Wednesday, 6 August 2014

341. All This and Rabbit Stew (1941)

featuring BUGS BUNNY
Warner cartoon no. 340.
Release date: September 20, 1941.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Tex Avery (uncredited).
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny), Darrell Payne (Black Hunter) (unconfirmed).
Story: Dave Monahan.
Animation: Virgil Ross.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A negro hunter is on the hunt for a rabbit, but no hope comes to him when he targets none other than Bugs Bunny.

As I've wrote before, the earliest Bugs Bunny shorts mainly deal with Bugs Bunny dealing with several Elmer Fudd-like personalities but choosing different nemeses for Bugs, either animal, ethnical or whichever.

As unsophisticated as Tex could go, the hunter is instead a black, Stephen Fetchit-type personality, which shows Tex satirising the actor, as well as the African-American stereotype that parodied for entertainment purposes. The voice actor, though unconfirmed is believed to be done by the name of Darrell Payne who appears to have vanished into obscurity, with little or no information on him, according to Keith Scott.

Going as far to condemn Tex to be racist is too far. History of history. Bugs Bunny tricks the hunter much like any other hunter, except perhaps for the final scene in the film. I do find however the stereotype to be in bad taste.

As this is clearly parodying the persona of Fetchit, who was known for stereotype "coon" personalities. I can't understand the appeal of the actor, for his mannerisms aren't entertaining to me. Admittedly, I don't mind a good stereotypical joke (who doesn't?), but it just doesn't hold up too well in this short, but I find it lacks taste.

Watching the introduction to the short, it's constructed almost parallel to A Wild Hare, though comparing both of them show major differences. Not only are the gags surrounding Bugs Bunny starting to become more humorous and witty to Tex's taste, but notice how the Fetchit hunter and Elmer really do contrast greatly.

It starts off with the Fetchit hunter who represents the "coon" like personality: the slow walk, the voice as well as the lazy posture. "I'm gonna catch me a wabbit". Just as he spots rabbit tracks, the camera pans towards Bugs' hole where he is seen chewing carrots, and tossing out the remains from his hole.

We also get some subtle humour out of Tex where Bugs, off-screen, eats the wrong side of the carrot, and accidentally tosses out an entire carrot. The hunter points his gun towards Bugs' hole which moves just whilst the hunter is walking.

The business with Bugs' hole moving towards the bark of the tree is really wonderful stuff in terms of gag purposes. The gun explosion, and thus blowing up the tree is also a great touch. And so, Bugs deals with the Fetchit hunter like how he'd deal anyone, he'd ask "What's up doc?", the hunter would explain his goal, and so Bugs makes his move before he "swims" through the soil for his life. And the rest of the short is built up with gag-after-gag, which will all be discussed further in the review.

Not only are Tex's gags becoming wilder, but his timing for action scenes are beginning to appear more frantic, and more like how Tex would time out action scenes in the shorts he did for MGM. A great example appears during the sequence where Bugs almost takes his life, but gets spared by a group of passing by bullets.

The gag then gets wilder to the point where the bullets are inanimate, and almost human. When the bullets miss Bugs Bunny's direction, the bullets then brake, and it is animated and laid out wonderfully.

And so, this leads to some great timing of Bugs hopping from hole-to-hole from the bullets, to the point where he crashes a faulty hole. Treg Brown also adds some great emphasis of speed with the great effect, which would later become more known for the Tasmanian Devil shorts.

He places a "fake" sign over the bullets, only for them to form a question mark. The bullets fleeing cautiously away from the skunk hole is also genius from how Tex and Dave Monahan delivered the sequence. This was very new, exciting material for an audience to watch in animation, and it's a well-done anticipated gag that Tex makes the "impossible things" in animation to appear normal and subtle.

Not to mention, Tex's approach to takes are also becoming a lot more broader and wilder, too. Perhaps only a year ago, Tex wouldn't have dared to have used such takes or perhaps such slicker timing. Thus, making violated rules of animation appear very suitable.

A striking example appears in the scene after the great log sequence. Bugs watches the hunter fall, he tuts "Too bad, too bad. Ah, well". Just as he walks away, the angered hunter in bandages returns and Bugs is seem standing at gunpoint.

Bugs goes into a terrific take, where limbs break apart. This would be considered outrageous in animated shorts, but thanks to the animation by Bob McKimson, he made the take look subtle and somewhat believable. Other instances of Tex's timing becoming a lot faster appear in the cave scene, where the hunter and Bugs are seen standing besides the bear, but they exit out of the cave in the style of a comet. Tex had used such timing similar in Of Fox and Hounds, but since the timing is becoming more slicker and faster: that it does stand out much better than in 'Hounds'.

As for the gag build ups that are expressed in the short, they are done  to a great standard. You'd expect Tex to include a gag involving a skunk, such as the scene of the hunter attempting to plunger Bugs out of his hole, but Bugs replaces himself from the plunger with a skunk.

Prior to the scene, note the great characteristic cycle of Bugs hopping with a plunger stuck at his rear end. Some great timing on that as well as Carl Stalling's music synchronisation.

And so, after the skunk scene, Bugs dances way into the cave in, dancing to Shuffle off to Buffalo. The hunter runs inside the cave searching for Bugs, in which the cave darkens to the point where only eyes are seen. The hunter, believing he has caught Bugs, strangles "him" but discovers another set of eyes next to him, and is the real Bugs who asks "What's cookin' doc?". The hunter strikes the match open, finds it's a bear, and they zip out like a comet back into Bugs' hole. As they raise their heads up, sweating with relief, the bear does the same anticipation, though his notice causes Bugs and the hunter to escape.

 Perhaps one of the bigger highlights of the short however, as well as the most memorable, would be the log sequence. Bugs and the hunter go through a simple cat-and-mouse routine of running in circles, by travelling inside a log along the way.

But, Bugs builds up the gag even further by pushing the log the other side, causing the hunter to run in mid-air, feeling like a "sucker", and double-take a couple of times. It's a great, inventive sequence which Tex uses every opportunity he could take in the sequence.

The running cycle during the log run shows a great synchronisation of The Umbrella Man synced to the hunter's run. The double-takes, as well as the symbolic 'sucker-lollopop' scene are great in emphasising the foolishness of the hunter. It would go on to be used again for Clampett's The Big Snooze.

So, as the hunter believes he's still on soul, by placing his hand on the ground, Bugs continues to dodge him even further. Just as the hunter runs in mid-air (the scene, and most of the scenes in the sequence done by Rod Scribner), the hunter comes to a halt, attempts to feel the ground, but double-takes once more as he falls to the ground. It's without doubt the highlight for the sequence as it's an original concept, the delivery is amusing, and what's more, Bugs' schemes are devilish but in a sympathetic kind of matter.

After the hunter's supposed demise from the log, he abruptly returns, though dangerous. With Bugs at gunpoint, and about to face death, Bugs has one last trick to fool the hunter. Dave Monahan takes the Fetchit stereotype by enticing the hunter into a game of dice, whilst he hears the sound of Bugs' "pair-o'-dice", due to a well-known stereotype of African-Americans' interest with gambling.

This is settled with a gambling competition between Bugs and the hunter. The gambling is unseen as the game is played under the bush, to make the winner unpredictable to the audience, as the Fetchit hunter would be the likely champion, due to his great interest in gambling.

After a couple of rounds, Bugs responds: "Ahh, sorry doc". Bugs walks out wearing the hunter's uniform, as well as mocking his stereotype, "I'm gonna catch me a rabbit" and mocks the dialect.

As he turns towards the hunter off-screen, he makes a take as the camera pan reveals he lost his clothes in a bet, leaving him bare all with only a leaf to cover his privates. He responds to the gambling loss, "Well call me Adam", of course; an obvious reference to the Biblical character. The cartoon doesn't quite finish yet, and Bugs' job isn't done as he breaks the forth wall by blocking the iris-out and stealing the leaf. Only Tex would have dared to violate such rules, as well as to keep the gag subtle from the censors that it certainly pays off the short with a great, humorous ending shot.

Compared to the past previous shorts directed by Tex Avery, this short appears to show Tex putting his foot driving fast on the accelerator. Tex appears to rapidly changing his own style of timing as well as approach to gags: the style which he found when he was a director at MGM. Tex's comic timing has become a lot more slicker, and the gag deliveries are becoming a lot more wilder. Tex, who as we all know, loved to violate the rules of animation, but this time he is violating it even further, to an extent that hasn't been experimented much before. The take made by Bugs Bunny at gunpoint is certainly edgy in terms of how restricted Warners appeared to be back then, in terms of animation looking almost realistic, like Tex's travelogue parodies. Whilst the sequence itself has some really groundbreaking sequences, like the log sequences, the short, admittedly is still hit-and-miss. I'd still say it's more heading towards the 'hit' level.

The weakness of the short is the Stephen Fetchit hunter, and I'm not going to accuse this as racism, as this is not the purpose of this review. Different period. Different culture. As I mentioned, the Fetchit stereotype isn't really much funny, as it seems more contempt than satirical. The stereotype appears to be lacking in taste in terms of approach to humour as well as satire. Of course, and especially amongst modern audiences, the character doesn't hold up too well. It just doesn't hold well for me, because I find the satire of the character rather weak. Though, it does pay off with the gambling ending at the end, which admittedly was also a great sequence. As we all know the short is a part of the infamous 'Censored 11', it was one of the very first Warner Bros. shorts I've ever seen when I was a kid, due to it being available on public domain tapes, and some of the gags I recall with Bugs, do hold up well. Overall, I'd give this short a pass, though it's nothing spectacular.

Rating: 3/5.

2 comments:

  1. Aside from the obvious insulting racial characterization, one of the big problems I have with the short is it virtually becomes static for the end gag with the dice behind the bush, after Tex had it moving faster and fast up to the log scene and Bugs' ensuing reaction 'take'. You get a lot of fast talking from the unseen characters, but the short stops dead instead of finishing with a fast visual climax.

    (Joe Adamson's 1975 book on Avery mentions that the short purportedly was rotoscoped to replace the hunter with Elmer, but that had to be a reference only to the log scene in Clampett's later cartoon. You kind of wish Warners actually had rotoscoped the whole thing as some sort of BR re-release, though obviously while "The Big Snooze" could get away with making Elmer the hunter in the fast moving chase through the log, other scenes would have been more problematic. But viewers lost several other good gag routines in the short because the degrading characture forced the cartoon off of television.)

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  2. I would consider this cartoon to be the least racist of the Censored 11, and I'm not just saying that because it has Bugs Bunny in it, but because while the hunter is black, and the end gag involves a dice game, the racism of the hunter does not seem to be one of the main focuses of the short, as racism would be one of the focuses of later Censored 11 entries, such as Clampett's "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves".

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