a hard time believing that the one that is now back at Disney is the same rabbit. I have gone wild in purchasing nearly everything with the rabbit on it: ears, a hoodie, a phone case, pins, t-shirts... I've been grabbing whatever they have come out with so far. 

But I also know that the Oswald at Disneyland is not necessarily the same Oswald I saw in cartoons occasionally over the years. I mostly saw shorts done by Walter Lantz, some in the same tone as Hells Heels, some where he has been softened somewhat and cavorts through fairy tale adventures, and even some of the later ones where Oswald was a white rabbit mysteriously and was overly cute and schmaltzy. The Oswald in Hells Heels is closer to that original rabbit, and that seems to me to be the prime place to watch him; freshly purloined from his original creators, but getting a charge from being at the forefront of the rubber hose groove. The best way to handle a rabbit with multiple personalities is to hang out mainly with the personality that is the most fun.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Heavenly Puss (1949)

Heavenly Puss (1949)
Dir: William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Animators: Irv Spence, Ed Barge, Kenneth Muse, and Ray Patterson
TC4P Rating: 8/9

In preparations for attending a special event in Little Tokyo a few days before Halloween last week -- a screening of John Carpenter's 1987 horror epic, Prince of Darkness, at the historic church in which many of the scenes were filmed -- I took it upon myself to watch the film first on the Blu-ray disc I had purchased recently. Being a big fan of Carpenter's films in general, but not being exactly over-acquainted with Prince of Darkness (I had seen it in theatres on its original release, but not very much since), I wanted to be up on the film in case the Q-and-A sessions with people who had worked on the film happened before the movie was screened.

This being maybe the fifth time I was watching the film overall, the extra sits through it were helpful in both establishing where I stood with the film in Carpenter's filmography (I now like it more than I once did; good, but not great) and being able to discuss it with my writing partner at length. In revisiting the film, though, I was reminded of a quick scene that is not of any large consequence to the film at all, but occurs as a nice in-joke for Carpenter and his audience. Much in the way that he included scenes from Forbidden Planet and The Thing from Another World playing in the background on a television set in his bonafide classic, Halloween, Carpenter saw to it to pay for the rights to show a clip from MGM's Heavenly Puss, a fairly morbid Tom and Jerry heaven-and-hell romp from 1949, in the middle of Prince of Darkness. The inclusion is apt, seeing as how the Carpenter film is loaded with talk of Satan and his never-ending quest to subsume humanity and battle the church.

Directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Heavenly Puss may not be one of their Oscar-winners (or even nominated ones), but it definitely ranks near the top of being one of Tom and Jerry's more memorable outings. This film goes out of the bounds of the normal, heavily violent cat vs. mouse theme and wraps it up in a theme of spiritual consideration, at least in the simple terms of having Tom trying to change his grim, fiery fate to that of a more angelic afterlife.

It looks like Jerry might be making an attempt to get in the first shot of this cartoon, as we see Tom having a cozy catnap in front of a lovely fireplace setting. Jerry sneaks out of his whole and tiptoes his way across the room to take refuge underneath the chaise lounge. Then it becomes apparent he is simply trying to sneak past Tom, and as Jerry takes off to his next destination, the dining room table, Tom's eyes open as he sneers his usual wicked best. Jerry scurries up the tablecloth and hides behind a candleholder, and Tom pops up and grabs a very saber-like cutting knife. As Jerry reaches for one of the cookies set around a teapot, Tom brings the knife down savagely at Jerry's arm, but the mouse manages to pull his appendage away in time.

Tom slices the candlestick in twain right above the top of the mouse's head, and Jerry speeds off and starts hopping up the stairway clumsily, as only a tiny mouse beset with monstrous set of stairs would. Tom grabs the runner at the bottom of the stairwell and pulls it up, making it taut so Jerry's efforts to run up the straightaway are for naught, especially as Tom begins to pull the runner towards himself. However, at the top of the stairs, the runner goes under an upright piano, which comes flying down the stairwell. Tom flees fearfully, with good reason, but the piano rolls after him and smashes the cat against a wall. The top lid of the piano swings open like a door and a flattened Tom slides off, and pops back into three dimensions (even if, as a cartoon character in this film, he is always in 2D; it's all in your perspective of their existence).

It appears Tom has met his maker, and indeed, this is where Heavenly Puss not only gets its title, but also takes a wild swing away from the routine (as excellent a routine as that is, given the high quality of this series). There is a bright beam of light shining down as if from heaven (which indeed it is) upon poor Tom, and a great, golden escalator materializes from out of the nowhere. Tom's spirit lifts away from the cat's body, steps onto the escalator, and looks back confusedly at the body on the floor as he ascends up the escalator out of frame. The next shot is of the escalator's length, and how it winds casually a huge distance up to some far away clouds representing the heavenly gates.

Those gates have a sign on them reading "Heavenly Express," and through the fence, Tom spies a gilded train onto which other cats of a similar design are boarding. He looks to his right, and he sees a ticket counter where an cat of older disposition (voiced by none other than Daws Butler) is checking names off on a reservation register. The first cat in line is none other than Tom's old sometimes friend sometimes enemy Butch, a black cat covered in bandages and wearing a sling. We find out exactly why, when the agent states "Cause of decease: lost fight with bulldog. Pass granted." Butch steps forward, and a full set of bulldog teeth clamber along the ground behind him, still gripping Butch's tattered tail.

The next cat in line is Frankie, a gray cat wearing a top hat. "Struck with flatiron while singing on a backyard fence." Frankie lifts his hat, and a very tall, red bump on his head is shown. "Pass," says the agent, and Frankie makes his way to the heaven-bound train. The third cat is Aloysious, who appears at first to be a very rotund feline but then we find out the real reason for his portly appearance. The agent asks of him, "Oh, so you didn't see the steamroller coming, eh?" Aloysious nods his affirmation, the agent says "Go ahead," and cat turns to show that he is completely flattened out like bread dough as he passes.

The film takes a left turn to a truly gruesome joke as the agent says the names "Fluff, Muff, and Puff." A sloshing sound is heard and the agent looks over the side of the desk. A bag with its top tied shut comes hopping up, and it becomes immediately apparent that these are the names of three drowned kittens. (Every single time I watch this cartoon, my jaw hits the floor.) The bag pops open to reveal three happy, smiling but mewling kittens. They crawl out of the bag and start to head forward to the train. The agent makes a tsk-tsk noise and says, "What some people won't do."

Thomas knows he nowhere close to being an innocent party in this scenario, and he makes to tiptoe underneath the edge of the counter. The agent is not fooled for a second. "Thomas! Just a minute," he says as he consults his register. Tom steps back to take his punishment. "Apparently, your whole life was spent persecuting an innocent, little mouse. Now, with a record like that, I can't let you through. I'm sorry, Tom." But there is some light at the end of Tom's very dark tunnel. "However," the agent continues, "the Heavenly Express doesn't leave for an hour." He hands Tom a sheet of paper. "If within that time, you can obtain the signature of that little mouse on this Certificate of Forgiveness, you will be permitted to pass."

But, there is a catch, and it's a big one. "Now, if you fail, it's this." The agent turns to a rather ornate television monitor behind his desk. He pushes a button, and the screen turns on to show flames at first. They make way to show the devil, portrayed by the usual MGM bulldog, with red fur and wearing green horns and green slippers. In his right hand is a green pitchfork, as he tends a large cauldron atop a wood fire inside a hellish series of caves. He laughs like a maniac and screams, "Ah, let me have him! Send him down. Give him to me now!" He laughs again, and the camera cuts back to Tom, his yellow eyes bulging from his head, with his mouth agape in fear. The agent turns off the screen, and as Tom is shown gripping the desk, he is told, "Remember, you have only an hour."

Tom turns to race off, but disappears in a puff of smoke. His spirit is next shown back in the room of Tom's supposed demise, and drops back into his body with a slam, waking Tom up at once. As he comes to with the Certificate of Forgiveness in his left hand, his uses his other arm to wipe his brow in relief. Then he remembers why he has the certificate, sees a glowing clock reminding him of the hour he has left, and runs straight to Jerry's mousehole. He offers the mouse a large cake with candles and frosting that reads "To My Pal" on it, but Jerry thinks something devious is up instead. When Tom signs to Jerry the cake is on the up and up, Jerry speed-eats the entire thing like a buzzsaw and leaps back into his hole, leaving the six candles in his wake to clatter to the floor. Angry, Tom reaches into the hole and grabs the mouse, and forcefully puts down the certificate and the mouse, handing him a pen in the process, and points at the paper to make Jerry sign it. Jerry's response is to shoot all of the ink in the pen at Tom's face (as you would expect him to do).

Tom, seeing the clock, figures that he will have to forge his way to heaven. He runs behind the chair to start signing Jerry's name to the paper, but the disembodied voice of the reservation agent says shamefully, "Thomas! Uh, uh, uh, uh..." Tom speeds back to the mousehole bearing a large wedge of swiss cheese. This time, Jerry actually reads the certificate, but when Tom signs to him that if Jerry signs it, Tom will give him the cheese, Jerry angrily tears up the paper. Tom has had it with that reaction, and he grabs Jerry and prepare to smash his brains in with a fireplace shovel. Suddenly, in a puff of smoke, the bulldog devil appears. "Thattaboy, Tom!," he implores the cat. "Hit him and let's go! Come on!" The devil poofs away, and Tom kisses Jerry's head several times.

He gathers the torn pieces of the certificate, runs off, and comes back with the entire thing taped together. He begs and pleads Jerry to sign it, using a wild series of gesticulations to explain his story. Finally, the clock appears once more, and the conductor for the Heavenly Express is heard calling, "All aboard!" He begs and pleads again, but Jerry is still not buying it. Finally, he gives in, but when he tries to sign, no ink will come out of the pen. Tom grabs it and splats ink several times on the wall, and gives it back to the mouse. Jerry signs, and Tom zips back to the gilded escalator, but as he tries to climb onto it, the escalator disappears, a large trapdoor heading straight to Hades opens up, and Tom falls down, waving goodbye as he does. The cat falls straight into Satan's cauldron, and the devil bulldog continues to laugh loud and wildly.

Tom tries to escape, but the scene shifts back to the sleeping cat in front of the fireplace, where hot coals have shot out of the fire and have started to burn Tom's tail. He wakes up screaming, but then realizes he is not dead after all, and is home safe and sound (if not a little bit scorched). He runs to the mousehole and knocks on the wall above it with a huge, genuine grin on his face. When Jerry appears, Tom swoops him up and starts kissing and cuddling him. Mystified by this behavior, since nothing we saw in the film has actually happened, Jerry turns to the camera, and throws out his arms and shrugs his shoulders. Iris out.

Heavenly Puss only appears in Prince of Darkness for a few seconds (the scene where Tom falls into the bulldog's cauldron), but its cameo is a welcome one within the film, watched on a small television screen by one of the characters inside the church where much of the film's action takes place. When we watched the film on the big screen built on the stage at the church -- which is now the home of a local theatrical company, the East-West Players -- there was the noticeable sounds of recognition of Heavenly Puss from members of the audience, and one person near the back even clapped twice when Tom showed up. It reminded me of how I often get when I notice a movie cameo inside another film, and how I also make certain to point it out to my wife, whether she cares or not what it is (in most cases, she doesn't).

Despite my rampant and ever-growing atheism, I seem to have a soft spot for films where characters are caught between either heaven and hell or heaven and earth, such as Angel on My Shoulder, The Horn Blows at Midnight, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, its modern (if 1978 is modern to you) remake Heaven Can Wait, and A Matter of Life and Death (to name just a few). I don't believe in upstairs and downstairs at all when it comes to spiritual matters, but I really don't mind when they are portrayed in films. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them, as long as the visuals are groovy and the plots are fun. (A little less so with me when they head for heavier terrain, though there are always exceptions.) Heavenly Puss certainly succeeds on both fronts -- the backgrounds and animation are always pleasing to the eye and the story is a delight -- and it remains one of my favorite Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hair-Raising Hare (1946)

Hair-Raising Hare (1946)
Dir: Chuck Jones
Story: Tedd Pierce
TC4P Rating: 8/9

“Did’ja ever have the feelin’ you was bein’ watched?” 

Bugs Bunny asks this question near the beginning of Hair-Raising Hare, a marvelous Warner Bros. horror spoof directed in 1946 by Charles M. “Chuck” Jones, and it is hard in this day, nearly sixty years later, not to yell back at the screen, “Of course, you moron!” With the omnipresence of social media, cameras on every cell phone, surveillance cameras on every street corner and inside every business, apparent government taps on everything we do, drone technology, and your goddamn nosy neighbors, it is no surprise that we seem to have become both the most narcissistic culture in history, and also the most paranoid. Are you being watched? Don’t worry about it… just give ‘em a good show.

Bugs does give us a good show in Hair-Raising Hare, and he may have gotten the feeling I was watching him a bit too much as this cartoon was replayed over and over again in the late ‘80s on the UHF all-cartoon channel in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. I am pretty certain that I did not encounter this particular cartoon until then, as I do not have a recollection of it from the old Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Saturday morning shows of my youth (my only source of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in those days). Just like I could count on a block of Sniffles or Inki cartoons nearly every day, Hair-Raising Hare almways seemed to be on the channel, and if it wasn't on, it would show up just when I needed it, as I was growing ever more fascinated with the film’s massive, orange, hairy monster. Of course, we now know that creature as Gossamer, but at the time, without an internet to consult, I was only working with the information provided in the short, so I knew him only by the name that is written on the big metal door that contains him: “Monster”.

Hair-Raising Hare sets the proper mood from the start, with a wicked-looking title card composed of a green and black background, yellow “scary” lettering, leering, slight-crossed eyes, and a pair of menacing, clawed hands. (The hair on the back of the hands is a nice touch too.) Carl Stalling’s score plays a big part here too, as the music is very minimal, but the quivering strings build into a couple of quick jolts to establish a nicely sinister mood.

As the camera pans across a darkened forest landscape, Bugs lightens that mood slightly with his always delightful singing. As the camera ultimately rests upon his ubiquitous rabbit hole, Bugs sings offscreen: 

“Goodnight, sweet dreams
Tomorrow’s a-nudder day
Till then, sweet dreams, sweetheart!”

Suddenly, a beam of light forms a column straight up and out of the hole into the nighttime air. Bugs pops halfway out wearing a nightcap and corresponding shirt, and bearing a candleholder. “Eh, I dunno, but did’ja ever have the feelin’ you was bein’ watched?” he asks of the audience, immediately breaking the fourth wall as he so often does. My adoration of Bugs is based greatly on this connection between he and the audience, in the same way that I gravitated towards one of Bugs’ models, Groucho Marx, as a youth (and much later, the “earlier, funnier” Woody Allen). The attraction was that they were talking directly to me, and I responded by aping their every characteristic for the remainder of my life.

After the rabbit asks his question, we suddenly see that Bugs is actually being watched (as he suspected) on a television monitor (called the Televisor), where the controls are being manipulated by a pair of hands clad in red rubber gloves. The camera cuts to a mad scientist who bears about a 98% similarity to the famous actor, Peter Lorre (and star of many Warner Bros. productions of the time). The scientist asks, “Being watched, he says?” The voice is not that of Lorre, but of Mel Blanc doing his version of Lorre (a little bit off, but that may be intentional). 

From behind a nearby door marked “Monster” (as mentioned above) comes a vicious and frantic growling, as the door appears to be getting bashed from inside. “Patience little one,” the scientist says to soothe the monster. “Your dinner will soon be here. A nice tender little rabbit.” As the Lorre stand-in speaks, he builds a robot from the parts out of a box on the floor that reads “One Mechanical Rabbit Lure” (everything but the "ACME"). The parts form a clockwork rabbit in a red dress with a shapely woman’s figure and large windup key on her back. The scientist pats the robot bunny on the bottom and sends her on her way.

Cut back to Bugs still halfway out his hole holding the candle aloft. “You know, I could’ve sworn I was being watched. Yeah, but I guess it was just my imagination.” As he speaks, the female robot bunny zigzags her way up to Bugs from behind, and then departs. Bugs is about to give up for the night, says “Well —!”, and starts to dart down into his hole, seemingly never having seen the robot girl. But we are talking affairs of the heart here, and Bugs shoots back up out the hole with a very quizzical look on his face. And then he is up and into his Groucho stance, following the girl up a long hill with a ominous castle at the top bearing a neon sign above its door that flashes the phrase “Evil Scientist” repeatedly. 

Bugs enters the castle (some excellent use of angles in this scene and many other shots in this film), but the scientist is lying in wait, and slams the giant wooden door shut, barring it, bolting it, and locking it in quick succession. Bugs comes back to tell him, “You don’t need to lock that door, Mac! I don’t wanna leave!” Ever the cad, his eyes roll back to the audience, where he gives a knowing double-click of his tongue, and zips back to his would-be love prize. When he reaches the girl robot, he yells “Bay-bee!” and starts to kiss her, first on the fingertips, the hand, the forearm, and then up her whole arm. But when he reaches her neck, he starts to rattle and shake, her head spins, and she explodes into a dozen parts! Bugs is perturbed, and says “Dat’s the trouble wit’ some dames. Kiss ‘em and they fly apart!”

Bugs is no fool, though. He knows enough to skedaddle out of there once the pickings are slim. He makes to head for the door, but the mad scientist blocks his way, pushing him backward across a couple of rooms by the shoulders as Bugs continues trying to walking forward. “Uh, just a minute. I have another little friend who’d like to eat — uh, meet you.” Bugs, still wearing hot pants for the girl, is excited to hear this, and switches places with the scientist, pushing him backward by the shoulders instead. “Another friend?” Bugs asks. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” Bugs continues to say this until he pushes the scientist all the way to the iron door marked “Monster,” which causes whatever is inside to roar. Bugs jumps at the noise, and wraps himself around the head and body of the mad scientist. “Your — friend?” he asks, and the Lorre-doc says mildly, “Yes.” Bugs grabs the scientist’s hand and shakes it frantically, saying “Well… Goodbye!” California, Here I Come is played on the soundtrack as Bugs walks to a dresser across the room (with a broken vanity mirror), opens a suitcase, pulls clothes out of all three drawers and packs them in the suitcase, grabs an oversized hat from a hatrack, and a bag full of golf clubs, and makes his way back to the scientist, where he turns Groucho again for a line. “And don’t think it hasn’t been a little slice of heaven… because it hasn’t!” Bugs then departs swiftly, shedding the hat, clubs and suitcase, but when he reaches the barred door, he can’t open it.

In the meantime, the monster has been released. He is incredible tall, has an body almost entirely covered in thick, orange fur except for a pair of basketball sneakers, and has a nearly heart-shaped head much larger than the rest of his body. His only facial features are a pair of eyes and a smile that, much like his arms, tends to disappear except for when there is an expressed purpose for it. He stomps his way across the room to Bugs, who is too busy tugging on the door to notice. Bugs turns around suddenly, and the unflappable rabbit is already prepared to deal with this menace to his life. “Here, you look like a strong, healthy boy,” he says cheerfully to the monster. “Gimme a hand!” The monster just growls, and the camera cuts to Bugs’ reaction to the threat, which consists of a series of facial contortions and holding up a pair of signs for the audience to read. The first reads “Yipe!” in fairly small letters given the size of the sign, and then a second one reading “YIPE!” in letters that take up the entire sign. Bugs faints to the floor, lets go of the sign and waves to the audience as he does, and the sign finally drops.

Bugs recovers and bolts down the hallway with the orange monster in hot pursuit. He runs smack into the door, and then chuckles, telling the audience, “Heh heh heh… forgot to open the door!” (Not my favorite gag, I might add.) He then goes through properly and shuts it behind him, with the monster bashing the door from the other side. Breathlessly, Bugs asks “Is there a doctor in the house?” and he is answered right away as the fourth wall continues to take a beating as well. A well-groomed, shadowy figure pops up from the audience at the bottom of the screen, and tells Bugs, “I’m a doctor!” With the monster still straining to get through the door, Bugs doesn’t waste a second to turn around and face the audience with his traditional carrot in hand, and say “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” He wiggles his eyebrows and takes off just as the monster crashes through the door.

Bugs whips past a large mirror in a hallway, and after the monster passes it initially, he turns back to look into the mirror. The monster’s reflection stares back at him, screams desperately, jumps into the air and turns tail to run. The monster looks back at the audience, shrugs his shoulders and hands, and then darts after Bugs once again.

Bugs runs up a flight of stairs, but then runs back down just in time to run straight into the monster and knock him down. As Bugs stands on his chest, he points back and says, “Don’t go up there! It’s dark!” and zips off. The monster next encounters Bugs disguised with a lampshade and switch on his hand. The monster seems skeptical, and lifts the shade. Bugs has a pair of lightbulbs, one in each ear, and so the monster pulls the switch. The lights come on, and the camera cuts to a closeup of the monster rubbing his chin with his finger trying to make sense of things. When the monster looks up, Bugs is dancing away, still dressed as the lamp, to the tune of Shuffle Off to Buffalo. He then makes like a ballerina briefly, with the lampshade in use as a tutu, and then volts off with his usual quickness.

Bugs, ever in charge of the chase, whistles down the monster to get his attention. “Hey! Frankenstein!” and points to get the creature moving in the proper direction. But the tables get turned quickly. A large trap door opens up in front of the rabbit, and Bugs skids to a stop on the very edge of a large pit, kicking a small rock to the water at the bottom to show how far he could have fallen. Bugs prays to whatever god cartoon rabbits pretend to worship, and tiptoes backward away from the edge, only to run into the monster again, with his giant hands full of yellow and black fingernails ready to crush Bugs.

This leads into the most famous part of the cartoon. With a disapproving finger waving in the air, Bugs cries, “Oh, for shame! Just look at your fingernails!” The monster blinks his eyes in confusion as he peers down at his hands. A quick tornado, and suddenly Bugs and the monster are both seated at a small table, where Bugs is busy filing the monster’s claws and making with the salon small talk. In an affected voice, Bugs leads off with “My, I bet you monsters lead in-ter-est-ing lives! I said to my girlfriends just the other day, ‘Gee, I bet monsters are in-ter-est-ing,’ I said. The places you must go and the things you must see. My stars! And I’ll bet you meet a lot of in-ter-est-ing people too. I’m always in-ter-est-ed in meeting in-ter-est-ing people.” Bugs finishes the manicure, and says in a singsong voice, “Now, let’s dip our paddies in the waaa-ter!” The monster complies, placing each paw in a bowl of liquid, but is only rewarded with the stinging snap of dual mousetraps, one on each hand. The monster cries pitifully at the pain, as Bugs makes his escape.

Pausing at the top of a stairway beneath a painting, Bugs swiftly realizes that the eyes of the character in Renaissance dress are following him back and forth. Without warning, Bugs turns and pokes his fingers into the eyes. Bugs splits, and the painting drops to reveal the monster holding his face in pain. He jumps out of the hole in the wall and stops at the next painting, where Bugs is dressed in similar garb to the first painting. When the monster moves to poke Bugs' eyes in the same way, Bugs sticks his fingers out and pokes the monster there first. The monster jumps through the painting to the other side of the wall, but Bugs jumps back out. He tiptoes down the hall, and it is clear the monster is matching his steps from the other side of the wall. After more steps, Bugs comes to a clear spot on the wall. He picks up a hammer, taps it on the wall like you would while looking for a wall stud to hang a picture, marks the spot with a big, black X, and then pulls out a sledgehammer. He smacks the wall as hard as he can, and a crack slowly forms the outline of the monster’s body. The outline falls down from the wall, and then the big, heart-shaped creature falls through it.

Bugs is triumphant. He exclaims, “And so, having disposed of the monster, exit the hero through the front door, stage right!” He launches into his Groucho walk once more, and wiggling his eyebrows, he adds, “None the worse for his harrowing experience!” When he turns the corner, he is shocked to see a suit of armor in the hallway, standing as if on display (and even on a stand) but with the monster clearly jam-packed into it so tightly that tufts of orange fur are seen poking out of it everywhere. (It's kind of adorable, as is Gossamer at several points in this film.) His orange hands are holding an axe above his head, and straining with anticipation over landing a blow to the head of his prey. Bugs chuckles quietly, and leaves briefly, only to come back mounted on a gigantic steed, where Bugs runs the thing like a train engineer as he blows a whistle while resting in the armhole of a suit of armor, ready to joust with the monster. The monster’s head pokes out of the top of his armor in fear, and Bugs hits him so hard that he splats against the far wall, and lands on the floor inside a small tin can bearing his likeness and the name “Canned Monster”.

Bugs, triumphant again, proclaims, “And so, having re-disposed of the monster, exit our hero through the front door, stage right!” Bugs sings his Heading for My Bedding song briefly, but as he walks, he mistakes the monster for a rug, and the monster reaches up to grab Bugs by the throat. Through the crushing fingers, Bugs croaks out, “Wait a minute, Dracula! Did you ever have the feeling you’re being watched? That the eyes of strange, eerie things are upon you?” The monster actually seems to muse on this for a second, and then Bugs adds, “Look, out there in the audience!” The monster turns and his face becomes one of sheer fright. “PEOPLE!” he screams, and turns around and crashes through an unending series of walls to escape the bane of his — and my — existence.

Bugs begins to assume that the third time is a charm, and announces boldly, “And so, having re-re-disposed of the monster…” but he is distracted by the reappearance of the hot girl robot bunny, that has been mysteriously rebuilt (the scientist did sort of disappear in this film, so maybe...) As she parades around, he tries to continue. “Exit our hero…!” but she is just too much for him. “Mechanical,” he says pointing his thumb at her, just as she kisses him on the cheek. “Well! So, it’s mechanical!” he yells, and turns to follow her out, walking like a robot bunny. THE END.

Hair-Raising Hare never gets old for me, even after watching it several times in one morning to write this piece. It may be due to the Halloween spirit in which I have invested myself greatly in relaunching both of my blogs in the past month, as I tend to be more partial to films with horror or monster themes. But today I also rewatched the second film to feature the Gossamer character battling Bugs, 1952’s Water, Water Every Hare (also directed by Jones), and it did not fare quite as well with me. Though I like it, I am disappointed by that short’s mad scientist (done more in the Karloff style, though a good deal shorter than the Lorre knockoff), and it starts to careen into the cutesier Jones material that comes off too sugary for me (at times).

I was disappointed in finding out there were so few films featuring the Gossamer character (just the two in the Golden Age) once I finally got to see one of his films. I suppose he would be hard to adapt to a lot of material, so perhaps it was best they kept him to the horror spoofs they did. That doesn't mean they haven't employed him a lot in recent years, where he has made cameos in a wide variety of TV shows, specials and new shorts using the old characters. He has become more popular in the last twenty years than he was in the studio's creative heyday, and I would have to admit that I am part of that fanbase, even if I haven't purchased any toys or stuffed dolls yet. 

Besides how would he react to being owned by a "people"? I don't think my walls could handle the pressure.