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!

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...)



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.]


Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

Quick lyric correction on Daffy's thing:

I think you'll find it's:

"Tally-ho! I am a hunting FOOL"


"Just like the wind I ride MY STALWART STEED"

Anonymous said...

Very good post. I tried looking for We watch the Skyways on youtube, couldn't find anything. :/

Fun episode atleast!

Tricky said...

Ah yes!.... What an episode. Good pick up on the misinterpreted lyrics. This may be one of daffy's funniest cartoons ever. Gotta love that little black duck.

Anonymous said...

One of the funniest Looney Tunes ever. Nice tribute.