Saturday, July 24, 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Sheep-Shape Sheepherder

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story Sketches and Dialogue – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huck, Sheep, Wolf – Daws Butler; Narrator, Sheep, Shorty – Don Messick.
First Aired: week of January 19, 1959.
Plot: Sheepherder Huck thwarts two sheep-stealing wolves.

For the second time in his debut season, Huck gets to play a shepherd. And for the second time in his debut season, he goes up against a thief with Daws’ Phil Silvers/Ernie Bilko voice. The first time, it was chicken-stealing fox in Cock-a-Doodle Huck. This time, it’s a sheep-stealing wolf. Well, the wolf doesn’t do the stealing. Like Bilko, he cons someone into doing it for him. This time it’s a little wolf (hmm ... a pre-cursor to Hokey and Dingaling, mayhap?) with the voice Don Messick gave to Jack the Robber in Big Brave Bear.

One thing the three cartoons have in common is animation by Carlo Vinci. Carlo drew the most angular-looking versions of the characters of the main three animators on the first season of the Huck show (I’m not counting Mike Lah) but he has the silliest (and jerkiest) animation of the three. You can pretty easily spot a Vinci cartoon. In the first season, he loved to use a thick outer line around characters. He toned it down in the second season.



Also, in the first season, Carlo had a little trick of a character stomping (in a cycle on ones) then running out of the scene. In this cartoon, he does it in reverse. Huck enters the scene, then stomps before stopping. Here’s the slowed-down stomp.


 

We get a variation on Carlo’s diving exit from the scene, too. Normally, Carlo backs up a character, then stretches them out horizontally in mid-air for a frame, then leaves lines in the next frame. Here, we get the stretch, but the phoney dog’s actually running so in the previous and successive frames, his paws touch the ground.


Carlo loves head shakes to register surprise. These were also two cells on ones in a cycle. This cartoon features six shakes. This one is used three times, slowed down for your viewing pleasure.



Oh, yes, and we mustn’t forget the Vinci teeth. He liked thick ones. Sometimes, he didn’t draw the tooth lines all the way down.



One other ‘surprise’ trick you’ll see in some of Carlo’s cartoons is how he stretches the head up (though it appears to be bigger) and elongates the eyes to register surprise. As a bonus, the cheek ruffs go up, too.


Also something the three cartoons mentioned above have in common is Charlie Shows wrote them (and all cartoons in the first season). Unlike some of Charlie’s cartoons, this one gets into the plot pretty quickly and, despite a fair chunk of dialogue, fits in a good number of sight gags, too.

Shows uses the same opening as he did in Hustler-Rustler Huck, with a narrator over a pan over a sheep-filled canyon bathed in night-time blues, even though the layout and backgrounds are done by different people. We even get the lovely ‘ZR-39 Western Song’ by Geordie Hormel to open both cartoons. Messick has a western lilt to his voice as tells us we’re looking at sheep country.


“Close by,” we’re told, “is the ever-faithful sheepherder. Livin’ the shepherd’s life of peace and solitude.” Huck fits in a “Howdy” in between the narrator’s sentences.


Ah, but not far away in a Yogi-like cave is a pacing wolf, waiting for his cohort to arrive.



“Chiefy” goes over the plan to get the sheep. Now we get two scenes with some reused animation as the wolf listens at the cave entrance. First, Shorty is sent out to lure Huck away by yelling “Wolf! Wolf!” and running away. Instead, he gets shot off camera. “He didn’t chase me, chief” says the little wolf plaintively. Then the wolf paints Shorty as an Indian. More shots off camera. “Another injun bit the dust,” the little wolf explains.


Now, Shorty dresses as a sheepdog (who shouts “Barf”). Huck, who is a dog, treats the disguised wolf like a real dog by playing ‘fetch the stick.’ Is it my imagination, or is there a little bit of Touché Turtle’s Dum-Dum in the design here? Not that it would be a surprise; Bick Bickenbach would likely have had something to do with the designs of both. “And such a honest face,” Huck says to the dog/wolf, who turns to the camera and gives a dirty “hee hee hee.” Surprisingly, Messick doesn’t do his famous doggie snicker for this character.

Huck becomes suspicious when the “dog” fetches a sheep instead of the stick and shoots his tail off for a third time. The wolf then realises he goofed, and should have dressed Shorty as a lamb to mingled with the sheep and use a bell to get them follow him to the cave. “Well, well, there’s the bell,” rhymes the wolf (Charlie Shows at work again). But Huck’s ready as he disguises himself as a large, shotgun-bearing sheep. You can see another Vinci trademark here: the crooked fingers on the wolf.


Here’s what Carlo does to register shock. First, there’s a take when the wolf realises Huck is inside the sheep outfit. Carlo turns him after a bit of dialogue and we get one of his two-cell vibration takes.




And, as an added bonus, this is a slowed-down version of the end of the take.



Shows continues with the running gag, except this time the big wolf is shot in the tail. “Now you know how it feels,” says Shorty.

Finally, the Wolf tries a combination of two things that never worked for Wile E. Coyote—dynamite and a barrel. He lights the barrel of dynamite and, like the Coyote’s boulder in Going! Going! Gosh! (1952), shoves it down a hill toward Huck. But gravity simply takes care of that. The barrel roles past Huck and the sheep, up a hill on the other side and then back down past the sheep and Huck into the wolves’ cave. The explosion is off scene, we just get a hold on the cave entrance, a camera shake, then dust coming out of the cave.


By the way, little lines come out of the barrel when it rolls up and back downhill, like you’d see in a silent cartoon (borrowed from comic strips, I suppose) to indicate noise. Maybe this was an old habit from Carlo’s from his Terrytoon days, but they’re sure superfluous.

The narrator returns to conclude the story. “Like we said, wherever you find sheep, you’ll find a sheep-stealin’ wolf. This is the best gag in the cartoon. There’s a shot of the sheep, who go “Baaaaah”, then a shot of the disgusted wolf, who goes “Bah!”

Then we’re told Shorty has reformed, and we see him in his sheepdog outfit, playing ‘fetch.’ “It’s honest, but what a way to make a living,” he tells us, and barfs as the camera fades out.

The music selection is pretty typical. No, I don’t have the name of that little hiccuppy march with the strings and bassoon by Jack Shaindlin used in a lot of these cartoons. It’s one of my favourite Shaindlin pieces. I hope someone will help me out with that one some day.


0:00 - Huck/Clementine sub main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:27 - ZR-39 WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Pan over western scenery, Huck says “Howdy.”
1:02 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Wolf paces, Shorty crashes into him.
1:29 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Wolves go over plan, Shorty shot after crying “Wolf!”
2:34 - LAF 10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Shorty as Indian.
3:08 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Shorty as sheepdog.
4:34 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Shorty as sheep.
5:43 - TC-432 LIGHT MOVEMENT (HOLLY DAY) (Loose-Seely) – Wolves with smoking tails, blasting powder scene.
6:45 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Sheep graze, Wolf goes “Bah”, Shorty in dog costume.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).

6 comments:

  1. Maybe Shorty’s dog-disguise would have succeeded if he said “Yowp!” instead of “Barf!”

    Absolutely, these are the proto Hokey and Ding! And, like Snagglepuss, they started out as sheep-stealing villains!

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  2. I really love this cartoon! Thanks for the post...

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  3. Good Old Sheepherder Huckleberry. Wolves need not apply. Oh-if their name is SHORTY..and they're SHORT..and are DRESSED as SHEEPDOGS..well...IT'S a living. Excellent cartoon.

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  4. It seems that any Season 1 Huck cartoon in which he's facing a thieving animal- this one, COCK-A-DOODLE-HUCK, the two featuring Iggy and Ziggy the Crows- Huck himself is totally upstaged by the guest characters. All he basically does is fire a gun and mutter "Pesky, goldarn [fill in the species]!" And he usually comes out on top. What's sorely missing is Huck being bested by a human or 'realistic' animal adversary, with the endearing comments to the audience on what a great gag he was just the victim of.

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  5. Great analysis and plot synopsis, Yowp! This is one of my favorite Huck cartoons, mainly because of his personality and great design of the gun totin' hound. He isn't naive or dumb in this cartoon; he sees through all of the wolves' schemes and is one step ahead. The fun is watching all of the wolves' plans backfire. It's almost like a Droopy cartoon.

    I guess it would have been difficult to use this cartoon as a template for Hokey Wolf, since the little wolf would have to carry so much of the action and dialogue. Plus the big wolf really sort of took advantage of his 'dumb henchman' and there isn't a warm Hanna Barbera big guy/little sidekick bond! It just must have been easier to make Ding-a-Ling a 'Boo Boo' clone, looking up to his big buddy.

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  6. Charlie Shows wrote both types of cartoons, with Huck like the Avery wolf getting the crap beat out of him, or with Huck like Avery's Droopy doing little to beat the crap out of the guest villains. I'm not sure I can say I prefer either type over another, Howard. It just shows you H&B could do a light carbon copy of Tex.
    The problem with the crows is they had no redeeming features. They were supposed to be "zany" but their dialogue wasn't really funny and neither were Huck's retorts. Huck being picked on by the barbeque dog and the fireman-heating cat in a tree were funnier.

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