Saturday, 20 March 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Freeway Patrol

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna. Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Story Sketches and Dialogue – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator – Don Messick; Huck, Mugsy the Robber, Bird – Daws Butler.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-007, Production E-40.
First Aired: week of November 10, 1958.
Plot: Fleeing bank robber tries to outwit Huckleberry Hound of the Freeway Patrol.

Satire comes in all flavours, including in cartoons. Tex Avery used (among other things) kind of an outlandish ridicule to make fun of things like movie travelogues and automobiles. Paramount’s satires of suburban and modern behaviour circa 1960 were more cynical. But Hanna-Barbera, perhaps considering they were aiming primarily at kids (but hoping spending-happy adults would watch), went in more for a gentle lampoon.

Television was becoming a target of cartoons as the ‘50s wore on. The Huckleberry Hound Show followed the trend, using a parody of ‘Dragnet’ as the opening for Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, and then turning their eyes on ‘Highway Patrol’ when this cartoon was made.

Well, they borrow from the title. Huck doesn’t act at all like Broderick Crawford. Through the cartoon, he’s sleepy and dumb at times but ultimately in control. And then the running gag re-appears to end it all, so Charlie Shows, Joe Barbera and Dan Gordon have a nicely structured story here.

There are other things familiar here. There are those evergreens with the branches that flip up like Marlo Thomas’ hair on ‘That Girl.’ Since the same trees grow in cartoons by various background artists, I have to presume Dick Bickenbach was responsible for them in layout. He’s also designed some more late ‘50s cars with tail-fins but no doors. He’s also responsible for the cloverleaf that is the opening shot of the cartoon; later, there’s a road-level view with streetlights the same as he created for the “super-highway” in Yogi’s Baffled Bear. And the animated sunburst effect that’s used for disembodied speech, in this case out of a car radio, showed up in a number of Hanna-Barbara cartoons for several years. Ken Muse also drew it in Jinks’ Mice Device.

The opening is familiar, too. Huck cartoons, even when Warren Foster took over from Charlie Shows in season two, began with a narrator setting up the premise. Don Messick uses a stentorian style this time, perhaps because Highway Patrol featured the intoning Art Gilmore as its narrator. Gilmore has a Hanna-Barbera connection, by the way. He plugged Kellogg’s over the original intro and extro of The Huckleberry Hound Show (not the version heard on various CDs). The Messick narrator informs us millions of motoring Americans are protected “by a special dedicated group of officers—the Freeway Patrol. Alert. Eagle-eyed. Ready for any emergency” Naturally, the shot is of officer Huck dozing off at the wheel while driving. The opening also sets up the cartoon’s running gag. The dispatcher sends Huck (in the inevitable ‘Car 13’) to investigate a stalled truck. The camera focuses on an underpass as the police car races inside it. The camera shakes. We hear Huck report to headquarters and then the camera cuts to the gag shot.

Huck: I found that stalled truck. Send new patrol car.
Dispatcher: Oh, no. That’s three this week and it’s only Tuesday.

Now that it’s been established that Huck is inept and snoozy, the plot can unfold. There’s a bank robber driving a 1958 Bickenbach on the freeway. The narrator informs us “The Freeway Patrol springs into action.” Mind you, it takes a bit of shouting for the dispatcher for that happen, since he has to wake the sleeping Huck. Even then, there’s a delay as the new Car 13 gets into another smash-up.

The crook encounters “a roadblock” which is nothing more than Huck standing on the road like a school-crossing guard. Now we get comedy out of the situation more than the dialogue. The crook mocks concern about a robber being on the loose and shows his driver’s license, complete with mask and criminal occupation listed.

Huck: How comes you’re wearin’ a mask?
Robber: Uh, er, I, I’m the Masked Hornet on television.
Huck: Well, let’s see here now. So you’re a TV star.
Robber (bashfully): Heh heh heh. I didn’t think you’d recognise me.
Huck: Gosh! Can I have your autograph, Mr. Masked Hornet?
Robber: Anything for me fans.

There are some cartoons that Huck is so incredibly and consistently stupid that it’s annoying (Huck’s Hack is one). But the gag here is so silly that I’ll go along with it. Especially considering how idiotic star-struck fans can be in real life.

After the crook drives away, Huck looks at the autograph book and realises he’s been had. So the chase is on.

First, the crook puts on his brake. The sudden rear-end stop wrecks another Car 13 (but doesn’t scratch the bad guy’s car. Sturdy, those ’58 Bickenbachs). “Short car, ain’t it?” remarks Huck to the camera, emulating a sign in a Tex Avery cartoon. Next, the crook puts up a detour sign, which works in any cartoon. There’s a weird bit of topography here. Huck’s supposed to be on a freeway. He’s in the country in one shot and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a city block in the next. Oh, well. Let’s go along with that, too.

Huck drives onto a hoist in a garage which the crooks sends through the roof and into the sky. But nothing bothers Huck. He looks at a passing bird, smiles and remarks “That’s a right purty view from up here.” I like the way Bick turns the car at an angle; all we’ve seen through the whole cartoon is side views to accomodate the right-to-left roll of the background cells.

How does Huck get down? That’s left to your imagine.

As the narrator tells us: “Well, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and fool all of the people some of the time, but a sharp cookie can fool ol’ Huck most any old time.” The robber gets a flat so he whips out a housewife-y wig and pulls the woman-in-distress routine. We get the sob story tune ‘Winter Tales’ in the background as the ‘lady’ wails how helpless she is. Yup, Huck gets fooled. He starts to fix the tire and the crook takes off in his car. Huck turns to the camera and says, “You know, I just never could understand women.”

Ah, but the chase continues. Huck gets in the crook’s 1958 Bickenbach (to save animation, the wheels don’t turn; the car is stationary and the background rolls over and over). We reach the climax scene, with unnecessary narration augmenting the crook’s scheme to stop Huck—by raising a drawbridge. Huck drives right into the sky and, casually knowing he’s in full control of the situation (he isn’t stupid after all, you see), lands right on the smugly laughing crook. Chase over. Case closed.

“And so we say ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol! Guardians of our highways. Protectors of our...” The narration’s interrupted by an on-screen crash.

The narrator tries it again. “As we were saying, ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol. You might slow ‘em down, but you can’t stop ‘em.” The camera pulls back as Huck toodles down the street on a child’s scooter.

Daws re-used incidental voices, and I’m pretty sure he used the robber’s again on Fractured Fairy Tales and various petty crooks on The Flintstones. It’s distinct enough that my guess is he based it on some actor in old crime movies.

There’s not too much music by Bill Loose and John Seely for a change. We get a rare appearance (maybe the second) of the ‘Tick Tock/Pop Goes the Weasel’ mash-up (L-992) by Spencer Moore.

0:00 - The Huckleberry Hound Song (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) – Main titles.
0:26 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) – shot of freeway, Huck races to into overpass, crash sound.
1:09 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck talks with headquarters.
1:19 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Robber fires gun, headquarters calls Huck.
1:40 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – Dispatcher wakes up Huck.
2:16 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck reports after crash, Masked Hornet gag.
3:32 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “Hornet” drives away, robber brakes and Huck crashes.
4:23 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Detour set up, Huck sent into sky. from gag.
5:00 - L-992 ANIMATION CHILDREN (Moore) – “Right purty view”, robber gets flat.
5:11 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Robber puts on wig, Huck stops.
5:22 - SF-? HEARTS AND FLOWERS (arr. Vic Lamont) – “Woman” gives sob story, drives off in police car.
5:40 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck chases robber, flies into sky from drawbridge, lands on crook.
6:42 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – “So we say ‘hat’s off’...”, Huck rides away on kid’s scooter.
7:11 – The Huckleberry Hound Song (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) – End titles.


  1. This was great one! One of the earliest proofs that an Autorack truck is truly the vehicle for comedy! 'Hey there Yogi bear' reinforced the movement.

    I quite like that Winter Tales music.

  2. Charlie Shows was pretty hit-and-miss, but Daws could really make the lines fly. Personal favorite: "Yeah... we know: SEND A NEW PATROL CAR!"

  3. This is a dear friend I spent weekday afternoons with after school who has slowly
    faded into a sweet memory.

  4. Oh yeah Zartok! The Winter Tales music is so beautiful which very dramatic. I am amazed how this Capitol music used in this cartoons series are look real music compared what we do now.

    The entire episode is hilarious too. Hilarious from begins to the end.

  5. Daws Butler seems to have used the robber voice for the hysterical Francois cat actor ["cact-tor?:)] playing the bad feline in the TV show of the title seen in "Mark of the Mouse", which you've already covered. "Highway Patrol" itself has yet another HB connection-composer David Rose, using the name "Ray Llewllyn"[sic?], so says many references, and was used in modern day comic US radio personality Phil Hendrie's "Jay Santos" chaarcter's announcement [the show itself, an odd duck thatg debuted around 1993, is like a Jerry Springer etc. type show with the reversal of the old warhorse of gag phone calling, with the recpient, the host Phil, BEING the gag, voicing these different guests. jay Santos is the "would be cop" with the Highway Patrol a talk show with old time characters getting REAL callers angry and calling up ][supposedly not "in on it"..]

    Daws's robber voice as a "woman" is funny enough...Also, Huck catchs himself calling himself a "cop" and corrects himself and the self-ref to "policeman"..

    "Whenever the laws of any country are broken,
    a duly authorized force steps in
    It may be called:
    The militia
    The Rangers
    or the Highway Patrol

  6. Pokey, please clarify your comment. Is "Jay Santos" from the Phil Hendrie show supposed to sound like David Rose the composer or Daws Butler's robber voice from "Freeway Patrol"? I'm confused, Mark Kausler

  7. Anon.:"
    Is "Jay Santos" from the Phil Hendrie show supposed to sound like David Rose the composer or Daws Butler's robber voice from "Freeway Patrol"? "

    Neither, Mark, :Jay" is a take of on a typical highway patorl officer and the theme music by David Rose is used.:)

  8. The "do the same thing over and over again with the same disastrous result" has a pretty decent pedigree when used correctly with a dumb character -- Avery used it at Warners with George jumping off the cliff three times in "Of Fox and Hounds" and with Daws and the 'damaged pants' gag in "Three Little Pups" -- but it has to be done with skill to avoid making the character annoyingly dumb so that the repeated actions are more irritating than funny. Daws' voice here and the character's laid-back personality make the repeated patrol car crash gags work, because as with "Pups", its the reserved reaction to the situation that makes the crashes funny.

  9. " Freeway Patrol " was one of the first " Huck " shorts I ran for my two sons when they were small. The gag that put both of them on the floor was Daws' female voice " Well Goodness Gracious, YES!!." They were never able to get past that point without losing it!. Personally, I loved the parody of the " Highway Patrol " announcer who just like Don Messick's narrator, would talk directly to the criminal at times. " Don't bet on it, robber...." If you grew up in the " Highway Patrol " era, or caught it in re-runs, you can really appreciate " Freeway Patrol".

  10. Not to nitpick, but one minor omission in the voice credits. I seem to remember the Patrol Chief disgustedly saying in reaction to Huck's collision with him (and in Butler's standard Jackie Gleason imitation) "Oh, no! It WOULD have to be you!" or along those lines. The same voice, or close to it, may have been used for the Dispatcher.

  11. Thanks, Howard. My notes say "dispatcher" but something got lost in the cut and paste onto the blog.
    It's not quite his Gleason. The voice is more through the nose than the chest.

  12. Lovely close draw of flat wide whitewall tyre on Plymouth's back. On "Lion-hearted Huck" (ep. 02) another flat tyre on Huck's Jeep.