Friday, May 19, 2006

A BOUT WITH A TROUT (1947)

I am always suspicious of films where a character, generally in an attempt on the part of the filmmakers to prove the extent of their character's "special" charms or "unique" intellect to the audience, is introduced via a series of contraptions and devices that are all timed and lined up to show how together this person has their life. Most often employed in conjunction with their arousal from bed in the morning, everything is perfectly engaged to get this person on their way out the door and off to greet the day. For example, in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, the title character uses some slightly modified household devices and a large cache of toys and robots to cook his breakfast, dress him, feed his pets, and generally prep him for a day loose in civilization. In Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the widower inventor portrayed by Dick Van Dyke has an elaborate set-up to prepare breakfast for his motherless children.

Little Lulu is not the man-boy trickster that Pee Wee Herman is, mainly by virtue of being a little girl, nor is she the inventor that Caractacus Potts was, but she can prep her morning like nobody's business. She's got every detail worked outIn fact, she has her Goldberg-inflected world set up to work all through the night as well: she has a lollipop hanging from a string by her pillow so that she can suck it to her face when she snores in, and then lick it several times before she snores it away again. In A Bout With A Trout, after her mother warns her she will be late for school, Lulu bounces off her mattress and straight through her clothes, which are stretched from her ceiling to the floor, and hanging in the order that they are worn on the body. In the bathroom, while make a toothbrushing run, she simply smears the toothpaste of the reflection of her mouth, skipping the actual brushing altogether, and then washes her face with water, shaking a little in the process of being woken up for good by its frigidity. She slides down the bannister and onto a stool set smartly at the bottom of the stairs, the momentum of which carries her over to the dining room table where her breakfast is laid out. Confronted with an egg, and a glass each of milk and juice, she calmly reaches to the side and grabs three straws, sucking down the contents of each in a single simultaneous sip. Zooming to the easy chair and bouncing high into the air, she grabs a fresh lollipop from the just-exiting cuckoo in the clock. She runs to the front door, where she has previously placed her schoolbooks on top of the ledge above, with the ruler sticking down over the edge of the door. Thus, when she opens the door, her books fall straight down into her waiting arms, and she is off to school. The house of schooling? It looms in the distance, and as the last kids enter its welcoming portal beneath its tolling bell, Lulu is clearly late. But, she is not worried about this in the least, owing to the fact that she has no intention whatsoever to actually attend school. She only arrives in time to prop open the bottom step of its stairs, slide her books and ruler inside, and swap them out for her fishing pole instead.

Thus, Little Lulu sets off to play hookey with a hooky. She skips somewhat merrily to her favorite spot, all the while sucking on her cuckoo-approved lollipop. However, Lulu is more than aware that she is doing something bad, and she peeks back at the school in consideration of her action. She shrugs off her concern and resumes her skipping ways, but her conscience is clearly troubled, and as often occurs in films when a character has a moral dilemma, Lulu is visited (atop the stick of the lollipop in her mouth, no less) by tiny angelic and demonic versions of herself. Why Lulu," the Angel-Lulu says, "you're playing hookey! That's a very bad sign!" After Devil-Lulu tells her rival to "Take a powder, sister!", Angel-Lulu reminds her charge that "A line in a book is worth two on a hook!" Devil-Lulu tries to tempt Lulu with a large fish skewered on her pitchfork, but Angel-Lulu warns her not to be tempted. She feeds Lulu a ridiculous line, stating "If you don't go back to school, you may grow up to be a mule!" Maybe if she grew up in Columbia, she might, but more likely she would simply be another teenage mother. "Aw, your mudder's mustache!", Devil-Lulu yells, and pulls the halo down tight over Angel-Lulu's arms. "Amscray, Angel-Puss!" The angelic Lulu is lifted and tossed via pitchfork out of the picture, and Lulu goes off to her fishing vacation from learning.

At Lulu's favorite spot, she baits her hook with a lure that resembles a beautiful lady-fish and casts it into the water. A big blue fish swims up almost immediately, and Lulu causes the lure to dance in a seductive manner, causing the blue fish to whistle and chase after it. The fish grabs the lure, and a terrific tug-of-war takes place, with the line eventually snapping and sending Lulu sailing into the tree behind her, where she slams her head against the trunk and is sent into Dreamland. Stars grow larger and larger as they circle her head and soon, Lulu is quite literally swinging from a star as if the galaxy were her playground, and as she comes to, the famous song detailing said activity plays in its entirety:

"Would you like to swing on a star
carry moonbeams home in a jar
and be better off than you are
or would you rather be a mule?

A mule is an animal with long funny ears
he kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
he's just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
and by the way if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule

Oh would you like to swing on a star
carry moonbeams home in a jar
and be better off than you are
or would you rather be a pig?

A pig is an animal with dirt on his face
his shoes are a terrible disgrace
He's got no manners when he eats his food
He's fat and lazy and extremely rude
But if you don't care a feather or a fig
you may grow up to be a pig

Oh would you like to swing on a star
carry moonbeams home in a jar
and be better off than you are
or would you rather be a fish?

A fish won't do anything but swim in a brook
he can't write his name or read a book
to fool the people is his only thought
and though he's slippery he still gets caught
but then if that sort of life is what you wish
you may grow up to be a fish

And all the monkeys aren't in the zoo
everyday you see quite a few
so you see it's all up to you,
you could be better than you are
you could be swinging on a star!"

Lulu jumps from the swing and slides down a moonbeam, and when she lands, she is surrounded by alphabet blocks and books, with sheets of paper leading up to a singing schoolhouse, which asks her whether she would like to be the animals detailed in the song and then sings each verse. One of the books is open to a picture of a mule, and when its verse occurs, the mule rides and bucks Lulu about, finally sitting on her rudely. Luckily for Lulu, the next page reads "F is for Firecracker" (if the book is written by one of the "learned" of our society, he has something to learn still about alphabetizing), and she lights it underneath the mule, whereupon it explodes, and then Lulu and the mule float to heaven on separate clouds, the mule strumming a harp, and Lulu standing on all fours with mule-ears and a tail.

With the next chorus, Lulu swings from star to star, and each one features an animated photograph of three celebrities: Bing Crosby (who made the song really famous), Bob Hope, and an outrageous Jerry Colonna. Each one sings a different line of the chorus, and then the schoolhouse presents Lulu with a chalkboard drawing of the pig. The drawing comes to life and greedily downs a bowl of slop, and after the silly "feather or a fig" rhyme, the chalkboard falls, the slate turns into black mud, and Lulu finds herself crawling out of the mess in the form of a swine, but one still wearing Lulu's garb.

The next chorus finds Lulu swining in front of a star, at the top of which rests a sign pointing out the three "R's". That one of these is not really an "R" but really an "A", and that it is ridiculous to whine about getting an education while supporting a lack of decent spelling, are never mentioned in the film. Next, Lulu finds herself in the ocean with a large fish, which, like Little Lulu, is wearing a dunce cap as it taunts and plays with the girl. Both are finally captured by a large net and thrown unceremoniously in a goldfish bowl. (I guess turning Lulu into fish sticks would have been a little too-too...) A simian version of Lulu is then seen standing in front of a three-angle mirror as a toy monkey hangs by its tail from a pencil and sings its verse. Lulu apparently has learned her lesson not to, uh, be four different types of animals, and marches into the schoolhouse's mouth/door. Inside, anthropomorphic letters cheer her arrival, and a conga line is formed with Lulu at the lead, and the lot of them parade across the room, and then Lulu ascends up a stair of alphabet blocks. She leaps from the Z at the top onto a pair of paintbrushes, which she uses as skis to slide down another row of letters, at the end of which is a ski jump. She lands on a staircase of books rising out of the dreamland, and she pogos on a pencil to the top, where she ends up standing on the crescent moon. The moon sprinkles her with stardust, and she comes out wearing a glowing cap and gown, and then the moon hands her a diploma. The earth floats in on cloud (and supported by a globe base) and shakes her hand in congratulations.

Lulu wakes up on the riverbank and pulls the still tugging fish ashore. She releases and throws the fish back in the water, snaps her pole, and zooms like a comet to the schoolhouse. The kids are leaving for the day, but she retrieves her books from inside the steps, and runs into the classroom. The teacher admonishes her for such behavior, and tells her to write 1000 times that she will not play hookey again. Lulu does this, and soon fills several chalkboards full of her punishment, but of course, she does it her way: she has constructed a combination of a yardstick and several pieces of chalk in such a way that she can write an entire column of lines all at once. She may be in school, but she isn't stupid.

I've already slightly detailed some of my problems with the film, and the dream sequence has some memorable imagery, but I find it much weaker than some of the ones that will come later when Famous turns the disappeared Lulu into a new version called Audrey. Lulu, as always, is an engaging heroine/brat, but I find this particular entry in the series to be a little lacking overall in wit, though the angel-devil gimmick has some fun lines.

And that opening where everything is perfect in the morning?
The problem with these scenarios is that much care has to be made the previous night to get all of this to work properly the next morn. What good is it to shave twenty minutes off your morning ritual if you have to spend an hour setting everything up before you go to bed?

I suppose that most people are not enraptured with waking up each morning. I, myself, am a morning person -- actually, I'm an all-day person, but I practically, and sometimes do quite literally, hop out of bed each and every day at 6:00 am. So, maybe I am looking askance at these tactics merely out of personal skewing, and for a non-waker-upper, such preparation might come in handy.

But, really, the only way to swing on a star is either to stay up late or wake up when they are still out. You could stay up setting up your morning-Rub-Goldberg-wakey-uppy device, but you might miss your opportunity to swing because it will take you hours and all of your attention to get it set just right. Or you could do it my way: just freakin' get up...

Or would you rather be a pig?

A Bout With A Trout (Paramount/Famous Studios, 1947) Director: Isadore Sparber
Animators: Myron Waldman, Gordon Whittier, Nick Tafuri, Irving Dressler and William B. Pattingill
Story: I. Klein and Jack Ward
Music: Winston Sharples
Scenics: Anton Loeb
Cel Bloc Rating: 6

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Little Lulu realizes she was punished from playing hooky after the dream sequence, and it reminds me of the scene of Dabney Wharton Coleman in the dream scene and he was punished for being a bigot on "Hit the Road, Newbill" on "Buffalo Bill."