Saturday, October 31, 2015

Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Forfeiture

I hate to say it... nah, I guess that's not entirely true.  Anyway, I don't know what the worst Bugs Bunny cartoon is, but I think Big House Bunny is probably it.  But why?  And how could this have happened?  These are the sorts of issues I've brought upon myself for contemplation as a part-time movie critic, but part of the answer is that it has to do with your heroes and their body of work.  As I've mentioned before, I fondly recall the time when one of my school chums complained about how lame Leonard Part Six was... see, this was way way before Cosby's sex scandals were even made public, you see.  And yet, signs were there in his various TV shows, apparently; his roofie-based barbecue sauce, apparently.  Go figure.  The example from my own experience is when, as the leader of a wandering group in the big city, I chose Lethal Weapon 3 over Alien 3.  I think it was about the time when they made a cheap "Uranus" joke that I couldn't help but think to myself, "You know... if this were any other movie, I wouldn't let them get away with it..."  I think time has certainly vindicated Alien 3, of those two... The point being, a cinematic failure is amplified when it's someone you expect good things from.
Anyways, on to the plot.  As with The Wabbit who Came to Supper, we start with Bugs being hunted in the forest.  I wanted to prefer this as Bugs' natural state, but really... were rabbits ever treated like foxes or wild turkeys by professional hunters?  I hope not.  Bugs informs the audience that, damn!  He's in a tight spot, and he has to get away.  Fortunately, like Raymond Reddington of "The Blacklist" fame, Bugs has made the proper investments in getaway infrastructure... or has he?  Bugs dives into a hole, but ends up tunneling out in quite the wrong place.
Enter the Prison Picture.  Bugs digs his way into the middle of a prison's "yard" area, where it's not break time yet.  Bugs gets his bearings, then is immediately leaped upon by prison guard "Yosemite" Sam Schultz.  "Oh, I didn't know that was his last name," said my viewing companion at the time.  Well, maybe just for this one picture.  It seems to be an homage to the bad guy in Freleng's previous picture, Daffy - The Commando, which is on YouTube currently, but will probably be taken down soon after this posting.  Sorry about that :/ .
Anyways, Bugs gets beaten up by Yosemite Sam on the prison yard.  A bit too realistic, even though I don't know from personal experience.  Of course, Bugs recovers quick, as with all cartoon characters, and even though he tricks Sam with numbers, Bugs is soon on the rockpile in his new number, "Three and a Half," of course.  It's kind of a Looney Tunes tradition.  My favourite use of this of course would have to be the baby hippo in Baby Bottleneck that's three and a half seconds old.  WAAH!!!! WAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!
Bugs' next feat of Trickery to the Extreme is to get Sam "Schultz" to fire this cannon located in the prison yard.  Bugs loads the cannon with the ball of his ball and chain.  Sam fires, sending Bugs flying far, far away.  I seem to recall Baron Munchausen doing a simiar feat in Terry Gilliam's 1988 film, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.  The young girl saw the whole thing, but couldn't get anyone to believe her.  Now, Bugs may seem to be home free at this point, but it's still early in the picture, and we're spending the whole thing in this prison, spoiler alert.  Sam gets a car, drives out to where Bugs landed, and brings him right back.  But the only part of it we see is the gate guard fiddling with the giant door... nice sequence and all, but what else is it reminding me of?  The only thing that comes vaguely to mind is the egotesticle... I mean, egotistical studio guard in Hollywood Daffy.  Incidentally, that's another Warner Bros. cartoon I'd rather be watching.  Alas, I have to wait til Volume 5 to review that one.  Woe is me, woe is me.
And so, having re-subdued Bugs, it's lock-up time proper.  "Now, git in tharrr!" exclaims Sam Schultz, pointing to the inside of the cell.  Bugs goes in and Sam shuts the door.  "Hey, Doc!  Why'd you lock yourself inside the cell?" asks Bugs... something like that.  You get the idea.  I know, I know, this is some of the finest satire Bugs has ever done, but it still bothers me for some reason.  Guess I'm just too pro-prison or something.  I'm just extra picky that way.  Of course, I had a similar problem with the first Clerks, because there never seemed to be any normal transactions.  The only customer that seemed to buy anything was the young kid who bought the cigarettes, and you probably remember how that turned out.  Anyway, long story short, Yosemite Sam gets his first brief taste of prison life.  There's the nightmare incarnate.  Bugs is walking away, twirling the keys, being a smart-ass and all, and there's Sam, the one who's supposed to be on the outside of the cell... and now he's inside of it.
Next scene: Bugs is out on the yard again, and Sam runs up with a shotgun pointed at Bugs' belly.  Psychological nightmare over, all too quickly.  Now, it's time for a similar ruse that Malcolm X once used on a drunk white guy that wanted to fight him.  For a Warner Bros. cartoon example, we can look to the conceit of To Duck... or Not to Duck... that is the question... I mean, wherein Daffy the Duck challenges Elmer the Fudd to a boxing match.  As for Big House Bunny, Bugs at this point says to Yosemite Sam, "Ah, you wouldn't be so tough without that uniform."  Ooh!  There's also a similar scene in A Fish Called Wanda done to similar effect... actually, better.  And so, Bugs is now in Sam's prison guard uniform.  Bugs takes out the whistle, blows on it, and now it's Sam being beset upon by armed prison guards with William Clubs and what not.  Revenge achieved, right?  Wrong!  It's still too early in the picture, and we have yet to run the gamut of Hollywood's prison lingo.  Up next: an homage to the Jail Break.  Alas, I'm not a good historian... wait!  Where are you going?  Damn.  There goes half my audience.  But I do know this: they say that Warner Bros. is the studio that did the edgiest material back in the '30s and '40s.  Anyway, someone other than me can speak to when the first jail break scene was done in a movie, but it's lampooned here.
And so, we see Sam in a jail cell, pleading his case to deaf ears.  His nightmare continues.  Bugs offers temporary relief for Sam.  Bugs, dressed in Sam's prison uniform, whispers some stuff about how he's going to help Sam escape.  My favourite part, and yours, fellow Hipster-to-Be, is of course Bugs' line about never forgetting what Sam did for "Mary and the kids."  Oh, that was borrowed from an article or another film.  And so, Bugs slips Sam a bread-shaped bag full of tools, and the tools are much larger than the bag.  Even Michael Carbonaro would have trouble with that one... actually, maybe not.  He's pretty good.  Under different circumstances, I'd find the whole scenario much funnier, but somehow it just doesn't work for me, and I know I'm supposed to be rooting for Bugs in all of this.
And so, Sam begins his journey of a thousand shovel-fuls of prison dirt.  He ends up poking his head up from the ground, much like Bugs did earlier when he first happened upon the prison yard.  From there, Sam finds himself in downright tropical surroundings.  Now, I swear that there was a similar situation in another Warner Bros. cartoon, and the character in question was hacking their way through similarly thick thickets, only to find themselves standing over a cliff.  We may never know which cartoon that was, even in this Internet Age, where secrets are gone and all trivia is known, but a slightly different fate befalls our Yosemite Sam Schultz.  As it happens, he's tunneled into the Warden's Office... trust me, it's funny.  Well, it sets up the conflicts to come, anyhow.  Anywho... that's what I thought; the auto-spell check doesn't like "anywho."  The point being, it's probably unfair to compare this to the far-superior Cellbound.  It's a Tex Avery cartoon that centers on a convict who spends 20 years digging a tunnel out of his prison, and when he makes his jailbreak, he ends up inside of the warden's TV set.  I think Cellbound succeeds with its plotting, but arguably Cellbound was less ambitious in scope.  Big House Bunny has more ambition, but for me, personally, it feels a bit wasted.
And so, Sam survives his reprimand from the Warden, and he gets his uniform back!  And yet, Sam feels disgruntled, poor guy.  Prison life's hard... and he just works there!  Go figure.  But he's soon back to his old self, because Bugs is back on the prison yard, strutting around and eating a carrot, all Big As Ya Please.  The chase begins anew, but this time, Bugs leads Sam up to the gallows.  Bugs pushes a button and he rides an elevator down to ground level.  Now, this elevator is in the place where the trap door is located on said gallows.  It's the part that falls out from under the feet of the condemned when the actual hanging takes place.  I mention it because Sam pushes the same button and..., it could be argued that this is also a rich, deep Warner Bros. cartoon tradition, arguably a cartoon tradition in general, about a gag involving something working one way for the good guy, and not working for the bad guy.  The exception is, of course, here in Big House Bunny, because it's usually NOT A NOOSE.  And there's a lot of bad things that happen to Wile E. Coyote; they're usually not so realistic.  Am I driving this into the ground too much yet?
Next scene: Sam's dangling there by his rope and starts cursing himself in a sped-up chipmunk voice, until we hear the voice of the Warden.  "SCHULTZ! OFFICE!" he screams.  This isn't the first time; were I a better film reviewer, I would have pointed that out... oh, I think it was when the Warden discovered Sam in his office, emerging from the endless potted plants, dressed in a convict's clothes.  Anyway, next scene: the Warden's office.  Note that there are now NO PLANTS IN IT.  You will also notice that Bugs is dressed as the Warden, and talking like the Warden.  And so, we have finally reached the summit of Mt. Satire.  Bugs keeps it simple: he gives Sam a cigar and asks him to pull up a chair.  In grand Three Stooges tradition, Sam does this while not looking.  You'll notice that the chair he does pull up seems to be more electric than your usual piece of furniture for sitting in.  Now, Bugs does something downright mean, and he says "Have a light!" and he pulls the switch for the chair.  "Hot enough for you, Schultz?" says Bugs, as his moustache slips from place.  Whether Bugs intended this or not, Sam realizes that it's all been one big trick by that screwy rabbit, and it's back to Attack Mode.
Next scene: the door to the Warden's office.  Bugs opens the door, goes through it, closes the door, and takes off.  Sam opens the door, goes through it, closes the door and takes off after Bugs.  I only mention it this way because this seems to be a rather common construct in Friz Freleng's Warner Bros. cartoons.  The Wabbit who Came to Supper and Little Red Riding Rabbit come to mind.  There's also a sequence in Little Red Riding Rabbit and Buccaneer Bunny involving four different doors on two floors, but we'll save that for later... okay, I think the end of The Hare-Brained Hypnotist is what I'm thinking of, except that there were no doors in that one; the characters just used Stage Left and Stage Right as the makeshift doors; this was the part where Elmer gets hypnotized into acting like Bugs.
Anyway, after Sam takes off after Bugs, Bugs returns and goes back into the Warden's Office.  Sam follows soon after.  Now, if you're jaded and cynical like me, you can probably guess what's going to happen... but I'll spoil it for you anyway.  The Warden has returned, unaware of what just happened in his office, and asks Sam simply, "Yes?"  It's much the same tone that Bugs used with Daffy after Daffy got shot that second time in Rabbit Seasoning.  Daffy didn't know what to do after that, but Sam knows, by Gum!  Why, he bashes that Warden on the head and... when he realizes that it's not Bugs posing as the Warden, but the actual Warden, well, what else can a guy do who wants to apologize?  Sam politely taps the Warden's head lump back down, and he takes another verbal beating from the Warden.  Sam emerges from the Warden's office as though he's been in a boxing match.  His eyes have a dazed look, but Chuck Jones would have gotten the eyes right.  I'm thinking of that one Three Bears cartoon when Papa Bear sees the pantry full of honey and one bottle of ketchup... I mean, WOW.  I believe it was The Bee-Deviled Bruin.


Sam once again finds Bugs wandering around the otherwise empty prison.  They're near the prison gates, which is quite convenient from a plotting standpoint.  Sam rushes up with his trusty shotgun, and says to Bugs, "Stay where you're at!"  Sam opens the gate and tells Bugs to get out.  I'll leave the irony of that aside for fans of this cartoon.  But, if I were a bigger fan of this cartoon, I would definitely call this next moment a bit of quiet genius... or some kind of genius.  Sam tells Bugs several times "OUT!   OUT!!!!!"  Bugs mimes his response, by pointing to himself and saying "What?  Me?  Out?"  Jerry Seinfeld couldn't have done it better.  "You want me to get out?" Bugs seems to mouth at Sam.  Bugs eventually shrugs and walks out the gate.  Sam locks the gate with a giant cartoon padlock, ironically enough, then begins to laugh, kinda like how the psychiatrists in What About Bob? laughed when they got rid of Bob, or at least thought they got rid of Bob.
And so, Sam enjoys his new-found freedom with Bugs out of his life... that is, until he hears the voice of that much hated Warden again.  "SCHULTZ!!! OFFICE!!!!" the Warden says.
And so, Bugs' revenge really is complete at this point, as it's now Sam tapping away at the rockpile that Bugs was at earlier in this picture.  No one seems to be supervising Sam, however.  Sam wonders aloud to himself... something about wanting to know which stool pigeon it was that squealed on him.  Now, I don't know much about prison life, arguably, except that it's very structured, more than most people care for.  Also, I've noticed that all the jobs with my local Department of Corrections have this warning about how catching tuberculosis seems to be one of the perks of the job... or maybe it's a hazard.  Depends on how you feel about vaccines, I suppose.  Freakin' Obamacare, right?  Anyway, we see Bugs, taking his well-deserved victory lap on the prison wall.  He's sitting on a stool, right?  And then he... ah, skip it.  If I had to suffer through it, now you have to.
Of course, maybe I'm the wrong person to review this cartoon.  Maybe Joyce Mitchell loves it, right?

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

1 comment:

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