Sunday, January 17, 2016

Hail, Sylvester!

Now, I'm no Jerry Beck, and I haven't seen all five thousand Looney Tunes cartoons... but I do know this.  I've seen a couple of 'em... and I don't recall one that features such a wide variety of the Looney Tunes stars.  And yes, the whole "On with the show, this is it" thing doesn't count... that would be a neat extra for these DVDs though, hint hint.
And since this is a Chuck Jones joint, he includes Mama Bear as a bit player.  Henery Hawk also makes an appearance, but I don't know if he's strictly a Chuck Jones creation.  He would often appear in those McKimson-Foghorn Leghorn joints as Fog's pint-sized foil.  I guess it fits, as the story is not a flashback per se, but rather it's Daffy pitching a movie idea to the head of Warner Bros. studios, J.L.  J.L. is indeed hearing of this as we speak.
I've heard that Jones was an avid reader, as was his mum and dad, and he put his knowledge of world literature to use in the Looney Tunes, rather than the extended vaudeville routines that the others tended to do.  And yet, the story of the Scarlet Pimpernel wasn't enough by itself to justify a whole cartoon about it.  A larger context was needed, and so we have Daffy Duck starting where A Star is Bored left off (..oops!  It came 6 years later...), appealing to the studio head directly, stating that it's time for him to stretch as a silver screen thespian.  And he's got just the property right there with him: The Scarlet Pumpernickel by Daffy Dumas Duck.  I guess it has a better ring to it than Daffy Baroness Orczy Duck.
And so, in addition to the meta context, we get other hipster touches like this: Daffy narrates the story, and he says that a certain character is simply furious.  The character is played by Porky Pig, and Porky says "I'm s... s... simply furious!"  That kind of thing.  We get a brief introduction of the Pumpernickel character outwitting his many enemies.  Then, we get the plot that will consume the rest of the picture: a fiendish plot to draw out the Scarlet Pumpernickel into the open, so he can be captured, and drawn and quartered, not necessarily in that order.  And while normally no expense is spared in these old Looney Tunes, apparently Arthur Q. Bryan wasn't available to do Elmer that week, so Mel Blanc stepped in to do the voice.
Now, you might be tempted to think that the girl duck in the picture doesn't have that great of a part... and you'd be right!  Such a caricature.  Every duck princess is always this trophy thing for the boy duck to win, and by win I mean kiss.  But she's got a scene where she gets to be strong.  The Scarlet Pumpernickel interrupts the impending wedding, The Graduate-style, and she ends up whisking S.P. away under her arm... or is that too much of a clich√© in and of itself?  I'm reminded of the imperiled dame of Jones' earlier The Dover Boys.  He was going through his streaking phase.  Any time a character would go someplace fast, they'd do it in a nice clean streak, and not some kind of insane rubbery, hyperactive streak like Bob Clampett would do.  Oh, I hope we get to one of those soon.
As for the big finale, well... SPOILER ALERT... there's a standoff at the inn where S.P. has hidden... the Lady Melissa, I think that's her name.  The Grand Duke, a whisker-less Sylvester, stops off at the very same inn.  He sees Melissa, and storms up to her room on the second floor.  Daffy swings over to the room, with much the same success as Chevy Chase in Cops and Robbersons... go ahead!  I dare you to watch it yourself!  I DOUBLE DOG DARE YOU!... And then, the narrating Daffy in J.L.'s office takes over.  We never figure out who wins the big sword fight, Sylvester or Daffy... but personally my money's on Sylvester.  He's taller, and clearly the more desperate of the two.  Sylvester represents the entrenched establishment... you know, I hate to get political, but I don't think I've ever seen such an obnoxious senator before, American or otherwise, talking about his fellow establishment in such terms.  Anyway, Mother Nature takes over, sending floods and volcanoes to interrupt the action, and to indirectly drive up the price of foodstuffs... most notably, kreplach.  Why does the kreplach always go first?  That and a 6-pack of Budweiser
"Is THAT all?" asks the suddenly unimpressed studio chief.  I guess everyone's still reeling from Cecil B. DeMille's epic scenes in garish Technicolor.  And so, the fragile Daffy is left no choice but to blow his brains out.  He actually says that.  And then he does it, too!  Now, I never saw this one in its entirety on T.V., but I'm pretty sure that that got snipped at some point.  Maybe because there's no easy way to snip it, they just skipped showing it altogether.  This is, of course, in contrast to The Windblown Hare... god bless Wikipedia!  And I swear, I will contribute someday.  Anyway, in this variation on the story of The Big Bad Wolf and the Three Little Pigs... not the Green Jelly one... the pigs are the bad guys, and Bugs plots revenge against them for selling him their crappy straw house.  At one point, the pigs taunt the wolf and ONE OF THEM SAYS..... "Ah, go blow your brains out!"  Oh, these things just aren't for kids.
One last thought: the Onion may disagree with the main assertion of The Big Lebowski, but I slightly disagree with the Onion, and with Daffy's assertion that he wants to do a dramatic part.  I mean, let's face it.  Pimpernel is blockbuster, popcorn material, even though it doesn't seem to have been made in the '20s by Douglas Fairbanks.  I mean, it's not exactly Ibsen or All Quiet on the Western Front, knowwhutImean, Vern?  No, it's more like how Peter Sellers wanted to be James Bond, but Hollywood would only put him in the campy Casino Royale of 1967 in that capacity.  I guess he just never understood that his Inspector Clouseau and Dr. Strangelove will be more enduring gifts to mankind than James Bond, in the long run.  But that's just MHO.  And The Scarlet Pumpernickel probably won't become my favourite Daffy Duck cartoon, but it's unique, if nothing else.

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-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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