Thursday, January 26, 2006

BASEBALL BUGS (1946)

"The Gas House Gorillas are a bunch of doity players!"

Bugs Bunny is right... the Gas House Gorillas are doity... er, dirty, and not only that, they are the dirtiest team in baseball. They are also the meanest. Not just content to be bigger and tougher than every other player on the field, they also have to bully and cajole their opponents throughout the course of each game. This nets them huge batches of runs, hits and homers every inning; just about everything good in baseball comes easily their way in bulk form. Because of this, they seem to be unstoppable and unbeatable; muscle-bound juggernauts in baseball flannel. Oh, yeah. I almost forgot: they also cheat big...

Friz Freleng's answer to Tex Avery's (and MGM's) Batty Baseball (1944), Baseball Bugs, like its predecessor, is top-loaded with terrific baseball gags; somehow, they have managed the feat of not repeating any of the same ones, despite, literally, playing on the same field. Marvelously detailed in its uniforms, ballpark atmosphere, and even in the radio announcing, this film is a wonderful treat for any baseball fan. You really do feel as if you are attending this game, almost as if you had first-base seats, and it really does capture the mood that any great ballgame has in spades: both the joyous bursts of energy and the almost unearthly stillness that are the seeming yin and yang of baseball action.
Early on in the film, there is a memorable shot (actually my favorite bit in the film) of a baseball with a human face releasing a banshee's call as the announcing declares that someone has hit "a screaming liner!" It is certain that this film is imbued with what Kinsella referred to as "The Thrill of the Grass".

At the start of the game, the only ones not feeling that thrill are the Tee-Totallers, an old-timers squadron somehow duped into playing the mountainous cigar-chomping fiends that are piled onto the bench of the Gas House Gorillas. "I'm only 93 and a half years old," declares the wizened batsman shakingly facing about nine feet of monstrous pitcher. He has no chance against this Hydean construct, and neither does the rest of his aged team, with the Gorillas racking up runs like so much cordwood (the score after only four innings is a close 96-0). When the umpire calls a Gorilla pitch a "ball," the ump is pounded into the ground by the catcher, and the umpire realizes his mistake and changes the call. The weakened arm of the Tee-Totallers' pitcher results in a conga line of Gorillas players, and the score flips on the scoreboard as if they were playing pinball.

In the midst of the carnage, sitting in left field in a rabbit hole, replete with straw hat, soda bottle, bag of peanuts, and munching on a hot carrot dog, is our hero Bugs Bunny, who shouts out insults at the Gorillas, and tells them that he can "Beat'cha with one hand tied behind my back!" The Gorillas surround him, and after confirming his intentions, pile equipment into his open arms, slap a cap roughly over his head, and accept his challenge. The announcer tells the crowd of the change in the lineup, saying the name of each position in conjunction with Bugs' name 9 times over.

Bugs takes the mound first, and he is truly a sight to behold, with perhaps the most awkwardly effective windup in the history of baseball. He generates Bob Feller-plus velocity, though, because he is Bugs, he is fleet enough of foot to beat his pitch easily to the plate, run past the batter, turn his cap around, put on a catcher's mitt, and still have plenty of time to await the pitch, which upon his catching it sends him careening ass over tit into the stands. "That's the ol' pepper, boy! That's the pitchin'!," he roots himself on, and throws the ball back to himself on the mound. After repeating this success, he then decides to perplex the Gorillas with his slowball, which is so tantalyzingly easy-seeming that two other Gorillas line up behind the batter to take their swings at it. Of course, all three whiff in quick (or rather, slow) succession: 9 strikes and yer out!

Finally, Bugs takes to the plate after calling for the batboy, which is actually a boy bearing both bats and batwings, and knocks a drive into the outfield. After rounding the bases, Bugs finds home plate entirely blocked by a far too smug Gorilla, whom Bugs easily evades by producing a Vargas-type centerfold, sending the big mug into fits of whistling and lustful bouncing. There is fanfare on the soundtrack, and the scoreboard notches up Bugs' first run. The next time around, Bugs is clearly safe, but the umpire has been beaten up and replaced by a Gorilla, who calls the rabbit "Out!" Bugs climbs up into his clothes and inside the mask and argues the lug into responding, in the classic way that Bugs often verbally twists his opponent's words, into declaring him "Safe!", and the scoreboard rings up another run. Another long drive from Bugs causes the outfielder to declare "I Got It! I Got It!", but it is a far sharper hit than he believed, and it leaves him under the dirt with a tombstone reading "He Got It!" Bugs' success at the plate has balls bouncing off of players like unto a pinball machine, and the scoreboard responds accordingly.

Bugs takes the lead, 96-95. The Gorillas are at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with one man on and two outs, a classic scenario for heroics (or anti-heroics, on the part of the Gorillas). Pre-pitch, the Gorilla batter runs off the field, cuts down a tree, carves a bat handle into the end, and runs back to the plate with the gigantic bat in hand. Bugs says to us, with alliterative ease, "Watch me paralyze this pathetic palooka with a powerful, paralyzing, perfect pachydermous percussion pitch!", and he puts every bit of mustand and relish in his repetoire into the thing, but the Gorilla has other plans. He easily knocks the ball out of the ballpark and into the city. Bugs catches a Mellow Cab to chase the ball, but the cab goes the other direction, and Bugs discovers that one of the Gorillas is at the wheel. He catches a far more trustworthy bus and gets out at the Umpire State Building, charging to the top floor and runs himself up the flagpole. He throws his mitt into the air, catches the ball and then the glove, and the umpire, who has apparently climbed the outside of the building, pronounces the Gorilla "Out!" The Gorillas dispute the call, but the Statue of Liberty comes to life and reprimands them. Bugs backs her up, and the picture ends in an argument.

Despite how much I enjoy this cartoon, there have always been three things that bother me about it. The more minor of the three is that the Gorillas bat in the fourth inning on two separate occasions, with a Tee-Totaller at-bat sandwiched in between. Also, the Tee-totallers are the home team at the beginning of the film, very clearly, but once Bugs enters the picture, the Gorillas have become the home team. Perhaps a gentlemanly side-rule since Bugs is the, however accidental, challenger? The third nitpick is that the Gorillas already had 96 runs after four innings, which they show on a couple occasions after Bugs start showing (there is no total shown, but if you can add four numbers together, 10-28-16-42, you get 96. The Gorillas start the cartoon with 94 runs and add two before Bugs starts playing), but once the game's end is reached, the score is shown and announced as being 96-95 Bugs Bunny. So, this game should actually go into extra innings, but perhaps Leon Schlesinger didn't want to spend any extra money on a longer cartoon?

Holy cow! I am such a geek...

Baseball Bugs (Warner Bros., 1946) Dir: Isadore "Friz" Freleng
Cel Bloc Rating: 8

No comments: