Wednesday, 8 April 2015

375. Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 374.
Release date: July 11, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Vultures), Sara Berner (Mother Vulture), Kent Rogers (Beaky Buzzard - "Killer").
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Rod Scribner.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A bashful buzzard is out in the desert looking for dinner, and chooses Bugs Bunny to be his would-be victim.

Being a fresh, innovative director: Bob Clampett was still open towards popular cultural references in this era, and to include them in his shorts, much like everyone else did at Warners. In this case, Clampett uses the bashful Mortimer Snerd, a famous puppet based on ventriloquist Edgar Bergen to be the personality for the buzzard.

According to Michael Barrier, the buzzard was originally known as the "Snerd Bird" based on production papers. According to a Clampett interview by Mike Barrier, Ernest Gee (Flash Gee), a former story artist at Schlesinger who supported Clampett with story issues by doing uncredited work on this cartoon, even though Foster has story credit. Clampett used the Mortimer Snerd reference which was immortalised in the buzzard, who later would become Beaky Buzzard. Only appearing in a couple of cartoons, Beaky Buzzard (known as "Killer" in the cartoon) was wonderfully characterised by Clampett and Warren Foster, that he belonged in the excellent Warner Bros. legacy.

Warren Foster (or Flash Gee, according to Barrier's interview with Clampett) sets the cartoon's opening to a fresh start. The establishing scene reveals a mother buzzard ordering her children to collect some food for dinner, and giving each of them selective choices. As three of the buzzards approve, ("Okay mama dear!"), there is bound to be subtle war-time references, such as when the buzzards take off like aircraft.

The mother vulture double-takes when she realises Beaky is the only buzzard who hasn't left, she exclaims: "Why, Killer, what you waiting for? Get a move on! Get going! Scram!"

At this point, Beaky is revealed to be a mamas boy who shies over to his mother, smothering his forehead at her chest, saying: "No, no no! Nope! I don't wanna." It's a neat little set-up, emphasising there is always one in every family: the vulture being too shy to leave its home.

So, the reference to Mortimer Snerd fits with the personality. Kent Rogers does a solid performance at voicing Beaky, as well as a decent impression of Snerd. The mother attempts to encourage Beaky, "Well, at least go out and get a little rabbit, or something." The part where the mother kicks Beaky's rear end away from the nest is cynical, and today it would be considered inappropriate.  Clampett's timing on the mother anticipating a kick as well as her attitude is hilarious.

Then, Beaky Buzzard is left in mid-air. His attempt to keep his flight steady by flapping his wings shows some nice overlapping action. It gets more entertaining when you listen to Beaky Buzzard humming Arkansas Traveller, as Kent Roger's vocals adds to his dim-witted personality. His characterisation works wonderfully in the scene, and the buzzard's dimly flapping his wings as he flies works right down to the frame.

Johnny Burton's camera department do a decent job in shooting a point of view shot of Beaky looking down at the almost uninhabited desert. At this point, Beaky double-takes when he catches a glimpse of Bugs Bunny in a typical introduction shot of the character: sitting of his rabbit hole, reading "Hare-Raising Stories" and chewing his carrot.

Preparing to dive at Bugs, he hides underneath a clouds, bragging: "I'm a-stalking a victim!" and then rapidly soars down. Bugs notices this, leading him to take and zip down his rabbit hole.

To give Bugs a rather brash start, he enters the scene disguised as a air-traffic controller commenting: "Come in, B-19. Come in, B-19. Ceiling: 500 feet. Visibility: seven yards. Now level off. Steady now. Easy dear. Easy does it." Of course, the B-19 is a reference to the infamous bomber aircraft during World War II. Clampett has a rare ability of turning a predictable gag into a suspenseful one, and allowing it to pay off. Bugs slowly records at the soaring buzzard, until Beaky suddenly crashes outside Bugs's hole. The spontaneity in Clampett's sharp timing as well as how sudden it was, makes a rather predictable gag pay off. Bugs proceeds to flick Beaky's rear end, causing hint to tilt back immediately. It makes sense to give the sequence to Rod Scribner, who does a first-rate job in animating Bugs in his exaggerated form, as well as creating Beaky's collision convincing.

In a brief sequence where they first meet each other, Foster cleverly creates some substitute lyrics from Blues in the Night as part of Beaky's dialogue: "My mama done told me, to bring home something to dinner." After realising Bugs is Beaky's target, he quickly sets up a strategy, asking Beaky to wait.

Clampett's juvenile sense of humour then begins to take its course. Beaky is seen waiting outside Bugs' hole, who is heard singing alternative lyrics to the same song Beaky sung. Beaky has an epiphany, "You know, I think he's a trickening me", and proceeds to drag Bugs Bunny away from his hole.

The gag revealed is favourite amongst the Warner directors: Bugs Bunny in drags. He rises from his hole: covering himself with a towel, wearing lipstick as well as wearing a bathing cap. Bugs flirtatiously prods Beaky's noise, "You naughty, naughty boy!". It's a great little gag where Clampett's subtle humour always has a charm of its own.

This results in a hilarious reaction from Beaky, who blushes and chortles. Bugs spinning the towel tighter to slap Beaky's rear end is solid in exaggeration, also animated wonderfully by Rod Scribner, who shows great weight and believability in animating pain. The following scene of Bugs fiddling with Beaky's adam's apple is a little favourite scene of mine.

Perhaps the wackiest and most celebrated sequence in the short is the scene of Bugs Bunny believing a part of his body is skeletal. The scene is lifted from Harold Lloyd's The Freshman, where Lloyd believes a part of his body is missing, which turned out to be a tackling dummy.

Bugs Bunny has fallen from a great height, and lands on top of a carcass, which leads Bugs to go in a dizzy spell and the skeletal parts drop in the right places. Bob McKimson does a beautifully convincing job in animating Bugs' belief he is partly skeletal. Mel's voice characterisations of Bugs are wonderfully versatile and human.

He touches the ribs of the remains like a xylophone, and then places his finger inside one of the ribs. This leads to Bugs wailing loudly over a horrific situation. Midway he interrupts the act commenting, "Gruesome, isn't it?" as he continues to wail. Bugs's feet arise from the ground, where Bugs slowly changes his emotions from wailing to laughter. At this point he scoffs, commenting: "I do it all the time". It's a nicely executed sequence, where Clampett is exploring the possibilities in approaching a classic gag to please audiences. This shows that digging inspiration from a comedy legend (being Harold Lloyd) works to its advantages.

Like in a lot of Clampett shorts, you'll find a lot of inventive, far-out pieces of animation. The scene may not be so far-out, but it has a great cycle by Bob McKimson. The buzzard carries Bugs by the ears, and he is seen skating in mid-air. At this point he takes, pulls out one of Beaky's feathers and tickles him - causing Bugs to fall. This then leads up towards Bugs' skeletal sequence.

One of the more inventive pieces of animation is in a Virgil Ross scene of Beaky attempting to assault Bugs. Bugs and Beaky have a scuffle, as they fight all over the scene. Bugs almost turns at a 360 degree in perspective during his fight.

Then, the scene transitions where both Bugs and Beaky spontaneously dance together. According to Mike Barrier's interview with Clampett, the gag appears to have been attributed to Flash Gee. As they both dance, this leads to a corny scene of Bugs poking fun of dancing scenes in romantic movies. Clampett's sneaky humour is evident in the lines where Bugs asks Beaky "Why don't we do this more often?", Beaky replies: "You mean just what we're doing tonight?" leading Beaky to blush furiously.

As the short reaches its ending, Bugs whirls Beaky into the carcass pit. Believing he is partly skeletal, Beaky cries out to his mother who immediately dives at the scene. The mother buzzard's take works well, as she spins her neck collar. She confronts Bugs, "Hey, what have you done to my poor little kid?". Bugs responds back, calming her: "Keep your shirt on, lady. The kid's okay", and drags Beaky up from the ground. In the final scene, Clampett takes the opportunity in making the final gag unpredictable. The mother buzzard confronts Bugs again, believing he is about to be threatened. She immediately changes emotion, and declares: "And are my hero!", kissing him on the lips. Bugs's face morphs into a Mortimer Snerd caricature as he smothers his face towards the mother, bashful and furiously blushing: "No, no, no, etc."

Being one of Clampett's earliest Bugs Bunny cartoons, this is certainly one of his more memorable ones, being one of the stabling cartoons that led to Bugs's stardom. As well as one of the best Bugs shorts he's directed. Bugs is brash towards the buzzard, but his characterisation is in the right place. Being the first appearance of Beaky, he may not be a challenging opponent to Bugs or even the funniest antagonist, but as a character he's very loveable - which makes the short a perfect showcase. As a short, it's animation and timing is still fairly mild in Clampett's usual standards. It shows Clampett isn't yet ready to set himself loose and push the boundaries further. It's an enjoyable cartoon with some great sequences and dialogue, especially the skeleton sequence which is personally one of my favourite Bugs Bunny moments.

Rating: 3.5/5.


  1. "Why Don't We Do This More Often' was a popular song of the previous year (1941) by, maybe most memorably, Kay Kyser. Bugs's "Naughty naughty boy" seems to be a a parody of comic actor Billy DeWolfe, from radio and stage and next year at paramount opposite Bing Crosby, films, and in 1969 at Rankin-Bass as the delightfully evil magician in "Frosty the Snowman".SC

  2. Lloyd believes a part of his body is missing, which turned out to be a tackling dummy.

    Not exactly missing – he thinks that he has fractured his leg, but the part he mistakes for his own leg actually comes from a tackling dummy. You can see a picture of the scene here.

  3. This one's always been a favorite of mine. An online friend asked why the mother buzzard has a Russian accent. I've poked around and haven't seen this addressed. Has anyone here ever heard an explanation or who the voice is parodying? Thanks!

  4. I believe the mother's voice, like so many in Warner Bros cartoons, might have been based on a familiar radio character of the era.

  5. i think the mother buzzard may be based on mrs nussbaum from the fred allen show?