Sunday, July 03, 2016

A Rabbit's History of the United States

Our next Looney Tunes is another Friz Freleng meh-sterpiece, and it's called Bunker Hill Bunny.  Well, let me put it this way.  Oh, the things you remember.  The useless things accumulated over a lifetime.  Evolutionary adaptation, my ass.  There was a show on Fox, I believe, long, long ago.  The ad for it went like this: "Bob and Doug (McKenzie), Wayne and Garth, Bill and Ted, Beavis and Butthead... Eric and Donny?"  Don't worry... I'll try to explain what I mean in a minute.


This is how most people see cartoons, I think.  We begin rather immediately after the director's credit fades out... with a gigantic explosion.  Who could it be?  Elmer getting rid of some stumps on his estate with good old fashioned dynamite?  Elmer shooting at Daffy or Bugs?  Well, not Daffy... how about Yosemite Sam?  Nope, the culprit is the year 1776.  You know, Britain's last big fight before breaking off relations with America forever and ever... we're treated to the rather strange still painting, shown above, of some Red coats doing close gun battle with a regiment of... I'm going to say Puritan farmers.  It reminds me of a scene from Friz's other masterpiece, Hare Trigger, and the one shootout that Bugs and Sam have in an empty train car.
Anyway, back to the earlier reference I made to what ended up being called "New York Daze"... sheesh.  It was originally called "Too Something."  I think because the commercial came on during The Simpsons is the reason I know that.
So, the cartoon informs us that the setting is 1776.  First, we see the fighting in Bunker Hill, presented quite austerely, but with an air of silliness... firing at such close range, but with neither side flinching.  It's almost as if they're a painted background or something.  Next, the lettering informs us that we're seeing Yorktown going up in flames, but with soldiers heroically leading the way.  Those two, Bunker Hill and Yorktown, are your proverbial Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth, etc.  Now we come to the Eric and Donny, and it's called ... Bagle Heights?  Gone are the simple soldiers from earlier, for now we are treated to two fortified forts, firing it out for domination of the land.  Their flags are "They" and "We," respectively.  Now, the "They" side has six guns firing away, with the authority of the Carl Stalling Orchestra's timpani section to underscore it.  "We" has one cannon, and it sounds like... like... a pop gun?  A chewing gum bubble?  A little toy gun used by a professional movie studio's sound department.  The "We" cannon fires twice.  The "They" cannons fire about a dozen shots for the "We" side's two.  You'd think that it's no contest, but no.  Both sides are equally matched.
The firing stops, and the crickets start.  There's just nothing in any Army manual to prepare you for the quiet times.  The commander of the "They" fort emerges ("Yosemite" Sam) and calls out to the enemy.  Well, that's one way to do it.  We saw Bugs' arm operating the "We" cannon earlier, so we know what Yosemite is to expect.
"A rabbit!  Haw haw..." says Sam.  Bugs counteracts Sam's sarcasm, saying "And just who do you think you are?"  Sam informs us that his name is "Sam von Schmamm, the Hessian" in this one.  It seems that in every cartoon he's in, his name never actually is Yosemite Sam.  He always seems to have a different nickname each time... but I'm no expert, I'll give you that.
But whatever character Sam tries to pretend to play, he's always the same: full of bluster and pride.  (not even attempting a German accent... probably a smart move)  He unironically informs Bugs that he's got Bugs outnumbered "one to one," adding "Surrender or die, rabbit!"  Bugs responds by kissing the ground in front of his fort, and he doesn't even spit out the little bit of humus he got in his mouth or anything.  Whoa, dude.  Bugs is in Fight Mode all the way.  Bugs goes back inside and gets into costume as best he can.  He re-emerges from the fort, his ears tied back, with a blue army hat on his head, and a bayonetted rifle in his hand.  "Just try and take it!" Bugs tells Sam.  I remember a long time ago when an actual film critic pointed out how Bugs has this ... I hate to say Nationalist, but Bugs is nothing if not an American, and he is capable of embodying American values, even some historical ones to an extent.  I'm not doing it justice, of course.  But still I can't help but picture the Native Americans who might be watching this and just shaking their heads at this point.


"Prepare to defend yourself, rabbit!" Sam tells Bugs.  Act Two begins.  A little early, but close enough to it.  The conflict has been set up, and now it's up to Sam to make his attempts to take Fort Bugs of Bagle Heights fame.
Sam goes down to ground level, opens the fortified They Fort door, and says "CHAAARRRRGE!"  The Closed-Captioning doesn't add all the extra letters.  Oh, how I pity the disabled who aren't able to enjoy the entire experience.  So, now that the brief truce is over, and Sam has said "CHAAAAARRRRGGGEEE!", what does he do for his opening salvo?  Why, he comes out with a drum, of course, and marches his ass over towards Fort We, of course!  Talk about bluster and pride!  Downright arrogant as well!  But the drums do sound good... sounds like more than one, anywho.
And now, for the first big laugh.  Without missing a beat, and to Sam's tempo, the wooden doow of Fort We flies open, and Sam gets blasted with a cannonball.  The dust settles, and Sam is of course, just a little worse for wear.  Covered in soot, clothes slightly in tatters, he quickens pace back to his fort.  His drum's lost a little of its luster as well, lol.
Sam closes the door to his fort, and fires about forty shots from his six guns.  Alas, we don't get to see how he manages all of this.  This isn't a Bob Clampett joint, you know!  Reminds me of the sound machine that Bugs uses to simulate the robbing of the 5:15... am I right or what?

SECOND ATTEMPT: Sam tries charging again, but this time with a rifle and bayonet.  Bugs responds in kind.  What happens next just might seem familiar to anyone who's played that game called Othello... you know, the one with the black and white circular game pieces.  For a brief moment, Sam seems to have both forts in his command, that is until Bugs' flag goes up over Sam's fort.  At least with Othello, there's some sense of progress, as the game board gets filled up.  No such luck here.
We see Sam tying his flag in place over in Bugs' fort, and happy as a clam to boot.  This is how Alexander must have felt at times.  "Yoo-hoo!  Mister Enemy!" says Bugs.  Sam looks over to see Bugs' flag.  Bugs definitely got the flag upgrade, if nothing else!  Look at the giant carrot on it and everything.  Anyway, at about 3:05 or so, we're treated to the long process of switching back over.  That'll stretch this affair out to one reel!
Now sure, Bugs could've been all mercenary about it and everything, and kept Sam's larger fort all to himself, but that's not Bugs' way.  This isn't a Disney cartoon, after all!  So Sam is now back in his fort.  He looks up and sees Bugs' flag again flying over Fort We.  "CHAARRRRGE!" says Sam again, and tries to keep this crazy train going.  Love the accent on the "ge" part of "CHARGE" on that one.
Bugs clearly needs to snap Sam out of it.  Bugs is calmly standing next to the wooden door of Fort We.  Sam is running full speed towards it.  Bugs swings open the door, and Sam ends up running into the barrel of a really big cannon, big enough that he doesn't even hit his head.  "RETREAT!" says Sam, and of course it's all echo-ey.  Cartoons aren't real, but they often try to be.  And just like the guy fumbling with the car keys in the zombie picture, Sam has a little trouble running out of the cannon in time.  With the slightest of sleight of hand, Bugs fires the cannon.  Surely he has an assistant or two!
Next scene: we see Sam flying back into Fort They, leaving a trail of thick grey smoke in his wake.  A sadder projectile you will not see.  When Sam lands back on the ground, he sets off a rather large explosion inside the walls of Fort They.  But it's still well into the middle of Act Two, so he'll survive to start another attempt.

THIRD ATTEMPT: Time for the old spherical black bomb.  Brought to you by Lindt and Sprungli... mmm.  Could go for a few of those right about now.  Sam chucks the lit bomb in Bugs' direction and... dayamn!  Look at that little fat boy throw!  Bugs has actually got a worried look on his face for a second there.  Acting quickly, Bugs goes for the... can you guess?  That's right!  The baseball outfit!  Bugs hits a home run, of course, and... well, needles to say, Bugs' enthusiasm rubs off on Sam.  Sam gets out his baseball glove and starts saying "I got it... I GOT IT!!!"  He runs back into the ultra-fortified walls of Fort They and... hmm!  Is that the same explosion from earlier?  To be fair, this time it fades out.
A white flag raises up Fort They's flagpole.  You'll never guess what it says.  Never in a million, cajillion years...

FOURTH ATTEMPT: "I'm a-gonna blow you to smithereenies!" threatens Sam, after regaining his composure (but not his wardrobe, still in tatters, and a little grey from the last explosion).  Any ordinary man would've given it up by now, but this is Sam von Schmamm the Hessian we're talking about, after all.  Now I hate to be negative, but after all the dozens of shots he's fired at Bugs, none of them seem to have hit either Bugs or his wooden fort!  I'm assuming the rules of Cartoon Health Care are... well, they're in effect for Yosemite, but Bugs doesn't like to waste money or time in the hospital.  He prefers to outwit his various nemeses.
"Ah, your brother blows bubble gum!" retorts Bugs.  Boy!  Mel Blanc wasn't kidding when the various filmmakers involved said that Bugs was a "little stinker."  Thank the dear Lord that Brooklyn and the Bronx don't usually team up.  They sound damn near unstoppable.
Anyway, what happens next ends up being a bit like... cannon pong?  For some reason, the phrase "swapping spit" comes to my mind.  Oh, the joys of mononucleosis.  Sam fires the first shot, of course, but he has a little trouble jamming the cannonball into the cannon.  But a few jumps up and down on top of it and down it goes!  That's what happens when you buy your cannonballs from Costco: they're always the wrong size, and you have to buy, like, 50 or 100 of 'em at once.  And apparently he doesn't need powder or a layer of wadding.  Neither does Bugs.  But that's Friz for you: keeping things simple, and focusing on the action.  The stupid, stupid action.
"That's the ol' pepper, Kid!" says Bugs.  My favourite is probably "Let's see whatcha got in the ol' cannonball, kid!"  Clearly Bugs is doing all the work here.  He has to maneuver his cannon to catch it when Sam fires it, and he stands behind the cannon to make sure the recoil doesn't make it fly off the wide platform it's on.  And thirdly, he has to break what is clearly a stalemate.  Bugs ain't goin' nowhere, Sam ain't goin' nowhere... and apparently, the cannonball in question ain't goin' nowhere!  You would think that any normal cannonball could only be fired once.  I myself go back to that old "Castle Wolfenstein" video game... particularly the 8-bit version where, if you made the mistake of shooting at an open chest of cannonballs, well... the explosion would not only end the game for you, and send you back down to the rank of Private, it would threaten to overheat your 8-bit computer and the 6502 chip therein... I'm assuming all this was covered at some point in "Halt and Catch Fire."  Or... Gilliam's 1988 disasterpiece about Baron Munchausen.  There.  Brought it full circle.
And so, Bugs ends the stalemate, because we've got cornier gags to get to yet.  Bugs fires the cannonball back at Sam.  We get a slightly different angle on the proceedings.  That's because Bugs fires over a giant cork to plug up Sam's cannon... damn!  This just gave eBay and or Amazon a new idea to save on transportation costs.  And so, Sam goes over to the cork, and eventually he pulls it out of the cannon and...


FIFTH ATTEMPT: Time to leave the noisy world of cannon fire behind for a while... kind of relaxing, actually!  It's the proverbial "Digging to China" time for Sam.  As dictated by cartoon convention, Sam is a proficient digger of underground tunnels.  He doesn't even have to carry the dirt out of the tunnel in Hefty (TM) bags or anything!  No buttresses, no underground rail system with carts to speed up the digging, no pressurized water to hose down the dirt... this is 1776, mind you.  We just barely had train technology as it was!
Next scene: as we could see from the cutaway that exposed the underground earth where Sam was digging, he was heading in the general direction of Fort We (Bugs).  In the next scene, Sam starts to emerge from the ground.  We, of course, can see that he's digging his way into a small room full of explosives, much like the big finale of Friz's Oscar-winning masterpiece, Knighty Knight Bugs.  The principles of "movie night" apply even, perhaps especially, to cartoons... by that, I mean the use of a couple small spotlights in the dead of night to highlight a few important features of the landscape that we need to notice.  If it was just pure darkness, it wouldn't be as interesting.
Next scene: And so, Sam lights a match to light his way in this new world... well, it can seem like a new world if you've just spent the last few hours digging around underneath the surface like Sam has been.  Unfortunately, Sam's luck with matches is poor... and I submit the big fiery finale of Buccaneer Bugs as proof.  Next scene: an exterior shot of the "Explosives" room.  Note to future Sam: give the explosives room a concrete floor next time.  Might slow you down a little when you dig your way into the next one.  And to further add insult to injury, Sam seems to have tunneled back inside the walls of his own Fort They.  I don't recall Bugs' fort being so concretely fortified.  Also, love Carl Stalling's emphasis on the explosion.  Sam emerges from the now tattered "Explosives" room, dazed and sad.  His spirit is slowly being broken.  So far, he's either been perplexed or angry after getting blown up by a cannon.

SIXTH ATTEMPT: Oh, this cartoon is just not for kids.  While you can't tell from the background cels, it still seems to be the dead of night.  And now, Sam is tiptoeing around in his undershorts, fiddling around with a long length of fuse, and a giant barrel of gun powder.  Lol.  As you can see, the barrel has an informative rubric on it that says "Gun Powder."
Sam inserts part of the fuse into the gun barrel, and gets a mischievious grin across his face.  Oh, Bugs just doesn't know what he's in for.  Sam's reign of quiet terror continues!
Next scene: Sam quietly tiptoes from the threshold of Fort They and heads over to Bugs' place.  Why Sam would be content with having his fort called "They," I have no idea.  Must be part of that whole Hessian character, that seems to have gone the way of the Hittites or the Zoroastrians.  I know, I know, just because they come last in the dictionary doesn't mean they still don't exist, right along with Zuul worshippers.  Anyway, in what is clearly an ode to the rather strange Laurel and Hardy classic, Dirty Work, as Sam carries the barrel of gun powder, a second gun powder barrel begins to form in Sam's pants, as David Letterman might suggest, thanks to the overly aerated barrel Sam's carrying.
Sam is so filled with the joys of war that he doesn't notice that his pants are filled practically to the brim with that gun powder crap... I mean, that gun powder stuff.  Sam tiptoes back to the threshold of Fort They, and... yup, that's right.  He leaves in his wake a solid trail of gun powder.  Just think about that for a second... okay, on to the next.
Next scene: now, in the cartoon history of trying to blow out fuses, they traditionally do not go out.  I'm thinking of Tom Cat in ... The Yankee Doodle Cat?  The fuse on the tiny firecracker didn't go out because... well, frankly, he picked the whole tiny thing up and laughed at it.  In The Wacky Wabbit, Bugs shrugged and held onto a stick of TNT, but Bugs is a star and the stick of TNT knew that.  The rest of us wouldn't be so lucky.  Here, in Bunker Hill Bunny, Bugs is about a half step ahead of Sam, and there he is.  We see him sitting confidently, a big smug even, on top of the barrel with the giant rubric "GUN POWDER" on it.  And just before the spark is about to blow him sky high, Bugs wets his fingertips with his long yazzik and puts out the flame.  Esquire Magazine for Rabbits could get a whole years' worth of articles out of that single incident.
Now, for Bugs' next act... he takes a match and ignites Sam's trail of gun powder.  Even Fischli and Weiss wouldn't have this kind of luck; it would have to be deliberate.  Plus, Sam's the bad guy, so he of course has it coming. 
The spark eats up the trail of gun powder, and drowns out the Carl Stalling timpani that's trying to add dramatic tension to the affair.  Next scene: Sam looks on in curiosity at the approaching spark, then he slowly realizes it's about to blow him sky high.  At the last possible microsecond, Sam takes off running.  Next scene: Sam runs to Stage Right and leaves a fresh trail of gun powder.  The spark quickens pace to keep up with Sam, lol.  Sam then runs Stage Left, thereby conserving backgrounds.  The spark follows.  The pouch in Sam's undergarments is more full than ever.
Next scene: as happened either before or after, probably in another Friz joint, Sam disappears over the horizon, still leaving a black gun powder trail.  The spark follows.  Next scene: Sam finds an apple tree, and climbs up into it.  Surely the spark will find no quarter up a tree?  Note to future cartoon makers: have Sam run through a stream or a shallow brook!  Now that would be a challenge.


BOOM!  As you could see, the apple tree was perhaps half maple as well... some kind of tree that bleeds sap through its bark.  Gun powder could stick to that.  It's an explosion that only the most ardent horticulturist could take exception to.  Alas, tis not a terribly funny explosion.  No apple pies get created via cartoon entropy.  The explosion of Sam's bag of picnic food in Ballot Box Bunny is clearly funnier, but oh well.  It wasn't the last explosion to end the film, for one.
I failed to point out earlier that Bugs said that "no Hessian opression" was going to move him from his parcel of land.  After Sam gets blowed up real good, and we see him once again charred, clothes in tatters, we see his spirit broken once and for all... if only because it's the end of this one-reel cartoon.  Hanging from a branch by his tiny hands, Sam says "I'm a Hessian without no aggression."  We have officially come full circle.  But Sam isn't one to be out of the spotlight completely, so he adds the following codicil: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!"  Next scene: with Bugs on flute, and Sam on drums, they march towards the "camera" together.  Now, I don't know if this is commensurate with the actual history of the time, but I do get the feeling that there are some ancient Hessian fortunes that have a stranglehold on prime upstate Connecticut real estate, for one.  Close enough.

-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan

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