Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Story Sketches and Dialogue – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator – Don Messick; Huck, Mugsy the Robber, Bird – Daws Butler.
First Aired: week of November 10, 1958.
Plot: Fleeing bank robber tries to outwit Huckleberry Hound of the Freeway Patrol.
Satire comes in all flavours, including in cartoons. Tex Avery used (among other things) kind of an outlandish ridicule to make fun of things like movie travelogues and automobiles. Paramount’s satires of suburban and modern behaviour circa 1960 were more cynical. But Hanna-Barbera, perhaps considering they were aiming primarily at kids (but hoping spending-happy adults would watch), went in more for a gentle lampoon.
Television was becoming a target of cartoons as the ‘50s wore on. The Huckleberry Hound Show followed the trend, using a parody of ‘Dragnet’ as the opening for Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, and then turning their eyes on ‘Highway Patrol’ when this cartoon was made.
Well, they borrow from the title. Huck doesn’t act at all like Broderick Crawford. Through the cartoon, he’s sleepy and dumb at times but ultimately in control. And then the running gag re-appears to end it all, so Charlie Shows, Joe Barbera and Dan Gordon have a nicely structured story here.
There are other things familiar here. There are those evergreens with the branches that flip up like Marlo Thomas’ hair on ‘That Girl.’ Since the same trees grow in cartoons by various background artists, I have to presume Dick Bickenbach was responsible for them in layout. He’s also designed some more late ‘50s cars with tail-fins but no doors. He’s also responsible for the cloverleaf that is the opening shot of the cartoon; later, there’s a road-level view with streetlights the same as he created for the “super-highway” in Yogi’s Baffled Bear. And the animated sunburst effect that’s used for disembodied speech, in this case out of a car radio, showed up in a number of Hanna-Barbara cartoons for several years. Ken Muse also drew it in Jinks’ Mice Device.
The opening is familiar, too. Huck cartoons, even when Warren Foster took over from Charlie Shows in season two, began with a narrator setting up the premise. Don Messick uses a stentorian style this time, perhaps because Highway Patrol featured the intoning Art Gilmore as its narrator. Gilmore has a Hanna-Barbera connection, by the way. He plugged Kellogg’s over the original intro and extro of The Huckleberry Hound Show (not the version heard on various CDs). The Messick narrator informs us millions of motoring Americans are protected “by a special dedicated group of officers—the Freeway Patrol. Alert. Eagle-eyed. Ready for any emergency” Naturally, the shot is of officer Huck dozing off at the wheel while driving. The opening also sets up the cartoon’s running gag. The dispatcher sends Huck (in the inevitable ‘Car 13’) to investigate a stalled truck. The camera focuses on an underpass as the police car races inside it. The camera shakes. We hear Huck report to headquarters and then the camera cuts to the gag shot.
Huck: I found that stalled truck. Send new patrol car.
Dispatcher: Oh, no. That’s three this week and it’s only Tuesday.
Now that it’s been established that Huck is inept and snoozy, the plot can unfold. There’s a bank robber driving a 1958 Bickenbach on the freeway. The narrator informs us “The Freeway Patrol springs into action.” Mind you, it takes a bit of shouting for the dispatcher for that happen, since he has to wake the sleeping Huck. Even then, there’s a delay as the new Car 13 gets into another smash-up.
The crook encounters “a roadblock” which is nothing more than Huck standing on the road like a school-crossing guard. Now we get comedy out of the situation more than the dialogue. The crook mocks concern about a robber being on the loose and shows his driver’s license, complete with mask and criminal occupation listed.
Huck: How comes you’re wearin’ a mask?
Robber: Uh, er, I, I’m the Masked Hornet on television.
Huck: Well, let’s see here now. So you’re a TV star.
Robber (bashfully): Heh heh heh. I didn’t think you’d recognise me.
Huck: Gosh! Can I have your autograph, Mr. Masked Hornet?
Robber: Anything for me fans.
There are some cartoons that Huck is so incredibly and consistently stupid that it’s annoying (Huck’s Hack is one). But the gag here is so silly that I’ll go along with it. Especially considering how idiotic star-struck fans can be in real life.
After the crook drives away, Huck looks at the autograph book and realises he’s been had. So the chase is on.
First, the crook puts on his brake. The sudden rear-end stop wrecks another Car 13 (but doesn’t scratch the bad guy’s car. Sturdy, those ’58 Bickenbachs). “Short car, ain’t it?” remarks Huck to the camera, emulating a sign in a Tex Avery cartoon. Next, the crook puts up a detour sign, which works in any cartoon. There’s a weird bit of topography here. Huck’s supposed to be on a freeway. He’s in the country in one shot and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a city block in the next. Oh, well. Let’s go along with that, too.
Huck drives onto a hoist in a garage which the crooks sends through the roof and into the sky. But nothing bothers Huck. He looks at a passing bird, smiles and remarks “That’s a right purty view from up here.” I like the way Bick turns the car at an angle; all we’ve seen through the whole cartoon is side views to accomodate the right-to-left roll of the background cells.
How does Huck get down? That’s left to your imagine.
As the narrator tells us: “Well, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and fool all of the people some of the time, but a sharp cookie can fool ol’ Huck most any old time.” The robber gets a flat so he whips out a housewife-y wig and pulls the woman-in-distress routine. We get the sob story tune ‘Winter Tales’ in the background as the ‘lady’ wails how helpless she is. Yup, Huck gets fooled. He starts to fix the tire and the crook takes off in his car. Huck turns to the camera and says, “You know, I just never could understand women.”
Ah, but the chase continues. Huck gets in the crook’s 1958 Bickenbach (to save animation, the wheels don’t turn; the car is stationary and the background rolls over and over). We reach the climax scene, with unnecessary narration augmenting the crook’s scheme to stop Huck—by raising a drawbridge. Huck drives right into the sky and, casually knowing he’s in full control of the situation (he isn’t stupid after all, you see), lands right on the smugly laughing crook. Chase over. Case closed.
“And so we say ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol! Guardians of our highways. Protectors of our...” The narration’s interrupted by an on-screen crash.
The narrator tries it again. “As we were saying, ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol. You might slow ‘em down, but you can’t stop ‘em.” The camera pulls back as Huck toodles down the street on a child’s scooter.
Daws re-used incidental voices, and I’m pretty sure he used the robber’s again on Fractured Fairy Tales and various petty crooks on The Flintstones. It’s distinct enough that my guess is he based it on some actor in old crime movies.
There’s not too much music by Bill Loose and John Seely for a change. We get a rare appearance (maybe the second) of the ‘Tick Tock/Pop Goes the Weasel’ mash-up (L-992) by Spencer Moore.
0:00 - Huckleberry Hound/Clementine sub main title theme (Curtin).
0:26 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) – shot of freeway, Huck races to into overpass, crash sound.
1:09 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck talks with headquarters.
1:19 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Robber fires gun, headquarters calls Huck.
1:40 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – Dispatcher wakes up Huck.
2:16 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck reports after crash, Masked Hornet gag.
3:32 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “Hornet” drives away, robber brakes and Huck crashes.
4:23 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Detour set up, Huck sent into sky. from gag.
5:00 - L-992 ANIMATION CHILDREN (Moore) – “Right purty view”, robber gets flat.
5:11 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Robber puts on wig, Huck stops.
5:22 - SF-? WINTER TALES (arr. Vic Lamont) – “Woman” gives sob story, drives off in police car.
5:40 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck chases robber, flies into sky from drawbridge, lands on crook.
6:42 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – “So we say ‘hat’s off’...”, Huck rides away on kid’s scooter.
7:11 – Huckleberry Hound sub end title theme (Curtin)