Monday, July 03, 2006

HAREDEVIL HARE (1948)

Recently, I've been perusing the latest issue of Filmfax, a magazine that often reads more like a catalog (which, in many ways, it is), but nonetheless is packed with some incredible informative articles on some rather obscure areas or personalities. While I don't really need to know what the extra in White Pongo thought about the horrible gorilla suit, it's nice to have such thoughts easily at one's disposal should one have the inclination to fill their brain with such trivia. In this latest ish, I have been reading with great relish (and some far too mild red pepper spread) an article on Chesley Knight Bonestell, who was one of those select souls who rendered a great service to the masses by giving them a hopeful glimpse into what life on other planets might look like. Paintings, endless pulp magazine covers, movie production set design and matte paintings; Bonestell's outer space artwork (begun, astoundingly, at the age of 56) laid down the groundwork for the science fiction world at large in the late 40's and through the 60's, and influenced millions with his visions of life in the final frontier. Most importantly, not only did he inspire the space program to come, he also influenced a generation of moviemakers who instilled his imagery into their productions.

With all due respect to those who paved the public consciousness highway to prepare the masses' minds to deal with the concept of space travel, they really didn't affect me directly through their art. I didn't really see his art growing up. I was a child of the 70's, so all of my influences in this department generally came second or third hand, filtered through the eyes of those who had originally been inspired by the paintings of Bonestell and his ilk. While I distinctly remember watching the moon landing on our black-and-white as a 5-year old in 1969, my alien worlds were those of the original Star Trek, Lost in Space and Alex Toth's Space Ghost. (I didn't discover Flash Gordon until I was 10.) Chiefly though, my vision of outerspace life really was solidified by my adoration of the greatest space invader (well, at least until that crazy Zim guy) that ever threatened doom upon the planet Earth: Marvin Martian. Through only five (yes, only five!) films, all directed by his creator Chuck Jones, the Martian with the adenoidal voice and unflappable resolve to destroy humanity was usually the high point of every Saturday morning. A Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show episode was always a special thing (I had no idea just how cut up the shorts were on the show), but one with Marvin, especially when battling the dopily heroic Duck Dodgers, was always the cherry on the Saturday sundae.

In his first attack on our world, however, he is faced with his most common foe, Bugs Bunny. (Initially, he only met Daffy and Porky once.) In Haredevil Hare from 1946, his Martian attack force (of only two - he and his trusty canine) is met and foiled on the moon, and poor ol' Luna is surely gonna pay for it! It's a case of wrong place at the wrong time for the satellite. The opening exposition is provided via The Daily Snooze, which proclaims "SCIENTISTS TO LAUNCH FIRST ROCKET TO MOON". A later edition adds the romantic notion that "HEROIC RABBIT VOLUNTEERS AS FIRST PASSENGER". That's right. Proudly leading the short parade of fur-bearing "volunteers" to the world's quest to explore space for the betterment of mankind is none other than Bugs Bunny. In this case, "proudly leading" means being dragged backwards by space program officals while Bugs scratches helplessly at the desert sands screaming "No! No! I'm too young to fly! I've got a wife and kids! Millions of kids!" They make their way to the titanic rocket that will propel the poor bunny into the stratosphere, and Bugs asserts his opposition to the plan, shouting "No! Ya can't get me into that flyin' cigar!" His mind is changed swiftly by the appearance of a supply chopper, which drops about a year's worth of delicious carrots into the rocket's hold. "You talked me into it!", the bunny agrees and then he runs up the outside of the rocket and squeezes himself through the tiny aperture on its cone. To the camera, Bugs casually mentions "I usually take a size 36!"

With the "heroic" rabbit nested inside his new home, the scientists prepare the vessel for launch, a rigidly planned and complicated system that comprises nothing more than a tiny stick of TNT that is bolted to the side of the rocket. It's power is exceedingly deceptive, though, and when the rocket whooses into space, the G-forces slam Bugs backwards so that the rocket's metal bottom conforms to the shape of Bugs' body. A lurch sends him screaming forward again and he is flattened against the inside wall. Bugs makes an effort to leap out of the escape hatch, but then he sees moving far, far away in the distance, and he realizes he is surrounded only by dark, lonely space. "Only a coward would desoit a ship", he tells himself to pep himself up, but then a pair of passing comets barely dodge the ship, and Bugs is suddenly hit with spacesickness. He seems ever prepared to heave, but then the ship speeds up even more, and Bugs screams for his life as the rocket hurtles through space. The ship zooms straight down at the moon, but a direct hit is avoided as it swoops into the curved surface of a crater, then after undergoing a rough series of tumbles and somersaults, the rocket crashes in a heap against another crater. Bugs is rattled, and he makes all manner of strange noises and bodily twitches in his delirium. "Earth Calling Bugs Bunny! Are you there? Over!", the radio cries, and Bugs picks up the receiver, making the same noises and twitches into it, before finishing with "Over!"

Bugs starts to explore the moon, sans spacesuit of helmet, and overwhelmed with the idea that he is "all alone on the moon!" His panic turns into Bugs' usual calm manner after he pushes his hands into his pockets (yes, he has pockets in his "rabbit suit") and muses "Anyway, I'm the first living creature to set foot on the moon!" What Bugs doesn't see as he says this is the flattened surface of a large moonrock with an inscription that reads, in lovely penmanship, "KILROY WAS HERE". Suddenly, another rocket zooms straight over Bugs' head and lands on the moon. With its engines still smoking, we see the words "MARS TO MOON EXPEDITIONARY FORCE" on its side, and then the hatch opens to allow a platform with another smaller but still formidable looking rocket, named the V-16, to pop out. From out of the rocket marches an oddly shaped fellow with a Roman Legionnaire-type helmet on his head, a face completely cast in shadows so that we only see his eyes from inside the helmet, and a scrawny little body (with a Roman skirt to match the helmet), on the skinny legs of which he is wearing a pair of sneakers. He skitters over to the V-16, aims its sights on the Earth, and then goes to a map to calculate his attack.

Bugs sneaks up behind the little guy and asks him, after a couple of stalls, "Eh, what's up, Doc?" The Martian, who seems unsurprised by the rabbit's intrusion, confidently answers in a nasally tone, "Oh, uh, I'm going to blow up the Earth." "Yeah, well you sure picked a nice day for it!", Bugs answers calmly as though just making small talk. "Hey, nice looking wee-pon ya got there! Well, I'll be seeing ya around, Shorty!" Bugs starts to leave, remarking "Now, there's a brainy little guy! Probably get ahead in the moon!" As the Martian starts to light a tiny explosive device on the V-16, Bugs returns to inquire further of the invader, "Eh, pardon me for botherin', Marconi! But, did you say you was going to blow up da Oith?" The Martian reaffirms his plans, and Bugs says "Yeah, that's what I thought ya said. Well, adios!" Bugs walks off again, saying "Well, one man's meat is another man's poison, I always say! After all, it's his business if he wants to blow up da Oith." Suddenly, the words ring true in Bugs' skull, and he leaps up in shock. He zips back to the V-16 and steals the explosive device, telling the little guy, "Ya can't do dat! All da people I know are on da Oith!" He struts off with the device, muttering to himself, "Da noive of dis character..."

The Martian is now compelled to call out "the reserves" and he pulls out a largely ineffectual trumpet, which nonetheless calls forth the other member of the Mars-to-Moon Expeditionary Force: his dog. (Later on, he will become known as K-9.) Clad in the same outfit as the eventually-named Marvin (though that will occur some 20 years later), and with fur set in a light-green shade (with even greener ears), the dog responds to his master's call. Marvin instructs him, "Go get that Earth creature and bring back the Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator!" The dog salutes with his ear, and then his four sneaker-clad feet turn about separate from the body and he marches off backwards on his quest, never turning his head. Back at his Moon rocket, having set the PU-36 down on the ground, Bugs desperately tries to contact Earth via radio, but all he receives is a humorous radio jingle for a cereal company. Suddenly, the Martian dog is sitting silently next to Bugs, holding the PU-36 in his mouth. "Well, well," Bugs notices, "What are you made up for?" To the camera, he asks us to "Check out the fugitive from the Dog Star!"

Bugs manages to get the device back from the dog by subjecting him to a round of "Oh, no you wont's!" and "Oh, yes you wills!", whereby Bugs turns the phrasing about in mid-battle, so that the dog becomes determined to turn the weapon back over to the rabbit. "You'll take it or I'll shove it down yer t'roat!", the dog commands. Bugs takes it, but as he sneaks off with the prize, he counters "But I'll tell my big brudder, and he'll fix you up all right!" After the dog declares , "I guess I showed him!", he realizes the error of his ways and bolts straight at the rabbit, getting all tangled up with him in the process. Bugs turns the mood romantic by telling the dog, who is hugging the rabbit tightly, "Gee, kid! I didn't know ya cared!" The dog acts all shy and demure, blushing at the thought. "Dere's a beautiful Earth out tonight!" The dog blushes more, but Bugs sees the Martian coming and hightails it. The Martian marches up and kicks the dog square in the britches, knocking him out of his romantic reverie. For the first time, Marvin declares in his incredible ire, "You have made me very angry!" He pants a couple of times breathlessly, and adds "Very angry indeed!"

Suddenly, Bugs rides up on a rocket-scooter, all dressed up in the same outfit as the Martian. "Special delivery from Mars!" and hands the PU36 over to the Martian. The little villain and his canine skip off merrily to their ship, with Marvin declaring "Oh, goody! Another Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator! Isn't that wonderful? Now we can blow up the Earth!" What he doesn't notice is the long wires attached to the device, and once they reach the ship, Bugs presses down on a detonator. Instead of blowing up just the Martian force, however, the moon instead gets blasted to pieces, leaving only a permanent crescent moon in its place! The space program back on Earth calls through the radio to Bugs, and ask him a couple of perfunctory questions before asking if Bugs has prepared a statement to the people of Earth. "Why, yes," Bugs calmly begins, "I have prepared a statement." We then see Bugs hanging from the tip of the crescent moon by his fingers, and he yells his statement: "GET ME OUTTA HERE!" The camera pans down to show the Martian dog gripping tight onto the rabbit's legs, and then down further, we see Marvin holding on to his dog's tail, blinking his giant eyes. Iris out.

A tour de Martian Expeditionary Force, and I would consider it to be an amazing achievement if I didn't know that Jones would top this short with the incredible Duck Dodgers film. That said, it is a wonderful piece. I am especially enamored of the dialogue, and of the entire section where Bugs tangles with K-9. Marvin's voice, provided by Mel Blanc, is higher and more nasally than it would eventually become, but the rest of the character is intact, with his motivations as true and as megalomaniacal as they would continue to be in the succeeding films, and through to his work today.

I'm am unsure of whether or not Jones and company were influenced by the work of Chesley Bonestell, which was certainly very prominent in the day and age of the creation of Marvin Martian. (I suspect they probably were, but I can't back this up with my materials at hand.) But through their efforts, the Jones' boys ratcheted up my imagination with visions of rocketships and alien worlds well before I hit the motherlode of latenight science fiction films a few years later. Much drawing of lunar landscapes, craters and Martian invasions in weirdly designed ships sprung from my haphazard pencil in my grade school years, and all of it due to a little Martian wearing tennis shoes. I didn't know then that there was probably other unseen hands behind this influence, and such is the way of things. Just like kids of today see a comedy or science-fiction film, and don't necessarily understand the tradition behind these forms, in my youth I had no idea that one man was most responsible for implanting all of those frighteningly desolate though thrilling landscapes, hopeful dreams of space stations, and inspirational drive to reach the stars into the minds of millions of people, whether directly or indirectly.

And that's more powerful than any Uranium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator...

Haredevil Hare (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1948)
Director: Charles M. (Chuck) Jones
Writer: Michael Maltese
Animators: Ken Harris, Phil Monroe, Lloyd Vaughan, Ben Washam
Backgrounds: Peter Alvarado
Layouts: Robert Gribbroek
Effects: A.C. Gamer
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Cel Bloc Rating: 8

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