Saturday 19 September 2009

Huckleberry Hound — Rustler Hustler Huck

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds – Vera Hanson; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Huck, TV announcer, Cow – Daws Butler; Narrator, Rustler – Don Messick.
Production E-34, Huckleberry Hound Show K-006.
First aired: week of Monday, November 3, 1958.
Plot: Huck guards cows from rustler, who tries to get rid of him.

If someone wanted to water down Tex Avery’s Droopy and turn him into a TV cartoon, this is the one you’d get.

Other than Jack Shaindlin’s stock music substituting for Scott Bradley’s score, every aspect of this cartoon owes a debt to Tex. A less-chipper version of the Huck voice was used in Billy Boy (both by Daws Butler). The cartoon was laid out by Ed Benedict, who contributes some character designs like you might see in Deputy Droopy. Vera Ohman (who married production supervisor Howard Hanson) constructed the backgrounds in Cellbound. And while writer Charlie Shows didn’t work for Avery, he borrowed the ‘the bad guy can’t get rid of the good guy’ concept of several Droopy cartoons; in fact Avery used the idea in The Blow-Out (1936), his second short for Leon Schlesinger.

Of course, Avery’s pacing and shock-extremes are missing in this cartoon, so if you’re going to compare it with Tex’s work, it’ll fail pretty miserably (as do many theatrical cartoons). But if you look at it on its own, it features some great colour schemes, an oval-eyed villain (and oval-eyed cows), and a flat, sad-eyed version of Huck that’d never get made even a year later because someone would think it was off-model. So, there’s enough to enjoy.

A pan over a background as Don Messick narrates generally opens a lot of the first season Huck cartoons and this one’s no exception. The pan’s shorter than usual here, but the shaded mesas and the night-time shades of blue are really appealing.

After the pan, the camera trucks into the background and the shot dissolves into another pan shot of Huck watching TV. It’s a western. Not only is a bit of irony, but it’s a bit of satire about the ubiquitousness of westerns on TV in the ‘50s (why, it’s Avery once more; he used that as a running joke in TV of Tomorrow and elsewhere). And you’ve got to love the goofy TV-range-fan combination Benedict invented.

Huck’s anticipation of watching the Late Late Show is interrupted by bullets. “Rustlers again!” Huck remarks as he shuts off the set. Look at Huck’s mouth here. Two lines are all that’s needed to communicate Huck’s pissed off. You can’t get simpler than that. (Could this be Mike Lah’s work?) Incidentally, Huck’s naked except for a gun. Normally he’d be designed with clothes that allow the head and the body to be on separate cells with none the wiser.

Huck tells the rustler to drop the cow (which emits a closed-eye “moo” during a break in the dialogue) and the rustler obliges. On top of our hero. But, unusual for a Huck cartoon, that’s the last bad thing that happens to him. Animals, aliens, Powerful Pierre: Huck comes out the worst time after time, even in the end in a lot of cases. Not in the rest of this cartoon; the bad guy takes the pounding and loses. Like, you know, in a Droopy cartoon. And, even more baffling, there’s nothing in this short that explains why it suddenly happens. It’s a real hole in Charlie Shows’ narrative structure.

First, the rustler tries the cow-hidden-under-the-overcoat. The gag isn’t all that funny. All Huck does is realise the “stranger” is the rustler by spotting a tail protruding from the overcoat, pulling it off and firing at him. The design is the best part again, with the cow looking rather forlorn with the drooping eye-lids.

The flat-designed villain comes up with a unique way to steal the cattle. The colour in the initial shot setting up the scene is great; you can see how the moonlight is reflected in different colours on the rock in the foreground. The villain ties roller-skates to the dour-looking cows and shoves them past a sleeping Huck into a waiting truck (with an ‘HB’ license plate). Ah, but Huck is in the truck, too. With a gun to fire at the bad guy.

By the way, what’s with cartoon characters roller-skating with their hands behind their back? Ken Muse draws Yogi that way in Runaway Bear (though the title card for that cartoon does not).

An “old injun trick” is the rustler’s next move, disguising himself as a cow. But Huck thinks (or is he just faking being dumb?) that he forgot to brand the heifer and gleefully advises “This branding iron won’t hurt. Much.” This gives Charlie Shows a chance to add his obligatory ass joke as the hot iron sears through the cow costume, and the rustler runs away to the strains of Shaindlin’s On the Run.

Brushing up on an instructional manual while cooling off, the rustler reads what we can see on the screen—a page that says “Rule 1. Get Rid of All Cowhands.” So he uses a lasso to do so. Another Droopy gag follows, except the churn-it-out nature of TV spoils it. The talkative rustler drops Huck off the cliff, but the hound immediately, and illogically, walks onto the scene.

The timing of Huck’s return is great, but you know if Benedict et al were still at MGM, Avery would can the inane dialogue (Scott Bradley would do the talking), quicken the scene by at least three-fold, and then have an even more outrageous take by the rustler.

Another Shows-ass-gag and more Droopy in the next bit. The rustler ties Huck to an arrow and shoots him over the plane. But our hero immediately walks into the scene again and, well, Freud might have something to say about the finale. Huck’s walk is on ones, then the rest of the bit is on twos. Here are Marshall’s last 14 drawings:

Charlie Shows now tries a Dumb-Hounded-type build-up gag. (More Avery. Monotonous, isn’t it?) The bad guy nails Huck inside a box, put the box in the safe, and dumps the safe down a reddish-coloured well. But before the villain say “That’s that”, he spots Huck on top of the well, humming and drying off with a towel. Since this is an early cartoon, Daws is doing some generic melody instead of Clementine.

The climax gag comes as the rustler tosses Huck inside a conveniently placed rocket, runs to the control room to send the missile into orbit, but Huck is somehow standing next to him.

The rustler gives up. “You outsmarted me single-handed,” he remarks. Uh, not quite. Huck had help from his brothers, Ed, Ted, Jed, Ned and Fred, who all blink when their names are called out. Yes, multiple Hucks, just like multiple Droopys in Northwest Hounded Police by, yes, Tex Avery.

Daniel Goldmark, the fine author/musicologist, has identified a mystery cue for me in this cartoon by Spencer Moore. I don't have that Hi-Q "D" series reel in my collection.

0:00 - Huck sub main-title/Clementine theme (trad./Curtin).
0:26 - ZR-39 WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Huck watches TV, sees bullets.
1:03 - L-31 SOMBER MOVEMENT (Moore) – Rustler drops cow on Huck, Huck looks around.
1:48 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Rustler with cow in overcoat, Rustler pushes cows on skates in truck.
3:14 - LAF-4-6 PIXIE PRANKS (Shaindlin) – Rustler pushes in more cows, Huck shoots at him.
4:37 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck walks to cow to brand it.
4:42 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Rustler runs away.
4:55 - LAF-4-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Rustler ropes Huck, tosses him in well, puts him on rocket.
6:43 - ZR-39 WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Rustler quits, meets Huck’s brothers.
7:10 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).


  1. Great analysis between this cartoon and the MGM/Avery gags. It showed here last wednesday and i notice lots of similarities and gags behind this despite their limited budget. The ending is really my favorite part because they make sense but i didn't know it was used in Northwest Hounded Police 12 years ago. Great work! The quality print is more outstanding than in the TV airings.

  2. I was watching last Wednesday as well. It didn't have the credits, so I thought it was a Carlo Vinci episode. I wasn't even thinking about Droopy when I was watching, but the similarities are certainly there, unfortunatley.

  3. In places, it's got that angular look Carlo liked, doesn't it? On the other hand, it's got those head bobs that Lew used (like when the cow says 'moo').
    In some cartoons, it's tough to believe the credits. The Stout Trout is creditted to Marshall, but looks to my decidedly amateur eyes like Vinci and Lah worked on it. Then again, overall, this really looks like an Ed Benedict cartoon and I can picture Marshall hewing to Benedict's layouts. I wonder if Lah didn't do part of this cartoon, too.
    Originally, the review was going to talk about Benedict but as I watched more and more of the cartoon, and saw all the re-used Avery stuff, I tossed it out and started over.
    For whatever reason, Charlie Shows strayed from the usual format where Huck gets the crap knocked out of him, then smiles at the camera and praises the guy for doing it to him. After the bit with the dropped cow, all the bad things happen to the bad guy (for no reason), and then half-way through the cartoon, the gags are on the ubiquitousness theme (for no reason). In an Avery cartoon, at least there'd be some set-up for all this stuff happening the way it does (same for Jones and Freleng, for that matter). All we get here is Huck saying "Smarty aleck rustler" and then the dynamic changes. In fairness to Shows, he didn't have the time to write these like Avery and Heck Allen did. But even a lame line like "He's really going to wish he hadn't done that" would have set up the rest of the cartoon better.

  4. Great Job Yowp!! Dead on about the MGM/Tex Avery/Droopy parallels. Also in " Hookey Daze " Truant Officer Huck " used the same slow walk with his legs out in front of the rest of his body that his " Wolf " character used in " Billy Boy " and a few others.