Saturday, October 9, 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Grim Pilgrim

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Indian – Hal Smith; Alden Huckleberry (Huckleberry Hound), Turkey – Daws Butler.
Music: Geordie Hormel, Jack Shaindlin, Spencer Moore, Bill Loose-Emil Cadkin-Jack Cookerly.
First aired: week of September 21, 1958 (rerun, week of May 23, 1959).
Plot: Huckleberry and an Indian battle each other to capture a Thanksgiving turkey.
Yowp note: The credits for this cartoon have surfaced since the review was put on the blog. It turns out the cartoon was not written by Warren Foster, but by Mike Maltese. The review’s been changed to reflect that.

They have their own calendar in Hanna-Barbera Land. In Canada, Thanksgiving is in October (this weekend, in fact). In the U.S., it’s in November. In Hanna-Barbera Land, it’s apparently in September, as that’s when this cartoon was originally broadcast. And it’s in a snowy September, too. Oddly enough, it ran on the same show as Yogi Bear’s Lullabye-Bye Bear, which features the same snowy hills in the background.

This cartoon is a rarity. Mike Maltese wrote it. Normally, Warren Foster handled all the cartoons on the second season of the Huck show. It may be this was in production early and he hadn’t arrived at Hanna-Barbera from John Sutherland (Foster briefly worked at Sutherland after leaving Warner Bros., according to historian Mike Barrier).

This cartoon is interesting because of what Maltese didn’t do. It features a wise-ass turkey character. But although Hanna-Barbera cartoons relied heavily on dialogue to get their gags across, Maltese resists giving the turkey any words, aside from gobbling. And Maltese had just arrived from Warners where he wrote lippy patter for Bugs and Daffy to use against their opponents. Considering the way H-B cartoons evolved, he might have gone with endless dialogue if he wrote this a year later. Relying on the animation to get gags across in limited animation can be risky but it works in this cartoon.

For reasons perhaps lost to time, Joe Barbera shied away from using Don Messick at the beginning of the 1959-60 season, the second for the Huck Show and the first for Quick Draw McGraw. Don’s not in the earliest Quick Draws at all. On Huck, he appears in his regular roles as Pixie, Boo Boo, the newly-invented Ranger Smith and as incidental characters in cartoons where they appear. But that’s about it. Barbera hired other voice actors. So it was that Hal Smith does the narration job in this cartoon that likely would have been Messick’s in the first season.


The narrator outlines the reason for the name of the cartoon. “Life for the early pilgrims was a grim one,” he intones. “Emerging from his cabin is a really grim-looking pil-grim—Alden Huckleberry.” And we’re told that daily, Huck blunders into the woods with his blunderbuss looking for wild turkey. Being a kids’ cartoon, the scene doesn’t cut to a close-up of a bottle of bourbon hanging from one of the evergreens (Tex Avery would have the reluctant Scott Bradley play ‘How Dry I Am’ in the background). Instead, Huck informs us “I loves turkey. Especially turkey burgers made with genuine turkey.”

The narrator tells us pilgrims had “built-in radar” to track down turkeys. We hear a morse code sound effect as dullard Huck walks right past a smirky turkey. “Smirky” is about the only rhyme Foster doesn’t use. “My instincts tells me there’s a perky turkey lurky lurkin’ nearby.” The turkey has a nice, basic design.

After an exchange of turkey calls to eat up screen time (Daws does the turkey’s turkey call higher than Huck’s version), Huck turns and trains his gun in the turkey’s face, then asks him if he has a last request. They’ve never get away with the cigarette gag on TV these days. I’m not even sure they’d get away with having Huck carry a weapon. The box, by the way, parodies L & M Cigarettes.

We all know that Huck’s a nice guy so he can’t kill the turkey “with them big, brown eyes” staring at him, so he demonstrates how to put on a blindfold so he can’t see the eyes. Naturally, the turkey grabs the gun and kaboom! Then, like Daffy, the early Bugs, Woody and countless others before him, the turkey makes a noisy, silly getaway—as silly as you can get in limited animation, anyway. It’s half-running, half-flying, which Huck imitates. Since footage-king Ken Muse is at work, he lets the chase cycle animation drag out for 17 seconds before it ends when Huck’s musket gets stuck in a tree branch.



The turkey skids to a stop (with a braking-car-on-pavement sound) and Maltese now switches gears and introduces another element into the story line. They’d never get away with the Indian stereotype on TV these days. As the turkey zooms behind a rock, Huck and the Indian match turkey calls until Huck shoots the feathers off the native’s headdress (“Uh, no. I injured a injun,” is Huck’s commentary on the matter, realising his mistake).



The Indian does a cliché war yelp as he races toward Huck in revenge. It takes Huck forever to load his musket as he adds gunpowder. But the Indian keeps running the whole time. The gag is the Indian can’t be more than a hundred feet away but all that running makes it seem like he’s coming from 10 miles. Of course, this ample time to save footage-king Muse some extra drawing by cutting back a couple of times to cycle animation of the running native. By the time the gun is fired with the stock explosion animation appearing, 50 seconds of screen time elapses. Then the ball rolls out of the musket and drops on the screaming Indian’s foot.



Huck runs away but now we’re back to the turkey hunt. The turkey’s running after Huck, who turns and aims his gun (he doesn’t need 50 seconds to reload this time). The turkey zips up a convenient tree in the background and gives us a casual, smug look from a branch high up. Huck fires a dozen musket balls skyward but the turkey just lays on the branch as gravity does its job. The balls drop just as the bow-and-arrow carrying Indian arrives to shoot Huck but gets clobbered instead.



The Indian recovers and takes a swipe with a hatchet at Huck. The hound gets out of the way in time but the hatchet takes a good chunk out of the tree, which brings it—and a worried-looking turkey—to the ground. We never see the tree crash. The camera stays focused on the spot where the turkey was in the tree and we get 5½ seconds of nothing but a shot of the background, including a camera shake to simulate impact. I wonder if Muse got paid for non-footage?



The turkey pops up out of the tree wreckage and the Indian and Huck grab the bird’s neck, like kids grabbing a baseball bat’s barrel higher and higher to see who bats first. “Now, just a sec, Chief. Why cain’t we settle this over a table—dinner table that is?” The turkey gulps. But the bird needn’t worry. Huck’s a good guy, after all. So after a shot of Huck sharpening his carving knife, we cut to the three of them around a stump with a large baloney that Huck divides for them to eat. They all make happy gobbling sounds. So they all live together in harmony in the spirit of the Thanksgiving season as the iris closes. Aw.



We all know how a background would roll over and over so a character would be in front of it umpteen times. Want to see where the ends of one background in this cartoon link up? Compare the fir trees to the right of Huck in the two drawings. The branches are suddenly darker in the second drawing. That’s where the left side of the drawing starts. It ends with the ‘same’ tree on the right side.



The sound cutter trots out—or is that turkey trots out?—the old standard chase music for us: Jack Shaindlin’s ‘Toboggan Run’ and ‘On the Run.’ We get most of the Geordie Hormel used in Huck cartoons. And our hero belts out ‘Darling Clementine’ with a Hammond organ simulating a calliope in the background. This would have come from the Omar Library.


0:00 - Huckleberry Hound sub-main title theme (Curtin).
0:14 - ZR-50 LIGHT MOVEMENT/UNDERWATER SCENIC (Hormel) – Pan over snow, Huck comes out of cabin.
0:41 - DARLING CLEMENTINE (Loose-Cadkin-Cookerly) – Huck walks; talks about loving turkey.
1:15 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) – Shot of turkey tracks, Huck walks past turkey; gives turkey call.
2:00 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Turkey responds to call; shoots Huck, ‘stuffed turkey’ line.
2:59 - LAF-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck chases turkey, turkey skids to stop.
3:28 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Turkey gobbles at Huck, Indian gobbles, gets shot, “uh, oh.”
3:58 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Indian runs toward Huck, explosion.
4:51 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Ball rolls around in musket.
4:57 - ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Ball falls on Indian’s foot, Huck runs, turkey up tree, Huck shoots musket, balls land on Indian.
5:59 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Indian raises axe, tree falls, Huck suggests dinner table, Huck slices baloney for turkey and Indian.
6:50 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Huck, Indian and turkey gobble.
6:57 - Huckleberry Hound sub-end title music (Curtin).

11 comments:

  1. The Indian running towards Huck is kind of like Avery's falling gag in "The Heckling Hare", where the fact that it goes on for so long is part of what's supposed to make it funny (with the end twist here being the Chief doesn't simply get blasted by the musket, but waylayed in the foot by the musket ball, as opposed to developing air brakes just before you hit the ground).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Happy early Thanksgiving Mr. Yowp. The cartoon stays more fun to the dialogue thanthe gags but if you want a good gag cartoon with the same theme, pick Jones' Tom Turk and Daffy. It's a great work who need a DVD release treatment. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAov1noX8M0

    ReplyDelete
  3. "The yams did it!"

    Jones' layout guy (was it Art Heinemann at that point?) was going for a stylised look with the angular line of trees. This cartoon has geometrical trees except they're in humps.

    I don't want to get off topic, but I liked 'Holiday for Drumsticks' better.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I always like to read your cartoon roundups and "Grim Pilgrim" is no exception. I have found it interesting as well that Don Messick was not used a lot after "Ruff and Reddy" and "Huckleberry Hound" for a while. Daws is given most of the characters to do and Don hardly shows up for a few years. He did not do any of the voices in "Quick Draw McGraw". He only voiced Major Major with Snagglepuss in "Yogi Bear". Eventually, though, it would be Don Messick that would do a lot of voices throughout the 70's and 80's and Daws Butler would hardly be used at all.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I don't think the Indian running torward the musket gag is very well-conceived; it's just repetiton, it doesn't really build, and the payoff is not very funny. I think it would have been funnier if the musket ball had missed him, but what do I know?

    "Footage-king Muse"; I wonder if Ken Muse would have been complimented by this?

    My biggest complaint with Muse (aside from the way he draws and animates) is his lack of imagination. Granted, there are great restrictions, but all the animators worked under the same limitations, and the good ones worked to make their cartoons funny or visually interesting. It seems as though Muse didn't even make the effort. Even when I was ten, I figured Muse worked fast, cheap, or both.

    That being said, for Muse, it's a pretty good cartoon. The poses are not very funny, but at least they're in proportion.

    ReplyDelete
  6. And the poses still work. The turkey in the tree isn't doing any huge takes, but Muse draws him so you know what's on his mind.
    I agree the nature of TV animation hurt the running-toward-Huck gag. You usually can't use stock music to help build the intensity. About all you can do is set up a climax through the pace of cutting (or maybe dialogue).
    Still, it's a pleasant enough cartoon with good designs and enough expression to work for me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Greg, Messick showed up after awhile on the Quick Draw Show but it seems at the outset H-B was looking for a different sound. Doug Young came aboard. Jean Vander Pyl started getting work. Jerry Hausner did some cartoons at the beginning then Hal Smith appeared in a string of them.
    I don't know why Daws got less work in the '60s. I marvel at his talent and he could have done the action-adventure shows; he didn't just do comedy on radio. Maybe they were worried about one guy doing too many voices; I really don't know.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I do think Muse (or someone) missed an opportunity when Huck and the Indian are gobbling at the same time: the turkey looks back and forth, but doesn't register a take. What's he thinking then? He just jumps for cover.

    ReplyDelete
  9. After seeing the two pretending they were turkeys, I thought he was getting out of the way of the inevitable gunfire (since they're both armed and ready to get him).
    Foster used to give Bugs little realisation or shock takes and I suppose he could have put one in the storyboard here. Maybe he did and Hanna took it out for timing purposes. I've seen pictures of old HB storyboards with gags crossed out and have always wondered who made the decision on that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    There's a reference from this Huckleberry Hound Thanksgiving-themed episode which I've found on the Patrick Owsley's blog (http://powsley.blogspot.com).
    And this reference is located on the following link: http://powsley.blogspot.com/2008/11/happy-thaksgiving.html.
    Enjoy to visit this link!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I could if the link had been spelled properly. It's http://powsley.blogspot.com/2008/11/happy-thanksgiving.html.
    I'd sure like to know who did the publicity art. Obviously, it's not taken from this cartoon.

    ReplyDelete