For my money, Bugs Bunny is the greatest cartoon character of all time. With Bugs the Warner Bros. was able to mix everything that is amazing about classic Looney Tunes into one character. TV Guide shared my view by naming Bugs the #1 greatest cartoon character of all time, in 2002. One thing I never thought of until Chuck Jones brought it up was that, Bugs is a character that just wants to be left alone, but people keep bugging (no pun intended) him.
However, when I first saw the 1949 cartoon Bowery Bugs, I was not sure that that is entirely true. The cartoon showcases Bugs’ most sadistic streak that is not seen in many of his other canon. It was directed Arthur Davis, who aside from not being the biggest name of the Looney Tunes directors, made this the only the cartoon starring Bugs that he would direct. The result is one of the darkest cartoons starring Bugs I have ever seen.
Bowery Bugs tells the story of Steve Brodie, an actual figure from history and Bugs’ new special friend (as Animaniacs would put it). Brodie is a gambler who has had a run of bad luck and determines that he needs a rabbit’s foot to turn his luck around. However, Bugs convinces him that rabbit’s feet are not lucky, and that he should seek the advice of “Swami Rabbitima” who is also played by Bugs. The Swami first says to find a man wearing a carnation for that man will be Brodie’s good luck charm. The man with the carnation is also Bugs and does not help in turning Brodie’s luck around.
Then, the Swami says that maybe Brodie should approaching women as he maybe better in love then when it comes to winning money. The first woman that Brodie comes across is of course, Bugs in drag. This has not worked either. Upon threatening the Swami, he asks why Brodie wants to change his luck around. Brodie says that he wants to get, “his hands on some dough”. The Swami sends him to a specific building which turns out to be a bakery. Bugs, who is the baker gives Brodie “the dough”.
Laughing a Brodie’s misfortunes, unmasks himself as the baker, and Brodie realizes that the baker was the rabbit he first went for. Beginning to go back over the people he has recently met, he unmasks the carnation man, the woman and the Swami revealing them to all rabbits who answer back with, “What’s Up, Doc?” This causes Brodie to think that he is losing his mind, as everybody seems to be turning into rabbits. Looking in the mirror to hope to gain composure, he sees Bugs appear in the mirror. However, to show that he is just messing with Brodie, Bugs shows the audience that he was imitating Brody’s reflection, Harpo Marx style. Brodie is running through the streets like a madman yelling, “What’s Up, Doc” over and over again. In a last attempt to gain a grip on reality he goes to a cop who is revealed to be Bugs again. This causes Brodie to jump off the . Jumping off the bridge is what Brodie is famous for in real life, though in real life he survived, a fact that the cartoon does not mention at all.
Sure, Bugs was minding his own business in this cartoon, but Bugs takes his defense to a crazy extreme. It maybe is telling that Arthur Davis only directed Bugs in this cartoon, but I love the extremely dark take on the character. It is something slightly unexpected for Looney Tunes which have been come to be known as family friendly, even though it was not intended as such. (Bowery Bugs can be found on Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 3)