Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rabbit Seasoning (1952)

WHO: Chuck Jones directed this.

WHAT: Part two of the so-called "hunting trilogy" of films facing-off Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd all in the same cartoon, but it's certainly unnecessary to see them in order (though for the record Rabbit Fire came first in 1951 and Duck, Rabbit, Duck completed the trio in 1953.) In my opinion this is the best one, with both the cleverest wordplay and the most hilariously contorting animation (just look at Daffy in the frame-grab above) of the group. I suspect I'm not alone, as it's the only one of the three films to have placed on Jerry Beck's list of The 50 Greatest Cartoons Ever: as selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals; it came in at #30, right above The Scarlet Pumpernickel.

WHERE/WHEN: On a program screening at 8PM tonight only at Oddball Films. Seating is limited, so it's best to RSVP by e-mailing or calling ahead at (415) 558-8117.

WHY: Tonight's "Classic Cartoon Cavalcade program shows off a part of the Oddball Films collection of animation, with an especially generous helping of shorts made at the Warner Brothers animation studio (a.k.a. "Termite Terrace") in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The thousand cartoons made at the small studio located on the Warner lot represent a pinnacle of American moving image art to many animation fans, and tonight's selections highlight a range of characters and directors synonymous with Warner cartoons, from a diverse historical range. The program includes 1931's Smile, Darn Ya, Smile, one of the first Merrie Melodies made by founding studio director Rudolf Ising after directorial duties began to be split between him and his co-founder Hugh Harman (who took on the character Bosko in the slightly-more-established Looney Tunes series while Ising developed characters like Foxy, Piggy and Goopy Geer.) By the time of the 1935 Gold Diggers of '49 those characters had been swept aside, and Harman and Ising had made way for directors like Friz Freleng and Tex Avery to take over their directing duties; this California Gold Rush-themed short starred Porky Pig and the now all-but-forgotten Beans the Cat and was Avery's debut. Avery's 1941 Bug Parade also screens tonight. Termite Terrace's longest-lasting director Freleng makes his mark on tonight's program by the 1937 He Was Her Man and the 1955 Goofy Gophers showcase Lumber Jerks, while the interim period is represented by a pair of Chuck Jones films: For Scent-imental Reasons starring Pepé Le Pew, and Rabbit Seasoning. Finally, the 1959 Unnatural History gives a moment in the sun to one of the lesser-known, late-period Warner directors, Abe Levitow, who had started as an apprentice to Jones and in fact had worked on For-Scentimental Reasons and Rabbit Seasoning as an animator.

The rest of tonight's program is made up of cartoons from other studios. Disney is represented by its iconic Steamboat Willie, the third Mickey Mouse cartoon and the first in which we hear his squeaky voice (and which came in at #13 on Jerry Beck's list), and by the 1962 Symposium on Popular Songs featuring music by the Sherman Brothers of Mary Poppins fame. The Fleischer Brothers were at their pre-code peak when making films like 1932's Any Rags with their original star Betty Boop (they'd later be the first to adapt comic characters Popeye and Superman for motion pictures). These cartoons were distributed by Paramount in the 1930s, but by 1942 that studio had pushed the brothers out and hired much of their staff to create an in-house animation factory called Famous Studios. Popeye and Superman cartoons continued to be made there, along with other series with characters such as Little Lulu. Little Lulu in The Babysitter gives us a peek at a 1947 Famous cartoon tonight. Finally, Mr. Magoo appears in the 1951 cartoon Fuddy Duddy Buddy, produced at the groundbreaking UPA studio and distributed by Columbia Pictures.

A night like tonight is a real rarity in the Frisco Bay cinematic landscape: full programs of classic-era animated shorts have grown scarce on local screens. The Paramount Theatre in Oakland screens a 35mm cartoon (as well as a newsreel and at least one trailer) before each of its monthly (or so) classic screenings (such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory tomorrow), but never announces the titles in advance. Even Oddball, one of the last venues to screen such films, on film, on a semi-regular basis, usually doesn't devote more than a few slots on a given program to this underestimated segment of Hollywood history. So take advantage of this rare treat!

HOW: Tonight's Oddball program is all-16mm.


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