Saturday, April 08, 2006

BIG MAN FROM THE NORTH (1931)

Ah, snowstorms! How I don't miss them! I have made it through my first winter away from Alaska, and I didn't miss the snow and ice for one second. I'm sure that I will miss the snow eventually (my love of sledding is too intense), perhaps even as soon as this October, but I will never miss the ice. (A note to the Duke: it is one thing to not be afraid to fall on the ice, and I will forever be that in my heart; but once the knee goes on you and the slightest slip can cause it swell it to the size of Fat Albert, physically, you have to practice a little restraint...) Now that I am mired in March in OrCo (a better way to refer to the OC, now that it has become annoying to hear the initials), and the rain has been pouring for weeks now, I have started to think about my lost Alaskan winter, and really begun to ponder when I will start to miss the freezing white stuff.

And then I watch Big Man from the North, a Bosko movie that actually has a plot, rudimentary though it is, and I see the opening snowstorm -- nay, blizzard -- and I go, "Nope! Don't miss that... at... all!" You see, I don't drive. Not one bit. So, I've had to do more than my share of pulling up the ol'hood, ducking my head down, defogging my glasses every hundred yards or so, slogging through the buildup on the sidewalks where the graders scoop everything from the streets, and hoping against hope that a stray wisp of subzero wind doesn't sting my ear or nose with a nasty case of frostbite (I've actually frozen the tip of my ear -- twice). Mind you, it's pretty dangerous driving in a car in a snowstorm, too, and it's my own choice not to drive, so I'm not looking for sympathy here. I'm only stating that when I see a blizzard now in a film like Big Man from the North, where the wind performs a John Bonham-like thrumming on the door of the cabin, and the characters struggle to keep it closed while the snow tries to finagle its way inside -- well, I really do think about my Alaska days, and while I never lived in a cabin like in the film (and don't even start in on the igloo thing), I have already spent all the time that I wish in snowstorms. Soooooo -- nope! Don't miss them at all...

But I can watch them in this flick, safely from the not-yet-crushing heat of an OrCo spring day, and be taken to an Arctic world where our little happy-go-lucky Bosko is a deputy Mountie who is much put upon by his sergeant, in a manner that many police sergeants tend to be. At Big Man's start, the sergeant mountie is pacing back and forth worldly while a horrid snowstorm threatens to tear civilization apart outside. At the least, it threatens to tear away the "Mounted Police" sign outside the cabin (along with a sapling next to it.) To calm his nerves, with each pace, the sergeant spits a huge black loogie in the direction of the wood-burning stove in the corner, and it sizzles when it meets the metal surface.

Suddenly, he opens the door to the cabin, and in comes his little deputy Bosko, though it is certainly a wind-aided effort when he does enter. As he is swept in, Bosko struggles mightily against the wind and even performs a Chaplinesque windwalk (if you think the filmmakers haven't seen The Gold Rush, you are wrong), but before long, Bosko is sent flying against the wall opposite the door. However, on the way to the wall, Bosko grabs the seat of the sergeant's pants and tears them off his body. As the sergeant pushes for all he's worth to close the door against the blizzard, Bosko gets up to help his boss, but once again, the wind is too much for the little deputy, and he grabs the sergeant's seat a second time, and this time, with nothing else to grab, he tears off a huge chunk of the sergeant's underwear! Bosko is sent crashing once again into the wall. Finally, the sergeant manages to shut the door, though there is a hesitation on his part as he watches the wind try to force it open again.

He then turns on Bosko, who gets up and salutes him, and then shakingly hands the sergeant the torn-off pants. "These yours, Mr. Sergeant?" The sergeant takes his pants and puts them on, and then goes behind his desk for his big dramatic moment. On the wall behind Bosko is a wanted poster reading "$5000 Reward -- Wanted: Dead or Alive", and on it is a picture of a gruff-looking individual, who could easily almost be Peg Leg Pete, were this a Disney film. The sergeant pulls the poster off the wall and pushes it roughly in Bosko's face. "Get your man!", he bellows, and Bosko can only ask meekly, "Who? Me?" The sergeant orders simply and brusquely, "Go!", and Bosko is sent out into the storm. (The Bosko films are not known for the wit of their dialogue, but at least the language is direct and to-the-point informational.)

He fights his way to his dog sled, where three mushing dogs await. They are overjoyed to see Bosko and also for the chance to pull the sled, and they bark happily at the sight of him. Two of the dogs are rather big, and because this is a cartoon where wacky visuals count for everything, the dog in the middle of the run is tiny and black, possibly a terrier of some sort, and about a sixth of the size of the other two dogs. So, when they bark, it is with the larger barks of the big dogs interrupted by the cute yip of the smaller one. After Bosko yells "Mush!", the dogs take off, and with every few paces, the little dog gets stretched out on the line between the other two bigger dogs. When they come to a depression in the landscape, following true the Bosko tradition of such things, the legs of all three dogs stretch to fill the gap in space, with their bodies remaining level with the horizon. The sled comes to a steep slope, and the group begin sliding down it. A pair of boulders obstruct their path, but the bigger dogs are not bothered by them; the little dog, however, is not so lucky and hits each rock, spinning about each time helplessly. When they reach the bottom of the hill, there is the side of a log building sitting immediately in their path, and Bosko, the dogs and the sled all crash into its side. Bosko is shaken but fine, but the dogs are another matter. They have mashed up into one huge mutant potpourri of a dog, with a big round body with all three heads sticking out of it at odd angles (but with only four feet... curious...) But, the dogs are true to their profession and set themselves on sniffing out the villain; so, the canine mash-up stretches out like a giant tri-noggined dachschund, with a head at each end and the little dog's head sticking out the middle of its back, turns the corner, and sniffs its way out of the picture.

Bosko turns around the corner of the building he has crashed into, and it turns out to be the town saloon. Eyeing another copy of the Wanted poster to reacquaint himself with his target, he spitshines his badge on the seat of his pants, proudly attaches it to his puffed-out chest, and then pulls out two huge pistols from inside his pants (where Bosko apparently keeps all of his belongings). Prepared for action, he strides into the saloon looking for the villain, but his attention is instantly diverted by Honey, who is playing a saloon girl. She is singing, or rather, she is la-la-la-ing on a tabletop next to the piano, and Bosko falls in love at first sight. The song she is la-la-la-ing is called Chinnin' and Chattin' with May", a hit song from 1930, and the lyrics are as follows:

"Love is great in the moonlight
All our rides are okay
But I spend my whole evening
Chinnin' and chattin' with May

Though we talk about nothin'
We've got plenty to say
And I'm always so happy
Chinnin' and chattin' with May

She'll say, "Night-Night"
Then I'll give her a kiss
I'll say, "I like
Conversation like this"

Never go to a movie
Never go to a play
I get my entertainment
Chinnin' and chattin' with May"

But when the talented songstress Honey tackles it in her distinctive style, the song comes out like this:

"Yah-da-da Da-da-da-da
Yah-da-da Da-da-da
Yah-da-da Da-da-da-da
Yah-da-da-da da-da-da!
Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo-Bo!"
(repeat)

Bosko is overwhelmed by her talent and beauty. He puts his pistols back into his pants (which is generally the opposite thing of what you do when falling in love), and jumps up on the table to join Honey in the song and dance routine. Bosko punctuates the music with little kazoo-like bursts from holding his fingers to his lips; when the song ends, the audience, made up entirely of various woodland creatures, prospectors which are really dogs with beards, and cows banging mugs on tables, breaks into applause, including a pair of beavers who slap their tails together repeatedly. "Watch this!", orders Bosko, and he jumps down to the piano, spins about on the piano stool, and begins playing a solo. As he gleefully pounds on the keys (at one point, even punching them), Bosko is joined by three beavers, who perform their version of a tap-dance routine by rhythmically slapping their tails on the counter of the bar. Bosko begins to scat the next verse, but then has the scat scared out of him by the sudden and violent appearance of the Pete-like villain, who smashes through the saloon doors, guns a-blazin'! (My earlier mention of his resemblance is partially backed up by the fact that he, too, has a peg for a leg.)

The villainous cretin pegs his way to the bar, and then pounds on it impatiently for a drink, and Bosko, as scared as anyone in the saloon, sets his resolve to bring the creep to justice. The little deputy throws his arms about his own chest and puffs it up; when he lets go, to his surprise, it drops clear to the floor. Bosko yells "Hey!" at the villain, and the murderous swine takes one look at the size of the would-be hero and laughs uproariously. "You is arrested!", commands Bosko, but the villain just laughs again. So, Bosko pulls his pistol out and points it at him, but when Bosko pulls the trigger, a cork pops out of the barrel meekly and falls to the floor. This gives the villain the chance to pull his own gun, and Bosko shivers when he sees that the gun is easily the size of Bosko himself, but our hero eyes the lamp overhead and manages to spit the lights out at the last second. (Yes, I said he spits the lights out...) The flame from the light falls and hits the ground, snuffing itself out, and causing the bar to plunge into darkness.

The blackness is interrupted by numerous shots from all directions, and then the lights mysteriously go back on, and Bosko is gone. The villain searches all about the place but is unable to find the lad. Suddenly, Bosko pops up out of a hole in the floor brandishing a machine-gun. As he is behind the villain, Bosko shoots the cad multiple times in his keister. The villain growls and pulls out a huge Bowie knife. He charges at Bosko (which makes for a rather scary visual, the angle being somewhat unique), but the small deputy is too quick and easily avoids him, and the villain ends up getting his head trapped in the doorway to the saloon, dropping his knife as he does. To Bosko, who picks up the weapon, the knife is more the size of a cutlass, and he makes good use of it, plunging the blade deep into the rear of his trapped foe! (Is this a shocking turn? And how...!) The villain howls with pain, and the action causes him to pry himself loose. He pulls the blade from his butt, and makes to charge at Bosko once more. Bosko, however, has other plans, for he has found a shotgun perched on the wall of the saloon, and he fires it straight at the villain. There is a loud explosion, and all of the villain's fur is blasted off his body! The huge and scary villain, once all of his cover has been blown, is revealed to practically have the body of a scrawny chicken. He yowls, and turns to run away, but his pants fall down when he does, revealing his naked behind as he scurries off into the snowy night. Bosko runs to the center of the villain's fallen gunbelt, and the entire bar cheers the courageous hero, and the film irises out.

The plot is nothing more than your basic melodramatic mountie action, but it is something, even though most of the film is devoted to the usual body-stretching gags and the contracted inclusion of a Warner Bros. song in the musical sequence. Honey is even forgotten at the film's climax, where it would have been appropriate for her to congratulate her suitor-hero with at least a hug, if not a kiss. And the savage storm that opens the film? It apparently has subsided by the time Bosko takes off in the dog sled, and the last trace of snow in the flick is a trace of it on the corner of the saloon when Bosko enters it. Once he does, the film could then take place in any bar in any western film -- albeit with beavers hanging out inside. And, was Peg Leg Pete such a great villain that other companies couldn't help but replicate him?

I'm toasty warm nowadays. Far, far from the world that I used to know, full of snowstorms and icy streets and window-scraping and endless shoveling... and snowball fights, hot chocolate, sledding, skiing, snow angels, snowmen, snowforts...

Crap... I'm starting to miss it already...

Big Man From the North (Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, 1931) Dir: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

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