Saturday, November 14, 2009

Huckleberry Hound — Two Corny Crows

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Sam Clayberger; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, Ziggy – Daws Butler; Iggy – Don Messick.
Released: November 27, 1958.
Plot: Farmer Huck vs. hungry crows vs. the clock.

So, there’s this cartoon where this character is on guard trying to stop someone else from stealing what he’s guarding. But the twist is they’re just doing they’re doing this as a 9 to 5 job. They’re really friends before and after their battle of wits and resultant bashings while at work.

Yes, that’s an apt description of the Wolf and Sheepdog series at Warners. But Hanna-Barbera wasn’t above borrowing ideas from the great theatrical cartoon directors of the day; in this case, Mr. Ptui to Illustrated Radio, Charles Martin Jones. For H-B simply took the Ralph Wolf-Sam Sheepdog concept, glued it on Huckleberry Hound and came up with Two Corny Crows.

And you don’t have to squint too hard to see another influence come into focus—direct from the Woolworth’s of Animation. For a case could be made that the title characters bear somewhat of a small resemblance in personality to Paul Terry’s best bargain-basement product, Heckle and Jeckle.

Of course, it’s unfair to compare this made-for-TV-on-a-shoestring product to the cleverly posed and timed Jones cartoons or even the quickly-paced talkiness of the low-budget TerryToon magpies. But, once again, we’re dealing with a cartoon that, once the plot really gets underway, consists of maybe four gags. The rest of the time Charlie Shows and whoever else developed this one are content to let the situation double as a gag, or we wait for something funny to happen. And it doesn’t.

Still, the cartoon isn’t a total loss. There are some nice little drawings, such as the opening shot, either from a Dan Gordon story sketch or a Dick Bickenbach layout. We see silhouetted crows with funny hats on a tree, with a colourful cornfield behind them and a plowed hill in the background. The silhouette draws our attention to the crows. And since corn ripens in the fall, there’s a lone tree framed by foreground branches that has appropriately lost its leaves. UPA veteran Sam Clayberger supplies the colour.

The camera trucks in and dissolves to a close-up of the crows snoring. There’s an alarm clock in the tree which goes off, and is turned off by the straw-hatted crow, then the birds go back to sleep. The alarm rings again, the crows awaken and the camera pans over Clayberger’s background to stop at Huck’s farmhouse (with purple shingles?).

We now move into on Huck’s bedroom where the same make of alarm clock is ringing. “Time to go to work,” says Iggy. The other crow is Ziggy, with the Ed Gardner voice that Daws Butler would later use for Snooper. They fly over to a fence and wait for Huck, who arrives on the scene singing and whistling ‘Clementine’ to pad for 19 seconds (he’s not in time with the calliope music but that’s probably a plus). Huck and the crows exchange some small talk and then Huck checks his watch. Somehow, the time has gone from 6 o’clock to when the crows landed on the fence to 10:15. Oh, well. You’ve got to love the stylised cornstalks by Clayberger. He doesn’t draw any ears of corn. Instead, we get different shades of green leaves overtop of a wall of yellow that represents the corn.


The whistle on top of the barn, the sound of which is well-known to fans of several versions of the opening of The Flintstones, bellows to mark the start of the work day and the plot begins in earnest (we are now well into two minutes of the cartoon). The crows run off the fence with one of those Charlie Shows rhymes: “Let’s blow.” “Go, Joe, go!” as Huck fires his rifle at him (it’s a rhyme for the sake of rhyming as no one is named Joe in this cartoon).

The crows return to their tree branch (their clock has somehow vanished) as Ziggy taunts Huck by telling him he “couldn’t hit the side of a...” At that point, Huck’s bullet hits its target and blows the feathers off his body. Ziggy beats a hasty retreat.


Unfortunately, that may be the best gag. The crows use their beaks to rip the leaves off an ear of corn then remove kernels without even eating them, which would seem kind of pointless. Huck captures the pesky birds in a milk can. Shows gives us churn-it-out dialogue like “Corn on the cob, comin’ up.” “You mean canned crow, comin’ up.” OK, maybe we’ll get laughs in the next scene.

Not really. As Huck snoozes, Ziggy uses Iggy’s beak to get them out of the milk can (the top of which is covered by an anvil). “How about this,” remarks Ziggy. “A crow can opener. What a keen idea. I’ll make a for-tune.” “Close your mouth and open the can, man,” answers Iggy in another of Shows’ rhyming pairs of words. Not only is the dialogue little more than filler (though I can hear Hubie and Bertie at Warners making it work), before the birds escape, we get the voices of both crows coming out of one of them.

All this does is set up an explosion gag. The crows say “hi” to Huck, who wonders why they aren’t in the can and goes to investigate. Huck’s topper line: “Those crows have such a corny sense of humour.” It’s a cartoon about corn and they have a “corny” sense. That’s the gag. Maybe we’ll get laughs in the next scene.

Huck booby-traps a cob to a rifle. The crows respond by grabbing the corn—and we don’t know how they get it without springing the trap because it’s off camera—and substituting a wallet. Huck, naturally, sees it, chats a bit to himself, goes to pick it up and blam! Another patented Charlie Shows ‘ass pain’ joke. Huck’s response? “Very funny.” All right, maybe the NEXT scene.

Huck dresses up as a scarecrow. The crows aren’t fooled. They fly over and engage in witty banter like “What’s this supposed to be, Ziggy?” “It looks like a low-budget scarecrow.” “A scarecrow? You’re kiddin’.” One of the crows takes a pencil and draws a moustache on Huck and blackens his teeth. Huck doesn’t take kindly to the laughter (from the crows, not the audience) and zips off camera. Time for a Shows rhyming two-some: “He’s mad, dad.” as the crows race to hide in a nearby mailbox.


Huck trains his gun, the crows plead with him not to shoot, but then the whistle sounds to end the work day. Huck pulls the gun away from the birds and they exchange pleasantries about the good day’s work they’ve done before bidding farewell until tomorrow. The gag here is the sudden turnaround in behaviour which isn’t any different than what Jones was doing at Warners a few years earlier. “Nice people, that Huck,” remarks Iggy. “Yeah, just like kin-folks,” adds Ziggy, as Huck heads back into his house, whistling ‘Clementine.’

Evidently, H-B thought they could weave animated dross like this into marketing gold. They stuck the crows in another cartoon that season, Birdhouse Blues, and featured them in some marketing. The concept was good but the crows never lived up to their potential. Their wisecracks just weren’t wise-guy enough and the characters vanished unnoticed and unlamented.

There’s a period of almost 30 seconds where there’s no music or sound effects, just dialogue, and it actually works pretty well. Otherwise, we get Clementine (on a calliope) twice and several very familiar background tunes.


0:00 - Clementine/Huck sub main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:26 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Crows, Huck wake up.
1:27 - CLEMENTINE (trad.) – Huck strolls out of house, chats with crows.
2:00 - no music – Whistle blows, Huck shoots at running crows; shoots feathers off Ziggy.
2:29 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Crows strafe cob, Huck captures crows in milk can.
3:05 - TC 432 HOLLY DAY (Loose-Seely) – Crows escape from milk can; put dynamite in can, Huck peers in can, can blows up.
4:24 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Booby trap corn/wallet gag, Huck dresses scarecrow.
5:45 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Crows draw on Huck, Huck corners them in mailbox, “Quittin’ time,” crows praise Huck.
7:04 - CLEMENTINE (trad.) – Huck strolls into house.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).

10 comments:

  1. This one is really terrible, isn't it? I got really angry when I watched it on TV. The only saving grace is Sam Clayberger.

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  2. If you want a better H-B crow cartoon, I'd recommend Crow Cronies, where Doggie Daddy vainly battles a fraudster crow.

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  3. What I remember about this H-B short is Daws voice for Ziggy would later be tweaked a bit to become " Super Snooper ". I also remember the crows showing up one more time, then flying off to cartoon oblivion.

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  4. I'm a bit more sympathetic/sentimental toward these cartoons mostly due to the voice work of both Daws Butler and Don Messick. I don't actually examine the plot or the dialogue beyond the basics of if it makes me laugh or not. The voice that Daws uses for one of the crows as was mentioned in a previous comment is rooted in the voice that Ed Gardner used on DUFFY'S TAVERN, a voice that was a launching pad for Super Snooper. I'm perhaps in the minority but I tend to be more drawn to the voices on these early Hanna-Barbera cartoons since the animation is limited than the actual plot or jokes, or lack thereof.

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  5. I would also add that the character of Huckleberry Hound, and his personality, is perfect for corny humor which is featured on almost all the episodes. The one-liners, many of them pseudo-philosophical where Huck takes in a situation and offers his southern-spun view, were hilarious.

    In your dissection of this episode you point out several gags that are only funny if southern humor is part of one's vocabulary. I've seen the episode and I laugh at those gags because of the way the lines are delivered by Daws. In Huck's voice they're funny.

    Yogi Bear, for example, if he were in a fight with a dog, it wouldn't be as funny if he were to look down at a dog who has a bite of his backside and look at the camera and back at the dog whose hanging there growling and say in his accelerated Ed Gnorton-like voice: "well, i'll be dogged". But yet, when Huckleberry says a line like that in that same scenario, it's funny.

    It's hard to explain.

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  6. Yeah, I know what you mean, ACF. It's no different than some material will work for some comedians and not for others.

    To me, some Hucks are better than others and it boils down to the calibre of gags. Granted, that's really subjective, but I think Huck got better material when Warren Foster wrote for him; there seems to be something extra.

    I think my favourite laconic cartoon joke is in Three Little Pups when the wolf tells the dog still hanging onto his pants "Joke's over". It just comes out of nowhere and that's why Avery was so great.

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  7. LOL! Hey, Yowp, I noticed a couple of things, you've used "mouse-activiated annotations/captions" and you have yet another "masthead image"[the images at the top of the blog, instead of yourself Yogi and some others are there now.][I wonder if anyone clicked on the pics and saw those funny comments I mentioned.]

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  8. "Birdhouse Blues", the sequel to this cartoon, aired early this AM on Boomerang. I actually found it rather amusing, with some funny gags (the birdhouse repeatedly pounding Huck into the ground between each word he utters; Huck forced to accerate his counting to ten when the ladder he's standing on is removed) and cute dialogue from the crows. F'rinstance, when Huck states the birdhouse is meant only for 'cheep-cheep' birds, Ziggy responds that they're as cheap as they come. There's also some nice attention to detail; i.e. one crow sweeping out the house while another is preparing to hang a picture on the wall.

    Having not seen "Two Corny Crows" in awhile, it's hard to make a comparison. But since "Blues" was made deeper into the production season, perhaps Shows and the directors were more acclimated to the series' format, and hence able to inject more gags and energy into the stories. That "Blues" was animated by Carlo Vinci, and contained many of his quirks, may have also had something to with it.

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  9. Maybe, Howard. I thought it was simply the nature of the first season .. it's hit and miss. 'Birdhouse Blues' may be more of a hit than this cartoon.

    What's evident is despite attempts to market the characters when Huck got started, there was no attempt to do anything with them on-screen after the first season. I guess Foster couldn't come up with anything for them, and I suspect he was probably asked to.

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  10. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    Here's a snapshot of the scene where Huck begins to disguise as a scarecrow.
    It's at the moment where that two crazy crows observe the Huck's disguise, and then, they comment: "Look at this idiot smile!"
    This scene appears on the following link: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-AVBnhkNITvg/UCZPmEndDNI/AAAAAAAACvI/GB8vHxxCfYU/s250/desenhos-animados_dompixote.jpg.

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