Saturday, December 26, 2009

Huckleberry Hound — The Tough Little Termite

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huckleberry Hound – Daws Butler, Termite – Don Messick.
Released: March 26, 1959.
Plot: Huck takes on termite that’s infested his happy home.

“Did you ever have one of them days, you know, when everything seemed to go wrong?” That’s what Huckleberry Hound asks the TV audience at the end of the cartoon. And since we all have, we can sympathise with poor Huck as he loses everything—all because he wants to get rid of a bothersome insect from his home.

But it’s not just any bothersome insect. It’s a termite. Sure, Porky Pig took on a termite in The Pest Who Came to Dinner (1948) with an ending that was apparently adapted by Woody Woodpecker when he battled Termites From Mars (1952). But this termite has some personality. He’s a ham. And he sings a little song. Since he’s an insect, he can only buzz, so Don Messick has him going up and down the scale, cheerfully singing “Buzz-a, buzz-a, buzz.” It’s just so silly, it makes the cartoon a winning one, even though Huck gets unmercifully picked on during the whole time.

Ed Benedict designed the termite with a little zig-zag mouth. He also designed the opening shot of Huck relaxing outside his suburban home. There’s no neighbourhood, just the front of Huck’s place with a solid colour background. Even the tree next door is floating in light rose-coloured space. “This is a happy little story of a happy little house and its happy little owner,” lies the narrator as the ending is far from happy for Huckleberry Hound. But we don’t know that yet, as the narrator adds Huck doesn’t have a care in the world “except one teensy-weensy little one.” That’s the cue for the “buzz-a buzz-a” song. Huck puts his ear to a wooden support column. “Hmm. Sounds like termites. Only way to get rid of them is fight them,” Huck says to himself, forgetting he took on a mosquito in Skeeter Trouble only a few weeks earlier and lost.

Benedict must have loved goofy contraptions. He designed that TV set-fan-stove thing that Huck used in Rustler Hustler Huck. Here, he constructs a TV-tractor-toolbox-detector or, as Huck calls it, “a do-it-yourself termite kit.” The hound puts a stethoscope to the column and hears chomping from the H-B sound effects library. Putting the TV, er, termitoscope, against the column reveals the presence of a termite. And the picture’s in colour! Not bad for 1959. Ken Muse uses six drawings on ones for the termite’s chewing.


The termite notices he’s been caught on camera and hams it up. Here are a couple of poses. They’re really cute. Huck agrees. “He’s a cutie, alrighty. If you happen to like termites.”


Huck saws the part of the column with the termite in it and drops it in the garbage. Now, for whatever reason (oh, right, because it’s the plot), the termite eats the block of wood and a stick in the garbage can. We don’t see any gnawing. That involves intricate animation. Instead, the wood just disappears with what I think is sawdust falling from it. The sawdust seems to evaporate into thin air. The narrator returns to remind us we’re seeing a happy and a “happy owner without a care in the world.” That’s the termite’s cue to chew up a chair Huck is resting on. “You know, something? I think that termite’s back,” Huck matter-of-factly remarks before thudding to the ground.

Huck gets out his stethoscope and hears the termite chomping inside a support column on the porch. “So long, termite,” he says as he pumps the column full of green poison. The termite was prepared. And he heckles him in a four-drawing cycle on ones, which we’ve slowed down for you below.


An attempt to drown the termite by drilling a hole in the column and pumping water through a funnel doesn’t work. The water comes out a bunch of termite holes. “Well, if he aint dead, he’s clean,” philosophises Huck, who peers in the hole to see the termite drying himself off with a towel. The termite takes exception to it, then resumes singing and drying off.


We see the camera shake and the sound of chopping. Huck is cutting down the support beam. Now the little critter follows that old cartoon law—termites eat anything and everything made of wood. First, it chomps and dissolves the axe-handle and the axe-head drops on Huck’s head. Then, it creates a hole in the house. Huck sticks some dynamite in the hole and, in the process, the flower bed above him mysteriously moves back and forth. Don’t blame the termite, blame the animation checker.


The termite chews another hole in the house and emerges with a firecracker, which he leaves next to Huck and walks back through the hole, singing his little buzz song. First the firecracker goes off with a bang, the blast knocking Huck into the flower bed, which crashes to the ground. Oh, yes, the dynamite is still going. Huck’s attempt to blow out the fuse fails, as it always does in cartoons. And where’d the hole go that the termite chewed in the house?


The ‘sanding’ sound used to approximate wood being devoured is heard again, and Huck rushes to the window to look inside. The termite destroys his piano (hey, what happened to the ivory keys and the metal wires?). Huck doesn’t object, but when the termite starts on his “telly-vision set,” then the bug has gone too far. Huck grabs it and puts it on the front lawn. No matter. The termite is inside the set and finishes the job. “Oh, well,” shrugs Huck. “It wasn’t working anyhow.”


The start of Jack Shaindlin’s On the Run signals the climax of the cartoon. And once again, Hanna and Barbera cop an idea from ex-MGM stablemate Tex Avery—someone tries to escape their pursuer but the pursuer is always there. Like with Avery’s wolf in Dumb Hounded (1943), the modes of escape get bigger and bigger for Huck but to no avail. Unfortunately, there isn’t the quickening pace and music of the Avery cartoons which (with the growingly outrageous takes) add to the gag. First, the termite chomps around Huck’s outline against the door. Huck tries to get away in a car but the termite eats that, too (it’s a woody station wagon). To the airport Huck goes and jumps in a small plane. But the termite is there again, devouring everything including the propeller. “Shucks,” says a startled Huck to the camera. “I thought termites only ett wood.” Afraid not, Huck. Cartoon law says otherwise.


Down drops Huck and, as cartoon law also has it, the termite catches up him. “If I gotta go, at least I’m taking that termite with me,” chuckles Huck. Afraid not again. The termite sprouts a parachute and as Huck plummets and the termite sings his happy buzz song as he floats to earth and the camera fades.


If air dates are an indication, this is the final Huckleberry Hound cartoon that Charlie Shows worked on before waving goodbye like our one-shot termite. Huck survived his drop from the sky to begin the 1959-60 season with Warren Foster writing most of his material. Foster made Huck a little stupider at times (Huck’s Hack, Cop and Saucer) but kept him happy-go-lucky, even buoyant, much like he was in Lion-Hearted Huck.

A couple of background songs get a repeat in the cartoon besides On the Run. Geordie Hormel’s Light Eerie makes two appearances (once with Clementine overtop of it) and twice we hear a circus-sounding cue of Lou De Francesco’s from the Sam Fox library.


0:00 - Huck/Clementine sub main title theme (Curtin)
0:26 - TC-436 SHINING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Huck rests on porch, hears termite.
0:52 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) – Huck listens to column, spots termite on TV set.
1:15-1:19 Clementine (trad.)
1:44 - TC-301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – “He’s a cutie,” Huck deposits sawed wood in garbage.
2:15 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Termite eats wood in garbage can.
2:26 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Termite buzzes, Huck lounging.
2:42 - SF-10 SKI(ING?) GALOP (De Francesco) – Termite eats chair.
2:57 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) – spray can and towelling scenes.
4:34 - SF-10 SKI(ING?) GALOP (De Francesco) – Termite eats axe handle, dynamite scene, termite eats piano and TV.
5:57 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Termite cuts around Huck again door, eats car, airplane, floats down singing with parachute as Huck falls.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).

9 comments:

  1. The title of one cartoon you mentioned is supposed to be "Rustler Hustler Huck", not "Hustler Rustler Huck" You probably mixed things up.

    Also, when you mentioned "Huck's Hack" and "Cop and Saucer" where Foster made Huck a little stupider, do you mean at the end of both cartoons?

    BTW, sorry for the double post.

    Ryan

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  2. Thanks, Ryan. I keep getting that one backward.

    No, I mean during the duration of the cartoon. For me, it's a real stretch to buy into Huck not realising he's dealing with a bank robber or an alien. Huck's character may be slow, but he's not that ignorant. To me, it's done for the sake of a plot device.

    He's a better character when he's simply a victim of circumstance he can't overcome, like in this cartoon.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hey, I bet you're excited about the list of the cartoons you posted so far after the next 2 cartoons. I hope you are, because the list will be exciting to look at.

    Happy New Year!

    Ryan

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    Imagine if this Huckleberry Hound had the music score made by Hoyt Curtin.
    On the scene in which we see Huck spying the termite drying himself, the little creature appears singing "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa" (which sounds like bebop).
    If Hoyt Curtin made the music score for this episode, he would create a bass-and-drum arrangement on the bebop beat, to accompain the "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa" sung by the termite, instead of the habitual music score recorded by EMI/Capitol for this episode.
    The same thing would happen at the moment in which we see the termite walking outside the Huck's home, singing "pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa".

    ReplyDelete
  5. Actually, no, Hoyt Curtin wouldn't create anything for a specific scene. He never worked that way at Hanna-Barbera.

    He created a stock library of his own which the sound cutter would have to pick from to try to match the action.

    ReplyDelete
  6. WB's Carl Stalling would, which would bring yet another WB member to HB, but by the time Huck debuted [fall 1958] the great and grand Stalling was already retired. The only difference technically between a Curtin score and the others was that Hoyt's was in-house, as it were. Now, if HB's own MGM buddy Scott Bradley had scored this...probaly not [Bradley, too, was retired by then.]

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ironically by 1994, Hanna-Barbera's music was heavily influenced by Carl Stalling. Look at "Scooby-Doo in Arabian Nights"; the music sounds just like something you'd expect from Stalling: the music matches all the actions and moods, stopping and starting with each movement, and stuff like that. Very much like the music of "Animaniacs"...

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  7. Great blog. Old good days flashing before the eyes. this one was one of my favorites.

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  8. I think the Tough little termite is the last of the first season of the huckleberry hound episodes produced in 1958 and released in theaters and then/or first aried on tv in 1959. Don't you think so?

    ReplyDelete