THE BOOTLEG FILES: “ALL THIS AND RABBIT STEW”

The first time I saw “All This and Rabbit Stew” was seven years ago during a press preview of “Bad Bugs Bunny,” a collection of racist cartoons archived by film historian Dennis Nyback. I was familiar with this title only from reference texts, since the cartoon was not shown on TV and not included any official Warner Bros. cartoon video releases.

Seeing a racist cartoon on video is bad enough, but seeing it projected on the big screen magnifies its insensitivity considerably. And with “All This and Rabbit Stew,” the big screen clearly made the situation all the more shocking. When the film’s buffoonish stereotypical African-American character first shuffled on-screen (complete with coal black skin, big red blubbery lips, excessively large feet and a lazy sing-song voice reflecting a somewhat spastic gaze), I immediately bolted upright in my seat and found myself yelling: “Oh no, get him off the screen!”

For too many years, Hollywood animation had been ripe with derogatory depictions of almost every imaginable ethnic and racial group. The African-American community was on the receiving end of the most damaging and intensive smacks by cartoonists who pushed their nasty art with unbridled gusto and fervor. These cartoons are virtually unwatchable today, not only for the fury of their undiluted racism but also for the blatant fact that they had nothing funny to offer beyond their tiresome racist stereotypes.

The Warner Bros. cartoonists were not immune to racist humor and “All This and Rabbit Stew” is typical of this brand of comedy. The legendary Tex Avery directed this cartoon, but he left Warner Bros. prior to its release and his name was removed from screen credits by his spiteful producer Leon Schlesinger.

In this seven-minute short, Bugs Bunny is pursued by a child-like black man (he has no on-screen name, but is identified in press notes as “Little Hunter”). Little Hunter makes his entrance by dragging his shotgun along the ground and announcing carelessly: “Ah’m gonna catch me a rah-hah-habit.” Unlike Elmer Fudd, whose ineptitude is balanced by an overbearing sense of self-importance and misplaced superiority complex, Little Hunter is so painfully and blatantly dumb that his pursuit of Bugs Bunny is clearly a mismatch. In his “Bad Bugs Bunny” program, Dennis Nyback noted that Bugs Bunny’s obnoxious treatment of Little Hunter is “borderline cruel,” given the intensity of the rabbit’s brainpower and Little Hunter’s total lack thereof.

Most of “All This and Rabbit Stew” is standard-issue Bugs Bunny with the usual hunting gags: Little Hunter racing through a log that leads him off a cliff (a gag that would be repeated in later cartoons), winding up in a dark cave where he mistakes a bear for the rabbit, etc. Throughout it all, Little Hunter reacts to his mounting misfortune with broad ethnic dialect humor, including a declaration of “Well, shut mah mouth!” But ultimately his fate is sealed when Bugs Bunny produces a pair of dice and starts shaking them around his ear. “Whatchoo got there, man?” asks Little Hunter, who quickly takes the rabbit behind a shrub for a quick game of craps. Needless to say, Little Hunter loses everything and Bugs Bunny emerges wearing his clothing, dragging his gun, and imitating his mournful “Ah’m gonna catch me a rah-hah-habit” wail. Little Hunter is left nearly naked, with only a fig leaf separating him from nature. “Well, shut mah mouth and call me Adam!” he declares as the screen irises down to a shot of the fig leaf. However, Bugs emerges in front of the screen before the iris is complete, grabbing the fig leaf and holding it aloft in the final humiliation.

“All This and Rabbit Stew” was included in the television syndication of Warner Bros. cartoons up until 1968 when it was removed from broadcast along with other cartoons that went overboard in their use of African-American and Asian stereotypes. (Oddly, cartoons that demeaned American Indians, Latinos, Italians and Arabs remained in circulation.) In 2001, “All This and Rabbit Stew” re-emerged when the Cartoon Network backtracked on its plans to run the entire Bugs Bunny canon for a marathon broadcast. While no civil rights group complained about having “All This and Rabbit Stew” in the line-up, the network itself felt guilty about its inclusion. A compromise was floated to show the racially insensitive cartoons during a late night hour, but allegedly Ted Turner himself nixed the idea and kept the nasty stuff off the air.

To date, “All This and Rabbit Stew” has never been included in any official home video or DVD collection of Warner Bros. cartoons. Ironically, the film’s copyright lapsed into the public domain in the early 1980s and thus it was able to stay in release via bootleg copies based on old 16mm prints that were still available from private collectors. Duped copies of the cartoon have found their way into several video collections of censored animation, and the film can also be seen on the web site Like Television, where the webmaster prefixes the presentation with the comment: “WARNING: The cartoon contains idiotic racist stereotyping. Our apologies, we present it as a piece of history.”

The character of Little Hunter never turned up again in another Warner Bros. cartoon, but the damage of his one-time appearance was more than sufficient. And thanks to bootleg video, “All This and Rabbit Stew” can serve as a reminder that even the world of Bugs Bunny was not immune to the nastier edges of American racism.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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Posted on February 13, 2004 in Features by
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