Saturday, July 08, 2006

Listen Up, You Bloc-Heads!!!

Rare is the post on this site that doesn't involve a review of some variety regarding an animated film of some vintage. In fact, this is only the third one in over six months that isn't built around a cartoon, but it is a necessary interruption in our normally scheduled program.

Since the beginning of the year, I have kept up this blog as a way of keeping myself in my writing trim, as it were; chiefly to force myself to constantly be at work on something, no matter how busy or lax the particular moment happened to be. It hasn't been easy for the last few months, especially after I worked myself into a certain style of lengthy essay each and every day, after beginning the project with each review sporting a mere two or three short paragraphs on each film. That truncated style has certainly gone the way of the dodo, but I could control this current wordiness if I were a better editor of my own voice. The thing is, I don't want to force brevity on my writing at this time. It is the very spirit of freestyling that I am trying to introduce into my writing, and besides, the bane of my existence has been my too-rigid self-editing reflex. As a matter of very definite fact, the true purpose of this blog was to help do away with that reflex, or at least quash about 75 percent of the hideous monster into the ground with the bootheel of my literary freedom.

So, what am I getting at here? I'm trying to explain that by no means was this blog meant to be an actual "daily" blog. And yet, until Thursday, I have kept it up as such. The blog is solely meant for my own personal growth, and while any visitors to it are welcomed heartily, I must stress that while I have strived thus far for historical accuracy and often do a good deal of research before writing each article, this is merely part of the exercise regimen that the site is meant to provide for me. I certainly write the posts to be read by anybody that is into animation -- after all, why else would a make a very public spectacle of myself? -- and the handful of people who have been so kind to check back every now and then and comment on the reviews, whether in the positive or the negative, and especially those who have provided even more information on each cartoon, I thank you all from the bottoms of my two hearts. (Sorry, a little too much Dr. Who lately...)

I must be making it seem like I am shutting down the blog, and you would only be partially right, but we would then be getting to my ultimate point here. I am stopping the site, but only briefly. Starting today, Cinema 4: Cel Bloc is going to be on hiatus until Sunday, September 6, 2006 when I shall return with a review of Max and Dave Fleischer's Ants in the Plants from 1940. (Ya gotta start somewhere, and it was the next one in line for review...)

The reasons for this much-needed battery-recharging break?
  • The busted ankle isn't getting any better with all of my desk-sitting. So, a little time to properly rest the thing is well overdue.
  • Other projects have sprung up for which I need to reserve more time.
  • Increased temporary duties at work have melted my brain into mush for the past month or so.
  • And, we are actually planning to take a decent-length vacation at some point in this hiatus.
I will still be posting sporadically on my other blogsite, The Cinema 4 Pylon, with the time that I do have for non-other-project-oriented writing this month. But the Cel Bloc is taking a short intermission, my friends.

Now, for the real reason that I am enacting this hiatus?

Jen read me the riot act regarding her wishes not to be wasting her vacation time waiting for me to finish writing every morning and every night. Very sound logic, that... don't want to wake up in a hotel in the middle of Arizona, New Mexico or Texas abandoned and girlfriendless.

See you in a month...

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ain't Nature Grand! (1931)

Directors: Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising
Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 0:07, b/w
Animators: Friz Freleng and Norm Blackburn
Music: Frank Marsales
Cinema 4 Rating: 5

Ah, wilderness! I moved away from it, at least, away from the largest single measure of it in the United States, when I left Alaska, and to a certain extent, I miss it dearly. Mainly, I miss the possibility that my dad might call me up spontaneously and ask me to go camping the next weekend. I'm sure that once he gets down to Idaho for good that we will get together and hit some of the National Parks together that lie outside of Alaska. But for now, I am a city mouse, and I shall have to live vicariously through outdoors adventures in the movies to get my camping kicks. In the great outdoors, I never seem to sleep more comfortably or seem as relaxed as when I am curled up in a sleeping bag, breathing in the fresh forest breeze, or just hanging about the campfire with friends or relations (or both).

Not that I shall find such happiness with Bosko when he takes to the outdoors in Ain't Nature Grand!, a Merrie Melodies from the Harman-Ising team in 1931. Not only has he taken the woods with only a fishing pole at his side, but he has also left civilization without his girl Honey, and especially without a reasonable plot or interesting situations. Bosko has left with so little, that he seems to have left half of himself behind as well, since he only seems to appear onscreen for about that much of the picture. In fact, the creators seem somewhat bored with the little guy in this picture, and spend much of the time communing with the worms, birds and bees rather than following the exploits of their supposed lead character. Outside of a couple whimsical moments, the film seems so lacking in anything interesting that upon viewing it, the film threatens to dissolve into snow on my television screen, somewhat like a reverse version of a magic picture poster.

After shooing his dog away, Bosko sits down on a lakebank to pursue a little fishing pleasure. For him, that is, not the fishies. Of course, he sits down next to a sign reading "NO FISHING", and while something will come out of this set-up, if you think any conflict with a park ranger or policeman will ensue here, then you have the wrong film, buster. Bosko wishes to bait his hook with the worm that he brought, but the little fellow pleads for mercy and a big-hearted Bosko lets him go. Desperate for something else to use as bait, Bosko has the swell idea of removing the letters N and O from the sign, not only using them as worms for the hook, but also making his actions completely legal (at least, on first appearance).

In an extended sequence, the worm scurries off to his hole, but a bird coyly follows him, but when the worm makes him out, the bird gives rapid chase to the panicking wriggler. The worm dives into a hole but the bird tries to pull him out. Luckily, there are three other holes nearby that form a square with the other hole, and the worm stretches his body so that he laces through all of them and ties himself about a plant stem. He then pulls the bird through all of the hole, subsequently defeathering the naked avian in the process. The bird picks up his feathers and dons them anew like a coat, and after the worm blows a raspberry at him, the bird highhats the wriggler and struts off.

Meanwhile, Bosko is getting no bites at first, but finally a fish grabs on and Bosko pulls him from the water. The little fella slips free of Bosko's grasp, but after a couple of similar swipes, Bosko finally manages to hang on to him. Bosko ask rhetorically, "Ain't that cute?", but the fish spits in Bosko's eye and makes his escape. Not that flibberdigibbit Bosko cares; he is off chasing a beautiful butterfly. (This part has some particularly fun animation, with Bosko and the butterfly moving closer and farther from the screen in turn throughout the chase.) Bosko comes upon a waterfall, where bees dance from rock to rock and a spider plays his web like a harp and rings flowers like percussional bells. Bosko starts to "La-la-la!" along with the music and then prances and skips through the waterfall and over the rocks. On the far side, a pelican spits up four frogs, and the amphibians link arms with Bosko and form a kickline.

A large spider dances along to the music, following by four spider babies (and I don't mean the Jack Hill sort). The spider shimmies up to the top of a flower and spreads its legs out, and the little spiders spin about from the legs as if they were dancing about a maypole. All of these sorry excuses for entertainment can only lead to trouble, and it does, in the form of two mischievous bees and their dragonfly buddy. The bees pluck a daisy, strip it down to two petals, strap it to the dragonfly's bent tail, and then wind up the daisy. The flower works like a propeller and the dragonfly zooms off with the bees on his back like bombadiers on a warplane. (Uh, the dragonfly can fly already, boys - he doesn't need a propeller.) Regardless, the illusion is completed by the fact that the bees have hefted a rock up with them, and when they fly over the still dancing Bosko and his froggy pals, the bees bomb the rock onto Bosko's head. The bombers then head to a tree and grab a beehive, tap it with a section of thin hollow log and then use it to machine gun Bosko with bee after angry little bee. They force Bosko to leap into a fountain, and the bees depart. Bosko pops up to the top of the fountain and poses like a statue. Iris out.

Zzzz... huh?! Wha-?! Oh, I'm sorry. I must have dozed off. Seriously though, what's up with the proportion on these bees? When they pick up the rock, it is barely the size of the pair of them together. But when they drop it on Bosko, it is bigger and wider than his head. When they get near him, it is easy to see that the size of the rock must have changed in mid-drop. Perhaps the bees (or beetles of some variety - they are bigger than all of the other bees and their unused wings are different, but they bear stripes like bees do) have magical abilities that allow them to change the mass of hurled projectiles. Or perhaps they used their mutant X-bee/beetle powers to effect this transformation.

Whatever they can do, if this is the best that Bosko's middling (though well-animated by Mssrs. Freleng and Blackburn) wilderness has to offer, then I need to dream about camping somewhere a little more exciting and not so generic. Someplace where the characters break into some actual scat singing instead of poncy la-la-la-ing. Someplace where the frogs skip the kicklines, and mainline instead with a trumpet valve. Some savage wilderness where a hot chick with a high garter dodges monsters and wolves, even of the human variety, disabling them all with her cool way with a red hot jazz tune. Anyplace but here in Generic Goody-Goody Land.

Mmm-mwyah! Huhmmm... why am I so sleepy? Oh, that's right. I've barely slept in days. Must be the city life and the business walk of the damned. I think it's time we escaped, my son! (Thanks, Ian Dury...) Hit the open road and take a relaxing trip to revisit the beauty and grandeur of nature. And, in the words of the similarly afflicted Mr. Fudd, get some "west and wewaxation at wast!"

Just can't do it in Bosko's neck of the woods. He'll la-la-la me to death...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Barnyard Brat (1939)

Director: Dave Fleischer //
A Max Fleischer Color Classic, Technicolor
Animators: Myron Waldman and Tony Pabian
Cinema 4 Rating: 4

Who deserves a spanking in The Barnyard Brat? The obnoxious little donkey turd named Spunky, the indecisive mother named Hunky, or the far too anxious to commit child abuse barnyard animals? Well, none of them. (Except that little brat donkey is asking for something horrible to happen to his innards...) No, the Fleischer Brothers deserve the worst beating imaginable for unleashing this weird series of donkey films on mankind. While I am the generally the biggest defender of the Fleischer Brothers in even their most unsuccessful turns (such as their forays into feature films), I have no love to spare for the Hunky and Spunky shorts, even the Oscar-nominated original short from 1938. Released as part of the Color Classic series, which went to great lengths to duplicate the mood and look of Disney's Silly Symphonies, the Hunky and Spunky featured an adult-and-child donkey pair possessed of little or no visual appeal whatsoever. Grotesque and grating at every turn, I'd sooner watch a donkey show than one of these donkey cartoons. At least with the donkey show, disgusting and weird as it might be, you'd at least can guess the sort of hellishness into which you are descending.

In The Barnyard Brat, the title refers to the annoying childish braying of Spunky as he throws an immense tantrum. He won't eat his hay, and just brays and cries. A grandmother duck comes up and motions to Hunky that she must punish Spunky with a good smacking. Spunky raises her hoof, but can't go through with the action. A rooster says something about smacking the brat, but Hunky tries to get her charge to eat a bucket of oats. Spunky butts the bucket into the air, and it sticks on his head. Hunky pulls the bucket off, but takes a spill and falls into the water trough. Spunky runs off and pulls all the wool off an unsuspecting lamb. The mother sheep discovers this and reports it to Hunky. Spunky drinks all the water in a small pond full of ducks, and they are left in the mud. The mother duck reports this to Hunky. Baby chicks, who are enjoying some corn off the cob, are shooed away by the pushy Spunky, who steals the corn and eats it.

The barnyard animals have had enough. After the rooster forms a committee and devises a plan to teach the youngster a lesson, the goat runs the bucket from the well towards Spunky and butts it over the young donkey's rear. The other animals winch Spunky towards the well with the bucket's rope, and then dunk Spunky over and over in the deep water of the well. Hunky, moping off by her lonesome, hears her child's cries of anguish and runs to his rescue. She kicks various items of trash at the barnyard animals to disperse them, and then she pulls Spunky out of the well. She tries to console the screeching Spunky, but he only kicks her in the face several times. Pushed to her limits, but unwilling to punish the kid directly, he does the only thing she can: he takes him back to the well and drowns him.

No, we couldn't be so lucky. Actually, she spanks him by turning the crank for the bucket and letting it swing around and around, swatting him each time. The barnyard animals cheer his comeuppance, and then Hunky brays to him that she wants him "to be a good boy." Spunky seems to do just that, and he attempts to make amends by skipping over to the corn bin and dropping out several ears for the other animals. He invites them over to partake of the kind gift, and they happily run over to do so. As they fill their mouths with the corn, Spunky kicks the bar out of the corn bin and covers the whole lot of them with a heaping pile of corn. He laughs and slides down the mountain of corn, but Hunky is waiting at the bottom. The gloves are off. She takes a swipe at his head with her hoof, and chases him into the corral. Iris out.

I don't know what is less appealing: the creepily large head that rests on Spunky's tiny shoulders or the use of child punishment as the theme for an entire cartoon. My own feelings towards the spanking of children are muddled, but then again, I wouldn't bring them into the world to begin with. Certainly there are children who need to be reminded of their place now and then, but I don't think the solution to this question is going to be found in a Fleischer Brothers cartoon. Especially when the solution to the question involving Spunky is that he should be swiftly and mercilessly eviscerated and then rendered into shellac. It's hard to work up any sympathy for a character when the immediate impulse at even his most appealing moments is to have him disemboweled.

Or, perhaps there is another way to go. How about a new form of donkey show? How about we take Spunky and shove his giant noggin up Hunky's ass? I go to Tijuana to see that. In fact, it's the only reason I'd go there. And the only reason I could possibly wish to allow myself to be in their company again.

Oh, crap... there are several other H&S films with which I must deal. Ohhhhh, crap...

[A word of warning if you are planning to look up images of Hunky and Spunky on the internet. Turn your safe mode ON. My goodness, the things you will see otherwise...]


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943)

Yankee Doodle Daffy (Warner Bros. Looney Tunes, 1943)
Director: I. (Friz) Freleng
Writer: Tedd Pierce
Animators: Richard Bickenbach
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Voices: Mel Blanc and Billy Bletcher
Cel Bloc Rating: 8/9

I miss my usual Fourth of July gang, hanging at my buddy Leif's place, which just so conveniently lies across the street from Anchorage's Mulcahy Stadium, where the annual fireworks display goes off at midnight, after we have partied hard all day with a barbecue, water fights, bocci ball, frisbee and dealing with drunk guys on bicycles when they invade the party because they once lived in the same house.

The party is just getting started back home as I write this, and as I watch my Fourth of July tradition, that of watching ESPN's coverage of the Nathan's Famous International Hot-Dog Eating Contest, an event that simultaneously repulses and fascinates me, I am reminded how I tortured the gang my last couple of summers in Alaska by practically forcing them to watch this culinary gross-out. Outside of the fact that they take place annually on the same day, the connection between the contest and the holiday is tenuous at best (I don't recall hot dogs having anything to do with helping us gain our independence). I guess that it is the barbecue aspect of both items that binds them together now in my mind.

I look back on the fireworks displays in Anchorage, and while they have always been somewhat laughable in relative terms of size and complexity, I miss them to a large degree. Since I have moved near Disneyland, fireworks are nearly a nightly occurrence. I can see them from our home if we go outdoors and down the street a few hundred feet, but we can always hear them loudly and very clearly every time. Especially tormented by this are our baby girls -- our pups -- one of whom, our little delicate flower India, tends to shake and hide when she hears the noises, and also refuses to go outside if they are booming.

The smallest Disney displays put even the largest Anchorage display to shame, but I still miss the Anchorage ones, if only because I miss the Bohemians (my gang) dearly, and if I weren't going to Rob's wedding later in the month, I would have taken some time off and sprung a surprise on the louts. What I don't miss about the Anchorage display is the fact that it never takes place on the Fourth of July. They do them at midnight (because Anchorage is very light in the evening at this point of the summer, so they wait until it is sort of the darkest but not really), so the event actually takes place on the Fifth of July. (I am throwing out my usual "Unday" rules on this subject.) The connection between the Fourth, a day celebrating the gaining of America's independence from England, and the Fifth -- a day celebrating, uh, the next day, I guess -- is tenuous at best. Oh, yeah... they both happen in fucking July. Get it right, people.


Except for the title, and a verse from a war song, what does the Porky Pig and Daffy Duck, show biz opus Yankee Doodle Daffy have to do with the Fourth of July? A little bit more than a hot-dog eating contest and a little bit less than a fireworks display that occurs after the holiday it is celebrating. What the cartoon does have is a parodic title playing off of Warner Bros.' very own Oscar-devouring Yankee Doodle Dandy, and it is around that film's myriad scenes taking place in talent agencies that this animated short builds its plot.

Porky Pig is the going-on-vacation president of Smeller Productions, and with only ten minutes to catch his plane, Porky hangs a sign on his door announcing "No Casting Today". "Hold everything!", yells Daffy Duck, startling Porky as he leaps through the door. He grabs the luggage from the pig's grasp and sets them back inside the office. He does likewise with Porky's golf clubs, and then his golf cap, but Daffy can't resist plopping the cap on his own head, sizing it up in a mirror, and then giving his opinion of the cap, muttering "Poo!" quietly. He forces the pig to sit down, and tells Porky that "Opportunity is knocking!" and proves it by rapping on the pig's head with his knuckles. Daffy presents his business card, which portrays the duck as an "Actor's Agent" and then settles into his pitch, despite Porky's protestations to leave.

Daffy announces that he has found "the most sensational discovery since the sweater girl!" (Well, after that, this is surely going to be something truly special indeed…) Daffy continues: "He's colossal! He's stupendous! One might even go so far to say -- he's mediocre!" Porky has been slowly sucked into the pitch, so the duck finishes his introduction, with hyperbole that would put Stan Lee to shame: "I give you that paragon of pep and personality -- Sleepy Lagoon!!" With a burst of fanfare, Daffy points towards the couch, where a small duck sits licking an enormous purple lollipop, larger even than the size of his own head. Sleepy shoves the sucker into his mouth, causing his head to warp to the lollipop's dimensions, and then turns the lollipop a couple of times about the inside of his mouth, forcing his head to stretch with each spin. Daffy continues to pitch Sleepy to the pig, and as he rolls along merrily, it becomes clear that he is determined to act out every part of Sleepy's show himself.

Donning a straw hat, Daffy launches into a boisterous version of I'm Just Wild About Harry, and he punctuates the song with his own string of increasingly silly rhymes to the actual lyrics. As justification for how over the top Daffy’s sales technique is, in the middle of the song, Sleepy casually holds up a sign with a picture of a large ham…

“I’m just wild about Harry,
and Harry’s wild about me!
Oh, the heavenly bah-lisses 
of his kisses
fills me with ecstas—!”

Daffy interrupts the “y” in “ecstasy” to jump onto Porky briefly to proclaim, “This is just a rough idea, ya understand?” He then returns to his song…

“He's sweet just like chocolate candy
or just like honey from a bee!
Yes, I’m just wild about Harry,
and he’s just wild about…
cannot do without…
he is from the South…
can’t ya hear me shout…
talkin’ with my mouth…
could you ever doubt…
he’s just wild about me!!”


As Daffy finishes the song, he catches Porky making an escape, and he grabs the pig and sits him back down. Daffy starts to describe the audience's applause, and Sleepy holds up a sign with a picture of a screw and another picture of a baseball. Daffy, who is indeed both a ham and a screwball as Sleepy suggested, zips through a frenetic banjo solo, but Porky tries to run out again. "Just a minute, chubby!" (Daffy is suddenly standing on the outside of the door.) "You ain't seen half of the kid's repertoire-y!"

Daffy sits the pig down once more, and dons a Carmen Miranda-outfit, complete with assorted fruits piled high on his head, to knock out a “boom-chicka-boom” number. (Sleepy's response to this? A picture of corn on the cob.) Porky bolts again, but when he opens the door, Daffy is on the other side dressed up as Pagliacci. He starts to sing Laugh, Clown, Laugh and then follows suit, laughing maniacally and adding his trademarked leaps and “hoo-hoos” into the mix.

Porky runs to the next door, but out pops Daffy again, this time wearing a cowboy hat. He jumps on top of Porky, and rides the pig like a bucking bronco through the office, singing the then-popular song Cheyenne, but with these lyrics in place of the real ones:

"I'm a cowboy, yessir, I am!
Yessir, I am a cowboy, yessir I am!
I'm a cowboy, yessir, I am!
Yessir, I am a cow-how-boy! Yee-hee!"

Porky manages to buck the duck off his back, and sends him flying into an open safe, which Porky locks up with a devious grin. He creeps to the door, grabs his bags and cap, and heads off for his vacation. The plane takes off from the airport, and inside the cabin of the plane, Porky sighs with relief and relaxes in his seat. From the cockpit, we hear the familiar voice of Daffy Duck, who has taken over the pilot's role, as he sings We Watch the Skyways. Porky leaps out of the plane, and pulls on his parachute ripcord. He floats gently to the ground below, but he hears Daffy lightly singing Angel in Disguise above him. He looks up, and Daffy has taken the place of the parachute. Regardless of the duck’s added weight (though I suppose he could fly them down if he wished), Daffy continues to serve faithfully as a parachute and they land safely on the roof of the Smeller Agency building.


As Daffy chases Porky down flight after flight of stairs to the strains of the William Tell Overture, the overreaching duck sings his own mash-up of lyrics both purloined and nonsensical:

"Over hill and over dale
We're always on the dusty trail,
Hunting fox and hunting quail.
Tally-ho! I’m a hunting fool!

Giddy up! Giddy up! Giddy up!
My horse and I are of the finest breed!
Giddy up! Giddy up! Giddy up!
Just like the wind I ride my stalwart steed!

Sure of foot and sure of eye,
Peeling onions makes me cry!
This makes no sense and so do I!
So don't you go and beat me daddy to the nearest bar!
Yeah!"


Back in the office, Daffy doesn't allow Porky a moment to rest from the chase. He launches into the kid's finale… “And what a finale!” he terms it. Suddenly, there are many superimposed versions of Daffy doing a variety of tricks: unicycling, juggling, balancing, somersaulting, and most shockingly, performing acrobatics in tandem with another Daffy. Porky can stand no more. He yells at Daffy to stop the onslaught of spectacle, and to simply let him see what the kid can do.

At this cue, Sleepy Lagoon jumps off the couch, methodically places his giant purple lollipop inside an appropriately shaped case, and turns to sing to Porky. In an incredible baritone voice that doesn't quite jibe with his diminutive stature, Sleepy boldly sings "Let springtime's blossoms bloom again in the garden of ---!!!" At this point in the song, Sleepy emits a gigantic wheeze, and he starts to cough much like a breath-shortened smoker. He has to choke out the last two words, "-- my heart!", as he continues to cough until the film irises out.

More than one person I know or have read has proclaimed their indifference to Daffy in this film because he is so annoying. Hello? Have you missed the point here? Daffy is supposed to be a pain in the ass, and not just in this film, but nearly all of them. Here, with his "Hoo-hoo!" persona still well intact, he quite tangibly pushes Porky to the very brink of his sanity. Daffy clearly wants to be the best talent agent that he can, and he pitches his client like no agent ever has in the history of show business, but that's not enough for Daffy. His ego overtakes him and forces him to act out Sleepy's repertoire.

Yeah -- Daffy's annoying. But he's my kind of annoying, he is brilliant at it, and we are all the better for it. Yankee Doodle Daffy, whatever else it may be, is a triumph of character work; the backgrounds and other visual elements play a deeply secondary role to the reactions of the characters and Mel Blanc's always stellar voice work. It has always been one of my secret Looney Tunes favorites, perhaps not in the upper echelon of classics, but definitely running just behind that pack.

So, what does Yankee Doodle Daffy have to do with a hot-dog eating gross-out contest and a Fifth of July fireworks display? The connection between the three is tenuous at best, except that I have now written about them on the Fourth of July. And that's about all the Independence day kismet that I can take. Did you really think that I was going to write about America and all that blind faith flag-waving hoo-hah? Especially when we have a country whose actions seriously counteract everything for which it supposedly stands? Do you like invading country after country on the slightest whim of our leaders (and the oil companies)? Do you like how racism and misogyny continue to write the headlines of the day when we are supposed to a nation of equals? Do you miss habeas corpus? (Because I guarantee you, someday you might.) And how does Gitmo make you feel? We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Now I am in a bad mood. I knew that I should have just watched Reds again today. I do still miss my friends, though. And, with vegetarian Jen at work right now, I am having potato chips and hot dogs by myself at home in my own small version of a George Foreman Grill "barbecue". (America, fuck yeah...)

RTJ


*****

And in case you haven’t seen it…


[This article was updated on 12/30/15. Leif no longer lives across from Mulcahy Stadium, I stopped watching the annual hot dog eating contest because, well, it's gross, and I rarely see or hear fireworks as much anymore since we moved 30 miles away from Anaheim last spring. The political references near the end of this piece are based on my feelings when this was initially posted in July 2006. Not that much has changed since then, and I still feel the same way.]

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

Sunday, July 02, 2006

WALKY TALKY HAWKY (1946)

I will resist the urge to start this post with either an "I say" or a "Boy!", and simply profess that I am a great admirer of Foghorn Leghorn. My father probably had something to do with this, as he has counted Foghorn, along with the ornery Yosemite Sam, as one of his favorite cartoon characters; not that long ago I was able to read the delight on his face as he watched a Foghorn short that resided upon a tape I had loaned him. But, I must admit that Foghorn is not my choice of a favorite character in his own films. Rather, that distinction belongs to a plucky little fella who is usually discounted by others when relating the merits of various Warner Bros. animation stars.

The star of 1946's Walky Talky Hawky, which stands as the star-making Oscar-nominated debut film of the blustery rooster, is not actually Foghorn Leghorn, but instead a pint-sized purpose-questing little spitfire named Henery Hawk. Henery is a chickenhawk by nature, but he is unaware of this at the beginning of this film. We meet him first after the camera crawls to the top of a tall tree, where rests the home of Poppa Hawk (whose mailbox holds a rolled-up Looney Tunes comic book with Bugs Bunny on the cover), Momma Hawk (whose magazine of choice is a raptorian play on the Ladies Home Journal) and tiny Henery (who is apparently reading Esquire at such a young age). Inside, Henery stands on his father's hand and says, "Gee, Pop! I don't know what's wrong with me! The trouble's in my tummy. I crave something, but I don' know what it is!" His father breaks down, and in a prolonged monologue, admits to his son the true nature of their "outcast" kind. He offers the knowledge that they must eat chickens, to which the now eye-opened little fiend replies with glee, "Eat a chicken?! Is that bad?! That's for me!" He leaves their home immediately to seek out that which his tummy has been craving, all the while yelling "Here, chick-chick-chick-chick!" He leaps off the ancestral tree branch, but he only crashes hard onto the ground below, commenting that he "had better loin to fly."

Meanwhile, we meet the Barnyard Dog (so named because he is a dog that guards a barnyard) as he participates in his favorite sport: annoying the hell of a big, pushy, no-good rooster named Foghorn Leghorn. Tethered constantly to his house, the dog nonetheless prances about with a watermelon towards the unaware Foghorn, who is giving himself a manicure, and splats the melon right over his big fat chickeny noggin. Correctly conjuring the image of his tormentor, Foghorn shouts out in his boisterous Southern gentleman's voice, "Everyday it's the same thing!" The dog has run back to his house and lays down on the ground, pretending to be asleep as if there was no way he could be involved in such a trangression, but Foghorn knows better. With a board in hand, he walks up, lifts the dog by his tail and swats his behind fiercely a number of times. He runs off with the dog in pursuit, but the canine gets wrenched backwards by the limits of his tether. Foghorn turns about on the barking dog and slaps him across the face, yelling "Aww! Shaddup!"

Henery has made his way to the barnyard, and as he calls about for a chicken, Foghorn picks the runt up and asks him, in his gruff manner, "Ya lose something -- I say, ya lose something, kid?" Henery tells him of his quest for a chicken, and Foghorn misdirects the confused youngster by telling him that "I'm a horse - I say, I'm a horse, myself!" He whinnies, neighs and kicks about for further effect, and then he points out a real chicken for the aspiring young chickenhawk. The kid marches up to the Barnyard Dog and says "Ooh! That's the biggest chicken ever I seen!" He picks up the dog's tail and describes it in the popular manner of a cigarette commercial: "So round, so firm, so fully-packed." He chomps down hard on the canine tail, and the dog wakes up, yelping loudly. The dog picks up the bird and growls at him, but Henery stands his ground and grabs the dog by the chest, asking him "Are you coming quietly or did I got to muss you up?" The dog chases Henery across the yard, but yet again is choked by the limits of his rope. Foghorn marches up and smacks a croquet ball off the dog's head with a mallet, sending the ball through a hoop to capture a wicket.

Henery is still running, but Foghorn intercepts him and persuades the kid to go after the dog/chicken again. "Nice boy," the rooster says to the camera, "but he doesn't listen to a word ya say!" Henery marches back to the doghouse, giving himself a pep talk as he goes. The dog wakes up in his house, and starts to believe he is on a train the way the house is shaking to the strains of California, Here I Come. He looks out of his doorway, and holds a mirror to see underneath the floor while the house continues to rattle along like on railroad tracks. He sees the ever-determined Henery hoisting the entire house (and dog) along on his shoulders. He leaps out and chases after the little bird but for the third time reaches the end of his rope. Gasping on the ground, he has no defense as Foghorn seizes the moment and places a knight's helmet over the dog's head, and then bangs on it with a hammer to rattle the dog's poor brains.

Foghorn helps the lad formulate a scheme to catch the "foxy chicken" once and for all. Henery sneaks up to the doghouse, which has been roped and staked to the ground by the dog for protection, and lays out several props in specific places. He carries a small upright piano and a frying pan around the side of the house. Henery then runs out to the dog's door and draws a doorbell on it with a pencil. He rings the bell and runs back around the side. The dog looks out, but Henery (unseen) starts to pound out Gotta Be This or That on the piano, a tune which the dog is unable to resist, and he struts around the side of his house, where we hear the clang of frying pan against dog skull. The dazed Barnyard Dog stumbles out to the front again, where he falls down onto a perfectly placed banana peel, falls back onto a large bedspring, and then falls forward onto a rollerskate, with which Henery wheels off his proposed dinner.

The dog comes to and asks Henery why he is being tortured like this, and the little hawk tells him.
"Hubba! Hubba! Hubba!", the dog yells in amazement. "I'm no chicken," he tells Henery, and then points at Foghorn. "That's a chicken!" Foghorn runs right up to the dog and responds, "Don't you call me no chicken -- you... chicken!" This causes Henery to shout the triple "Hubbas", and then he goes to unscrew the plate from the doghouse, freeing the dog to chase after Foghorn unencumbered. The pair start a vicious dust-cloaked battle, and then the dog chases Foggie to the stables, where the fight continues unseen until the horse holds the pair of them out over his stalldoor and bangs their heads together. The pair shake hands and form a pact to go get the horse instead. They march in and start to thrash the stallion, but someone else marches into the stable, too. It is Henery, and he is all business as he sets his mind to finishing this nonsense. A huge crashing and beating is heard, and then the stall door is kicked open. Henery stomps out dragging a rope which is tied to the horse's tail, who in turn is hanging onto the Barnyard Dog's foot, who in turn is grasping onto a kicking and screaming Foghorn Leghorn, who scratches and claws at the ground as he goes.
Henery spits out in frustration, "One of these things - I say, one of these things, has GOT to be a chicken!", and the film irises out.

Robert McKimson, the director of the Foghorn Leghorn series, may be at his best with the big loud-mouthed schnook, but he had an engaging enough star in Henery, the little equally loud-mouthed fireball of predation. While the jokes may not be elaborate as some in the later entries, especially in the Foghorn-Dog battle which would escalate to bigger and more violent configurations, Henery is the glue in the film. While audiences fell immediately in love with Foghorn, I am actually more attracted to the hawk, for the simple reason that, unlike most of the other predatory creatures in cartoons, Henery actually gets away with his purpose. In many of his films, he parades off with the very prize that he craved: a chicken, and in the form of Foghorn Leghorn. Perhaps he is allowed to get away with this because he is so much smaller and cuter than the rest of the characters (it makes you wonder what Wile E. Coyote could have attained had he been a mere coyote pup going after the annoying Roadrunner). In this film, he not only gets the chicken, but the dog and horse as well, if only to take the time to determine which one will roast up the best.

What I enjoy about Henery, in much the same spirit that I enjoy the late 30's Porky Pig, is his can-do drive. He realizes what he needs and he goes out to get it. Some would call this drive capitalistic and Randian; I don't think of it so much in those terms, as I am only now pondering such an existence as a personal system of achievement. Give this to the little guy: there is little that stops him in these films; even the interference of larger, outside forces only slows him down momentarily, and when he sees his chance, he takes it. Both he and Foghorn may have big mouths, but Foghorn is all blather and boast, using words for a cover to his actual incompetence, while Henery talks big (especially for such a tiny thing), but he also has the stones to get the job done.

It's probably predictable that audiences would prefer the big talker with nothing behind his game, and it's also predictable that most film historians turn almost a blind eye on poor Henery, the Little Chicken Hawk That Could. (Maltin almost dismisses him with a backwards slap to his little feathered chin.) But, he is almost the only theatrical cartoon predator (at least, until the Pink Panther, who never acts his species anyway) who stands as the actual take-no-guff hero of his films.

For that alone, he should be given more notice. I know I do...

Walky Talky Hawky (Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1946)
Director: Robert McKimson
Writer: Warren Foster
Animators: Richard Bickenbach, Cal Dalton and Don Williams
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Cel Bloc Rating: 7

Saturday, July 01, 2006

THE GOOFY GOPHERS (1947)

Yeah, I have gopher-killing in my genes. I recall a trip back to Wisconsin where my dear Granny came back into her farmhouse off the backsteps with a shotgun after having blasted at a couple of the varmints in the backyard. Not that I would ever go to such lengths -- I would merely point out, "Hey, look! A couple of gophers! Let's name them Mac 'n Tosh!" Inevitably, to whomever I said this declaration, I would further have to explain who Mac and Tosh were, and then I would have to wish for a shotgun of my own with which to put the unknowledgable soul out of their misery. Growing up with The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Show, one of my favorite connecting segments was when Bugs would introduce "The Gopher Twins - Mac 'n Tosh!", and then the little rodents would parade out onto the stage just before one of their adventures would air. Starring in nine cartoons over an almost 20-year period, the Goofy Gophers were particular favorites of mine in my youth, mainly because it was fun to duplicate their overly polite and slightly condescending mannerisms.

In their debut film from the under-rated director Arthur Davis in 1947, and unsurprisingly titled The Goofy Gophers, the chipper duo run afoul of an overly eager guard dog on a prize-winning vegetable farm. A sign reads: "Vegetable Garden - Entry No. 12 - Spumoni County Fair" and proudly displays a large blue "First Prize" ribbon off its boards; a second sign warns "Beware of Dog", and then we are shown the brute himself: a rather ordinary-looking hound, but one who marches back and forth in front of a guardhouse, repeating "Hup! Two! Three! Four" a few times. Suddenly, he curls up on the ground for a nap, his guard duties apparently thought done for the evening. Or is it all a ploy? When some intense crunching sounds are heard in the vegetable patch next to him, the dog rises to full alert and, in much the same voice as the Shakespearean dogs that would plague the gophers in their next two films, he intones dramatically with a paw to his ear, "Hark! Methink'st there be intruders in yon garden!" He fires off a mortar shell that brightens up the night sky, and then peers through a spyglass, which reveals to him two chubby grey gophers who are lazily munching on a batch of plucked carrots. "I shall give them what-for!", he announces to us, and then sneaks off with a tomato plant affixed to his head, a move which he describes as "CO-mman-DO tac-tics!"

If the gophers are aware of this assault, they seem to hide it completely. Instead, they politely let each other taste various vegetables as they find them. One is given leave to do with the carrots as he wishes, while the other tackles the tomatoes, which just so happen to be the ones on the dog's head, the largest and ripest-looking actually being the dog's nose. "Look! Who am I making like? Who am I making like?", the other gopher says, and he launches into an amusing imitation of a certain world-famous rabbit (who just happens to work for Warner Brothers). "Eh, what's up, doc?", he says with a pair of carrots for ears while he holds another like a cigar. "My, my, my, very clever!", his pal responds, as he leads the dog along by his tomato-like nose until he has led the canine to both of them. The dog continues to follow them as the pair pull up vegetable after vegetable and stuff them into the top of a hole in the ground: rhubarb, cucumbers, turnips, potatoes, radishes, etc.

The tomato-pulling gopher admires a particularly juicy watermelon, and the dog decides to let his prescence be known. "Scrumptious, isn't it?", he asks the gopher, who is not startled in the least by this verbal intrusion. "Have you tried the pumpkin?", he inquires of the pooch, and then he slams one straight down on top of his head. The dazed dog is asked if he has had his iron today, and when he answers in the negative, the gopher slams and form-fits the head of a shovel over his houndy noggin. He chases after the rodent with the shovel still in place, and when he dives after the gopher into the hole, he ends up hovering above the ground when the shovel handle hits the bottom. The gophers wear hats full of vegetables and bid each other adieu mockingly, and the dog digs out the ground around them. The gophers pop out the sides of the huge hole and blow him raspberries as he unsuccessfully tries to cut them in two with gardening shears. While he awaits their next entrance, the pair sneak up behind him and give him a hotfoot, causing him to rocket across the farmgrounds and soak his scalded foot in a rainbarrel.

All to a delightful conga beat, vegetables all over the farm start to disappear underground. At an appropriate moment in the beat, one of the gophers pops out with a boxing glove and slams the dog in the head. When the gophers reach the lettuce and start pulling the heads under, the dog disguises himself inside the scarecrow above, and hammily announces, "Ah! Once again me razor-keen mind comes to me rescue!" With the last vegetable taken, the gophers pull the scarecrow under. But the dog is spit back out immediately, and then the properly attired scarecrow is put back into place. A telegram from Western Onion drifts into the dog's hand, reading "We're vegetarians. You screwball!!!" Underground, one gopher talks the other one out of devouring certain items -- such as the strawberries that cause the one to break out into a rash -- but the celery is not to be ignored! The gopher starts to tug on the stalk, but so does the dog on the ground above. He starts to say, "Aha! Now I've got them exactly where --", but as he tugs, he sits his tail down on another hole, and with a mighty pull, he pulls himself headfirst into the hole behind him, because the gophers have tied his tail to the celery. Trapped between two holes, he changes the ending of his statement to sadly say "-- they want me!" The gopher fly at him on the ground with a flattening roller, mash the poor dog into the ground, and then pop their heads under the earth to tell him, "Silly boy!"

"I must extract meself from this precarious position!", says the canine, and he leaps up, barking and charging. He reaches his arm into one of the gopher holes, but the only thing he finds is the pin to a hand grenade, which, of course, he pulls out. He thinks it to be a ring, and he asks "Stunnin', isn't it?", before the grenade explodes, he is smoked to a crisp, and he passes out. Later, the lounging gophers are distracted by a beautiful gopher coquette, dressed in her gay 90's finest, and of course, actually being the hand of the dog in disguise. After giving loud wolf whistles, the boys take polite turns dancing with the beauty, before the second gopher knowingly pulls the clothes off the dog's hand. The pooch is not aware of this, and continues to prance his fingers about, with only the leggings still in place. The gophers push a mousetrap into place and snap it down on his fingers.

This seems to be the final straw. The dog angrily crawls across the ground with a knife, a stick of TNT and a long fuse. He slashes a carrot in half and hides the TNT inside. He lights the fuse and plugs his ears for the blast. The gophers intercept the burning fuse, cutting it off with shears at the last second, and then one gopher blows up and pops a paper bag to simulate the explosion. The happy guard dog marches victoriously in his next set of rounds, before predictably falling back asleep. The gophers pick up the dozing dog and place him in a missile launcher, set the sights for the moon, shove a stick of dynamite in his mouth and then light it. They place a camera in front of him, and one gopher blows a birdie whistle to wake the dog up. He does awaken, sees the camera and smiles -- and then BOOM! He is shot all the way to the moon, which breaks into four quarter moons, all of which rock back and forth to the closing notes to Rock-a-bye Baby. The gophers saw down the "Beware of Dog!" sign, and dance about in joy, saying "And now we will have the garden and all those lovely carrots ALL TO OURSELVES!!!" But they are distracted by a voice saying, in a tone mocking their squeakier voices, "Now, eh, I wouldn't say that!" The voice belongs to a laughing Bugs Bunny, who stands with his arm resting assuredly against a giant pile of carrots. Iris out.

Now, these are pesky antagonists to love, and I do. Created by Bob Clampett, he never actually directed the Goofy Gophers in a film, since he left Warners not long after their creation. The reins for the first couple of films belonged to Davis, one of my personal Warner favorites for his series of slightly off-kilter films in the late 40's. The gophers jumped around from director to director: Friz Freleng would commandeer them for their best films in the 50's, and Bob McKimson made a couple as well, including their last in 1965. Perhaps its the vegetable fixation; perhaps its the torture of ham-handed actorly canines; perhaps its the exaggerated manners, but I love these little guys. (By the way, I did not differentiate between the two in the above text: Mac has Mel Blanc's voice, while Tosh is vocally sketched by Stan Freberg.) While this film is not their very best, it is an excellent start to the series. I do wonder at the military hardware that seems to have been left all over the farm. Is it just postwar refuse, or was the film originally written and worked out in wartime, and then released later with hawk-like tendencies intact?

As I will never possess a shotgun, gophers have nothing to fear from me. Of course, I don't have a vegetable garden either, so that might keep them away anyway. Even if I had the seemingly deadly combination of garden, shotgun and gopher-killing genes, the little varmints could still get away with every vegetable in the plot.

After all, Mac 'n Tosh had already knocked the fight out of me long ago, when I was but a kid. (I did get a cauliflower ear from it, but then it got stolen and eaten...)

The Goofy Gophers (A Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies, 1947)
Director: Arthur Davis
Animators: Cal Dalton, Manny Gould, Bill Melendez and Don Williams
Backgrounds: Philip DeGuard
Layouts: Thomas McKimson
Music: Carl W. Stalling
Voices: Mel Blanc and Stan Freberg
Cel Bloc Rating: 7