Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Countdown to Halloween: Hair-Raising Hare (1946)

Hair-Raising Hare (1946)
Dir: Chuck Jones
Story: Tedd Pierce
TC4P Rating: 8/9


“Did’ja ever have the feelin’ you was bein’ watched?” 

Bugs Bunny asks this question near the beginning of Hair-Raising Hare, a marvelous Warner Bros. horror spoof directed in 1946 by Charles M. “Chuck” Jones, and it is hard in this day, nearly sixty years later, not to yell back at the screen, “Of course, you moron!” With the omnipresence of social media, cameras on every cell phone, surveillance cameras on every street corner and inside every business, apparent government taps on everything we do, drone technology, and your goddamn nosy neighbors, it is no surprise that we seem to have become both the most narcissistic culture in history, and also the most paranoid. Are you being watched? Don’t worry about it… just give ‘em a good show.

Bugs does give us a good show in Hair-Raising Hare, and he may have gotten the feeling I was watching him a bit too much as this cartoon was replayed over and over again in the late ‘80s on the UHF all-cartoon channel in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. I am pretty certain that I did not encounter this particular cartoon until then, as I do not have a recollection of it from the old Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Saturday morning shows of my youth (my only source of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies in those days). Just like I could count on a block of Sniffles or Inki cartoons nearly every day, Hair-Raising Hare almways seemed to be on the channel, and if it wasn't on, it would show up just when I needed it, as I was growing ever more fascinated with the film’s massive, orange, hairy monster. Of course, we now know that creature as Gossamer, but at the time, without an internet to consult, I was only working with the information provided in the short, so I knew him only by the name that is written on the big metal door that contains him: “Monster”.

Hair-Raising Hare sets the proper mood from the start, with a wicked-looking title card composed of a green and black background, yellow “scary” lettering, leering, slight-crossed eyes, and a pair of menacing, clawed hands. (The hair on the back of the hands is a nice touch too.) Carl Stalling’s score plays a big part here too, as the music is very minimal, but the quivering strings build into a couple of quick jolts to establish a nicely sinister mood.

As the camera pans across a darkened forest landscape, Bugs lightens that mood slightly with his always delightful singing. As the camera ultimately rests upon his ubiquitous rabbit hole, Bugs sings offscreen: 

“Goodnight, sweet dreams
Tomorrow’s a-nudder day
Till then, sweet dreams, sweetheart!”

Suddenly, a beam of light forms a column straight up and out of the hole into the nighttime air. Bugs pops halfway out wearing a nightcap and corresponding shirt, and bearing a candleholder. “Eh, I dunno, but did’ja ever have the feelin’ you was bein’ watched?” he asks of the audience, immediately breaking the fourth wall as he so often does. My adoration of Bugs is based greatly on this connection between he and the audience, in the same way that I gravitated towards one of Bugs’ models, Groucho Marx, as a youth (and much later, the “earlier, funnier” Woody Allen). The attraction was that they were talking directly to me, and I responded by aping their every characteristic for the remainder of my life.

After the rabbit asks his question, we suddenly see that Bugs is actually being watched (as he suspected) on a television monitor (called the Televisor), where the controls are being manipulated by a pair of hands clad in red rubber gloves. The camera cuts to a mad scientist who bears about a 98% similarity to the famous actor, Peter Lorre (and star of many Warner Bros. productions of the time). The scientist asks, “Being watched, he says?” The voice is not that of Lorre, but of Mel Blanc doing his version of Lorre (a little bit off, but that may be intentional). 

From behind a nearby door marked “Monster” (as mentioned above) comes a vicious and frantic growling, as the door appears to be getting bashed from inside. “Patience little one,” the scientist says to soothe the monster. “Your dinner will soon be here. A nice tender little rabbit.” As the Lorre stand-in speaks, he builds a robot from the parts out of a box on the floor that reads “One Mechanical Rabbit Lure” (everything but the "ACME"). The parts form a clockwork rabbit in a red dress with a shapely woman’s figure and large windup key on her back. The scientist pats the robot bunny on the bottom and sends her on her way.

Cut back to Bugs still halfway out his hole holding the candle aloft. “You know, I could’ve sworn I was being watched. Yeah, but I guess it was just my imagination.” As he speaks, the female robot bunny zigzags her way up to Bugs from behind, and then departs. Bugs is about to give up for the night, says “Well —!”, and starts to dart down into his hole, seemingly never having seen the robot girl. But we are talking affairs of the heart here, and Bugs shoots back up out the hole with a very quizzical look on his face. And then he is up and into his Groucho stance, following the girl up a long hill with a ominous castle at the top bearing a neon sign above its door that flashes the phrase “Evil Scientist” repeatedly. 

Bugs enters the castle (some excellent use of angles in this scene and many other shots in this film), but the scientist is lying in wait, and slams the giant wooden door shut, barring it, bolting it, and locking it in quick succession. Bugs comes back to tell him, “You don’t need to lock that door, Mac! I don’t wanna leave!” Ever the cad, his eyes roll back to the audience, where he gives a knowing double-click of his tongue, and zips back to his would-be love prize. When he reaches the girl robot, he yells “Bay-bee!” and starts to kiss her, first on the fingertips, the hand, the forearm, and then up her whole arm. But when he reaches her neck, he starts to rattle and shake, her head spins, and she explodes into a dozen parts! Bugs is perturbed, and says “Dat’s the trouble wit’ some dames. Kiss ‘em and they fly apart!”

Bugs is no fool, though. He knows enough to skedaddle out of there once the pickings are slim. He makes to head for the door, but the mad scientist blocks his way, pushing him backward across a couple of rooms by the shoulders as Bugs continues trying to walking forward. “Uh, just a minute. I have another little friend who’d like to eat — uh, meet you.” Bugs, still wearing hot pants for the girl, is excited to hear this, and switches places with the scientist, pushing him backward by the shoulders instead. “Another friend?” Bugs asks. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” Bugs continues to say this until he pushes the scientist all the way to the iron door marked “Monster,” which causes whatever is inside to roar. Bugs jumps at the noise, and wraps himself around the head and body of the mad scientist. “Your — friend?” he asks, and the Lorre-doc says mildly, “Yes.” Bugs grabs the scientist’s hand and shakes it frantically, saying “Well… Goodbye!” California, Here I Come is played on the soundtrack as Bugs walks to a dresser across the room (with a broken vanity mirror), opens a suitcase, pulls clothes out of all three drawers and packs them in the suitcase, grabs an oversized hat from a hatrack, and a bag full of golf clubs, and makes his way back to the scientist, where he turns Groucho again for a line. “And don’t think it hasn’t been a little slice of heaven… because it hasn’t!” Bugs then departs swiftly, shedding the hat, clubs and suitcase, but when he reaches the barred door, he can’t open it.

In the meantime, the monster has been released. He is incredible tall, has an body almost entirely covered in thick, orange fur except for a pair of basketball sneakers, and has a nearly heart-shaped head much larger than the rest of his body. His only facial features are a pair of eyes and a smile that, much like his arms, tends to disappear except for when there is an expressed purpose for it. He stomps his way across the room to Bugs, who is too busy tugging on the door to notice. Bugs turns around suddenly, and the unflappable rabbit is already prepared to deal with this menace to his life. “Here, you look like a strong, healthy boy,” he says cheerfully to the monster. “Gimme a hand!” The monster just growls, and the camera cuts to Bugs’ reaction to the threat, which consists of a series of facial contortions and holding up a pair of signs for the audience to read. The first reads “Yipe!” in fairly small letters given the size of the sign, and then a second one reading “YIPE!” in letters that take up the entire sign. Bugs faints to the floor, lets go of the sign and waves to the audience as he does, and the sign finally drops.

Bugs recovers and bolts down the hallway with the orange monster in hot pursuit. He runs smack into the door, and then chuckles, telling the audience, “Heh heh heh… forgot to open the door!” (Not my favorite gag, I might add.) He then goes through properly and shuts it behind him, with the monster bashing the door from the other side. Breathlessly, Bugs asks “Is there a doctor in the house?” and he is answered right away as the fourth wall continues to take a beating as well. A well-groomed, shadowy figure pops up from the audience at the bottom of the screen, and tells Bugs, “I’m a doctor!” With the monster still straining to get through the door, Bugs doesn’t waste a second to turn around and face the audience with his traditional carrot in hand, and say “Eh, what’s up, Doc?” He wiggles his eyebrows and takes off just as the monster crashes through the door.

Bugs whips past a large mirror in a hallway, and after the monster passes it initially, he turns back to look into the mirror. The monster’s reflection stares back at him, screams desperately, jumps into the air and turns tail to run. The monster looks back at the audience, shrugs his shoulders and hands, and then darts after Bugs once again.

Bugs runs up a flight of stairs, but then runs back down just in time to run straight into the monster and knock him down. As Bugs stands on his chest, he points back and says, “Don’t go up there! It’s dark!” and zips off. The monster next encounters Bugs disguised with a lampshade and switch on his hand. The monster seems skeptical, and lifts the shade. Bugs has a pair of lightbulbs, one in each ear, and so the monster pulls the switch. The lights come on, and the camera cuts to a closeup of the monster rubbing his chin with his finger trying to make sense of things. When the monster looks up, Bugs is dancing away, still dressed as the lamp, to the tune of Shuffle Off to Buffalo. He then makes like a ballerina briefly, with the lampshade in use as a tutu, and then volts off with his usual quickness.

Bugs, ever in charge of the chase, whistles down the monster to get his attention. “Hey! Frankenstein!” and points to get the creature moving in the proper direction. But the tables get turned quickly. A large trap door opens up in front of the rabbit, and Bugs skids to a stop on the very edge of a large pit, kicking a small rock to the water at the bottom to show how far he could have fallen. Bugs prays to whatever god cartoon rabbits pretend to worship, and tiptoes backward away from the edge, only to run into the monster again, with his giant hands full of yellow and black fingernails ready to crush Bugs.

This leads into the most famous part of the cartoon. With a disapproving finger waving in the air, Bugs cries, “Oh, for shame! Just look at your fingernails!” The monster blinks his eyes in confusion as he peers down at his hands. A quick tornado, and suddenly Bugs and the monster are both seated at a small table, where Bugs is busy filing the monster’s claws and making with the salon small talk. In an affected voice, Bugs leads off with “My, I bet you monsters lead in-ter-est-ing lives! I said to my girlfriends just the other day, ‘Gee, I bet monsters are in-ter-est-ing,’ I said. The places you must go and the things you must see. My stars! And I’ll bet you meet a lot of in-ter-est-ing people too. I’m always in-ter-est-ed in meeting in-ter-est-ing people.” Bugs finishes the manicure, and says in a singsong voice, “Now, let’s dip our paddies in the waaa-ter!” The monster complies, placing each paw in a bowl of liquid, but is only rewarded with the stinging snap of dual mousetraps, one on each hand. The monster cries pitifully at the pain, as Bugs makes his escape.

Pausing at the top of a stairway beneath a painting, Bugs swiftly realizes that the eyes of the character in Renaissance dress are following him back and forth. Without warning, Bugs turns and pokes his fingers into the eyes. Bugs splits, and the painting drops to reveal the monster holding his face in pain. He jumps out of the hole in the wall and stops at the next painting, where Bugs is dressed in similar garb to the first painting. When the monster moves to poke Bugs' eyes in the same way, Bugs sticks his fingers out and pokes the monster there first. The monster jumps through the painting to the other side of the wall, but Bugs jumps back out. He tiptoes down the hall, and it is clear the monster is matching his steps from the other side of the wall. After more steps, Bugs comes to a clear spot on the wall. He picks up a hammer, taps it on the wall like you would while looking for a wall stud to hang a picture, marks the spot with a big, black X, and then pulls out a sledgehammer. He smacks the wall as hard as he can, and a crack slowly forms the outline of the monster’s body. The outline falls down from the wall, and then the big, heart-shaped creature falls through it.

Bugs is triumphant. He exclaims, “And so, having disposed of the monster, exit the hero through the front door, stage right!” He launches into his Groucho walk once more, and wiggling his eyebrows, he adds, “None the worse for his harrowing experience!” When he turns the corner, he is shocked to see a suit of armor in the hallway, standing as if on display (and even on a stand) but with the monster clearly jam-packed into it so tightly that tufts of orange fur are seen poking out of it everywhere. (It's kind of adorable, as is Gossamer at several points in this film.) His orange hands are holding an axe above his head, and straining with anticipation over landing a blow to the head of his prey. Bugs chuckles quietly, and leaves briefly, only to come back mounted on a gigantic steed, where Bugs runs the thing like a train engineer as he blows a whistle while resting in the armhole of a suit of armor, ready to joust with the monster. The monster’s head pokes out of the top of his armor in fear, and Bugs hits him so hard that he splats against the far wall, and lands on the floor inside a small tin can bearing his likeness and the name “Canned Monster”.

Bugs, triumphant again, proclaims, “And so, having re-disposed of the monster, exit our hero through the front door, stage right!” Bugs sings his Heading for My Bedding song briefly, but as he walks, he mistakes the monster for a rug, and the monster reaches up to grab Bugs by the throat. Through the crushing fingers, Bugs croaks out, “Wait a minute, Dracula! Did you ever have the feeling you’re being watched? That the eyes of strange, eerie things are upon you?” The monster actually seems to muse on this for a second, and then Bugs adds, “Look, out there in the audience!” The monster turns and his face becomes one of sheer fright. “PEOPLE!” he screams, and turns around and crashes through an unending series of walls to escape the bane of his — and my — existence.

Bugs begins to assume that the third time is a charm, and announces boldly, “And so, having re-re-disposed of the monster…” but he is distracted by the reappearance of the hot girl robot bunny, that has been mysteriously rebuilt (the scientist did sort of disappear in this film, so maybe...) As she parades around, he tries to continue. “Exit our hero…!” but she is just too much for him. “Mechanical,” he says pointing his thumb at her, just as she kisses him on the cheek. “Well! So, it’s mechanical!” he yells, and turns to follow her out, walking like a robot bunny. THE END.

Hair-Raising Hare never gets old for me, even after watching it several times in one morning to write this piece. It may be due to the Halloween spirit in which I have invested myself greatly in relaunching both of my blogs in the past month, as I tend to be more partial to films with horror or monster themes. But today I also rewatched the second film to feature the Gossamer character battling Bugs, 1952’s Water, Water Every Hare (also directed by Jones), and it did not fare quite as well with me. Though I like it, I am disappointed by that short’s mad scientist (done more in the Karloff style, though a good deal shorter than the Lorre knockoff), and it starts to careen into the cutesier Jones material that comes off too sugary for me (at times).

I was disappointed in finding out there were so few films featuring the Gossamer character (just the two in the Golden Age) once I finally got to see one of his films. I suppose he would be hard to adapt to a lot of material, so perhaps it was best they kept him to the horror spoofs they did. That doesn't mean they haven't employed him a lot in recent years, where he has made cameos in a wide variety of TV shows, specials and new shorts using the old characters. He has become more popular in the last twenty years than he was in the studio's creative heyday, and I would have to admit that I am part of that fanbase, even if I haven't purchased any toys or stuffed dolls yet. 

Besides how would he react to being owned by a "people"? I don't think my walls could handle the pressure.

RTJ

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