Tuesday, September 27, 2005
When I posted a while back about Pepe Le Pew and how his character would fare should he lose his accent, Neil commented that Pepe was probably most Americans' first exposure to "the French"(That is, if Pepe Le Pew could be called "French"). I would tend to agree with that thought, especially since it probably applies to me--I can't recall being exposed to anything French-related by my parents...the closest I would have come would have been watching Looney Tunes with my dad on a regular basis.
I must admit that most of the jokes in those cartoons went straight over my 7-year-old head. I remember not understanding what was so funny about hearing Penelope say "Le pant! Le puff!" as she inched up a cliff in her efforts to escape her amorous polecat. I also didn't get why every human character had an enormous nose and teeny-weeny mustache, or why it was funny that a smelly skunk should happen to be cast as a Frenchman. (Tangent: Note the ill-placed accent mark in the above image--more on this in a future post.)
Of course, these jokes don't pass me by anymore. There was a time (before I lightened the hell up) when I would have been offended by things like that, but after having been through 10 years of hearing every anti-French joke known to man, with a whopping five of those years being subject to the petitesse of the Republican Party, I realize that there are far worse things I could be hearing or seeing with regard to this subject.
Pepe Le Pew is actually one of my favorite pieces of Frenchie trivia. The character was based on an actual French actor, Jean Gabin, who was basically the French William Holden or Clark Gable. Gabin starred in a little movie called Pépé le Moko (1937), which, as fate would have it, I ended up watching more times than I'd ever want to count for three different college film classes.
The movie, which was later pointlessly remade by Hollywood as Algiers (1938), follows Gabin as Pépé, a debonair Frenchman hiding out from the cops in the casbah of Algiers. While dodging the heat, he makes perfectly clear the fact that he has wooed every woman in the casbah, and then some. This smooth-talking, debonair character was the inspiration for Pepe Le Pew. If you ever have occasion to watch Pépé le Moko, you'll see the resemblance immediately. There is no lack of shots of Pépé with those heavily lidded, angelicly lashed eyes gazing down upon the dame quickly melting in his arms. I do have to admit that I can't help but swoon at least a little when he looks at the camera with his hair messed up. It just makes him look so dashing...
Shall we compare headshots and film stills?
Needless to say, I find Pepe Le Pew endearing--the same way I find it endearing to have people buy me frogs to add to my growing collection. Oddly enough, in the French version, Pépé le putois, Pepe is Italian and all the malapropisms characteristic of the cartoons are redone accordingly. This makes me wonder about the Italian version--what nationality did they find that is more amorous than the Italians?? (Maybe the Brazilians, Sangroncito?)