Tuesday, March 21, 2006

JANIE GET YOUR GUN (1965)

Imagine that the famous Calamity Jane had actually been made the sheriff of a small western town. Didn't happen, but it certainly could have been. She had the qualifications, i.e. she was pushy and had guns. Now imagine that this small western town were just prosperous enough to have some sort of sewage system under its dusty, dirt-laden streets, enough so, that there were a manhole cut right into the middle of its main street. Not probable, but sewage systems have existed for thousands of years, so it is possible that this tiny little ramshackle burg could possess such a thing. (Ahem...) Now, imagine that the antagonist in the film uses a Polaroid Camera, not released for commercial use until 1947 (and, I might add, Calamity Jane died in 1903), to set up the entire plot of Janie Get Your Gun, a Woody Woodpecker short from 1965. Oh, yeah... there is a talking woodpecker in it, too, but that's the believable part.

Closer in spirit to the bedraggled character portrayed by the excellent Robin Weigert in the current HBO series Deadwood than to the Calamity Jane portrayed by Doris Day and host of other inappropriate hotties throughout film history (though Weigert is actually quite attractive out of character), and closer in body type and elasticity to Olive Oyl, the Calamity Jane that inhabits this short is a cantankerous gal who is, as stated earlier, the sheriff of this town. However, like the Doris Day version, she is pretty sharp with a song, opening the cartoon with a show-stopping version of her own theme song, detailing just how tough and rugged she is, and basically telling the world that she always gets her man. Slapping a wanted poster up on a wall featuring a goofy-looking blonde cowboy (which reads "Wanted $1000 Reward"), she marches off to search for the cad, but he is actually hiding in the room next to the wall where she placed the poster.

Enter Woody Woodpecker, who spies the poster and just can't wait to catch the bozo and get the reward. Unfortunately for Woody, the "bad guy" takes his picture with the aforementioned Polaroid Camera, and then slips the picture of Woody over his own photo on the wanted poster. (He then spends the remainder of the movie wearing a beard and chortling on the sidelines at the antics of the other two.) Jane returns, sees the poster, sees Woody, and blasts him full in the face with her pistol. Woody jumps on a horse to escape, but as he gallops, it turns out that Jane is holding the saddle in mid-air. Woody jumps down and kicks her in the behind, leaving two horseshoe prints on her dress.

Later, Woody is standing in profile, when Jane sneaks up on him from behind. "Stick 'em up, redhead!", she demands, but Woody's eye rolls to the back of his head to see the pistol, and ducks out in time to avoid the blast. Jane makes to fire again, but the bullet sputters and drops unspent from the pistol. Woody picks it up and asks, 'Is this your lipstick, ma'am?" Jane falls for it, and when she tries to apply the imagined tube to her lip, the bullet that is is in actuality explodes in her face. She smiles at the audience, and the letters O-U-C-H are carved into her teeth. As Woody tries to escape again, Jane throws a lasso at him, but she is stretched further and further as she grabs a porchbeam for support. Eventually, she pulls the shack apart and is then whisked through the air. We then discover that Woody has tied the rope to a passing train, and Jane is dragged along on her behind for numerous stinging bumps. She then follows Woody into a saloon, but the bird swings the doors shut on her, trapping her head in between them. Then, Woody hooks a piano roll to her dress, and she is pulled into the confines of a player piano, which plays until it explodes with her inside. Finally, the chase leads to two barrels, where Jane and Woody pass a stick of TNT back and forth until you-know-who gets blown up again. (Woody also throws in a mouse for good measure; after all, she is a woman. No matter her prowess with a weapon or her toughness and ability, she must be afraid of mice...)

Jane catches Woody in front of the poster (like there's going to be a big reveal or something), and as she counts to three before she blasts him, the picture of Woody falls to the ground, and Jane recognizes the guy on the poster as the chortling doofus with the beard who has been lurking about throughout the picture. The guy has no idea why he is being pursued, but Jane tells him, "You stole my heart away!" The next scene is their wedding, and Woody is carrying the train on Jane's dress. But, darn those pesky manholes in the sewer systems of tiny little towns in the Old West! Woody falls through the open portal, and Jane's dress is torn clear off in front of the populace. Her intended beau? He begins chortling anew at her discomfort!

A couple of decent gags, but most of the set-ups are painfully obvious, with the barrel sequence being particularly egregious in this regard. But, outside of some bad timing, what really bothers me in this picture is the camera and the plot. My problem with the camera lies in its existence at all in the picture. If Woody were to pop it out from behind his back in the middle of the film, and use it for a quick gag, and then move on to the next joke sans Polaroid, it would be fine. Cartoon characters do this sort of thing constantly throughout film history. Anachronisms are common everywhere in cartoons, but it doesn't work as well when the entire picture hangs on its use. I know that Polaroids were hugely popular when this film came out, so it is meant as a wink at the audience, but it simply doesn't work. Better that the doofus had merely painted Woody's image on the poster (of course, that would ruin the big reveal at the end... oh, wait... it was ruined in its development...)

As for the hitch in the plot: Jane is the sheriff, and if the sheriff is the one putting up wanted posters in the town, how come she can't return to a spot where she put up a wanted poster not two minutes before, and realize that something has been switched around on her? If the doofus on the poster were someone she were going to arrest or kill, it would be one thing. Then, her immediate blasting of Woody's face would make some sense, I guess. But the poster boy is the man that she professes to love; surely, she's not stomping about looking to shoot the guy in the face. So, if she were to return to that spot and spy the changed poster, at the very least, she would fooled into thinking that Woody was her intended, and then chase him about and try to marry the woodpecker! Not rain him with bullets! Plus, there is the fact that her poster-boy is blonde, while Woody, and she points this out clearly in her dialogue, is a redhead. You'd think she would pick up on that fact, too.

But, hell. What do I know? I'm still too busy thinking about their sewage system. And where to find a camera to take a picture of it...

Janie Get Your Gun (A Walter Lantz Cartune, 1965) Dir: Paul J. Smith
Cel Bloc Rating: 4

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