My Bunny Lies Over the Sea

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 31, 2015

“Cucamonga, LA, Wilshire to the La Brea Tar Pits.” Ah, Los Angeles, and its sometimes insular film industry. A commonplace in discussions about post-WWII cinema is that the world had opened irreversibly up, and American producers and audiences were forced to expand their awareness and their sympathies in order to adapt. True and good, but that didn’t always go smoothly, or without resistance.

In the first part of this pond-crosser we have a good-natured combination of American confidence/self-justification, combined with comic xenophobia. That’s to say that at this point at least we believe in ourselves, but we can also see our shortcomings. Bugs has taken another wrong turn in his tunneling, and he’s ended up in Scotland. A couple of the first Scottish jokes are actually pretty funny. “Look at that horrible monster attacking that poor old lady,” cries Bugs, but of course it’s really a man in a kilt, and he’s only playing the pipes. Later the thrifty Scotsman goes to great lengths to retrieve a bullet. “It’s been in the family for years,” he explains confidentially.

After or beyond that, though, My Bunny Lies Over the Sea actually becomes kind of ugly-American. This fanciful Scotland is neither amusing nor insightful. There are insights, mind, but they come against the grain, or against the intent of the producers. They meant this, but you might consider feeling uncomfortable with that.

Let’s elaborate. In the golf duel (the first drive is a nice Baseball Bugs-type flip book of sequential images) Bugs, the clever urban American, takes on and then easily defeats this foreign rube, and at his own game. And make no mistake that he cheats to win. It’s how modern games are played, after all. Look at that! Trans-national, entrepreneurial corporate capitalism, sticking it to the developing world! Bugs goes on to beat auld Angus at his other native pipes-playing game as well. Then he becomes a one man band, replacing all that Caledonian caterwauling with some good old American jazz.

Foreigners are funny, as we all know. As are the things they do, or eat, or hold dear. Funny, or silly, or objectionable. Since these things are the case, we might as well take your resources from you, and take over your institutions while we’re at it. After that, we’ll wonder why you resent us so much.

Overstated? Bugs himself is probably too iconoclastic, too contrary and countercultural to ever be a definitive Ugly American. (The later, corporate Mickey Mouse, on the other hand…) Still, an echo is an echo. After all, this picture was released well into the period in which the Marshall Plan was being implemented. (Scotland doesn’t apply? In some ways, in a cartoon’s broad outlining, foreign is foreign.) We may look back at that policy as being a bellwether of American largesse. But not everyone felt that way at the time, and the culture is going to reflect as much…