Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Stop That Pigeon

The working title of ‘Dastardly and Muttley in their Flying Machines’ was ‘Stop that Pigeon!’ That would make sense as the show’s theme was ‘Stop That Pigeon’ crooned in kind of a sing/speak by that noted vocalist Paul Winchell, in character as Dick Dastardly.

Let’s face it. Yankee Doodle Pigeon isn’t really a character. He’s a plot device. He serves the same purpose as the Roadrunner or Tweety at Warner Bros. Dastardly and Muttley serve the same purpose as Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester. They fail. That’s what the show is about and that’s what the gags are built around. And, tossed in for good measure, are some already old Hanna-Barbera standbys—a snickering dog, and a dog that has to be bribed with something (medals, as opposed to Snuffles’ dog biscuits).

But it appears the show started out with the pigeon as the main character before somebody realised Muttley and Dastardly were hugely popular and it was imperative to move them from ‘Wacky Races’ to their own animated profit-centre. I never asked Jerry Eisenberg about this, and Jerry enjoyed working on this show, because it falls outside the purview of this blog. But I bring it up because the Van Eaton Gallery was selling the art you see below by Iwao Takamoto (as I understand it). Not only is Yankee Doodle Pigeon far more attractive than he ever ended up on screen, Iwao imbues him with some personality that was virtually absent from the Muttley cartoon series.

A lot of good people worked on ‘Dastardly and Muttley.’ Mike Maltese wrote some of the segments, old hands Ken Muse, Carlo Vinci, Ed Barge and Jerry Hathcock were among the animators and Ed Benedict was one of the layout guys. But, unfortunately, the gags were starting to wear around the edges, catchphrases were run into the ground, and the animation is a lot stiffer and less interesting than what the studio produced in my favourite era—when Huck and Quick Draw were the studio’s money-makers. Still, the drawings above give a hint the show could have gone in a different, and maybe a little more satisfying, direction.


  1. Part of the problem with the show was the "wacky" secondary characters, as if someone at H-B or CBS didn't have enough faith in just a three-character show and decided that it needed to have some more sure-fire laugh-getters (The "wacky additions to the familiar cast of characters" thing would really rear its ugly head in the later Yogi revivals).

    The other 'wacky' part of the plot, the planes themselves, bear a strong resemblance to the airplanes Yosemite Sam used in "Dumb Patrol" Gerry Chiniquy's lone (and not particularly strong) WB directorial effort of five years earlier. But since that cartoon hadn't made it to TV by '69, it ended up being a bit like the Cat Concerto/Rhapsody Rabbit Oscar kerfuffle -- the Warners' cartoon came first, but since most kids saw D&M first, it made it look like Warners was cribbing gag ideas from Hanna-Barbera, and not the other way around.

  2. This is the second version I've seen of the original gensis of this show. Accoding to a documentary in the DASTARDLY & MUTTLEY DVD, the two titular characters weren't even supposed to be in it. The two other human characters were already in the show's 'bible, but the templates for who would turn out to be Dastardly and Muttley were a completely different human and dog. D&M's popularity in the previous season's WACKY RACES inspired Hanna, Barbera and Lovy to use redesigned versions of them for FLYING MACHINES.

    Animated shows at the time always used gang credits in the end titles, so it wasn't possible to know who wrote what. Maltese's penchants for elaborate, ridiculous critter-catching devices and for his characters to suffer spectacular comedic slapstick punishment are the prominent aspects of this show. But there's an almost total lack of another of his trademarks, namely his witty dialogue and character interaction (which is very evident in the contemporary WACKY RACE spinoff THE PERILS OF PENELOPE PITSTOP.

    IMO, the animation in this and the other 1968-69 H-B shows is a cut above the studio's output from five years earlier- with the notable exception of the dark, murky, stock footage-ridden SCOOBY DOO, WHERE ARE YOU. Lighter lines around the characters and Disney vet Walt Peregoy's colorful backgrounds might be factors as well.

    The 1969-70 production season was the last one in which characters were allowed to be routinely blown up, flattened, or crash after falling from great heights. Maltese would work on the following season's HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS which relied on dialogue and less aggressive pratfalling.

  3. Forgot to mention that Chuck Jones' and Maltese's Roadrunner shorts for WB was an obvious ancestor in format and gag structure for this show. So was the relative lack of personality in the pursued creature.

  4. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth and HB-fanatics from the whole world,

    Besides Michael Maltese, more two scriptwriters also were involved on the episodes from Dick Dastradly & Muttley on their Flying Machines, who are Larz Bourne and Dalton Sandifer. I remember seeing their names credited on the closing from this series.

  5. It wasn't H-B that changed their premise to include Dastardly & Muttley as the series' main two characters, it was Fred Silverman at CBS. He's the one that told HB to change to characters, and the series would be sold.

    I think everything about this series is genius. As a kid, I ate it up along with my Fruit Loops.

  6. I noticed a lot of Maltese-ian dialogue in D&MITFM I have to say, that's one reason I like it. It's almost British that way.

  7. There are various episodes from this series (produced by Hanna-Barbera in 1969), where we can recognize the animations done by Kenneth Muse and Carlo Vinci on them.
    Among the epsiodes animated by Carlo Vinci, it's included the episode The Balmy Swami, where Dick Dastardly, Muttley and the Vulture Squad appeal to a Hindu swami who comes with crazy ideas for planes to catch the smart Yankee Doodle Pidgeon.
    Seeing the Hindu swami on this episode, he looks like a Hindu version of Barney Rubble, with a long hair and looks like a hippie. It seems that Ed Benedict made the design of this character.
    Here's the link which shows the scene where the Hindu swami appears to Dick Dastardly:

    We cannot forget that Dick Dastardly & Muttley in Their Flying Machines was produced in the middle of the hippie era (1969).

  8. Howard, here's the original duo:
    Like John K. said, pseudo Disneyesque style. That's probably why I imagined Messick's impersonation of Thompson.