Friday, January 27, 2006

High-Diving Hare (1949)

High-Diving Hare (Warner Bros., 1949) 
Dir: Isadore "Friz" Freleng
Cel Bloc Rating: 9/9

[Editor's note 1/16/2016: The opening premise of this article was based around a website that is no longer in existence online. The website contained stats about how many jugglers the average American knew personally, and other such ephemera based around the world of juggling. I am sure such stats exist elsewhere on any number of current juggling websites, but I don't care to look for one. But in the interest of preserving this piece as close to how it was written originally as possible, I will not take out the reference or the link. Since the cartoon in discussion is not about juggling anyway (just a reference on a poster), it doesn't matter. But you can see where my state of mind was in January of 2006 having just left all of my theatrical friends, most of whom juggled to some degree, in Alaska behind. - RTJ]

Butterfingers and Clumsy? The juggling act? I must be one of those guys. Funny thing is, I don't remember performing on a vaudeville stage with Fearless Freep, the high-diving platform specialist. But surely, if there is a juggling act named Butterfingers and Clumsy, then one of them must certainly be yours truly, for I am a bad juggler. I suppose, if I actually practiced a little bit, I might approach "staggeringly mediocre" at the very peak of my abilities, but it's pretty much "three and out" for me. Vex me with a fourth object and I am done for within .6 seconds, and that's pushing it.

Strangely, ".6" is the exact statistical answer to "How many jugglers does the average American know personally?" Well, since I know about 87 people who can juggle to some degree, I dispute the findings of the Average American Juggler-Knowing People Institute! (Or the AAJKPI. For further muddled information and inane results, you can't check out their website here. Why are you clicking on it? I said you can't...) So, perhaps one of those 87 people is the partner of either Butterfingers or Clumsy, whichever one I'm not. Thusly, there is also the likelihood that either Butterfingers or Clumsy (whichever one I’m not) also doesn't remembering starring on the vaudeville stage with the amazing, the colossal, the defy-defying... Fearless Freep!

Yosemite Sam certainly remembers Freep. In Friz Freleng’s classic Warner Bros. short from 1949, High-Diving Hare, Sam claims of Fearless Freep, "That's m'boy!", and does so clamorously. Sam is so positively enamored of this wholly unseen daredevil that he buys a passel of tickets for Bugs Bunny's theatrical revue at the Opry House. After Bugs does a traditional barker's sales pitch about the variety of his acts -- including the aforementioned Butterfingers and Clumsy, the jugglers -- Sam stops up to throw a vast amount of money about the boardwalk, yelling, "I'm a-splurgin'!" He is so wound up for Freep's stunts that he threatens Bugs with violence unless the rabbit skips the show past the opening act.

There is one little problem, though: Freep is not going to make it to the show. Bugs receives a telegram from Freep at the last second, who is stuck in his current location due to a storm. Bugs informs the crowd that the show won't go on, but Yosemite's six-shooters soon convince Bugs that it will. Bugs protests that heights give him "goosebumps on his goosebumps", but Sam is having none of it, and up the ladder both Bugs and Sam, brandishing his shootin' irons in a threatening way, go.

Bugs bides his time by acting nervous and frightened, and then shyly asks Sam to close his eyes so that Bugs can put on his "bathin' suit." Slowly and methodically putting it and his cap on, once he is dressed, Bugs somehow makes the board spin about so that Sam is now standing 500 feet above the target washtub full of water, and Bugs is standing on the end above the safety of the platform. Sam opens his eyes, totally unaware of the change in his position and forces Bugs to jump. The rabbit fakes his dive into the distant tub, landing a couple feet down on the platform, throwing a glass of water in the air while yelling out "Spa-Lash!" and then gargling the water to simulate a drowning effect. Sam is stunned. "By gar, the critter went and done it," he mutters in respectful astonishment, and turns around to go down the ladder. But his feet only find open air, and the pint-sized cowboy plummets 500 feet down into the tub, which falls apart as he spins about fish-like in the remaining plug of water.

High-Diving Hare is built on the simplest of gags, but a solid one: Yosemite Sam falls 500 feet off of a platform into a tub of water, or not even into a tub of water, but rather into the stage, and he does this over and over again (by my count, he falls off the platform nine times in the film). Sam runs up the ladder the second time and when Bugs tricks him into falling, Bugs suddenly remembers that he forget to refill the water tub. He throws a bucket of water down after Sam, and the fireplug cowboy allows the water to pass him, all the while praying and, at one point, climbing on top of the column of water to try to stomp it downward faster. The water does end up falling into the tub in time, but poor Sam misses the tub entirely and crashes through the floorboards of the stage!

The next time Sam can't find Bugs on the platform, but then discovers that Bugs is standing upside-down under the board. Or so he (and we) are made to believe at first). As it turns out, Sam is actually the one that is upside-down (though he appears right-side up to us), and sure enough, when he looks up, he is actually looking down at the water tub far below on the stage. Sam falls yet again. It is interesting to note that after the first couple of crashes, his landings are not even referred to again, with merely the gag of him falling repeatedly fulfilling the joke's promise. It also helps make the film build ever faster to its conclusion. 

Bugs tricks Sam again and again. The rabbit challenges the cowboy to "cross this line" and Sam is bold enough to take Bugs up on it. Only the line is a couple of inches from the end of the board, and Sam falls off again. However, he has enough fire in his belly to fly back upwards just enough to pause and pronounce splenetically, "" before he falls yet again. Another time, Sam gets to the top and finds Bugs wearing Indian headgear. He tells Sam that the rabbit he is looking for took a short cut, and when the camera cuts to the ned of the diving board, there is a very staged looking western setup with prop cacti, rocks and a cattle skull, along with a sign pointing to the "Short Cut". Sam falls again. 

Another time there is a door set up on the diving board, with Bugs on the opposite side. When Sam commands Bugs to "OPEN THE DOOR!" he turns to the camera and says, "You notice that I didn't say 'Richard'?" (This is a reference to a popular novelty song of the day.) Of course, Sam will run through the door as Bugs opens it and start to fall, only this time, Bugs hands Sam an anvil so that he will fall even faster to the stage below.

Twice we don't even know how he gets tricked; we merely see Sam fall past the camera in those instances, without the slightest clue of what the rabbit did to him. After Sam's ninth climb up the ladder, we are expecting another fall with unseen purpose, but instead hear the sounds of wood being sawed. The camera cuts to Bugs tied up on the end of the diving board that Sam is furiously cutting away with his saw. When it finally goes through, however, Bugs remains high and dry in the air, as Sam falls to the ground below with the platform and ladder. Bugs points out that this act defies the laws of gravity, but adds "...then again, I never studied law!" Iris out.

Though a simple repeated act of slapstick violence is the sole cause of the laughs in this picture, the laughs are honest, with Bugs throwing some of his “A” material at the villain and the audience. It is amazing the number of times that gravity is flouted throughout its 7-1/2 minutes. One thing that truly defies gravity is my opinion of High-Diving Hare. Not my favorite graphically, if is nonetheless one of the outright funniest of the Bugs-Sam ventures, and remains my personal favorite of their series (just slightly ahead of Bunker Hill Bunny; others might pick the later "Whoa, dragon!" or "Whoa, camel!" pictures (and I love those, too); but these two get to me more).

Now, where gravity does get to me is in juggling. But I've really got to practice if I going to get back on that vaudeville circuit with the incredible Fearless Freep. If you see me perform, just make sure to tell the AAJKPI... their statistics are damn faulty.



And in case you haven’t seen it…

[This article was revised and updated, including the addition of an editorial note, on 1/12/2016.]

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