Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Huckleberry Hound — Cock-a Doodle Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Sam Clayberger; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator, Rooster – Don Messick; Huck, Fox, Chickens – Daws Butler.
Released: November 20, 1958.
Plot: Huck vs Chicken-stealing Fox. Both don’t count on angry Rooster, who trees them as they talk about teaming up as roosters on TV.

This is a cartoon with some wonderful examples of gag timing. Bad gag timing. One of two things must have happened here.
• The studio had to rush this through production so they stuffed it with padding and went on to the next cartoon.
• The studio really thought overdrawn-out routines induced uncontrollable laughter.

Here’s a piece of Don Messick’s narration from Cock-a Doodle Huck, describing the arrival of the title character’s nemesis:

DON: This foxy fiend is a shrewd, sly, conniving, cunning, predatory, mean, cruel critter. This barnyard burglar will swipe a dozen chickens at one time. Let’s face it: this guy is a sneaky, low-down, worthless, no-good, cowardly, creepy, ornery, good-for-nothing, chicken-stealing varmint.
FOX: Well, gee whiz! Nobody’s perfect.

Messick does a great job building the dialogue but, gee whiz! It took 29 seconds. For one dialogue gag. Bullwinkle cartoons used to pull off the same type of gag, with the narrator elucidating on Boris Badenov’s evil traits. But Badenov would cut off Bill Conrad after a few seconds and make some kind of funny crack. The timing was perfect. Here, the bit just goes on and on and on, like Charlie Shows needed to find ways to fill seven minutes and couldn’t think of anything, so he let the dialogue run on and on. Either that, or he (or somebody) really thought a 29-second dialogue gag was funny.

I know the Bullwinkle segments were half the length of the H-B cartoons, and I know that Huck had a fairly languid pace about him as a character but, gee whiz! That doesn’t mean the cartoon has to drag.

There are more Get-On-With-It-Already moments later in the cartoon, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

We’re greeted with a promising start: a night-time establishing shot of Huck’s farm, filled with lovely variations of blue. Whether Dick Bickenbach picked the colours or Sam Clayberger did, it’s still a nice little open. Huck is awoken by the sounds of chickens squawking as ‘Brer Fox’ is pacing around the henhouse. Out comes the rifle, and several shots scare away the fox, who does that sideways stomp running exit that Carlo Vinci loved using.



One of the little touches Carlo uses which shows he’s an old-time animator—when the fox puts down the Rhode Island Red, the chicken clucks, and Carlo draws little lines away from the hen’s mouth, like something he would have learned from an animator in silent films, where you see stuff like that all the time.

Next comes the dialogue mentioned above. Inexplicably, Daws Butler uses his Shelley Berman-esque voice for the fox on this one line (the voice he later used for Fibber Fox) but in the rest of the cartoon, he used his Phil Silvers-style voice. Why he changed is anyone’s guess.

Shows puts some alliteration in Messick’s mouth, as the narrator informs us the fox “This pilferer prefers only the plumpest pullets.” We see the fox’s stretched arm feeling the hens for size, and then spend six lonnnng seconds stretching even ridiculously further to pat an anvil and Huck’s nose. But it’s all worthwhile as Huck smashes the fox’s hand with a hammer (out of frame) and we get one of those wonderful pain takes that only Carlo attempted to do. Here are just two of the drawings.



Alas, the cartoon slows down again with our next blackout gag. The fox is in a tree and drops iron pellets into the henhouse. We get six cycles of dropping. The chickens eat the pellets and the fox pulls up the birds with a magnet attached to a fishing rod. We get three cycles of that, with really trite dialogue from Shows like this: “Down goes the magnet. And before you can say ‘chicken cacciatore’, up comes Chicken Little’s mother—Chicken Big.” Of course, being a cycle, both chickens are the same size.

And after more blah-blah-blah by the narrator, we get the punch-line—Huck with a gun. The one gag takes a minute and 15 seconds. What!? Picture a Wolf-Sheepdog cartoon by Chuck Jones. He’d take less than half the time, and the end would be a funny pose of a blackened Ralph Wolf staring at the camera (and maybe a pose within the pose to surprise the audience) instead of just a fade-out on the explosion like we view here.

The next gag misses just a bit. The fox temporarily gives up on stealing chickens, and tries for eggs. Huck plants a firecracker in an egg and puts it under a hen. The fox grabs it, but realises it’s a mini-bomb and puts it back. The chicken becomes the victim of the explosion. Carlo’s take is cute but the hen doesn’t quite cover her private parts, which is the point of the pose, isn’t it?

Now, the fox tries a bullet-proof vest, which does its job. Huck admits defeat and tells the fox to pick up his chicken and go. Huck’s rifle gets around the vest in true Charlie Shows fashion (yes, another ass joke).

Finally, Foxy decides dress up like a rooster (as first the narrator, and then he, describes what’s happening for unnecessary verbiage’s sake). But Huck has the same idea. The two complement each other on their outfits, neither of which impresses the real rooster, who accuses the phoneys of muscling in on his territory, and chases them up a tree. (I think that’s the same tree on either end of the background below)



The narrator inexplicably says “The moral of the story seems to be: don’t try to be something you’re not. Be yourself.” Not only has that nothing to do with the plot of the cartoon, it ends with the fox and Huck doing the opposite, and each complementing the other on his rooster crow impression. Carlo has a nice little bit of animation here, the way he draws Foxy pointing at Huck with those crooked fingers he’d later use when animating Fred Flintstone.

The fox suggests to Huck they take their act to TV. The rooster isn’t impressed as he closes the cartoon with the line: “Now, I ask ya .. did ya hear anything so ridiculous? Did ya?” A nice little commentary on the banality of (’50s) television.

The music doesn’t really augment the action all too well. The sound cutter was happy to let the music play through into the next scene and start a new cue in mid-scene. The tunes are familiar to any Huck fan. All but two are Bill Loose and John Seely products and all come from reels L-1 and L-2 of the Capitol Hi-Q Library. My thanks to S. Carras for correcting my old music notes.


0:00 - Huck/Clementine sub main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:26 - ZR-49 - LIGHT EERIE (Geordie Hormel) – Huck scares Fox with rifle; Fox feels chickens.
2:11 - TC 201 - PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – More of Fox feeling chickens; Fox uses pellets and magnet to catch chickens.
3:28 - TC 202 - ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – More of Fox using pellets, gets shot by Huck; Huck plants egg-bomb; Fox uses bullet-proof vest.
4:50 - TC 303 - ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck shoots at vest, then Fox’s butt; Fox and Huck dress as cocks, Rooster chases Fox and Huck up tree.
6:46 - LAF-7-12 - FUN ON ICE (Jack Shaindlin) – Fox suggest he and Huck pair up on TV, Rooster disgusted.
7:10 - Huck sub ent title theme (Curtin).

2 comments:

  1. Well, Gee Whizz! My thoughts are exactly the same with this particular Huck short after watching it first time myself. Was rather hoping by the end for one of the characters to break the forth wall and tell the Narrator to "cut it out!"

    Good, thorough analysis altogether 8-)

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  2. When the fox first speaks and says to the narrator: "Well, gee whiz, Nobody's perfect" he has Fibber Fox's voice, but in the rest of this short, he sounded like Hokey Wolf. I guess Daws had trouble trying to do the voice for the fox.

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