Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sir Huckleberry Hound

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall; Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, Fat Knight – Daws Butler; Slim the Horse, Damsel – Don Messick.
Released: week of Monday, October 20, 1958.
Plot: In the days of chivalry, Huck tries to rescue a damsel in distress, only to wish he hadn’t.

Praise is heaped upon Ed Benedict and Dick Bickenbach for their character and layout designs in the earliest Hanna-Barbera shows. Lost in the shuffle is a man who is really the star of this particular cartoon, a veteran of the animation business named Walt Clinton.

There isn’t a lot of information about Clinton out there. Years ago, Animato did a profile of him in an issue before I was a subscriber so I have no idea what it revealed. What you see below is what I’ve gleaned off the internet and would ask anyone who can add anything else about him to leave a comment.

Walter F. Clinton was born in St. Louis on October 1, 1906. He took a correspondence course in art from the Federal Schools in Minneapolis (as did Charles M. Schulz), was at Disney by 1937 and animated on Pinocchio. He left after the strike in ’41 and apparently ended up serving somewhere in World War Two because we don’t find him again until 1945 in the Avery unit at MGM, where he stayed until the studio closed. He mostly animated, but he also designed character models for a couple of cartoons, including an odd-looking flea in What Price Fleadom. He moved to Hanna-Barbera when it opened, worked on The Flintstones and Jonny Quest, then apparently left the business after designing layouts on the Cattanooga Cats in 1969. Clinton retired to Sun City, Arizona, where he died on January 15, 1992. Somewhat ironically, his old boss Avery posted an office door sign that read “Sun City” upon arrival at Hanna Barbera (Clinton had left by then).

Clinton has another H-B connection I’ll get to after we look at our cartoon.

He designed a great opening castle-filled background (constructed by ex-MGMer Bob Gentle) which, in rather atypically, is panned over left to right while Don Messick’s narration sets up the story.



Charlie Shows cleverly cobbles together a mock poem:

In days of old when knights were bold
And knighthood was in flower
Men rescued damsels in distress
From lonely castle towers.


The first line comes from the title of a 19th century song and the second line comes from the title of an 1898 book by Charles Major.

The poem ends:

And the bravest knight the world around
Was one Sir Huckleberry Hound.


That’s the cue for Huck to enter on a fun-looking, droopy-eyed horse, with castles in the background (okay, it’s the same castle Huck passes twice). He stops to read a sign we can see for ourselves and then read a want ad we can read on our own—‘Damsel in Distress. Apply Hassle Castle.’ At that moment, we hear a cry for help and Huck—who has a sharp-tipped nose for some reason—looks up at a window in a tower and sees a hand waving a handkerchief. Off goes Huck to the rescue with a rhyme: “Yon fair damsel, have no fear. Sir Huckleberry Hound is here” (evidently, the creators of Underdog were listening to this cartoon).


We cut to another great design of Clinton’s. It’s a lumpy villain, or as the narrator put it, “this cruel, vicious, dastardly, horrible, fat knight.” “Fat!” indignantly exclaims the knight in Daws’ Gleason voice, turning to the camera and taking exception to the description. You’ll notice Marshall cocks his head at an angle; he does this with a number of front-view poses. This scene sets up the cartoon, as Huck tries to get into the castle while the fat knight tries to keep him out.

The gags all have a familiar feel for any Warner Bros. fan but the humour’s not too tired because of Clinton’s designs. First, the knight raises the drawbridge as Huck charges toward the castle. Huck and his horse predictably land in the moat and the end result is the hero getting rid of the water from his bedraggled-looking steed (the little “oof”s Messick adds as the horse are a nice touch). And we get another of Charlie Shows’ little rhyming twosomes that he loved littering these cartoons with: “Why didn’t you tell a feller you couldn’t swim, Slim?”

The damsel interrupts the scene with her cries and hanky-waving, so Huck casually strolls to the edge of the moat and demands the knight to drop the drawbridge. You know what joke’s coming next because you saw it in Knighty Knight Bugs. If you didn’t, you’ve got plenty of time to guess it because it takes Bill Hanna comparatively forever to get there, unlike Friz Freleng’s quick pace and perfect timing that won an Oscar. First, we cut to the knight talking. Then we cut to a lever with a sign ‘Draw Bridge. Up. Down’ as the knight yacks some more. Then the knight’s arm pulls the lever. Finally, the drawbridge lands on Huck. It takes ten seconds. It would have been funnier if it had smashed on top of Huck as he was speaking. But the H-B TV cartoons had a very casual, even pace to them which made the humour a little less funny than it could have been.

Huck is left as a can of sardines.




Next, Huck tries a ladder to scale the wall, but the ladder isn’t long enough and he lands in the moat. Now the mangy horse “oofs” the water out of Huck.



We get a weird gag in the next scene. First, the Flintstone-ish fat knight drops a cannon ball on Huck, who’s in a rowboat with a ladder. The boat, ladder and Huck sink, but then for no particular reason, the ladder floats up on its own into the sky (accompanied by Huck and with a snare drum roll in the background). Apparently, Shows thought the inconcruity was enough for a gag. The knight is ready with “a peachy anvil. Right heavy, too” which is handed to Huck, who again drops into the moat.



Huck double-dog dares the knight to a jousting match. The knight obliges on a block-shaped black horse that turns out to be a steam-roller.



A catapult is the next weapon of choice (as Huck casually reads a newspaper). Unfortunately, his attack comes as the knight is eating a bowl of peas. The impact of the rocks on the castle wall shakes the peas out of the hungry bad guy’s spoon (five times in cycle animation to pad for time).



The knight walks out to retaliate.



If drag worked for Bugs Bunny, then Huck probably figured it’ll work for him. And it does. The knight asks for a kiss. Huck obliges in a typical cartoon manner after the obligatory request to “close your eyes.”



With the knight out of commission, Huck strolls to the tower to rescue the damsel, who turns out to be an ugly, scrawny crone that throws herself at him. Huck reacts to the camera. Then he locks himself in the tower, waves a hanky out the window and yells for anyone to save him “from a fate worse than death” as our cartoon ends.



We get some really fitting bits of mood music here, mainly thanks to Capitol Hi-Q’s speciality ‘X’ series, with three cues off X-9 Locale-Adventure. Geordie Hormel wrote 12 Olde English-sounding themes on it and three appear here; one is used at the start to set up the damsel rescue. We get a Bill Loose-John Seely thumping power-cue for the steam-roller bit. And there’s an appearance of the really weird Spencer Moore ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’-laced tick-tock music bed as the knight walks to Huck to clobber him with the mace.

Oh, yes, Walt Clinton’s other H-B connection. It may simply be coincidental, but the man who designed this cartoon’s Flintstonish knight died in 1992, leaving behind a widow. Her name was Wilma.


0:00 - Huck sub main title theme (Hoyt Curtin)
0:26 - EM-147 MAIN TITLE DOCUMENTARY (Phil Green) – Shot of castles; Huck sees castle sign.
0:51 - ZR-126 PERIOD ENGLISH MAIN TITLE (Hormel) – Huck hears cries, reads paper.
1:31 - ZR-127 PERIOD CHASE (Hormel) – Knight enters, raises drawbridge.
2:03 - TC 301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Huck de-waters horse, drawbridge falls on Huck, Huck lands in water, Horse de-waters Huck.
3:12 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Bassoon effect over “Shuckin’s” line.
3:19 - L-1121 ANIMATION NAUTICAL (Moore) – Cannon ball dropped on Huck.
3:42 - F-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Knight hands Huck anvil, Huck challenges Knight to combat.
4:12 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Knight rolls over Huck, Huck uses catapult on castle.
5:15 - L-992 ANIMATION CHILDREN (Moore) – Knight walks out of castle; hits Huck with mace.
5:28 - ZR-103 PERIOD MAIN TITLE (Hormel) – Huck disguises as damsel, Knight takes him into castle.
6:02 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – Knight asks for kiss; gets socked; Huck rescues ugly damsel; locks himself in tower.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin)

6 comments:

  1. Walt Clinton's greatest contribution at Disney was animating Donald Duck, usually on Dick Lundy's unit.

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  2. What I liked about this carton is what Yowp mentioned above. There must have been a running joke in the early H-B cartoons. When the Knight is referred to as " Fat ", he looks at the camera and says "Faaattttt? " Yogi would repeat the same gag when he dressed up as a mechanical bear. One of Jellystone's tourists comments about Yogi's weight, and Yogi looks at the camera and says " Faaaat ? " They would use the same Spencer Moore " Pop Goes The Weasel "with the tic toc in H-B's parody of " Highway Patrol "..." Freeway Patrol " The tic toc would be used by itself in Warner's " Gopher Broke ".

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  3. I think a bunch of the original boards for this are on the 3rd floor of Cartoon Network Studios in Burbank.

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  4. I LIKE SIR HUCKLEBERRY HOUND HE'S MY FAVORITE.

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  5. Spencer Moore's L-992 is the only of the many "Animation/Children" pieces that I know of on the HB cartoons [outside cartoons, Art Clokey's clay/doll films used some of the others.] The medieval setting, and especially the ugly damsel gag, are similiar to "Dragonslayer Huck".

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  6. The ladder floating gag always confused me completely.

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