Forgotten Films: Get To Know Your Rabbit (1972)



Not as forgotten as it once was thanks to a long overdue Warner Archive release, I first saw the trailer for this on HBO and to my young eyes it looked like a strange, stageboundy 70’s film, the kind relegated to two a.m. on HBO (“HBO will show this film only at night” in a chilling tone). Brian DePalma’s first studio picture after the cult success of GREETINGS (1968), he chose this unique transitional story as a continuation of his previous themes of societal alienation and corporate commodification. Warner Brothers wanted to see if Tommy Smother’s hip TV counterculture credentials could translate to big screen success, so he was attached along with Katherine Ross, John Astin, plus Orson Welles for a glorified cameo. Production wackiness ensued with DePalma either leaving or being fired according to sources. Warners refused DePalma’s gruesome yet sensible climax with its hero hacking a rabbit in half live on Johnny Carson and shot their own quick ending that still might have worked given more thought. Smothers was not happy with the footage leading to more conflict with the director and a studio with a film they had no idea what to do with. Shot in 1970 and released in 1972 (with a “60’s wacky roadshow musical” poster), GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT is exactly everything the trailer promised. A strange, stageboundy 70’s film with a title that whispers limited box-office, another oddity from 1970 when studios green lit the most oddball, anti-comercial movies possible for a brief period in the wake of EASY RIDER (1969).

get-to-know-your-rabbitDePalma’s stock split screen is used right off to good effect with Smothers and Astin (who’s always fun to watch) but  this story of an ad man who throws it all away to become a tap dancing magician never finds its tone or identity, its comedy surrealism not quite effective because we don’t know the rules of the universe so it’s hard to connect with the serious aspects of the film (the most memorable scene is a party devoid of music or conversation). Smothers is an engaging stage presence but he’s almost opaque here and ironically, the only moments where he’s actually funny is when he’s doing his act on stage. Orson Welles is surprisingly funny in his brief bit as a shambled magician tho some may balk at a scene with him rolling around on the floor with Smothers in a sequined bag. What the hell, Welles liked broad humor. Katherine Ross is fairly wasted as The Terrific Looking Girl (yes, her  name) but there are a couple nice bits by Dave Osborne and Allen Garfield. The studio’s scissorhands are pretty apparent as the transitions are awkward and scenes end without point or punchline. This makes GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT a must-see film obscura viewing as far as I’m concerned. The studio battles scarred DePalma and he veered into more commercial success with SISTERS (1973). It wouldn’t be until BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES that he touched this kind of scocio-political satire and that’s a shame as it would be interesting to have seen what films Brian DePalma might have pulled out of his cinematic hat…

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