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The Bootleg Files: Hare-Breadth Hurry

BOOTLEG FILES 656: “Hare-Breadth Hurry” (1963 animated short with Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote).

LAST SEEN: On DailyMotion.com.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It seems to have fallen through the cracks.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: It’s not a priority.

I wasn’t expecting to do another Bugs Bunny-related column after covering “Rabbit Every Monday” a few weeks ago, but I stumbled over the 1963 “Hare-Breadth Hurry” by accident and felt that this deserves a second look.

By the early 1960s, the Warner Bros. animation output was starting to grow stale. The visual quality of the animation looked shoddy when compared with the classic works of the 1940s and early 1950s, and a lot of the material became more cute than comic.

Perhaps to snazz up a tiresome environment, ace director Chuck Jones and his collaborator Maurice Noble opted to change the format of the Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote franchise by inserting the studio’s most popular character into the mix. For “Hare-Breadth Hare,” the Road Runner was taken out of the picture and Bugs Bunny was added. Sadly, this experiment failed.

“Hare-Breadth Hare” opens like a typical Road Runner cartoon, with the ill-fated coyote chasing after his prey across the desert highways. The coyote trails far behind a large cloud of dust from which we can hear Road Runner’s familiar “Beep! Beep!” But then the cloud abruptly comes to a halt and Bugs Bunny emerges, looking directly at the viewer with a big grin. “Hi, I suppose you’re expecting the Road Runner,” Bugs tells the audience. “Well, he sprained a giblet cornering a sharp curve the other day, so I’m standing in for him.” The effect of Bugs’ presence is bizarre – the message is that this is all make-believe and Bugs and Road Runner are just actors in a brief bit of entertainment. And while it’s not unusual for Warner Bros. characters to break the fourth wall and address the audience, it is strange for the artificial nature of the medium to be highlighted with such blatancy.

Of course, Bugs and Wile E. Coyote are no strangers – the two appeared in four earlier cartoons, with the coyote speaking in a supercilious intellectual pretension that street-smart Bugs inevitably punctured with slapstick violence. In “Hare-Breadth Hurry,” the coyote does not have a speaking voice – and while that’s in keeping with the rough-house pantomime of the Road Runner cartoons, it creates a weird imbalance because Bugs never seems to stop talking to the viewer throughout the short.

For starters, Bugs explains that he is not able to duplicate the Road Runner’s speed, and he reveals how he can race so rapidly by pulling out a bottle of Acme Super Speed Pills. “So, as long as they hold up, I’m all right,” Bugs says, only to have the pills abruptly lose their effectiveness. Bugs comes to a clumsy halt while the soundtrack is full of Mel Blanc doing the sputtering noise effects that he used as the ancient Maxwell automobile on Jack Benny’s radio show. “Uh oh,” laments Bugs. “Ran out of gas. Or vitamins. Or something.”

From here, “Hare-Breadth Hurry” falls into the pattern of the typical Road Runner cartoons. Bugs draws a chalk line on the ground and holds up his hand to warn the coyote from crossing. The coyote ignores the warning and steps over the line. Bugs draws a second line and the ground beneath the coyote suddenly collapses, falling with the mangy desert canine down into a bottomless pit. The coyote is then seen atop a cliff with a fishing pole featuring a carrot as bait. The coyote casts his bait over the cliff, but a giant fish unexpected emerges and swallows most the coyote, who walks off with the fish’s jaws firmly clenched around his body from the waist up.

Bugs then watches the coyote set up shabby booby traps designed to catch him. The rabbit offers a running commentary to the viewer on how stupid the coyote is acting. “It’s amazing the trouble this joker goes through to get a square meal,” he remarks, later adding, “It’s only sporty to give him a running shot at me once in a while” and “Here we go again – he doesn’t give up easy, does he?” Needless to say, the coyote’s strategies inevitably backfire and he does more harm to himself than to his intended victim. By the end of the short, the coyote is dangling from a cliff while holding on to a telephone with an absurdly long cord. Bugs scolds the coyote through the device for not paying his telephone bill and scissors the cord, causing the coyote to plunge yet again down a great distance. “The moral is, never get cut off in the middle of a long-distance fall,” Bugs tells the viewer while chuckling at his own smugness.

The only genuine laughs in “Hare-Breadth Hurry” comes from the coyote’s bumbling. But in this case, his self-inflicted wounds seem more painful than usual. The Road Runner doesn’t seem to take particular joy in watching his foe suffer – if anything, he seems oblivious to the mayhem that the coyote inflicts on himself. But Bugs, with his chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, is jubilant in his ability to outsmart an obviously inferior enemy, and that’s not amusing. Also, having Bugs constantly communicate with the viewer makes the rabbit less enjoyable – the smart-ass routine just doesn’t work here and his endless talk becomes a bore.

In watching “Hare-Breadth Hurry,” it was obvious that the best days of the Warner Bros. studio had passed. Six months after this short was release, Chuck Jones co-directed “To Beep or Not to Beep,” which marked the end of his reign with Warner Bros and the close of a remarkable era. Perhaps due to the weakness of the material, “Hare-Breadth Hurry” was never made available in any commercial home entertainment format. An unauthorized posting can be found on DailyMotion.com for anyone who cares to watch this rare Bugs Bunny misfire.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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