Valentine’s Day is for lovers, and Hollywood has given us the ultimate romantic hero back in the days when love was the usual four-letter word we heard on screen. That screen idol is, of course, the dashing Pepé le Pew.
His Oscar-winning cartoon, “For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) establishes his romantic character and the glory of the chase with the time-honored movie device of mistaken identity. This amorous male skunk mistakes a cat splashed by white hair dye for a female skunk. She desperately tries to avoid him as he seduces her with a mangled combination of French and English, proving again, as Peter Sellers would someday learn, there are few things funnier than a really bad French accent.
Mel Blanc, who did most of the voices for the Warner Bros. cartoon division, is in rare form as the posturing gendarme, the distressed owner of the despoiled perfumery, and the libido-driven Pepé.
With Charles Boyer as inspiration, director Chuck Jones, writer Michael Maltese, and Mel Blanc came up with a skunk, who despite the arrogance of his assumption of his irresistibility, is anything but offensive. He is the hero of his own little world, perhaps because no one else will have him, and that is as sad a thought as it is funny.
“Un smelle voux finay,” has got to be one of the funniest and best-delivered lines ever to come out of a Hollywood studio.
The tables are turned when the lady cat falls into a water barrel, loses her faux skunk stripe, and gets a cold. When Pepé is accidentally covered in blue paint, disguising perhaps both his skunk-appearance and his odor, the kitty becomes attracted to his Gallic charm, and he repulsed by her disheveled looks.
“Pardon me, Grandmamma,” he desperately tries to stall her advances, not recognizing the former object of his affection, “Control yourself, Madame!”
But how can she control herself? How could any woman? Pepé, as he knew all along, is every woman’s romantic fantasy. They just don’t draw them like that anymore.