Saturday, 25 July 2009

Huckleberry Hound — Postman Panic

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layouts – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, Bulldog – Daws Butler; Dog, Homeowner – Don Messick.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely, Jack Shaindlin, George Hormel, Spencer Moore.
Production E-54, Show K-022.
First aired: week of Monday, February 23, 1959.
Plot: Postman Huck tries to get past snickering dog to deliver letter to Mr. Jones. It turns out Jones lives next door. Huck now has a different dog to get past.

As mentioned in the post below, this is one of those early cartoons in which Hanna-Barbera featured a dog whose response to someone’s misfortune was to wheezily snicker in a three-quarters head shot at the camera. Joe or Bill didn’t seem to realise what they had right away, as it took several years before a starring cartoon character was built around a dog with a snicker. And then another character. And another.

Otherwise, this is a pretty routine cartoon with a few neat poses by Carlo Vinci. It’s built around one of the principles of the cartoon universe—a dog that doesn’t act like a dog isn’t treated like a dog by other dogs. So, though Huck is a dog, he’s treated as a human stand-in as he’s walking upright, talks and is employed by the U.S. Postal Service. The dog vs. dog-that-is-but-isn’t plot was used in each of Huck’s three seasons.

It starts with Don Messick’s “intoning” narrator voice (Don used several different narration styles) announcing “This picture is dedicated to...” which was an opening device Warren Foster carried on when he took over the Huck series. It also has a rare background problem. Hanna-Barbera cartoons are famous for characters going past the same tree, lamppost or table six or seven times and unless you’re paying attention, you don’t notice. But at the beginning of this cartoon, the background jerks when Huck is walking as if the two ends of the background drawing used in the cycle didn’t quite match. It’s tough to see below, but you’ll notice before Huck passes the door in the frame to the left, the divide on the upper window is slanted. In the frame to the right, not only is the divide straight, there is less lawn and more pavement below it. You can see the pavement “move” on screen as Huck walks right. It actually happens twice.

The narrator asks the question “Speaking of dogs, I’ll be doggoned if I know why the poor postman has always been considered fair game by the dog of the house.” And that sets up our story. The unnamed white beagle jumps out from behind a bush, readies himself with a growly “On your mark! Get set! Go!” and chases Huck off the property before he can deliver a letter. And then we get the snicker. While Hanna-Barbera later put the snicker in Muttley, the line the dog says to himself is done by Messick in the voice he would use for Astro on the Jetsons, though this dog doesn’t start each word with the letter ‘r’.

So Huck tries again. He pats the dog, assuring us his bark is worse than his bite. That’s before the bite. “On second thought...” says Huck as he addresses his viewers without any pain. He tries to get the dog to release his hand by pulling out a dog biscuit, but takes so long making the offer, the dog grabs the bone-shaped treat, swallows it and resumes putting his claws on Huck’s arm. Carlo put together a nice little sequence of drawings here that takes up about a second of screen time. Check out four of them.

Next, Huck turns the letter into a paper airplane. The tricky dog responds by sticking his head out the mail slot and blowing the letter back. Huck responds in kind in a cute little sequence, featuring one of Carlo’s signature poses where the character leads with his stomach with the head pointing up.

Huck and the dog have a tennis-like match with the letter, getting closer and closer to each other as the pace quickens. It ends when the dog sucks in the letter and an indignant Huck fishes it out of the dog. Repeat animation follows as the dog chases Huck off the property then snickers.

I’ve always wondered if Stan Freberg influenced Daws Butler, or vice versa, or if it was a little bit of both. Daws lifted his Mr. Jinks voice from Freberg after the two worked together. Daws also loved bending his vowels when doing Huck, especially ‘u.’ In this scene, Daws does it to the dog when he exclaims “Just a darn minute, you!” Freberg did the exact same thing as the Texan in his record of ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ when he yelled “You smart-aleck Yankee drummer, you!”

Huck decides to strap on a pair of roller skates and barrel past the dog to the house. The home must have the world’s longest sidewalk, as Huck skates past the same tree nine times. But the cagy canine pushes a makeshift ramp into Huck’s path, and the postman goes up it, and sails over the house, landing on an equally-long sidewalk behind it (skating past the same tree 14 times). Huck tells us “Three-point landing, folks.” But then we get a telegraphed ending with a cut to a shot of a mailbox, wherein Huck comes to an ironic rest.

Huck decides to use the mailbox as a shield but the dog, somehow, has a key to the back door of the metal box. Perhaps writer Charlie Shows gave it to him so Charlie could indulge in one of his patented ass-pain gags. We also get a painting error for Huck isn’t coloured blue as he runs away in the mailbox; he has the same white colour as the dog.

Charlie loves those ass jokes we get one again in the next scene as the determined Huck ignores the pain of another dog bite and delivers the letter.

However, it turns out he’s got the wrong house. Mr. Jones lives next door. So, that’s where Huck heads next. In the meantime, the dog calls the bulldog next door to alert him.

“Oh, no, not another goddone dog!” moans Huck as he goes through the same run cycle again, and the whole process starts over again, to the familiar snicker of his original antagonist.

Two of Bill Loose and John Seely’s better-known melodies from the Capitol Hi-Q library (‘L’ series, reel two) take up a good portion of the soundtrack. We also get four dum-dee-dum versions of Clementine out of Huck; only one of them is over top of the stock music.

0:00 - THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SONG (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows) – Opening Titles.
0:28 - ZR 51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Geordie Hormel) – Mailman Huck delivers letter, goes to second home, dog chases after him.
0:52 - Clementine over top (trad.)
1:14 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Jack Shaindlin) – Dog chases Huck from yard, snickers.
1:27 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Dog chomps on Huck’s arm.
2:14 - Clementine a capella (trad.) – Huck drags dog along sidewalk.
2:21 - TC 300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck makes paper airplane out of letter.
2:44 - TC 202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Letter flies back and forth, Huck pulls it out of dog, chased off property; Dog snickers.
3:42 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck approaches home on roller skates.
3:57 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Dog sets up teeter board; Huck flies over house, hits mailbox.
4:41 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Dog snoozes.
4:49 - Clementine a capella (trad.) – Huck in mailbox approaches home.
5:02 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Dog opens mailbox, chomps on Huck, chases him away.
5:32 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Spencer Moore) – Huck bitten by dog but reaches door.
5:55 - TC 303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck is at the wrong house, dog phones bulldog next door.
6:36 - Clementine a capella (trad.) – Huck approaches Jones house.
6:56 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Bulldog chases Huck, dog snickers for a third time.
7:10 -THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SONG (Hanna-Barbera-Curtin-Shows) – End titles.

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