Saturday, February 25, 2012

Huckleberry Hound — Bird House Blues

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision - Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huck, Ziggy – Daws Butler; Iggy – Don Messick.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely, Jack Shaindlin, Geordie Hormel.
First Aired: week of February 16, 1959.
Plot: Huck tries to evict two crows from a bird house.

Writer Charlie Shows comes up with a great bit of logic near the beginning of this cartoon, when two crows take over Huckleberry Hound’s newly-constructed bird house.

Huck (shouting in front bird house): Listen here, you! I built this here house for the birds.
Iggy: For birds? Ain’t we birds, Ziggy?
Ziggy: What else?
Iggy: You sure we is birds?
Ziggy: Sure I’m sure. You can ask mom.

You can’t really argue with that, can you? The crows are absolutely correct. But Huck won’t accept that because, well, we wouldn’t have the conflict needed for a seven-minute cartoon, would we?

Bill and Joe pinned some early hopes on the two crows. The studio hadn’t built up a big stable of stars so it marketed what it thought were its top incidental characters. Iggy and Ziggy were among them; perhaps Hanna and Barbera hoped to develop them into kind of a Heckle and Jeckle. But the H-B cartoons were a lot tamer than the wise-guy Terry-Toon magpies, whose cartoons benefited from fast-paced action, something the easy-going Huck show didn’t have. It’s telling that when Warren Foster was brought in to write the second season cartoons, he kept a couple of Huck’s adversaries from the first year (Leroy the lion and Wee Willie the gorilla) but discarded the rest, including Iggy and Ziggy. They just never lived up to their potential.

This cartoon’s structure is a familiar one. Huck’s involved in a string of gags as he tries to remove the crows from his birdhouse. It’s highlighted by Carlo Vinci’s thick ink-lines, wide mouths, scowls, thick teeth, stretch-dive exits from scenes and jerky movements. I wish he had kept this style but it was not to be. You won’t see anything as distinctive in, say, Breezley and Sneezley.



The cartoon opens with a long shot on action, which seems unusual for an H-B cartoon. Huck’s putting the last coat of paint on his new, high-aloft, bird house. But there’s something different when the scene cuts to a closer shot. The house has developed rain gutters and the two crows are lazing about on the roof, biding their time until Huck has finished the bird house, supremely confident they’re able to get the best of him. They zip into the house as soon as Huck puts up the “Vacancy” sign. Then they have the exchange we mentioned above. Huck tries to argue with their logic. Charlie Shows stretches for a pun.


Huck: I mean the “cheep, cheep” type of birds.
Ziggy: Uh, Brother, we is the cheapest.

What you’ve got to admire about Huck is despite the fact he’s angry, he’s able to step away from the situation and comment on it to the audience. He turns to the camera, smiles and says “You just gotta ad-mire them fellas’ spunk.”

We’re about a third of the way through the cartoon already. Now the gags:

● Huck gives the crows ten seconds to get out. He starts counting. The crows pull apart the ladder Huck is on. He quickens his count to ten before he plummets with a crash. “I can count right fast if I have to,” he tells us. Nice reaction line by Shows; he’s got some good ones in this cartoon.

● Huck tries to pole-vault up to the crows (and spells “out” ‘o-w-t’ in the process). Ziggy squirt oil on the pole the birdhouse is sitting on. Uh, oh. Here comes a Shows rhyme. “Surprise, wise guys!” says Huck. He’s surprised as he slides down the pole. “That’s a right, slick, oily trick, fellas” rhymes Huck. Why does the dialogue sound like the title of a Ruff and Reddy cartoon? (This is a rhetorical question, folks).



● Huck tries to chop down the pole. He “plumb forgot it was iron.” Huck vibrates back to his house, singing ‘Clementine.’ Shows Rhyme Time. Iggy: “Yeah, Ziggy. He’s got a neat beat.”

● A balloon lifts Huck to the birdhouse. He blows cigar smoke inside to get the crows out. Iggy: “Who’s burnin’ trash?” Ziggy: “Not me. I like trash.” As you might guess, the cigar smoke has no effect but makes Huck sick. Ziggy takes care of that by removing the cigar from Huck’s mouth and popping the balloon with it. Huck lands with a crash against the base of the pole. “You know sumpin? I feel better already.”



● Huck lassos the birdhouse and pulls it toward him (But, but, the pole’s made of iron. How does it bend?) Iggy pulls out a knife. Shows Rhyme Time. “Unhand our home, you cur, sir.” The bird house now swings back and forth, bashing Huck deeper and deeper into the ground, interrupting every few words of Huck’s threat to the crows.

● Huck straps wings to his arms and zooms in the air toward the birdhouse. Ziggy: “Is it a bird? Is it a plane?” Iggy: “It’s a buzz bombing buzzard.” With lines that, you can see why the crows didn’t make it in show biz. They get on the roof of the birdhouse, pull it off and Huck lands inside. They slam the roof back on. Shows goes for the tired and obvious.


Iggy: This house is for the birds.
Ziggy: Yeah. But now it’s gone to the dogs.

Ah, but Huck wins. The crows are now out of the birdhouse. Huck finishes the cartoon by victoriously singing ‘Clementine’ with the disgusted birds picking it up at the end. For some reason, Huck is muffled in the shot when he’s singing inside the birdhouse, as if the intention was the dialogue was to be played while the crows were outside.



This was the final animated cartoon for the crows, but Ziggy’s voice lived on at Hanna-Barbera the following TV season as Super Snooper.

Lots of music by Bill Loose and John Seely here. For reasons that don’t make a lot of sense, Huck sings ‘Clementine’ over top of the stock music.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound Sub Main Title theme (Curtin).
0:26 - Clementine (trad.) – Huck works on bird house.
0:47 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Iggy and Ziggy on roof, zip into bird house, sweep dust into Huck’s face, Huck knocks.
1:28 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Crows in house, pull apart ladder.
2:37 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “I can count right fast”, oil can gag, Huck walks with hatchet.
3:26 - Clementine overtop of Hi-Q
3:40 - TC 201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “I hates to do this,” Huck tries to chop iron pole, blows cigar smoke into bird house, Huck moans.
4:11 - Clementine overtop
4:55 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “What was that,” Ziggy breaks balloon, rope scene, Huck on roof.
6:10 - ZR 48 FAST MOVEMENT (Hormel) – “In the air,” Huck flies into bird house.
6:42 - TC 301 ZANY WALTZ (Loose-Seely) – Huck in bird house, Crows talk to each other.
6:55 - Clementine (trad.) – Huck and crows sing Clementine.
7:10 - Huck Sub End title theme (Curtin).

Yowp Note: All the Season One Huckleberry Hound cartoons have now been reviewed on this blog.

7 comments:

  1. I was waiting for you to review this one! This one has some the best dialogue Charles Shows ever came up with. "Bird type birds"

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  2. IMO this is a superior follow-up to the crows' first appearance. Their personalities seem to have been fleshed out a bit, reflective of the often funny dialogue. "Not me- I LIKE trash," cracks me up every time. Also, "Is ready Ig?" "Is ready, Zig." And how they disgustedly hum "Clementine" at the end.

    The pacing of the blackout gags seems quite improved from early in the season, too. But what is the point of making Huck bounce THREE times off the ground after sliding down the greased pole?

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  3. Despite having a couple of his tacky couplet/limerick things, I think this one has some of Charlie Shows' best, or atleast funniest dialogue. Thoes cheap bird-type birds are at their best.

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  4. Laid-back but still enjoyable Season 1 Huck. The leisurely nature of the Season 1 Shows-Gordon cartoons are an asset, in hindsight, when you know what was to come at the studio. While there may be room to fill in more story and/or gags, there's not the obsession there would be by 1962 to fill the cartoon up with five minutes of non-stop wackiness (even when there's nothing to be wacky about), and actually allow the adversaries of the moment to show a little personality via a few added animated looks or subtle movements, and Daws' voice work.

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  5. Probably my favourite Shows cartoon is Huck with Crazy Coyote, but this one’s got some good material; Charlie just tries a bit hard in the rhyme department at times.

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  6. I have a quick question. Are all of these musical "bits" used in these cartoons public domain?

    Thanks!

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  7. Hi, Anon. No, they are not. If they were, all the cartoons they were on would be on DVD by now.

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