Robert R. Service with a Smile

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Start as you mean to go on — the opening shot of THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO.

I got out my French Tex Avery box set — the gift that keeps on giving — and we ran two toons, both based on the same Robert W. Service — DANGEROUS DAN MCFOO (Warner Bros, 1939) and THE SHOOTING OF DAN MCGOO (MGM, 1945). The former features a Droopy prototype voiced by Mel Blanc to sound almost exactly like Elmer Fudd. The latter features Droopy himself, along with the wolf and the ubiquitous Red Hot Riding Hood figure, here recast as “the lady known as Lou.” Lou in the first film is a little dog styled after Bette Davis (though I still say the voice sounds more like Katherine Hepburn, a hound of a different pedigree). In the second film, Lou has a Mae West purr and a fuller figure. Plus, she’s a human, which I find helps make her attractive, though it does raise uncomfortable questions about her exact relationship with Droopy.

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In a few years, Avery’s comic style had advanced markedly, with more absurd jokes and violations of filmic reality, and also much better character design. The WB films are still trying to be cute, even though Avery’s cartoon universe has only limited, and very subversive, uses for cuteness.

Both films rely heavily on puns to take the mickey out of the serious V.O. (the exact same extracts from the poem are read in both films), but the imagery this results in is far more bizarre in the MGM film. Oddly, for a wolfie movie this is fairly restrained — his reactions to Lou’s showgirl routine, apart from the initial eye-pop (“Go ‘way, boys, you bother me,” Lou tells the hovering orbs), are just about physically possible, or anyhow they’re versions of things that are physically possible. The wolf kicks himself in the head, howls, bays like a donkey, and bites chunks out of a wooden beam. The gags in RURAL RED RIDING HOOD reach far loftier heights of insanity. My favourite here is the wolf seizing his own neck and bashing his head off the tabletop — his head and neck become a long, flapping, fapping length of semi-tumescent gristle — Freudian readings are, as ever, quite redundant with Avery.

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Though a lesser work on every level, the earlier film, viewed as a sort of preliminary sketch, is fascinating, and there are some good, bizarre gags. When the referee of the impromptu boxing match between the proto-wolf and proto-Droopy investigates an allegation that the bad guy has something in his glove, he shakes lose a horseshoe, then another, then another, then an entire horse. Sort of predictable, but it does yield the delightful image of a horse emerging from a glove. Freeze frame it!

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You see — nothing impossible about that at all.

The boxing match (pretty sure there isn’t one in the Service poem) naturally requires a bell to signal the rounds, so Avery naturally has a trolley-car rocket into the saloon for that purpose.

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On the other hand, the remake-thing has a barroom piano player say, in Jimmy Durante voice, “What a repulsive way to make a living!” which is inexplicably the best thing ever. And it has this ~

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And this ~

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And this ~

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8 Responses to “Robert R. Service with a Smile”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    Don’t forget that “the lady known as Lou,” from Service’s poem, also shows up in Fisher & Roberts’ “Put the Blame on Mame” in GILDA.

  2. chris schneider Says:

    Don’t forget that “the lady known as Lou” also gets a name-check in the lyric for Fisher & Roberts’ “Put the Blame on Mame,” in GILDA.

  3. Randy Cook Says:

    Well, “Red” was doubtless the inspiration for Jessica Rabbit, of course, though personally I think Jessica is Red’s inferior and on the grotesque side. But what about Red? I knew Tex rather well in his last years and the subject of Red’s genesis never came up. Years after Tex died, I saw this clip of Dona Drake, and (though I’ll never know for sure) I suspect that Tex and Preston Blair and the boys were more than casually acquainted with the work of this actress/singer/dancer… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pJUxUI2m_g

  4. I believe it!

    Jessica Rabbit works as one thing — an abstract caricature of sexually desirable traits, but anyone who could actually find her attractive is weird. Whereas Red Hot Riding Hood and her sisters are genuine women, with anatomies and skeletons and musculature underlying their curves.

  5. “anyone who could actually find her attractive is” — The Great Stubby Kaye!

  6. Footnote to the original “Red Hot Riding Hood”: While it begins with the wolf’s outrageous reactions to Red, much of what follows is the wolf fleeing in terror from Red’s oversexed granny. And her gags aren’t reactions but actual attempts to grab him. As a practical matter it’s usually funnier and less unpleasant to have the female being unwelcomely aggressive to the male (most of the time males are simply reacting wolfishly and trying desperately to impress). Still, having the wolf turn from hunter to hunted and swearing off dames as a result is food for thought.

    There’s more to unpack in “Rural Red Riding Hood”. Although the title character is drawn as a grotesque, she’s more sexual than Red (or even Red’s granny). When the boyishly horny wolf chases her through the farmhouse she’s grinning as she lopes along. When caught, she slathers on lipstick and yields happily. This was all foreplay; maybe even a regular thing.

    In the big city, the wolf and his cousin never actually interact with Big City Red; the jokes are all about the city wolf maintaining a sophisticated disinterest. After seeing the visually sizzling but unattainable Big City Red, the country wolf is delivered home by his ever-so-cool cousin … who explodes upon seeing the outrageously attainable Rural Red. A closing gag that removed both wolves from the scene was probably necessary to get by the censor.

    My favorite moment in “Rural Red Riding Hood” is a random Avery visual. On arriving at his cousin’s apartment, the country wolf frantically searches for the Hot Babe. He runs out a window to check neighboring skyscrapers and runs back in again, a shot that is as weirdly plausible as it is impossible.

  7. My favourite moment in Rural Red is the City Wolf sticking a finger in the Country Wolf’s mouth to stifle a wolf-whistle — then whistle then somehow enters that finger, which bulges like India-rubber tubing in Mon Oncle, the bulge traveling up the arm to the throat, emerging from the mouth of the mortified City Wolf as an audible whistle again. I don’t know what kind of mind can conceive that.

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