Saturday, 1 May 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Huck’s Hack

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Don Patterson; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Story – Warren Foster; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervisor – Howard Hanson.
Voice cast: Huck, Cop – Daws Butler; Narrator, Robber, Newscaster – Hal Smith.
Production E-105.
First Aired: week of Feb. 22, 1960 (rerun, week of Aug. 1, 1960).
Plot: Huck’s first passenger as a taxi driver turns out to be a bank robber.

The true test of a good character is you know what their character is. Say the name “Sherlock Holmes” and just about anyone can describe his many traits. Or “Robin Hood.” Or even “Bugs Bunny.”

Cartoon characters are clearly defined in the minds of animation fans. So clearly, you can read debates and essays about someone in a cartoon not being “in character.” Daffy Duck in the Daffy-Speedy debacles, for one. Some argue the “loser” Bugs or “unmotivated heckler” Bugs are not in character.

And that brings us to this cartoon and why I don’t like it.

Huckleberry Hound has a number of easily-defined characteristics; if he didn’t, he never would have become so popular. He’s a little slow at times, and a little inept. But, to me, Huck is not completely moronic. He is in this cartoon.

As a five-year-old (probably younger), it didn’t take much for me to see someone dressed in a stereotypical robber’s outfit and has a hideout is a robber and not a “bank executive.” Yet a viewer is supposed to believe Huck can’t tell what a little child can tell?

Sorry, Warren Foster. I’m not buying it.

Even the dimwitted Baby Huey at Famous Studios catches on that he’s being duped by a fox. Huck doesn’t even have that going for him. At the end, he has to be told by a newspaper he’s been dealing with a robber. And his Huey-like stupidity is the running gag of the cartoon.

The odd thing is Foster also wrote the really funny ‘The Unmasked Avenger’ where Huck’s pretending to be “a stupid, churlish dolt.” So he doesn’t seem to have been particular about what Huck is and isn’t as yours truly, age 5 (or less).

Foster gets into the cartoon the same way Charlie Shows used to in the first season—with an off-screen narrator. He opens a bunch of cartoons with the phrase “This picture is dedicated to...” and this one is no exception. We’re told it’s dedicated to “...the taxi drivers; those brave men who expertly pilot their passengers safely through the hazards of today’s crowded highway.” By the way, look at how the clouds have the same textured colour in Quick Draw’s Scat, Scout, Scat that we profiled on the blog. Someone can let me know if someone used that as a specific trait when doing backgrounds, or if it’s a product of the layout artist’s feverish brain.

The first gag is almost a given, considering Huck’s driving skills in Freeway Patrol. He’s so busy chatting with the camera about keeping his eyes on the road that he hits something. We don’t know what. The camera shakes and there are crash sound effects but the cab keeps on going before he picks up a fare.

Foster now borrows from his Bugs and Thugs (1954) wherein Muggsy tells the talkative Bugs Bunny to shut up and then, when he doesn’t, to “shut up shuttin’ up.” Except we get “Knock off knockin’ it off!” as Huck rambles about pegging the obvious robber for a “professional man” and a “bank executive.” Look at the expression Don Patterson gives Huck in these two drawings.

The cartoon features an animation shortcut Patterson used in Yogi’s Bewitched Bear. It’s the legless walk cycle. A character’s upper body is moved up and down like a wave across a background with a little scrunching sound to simulate the foot noise. It’s an eight-frame cycle with the seventh drawing held for two frames. It’s tough to judge in stills so you have to compare the robber’s height to the TV antennas.

The robber tosses a brick through a window; we just hear it the smash because there’s no need to spend money animating it. I like the blues in the background here. The robber strolls in to grab some loot while Huck says “Poor feller. Forgot his keys.” Then the alarm goes off, the robber tells Huck to go to “the hideout”, which our hero thinks is a nightclub, and still doesn’t clue in after a gun is put to his head. Or when a radio news bulletin states a robber is in a taxi. How can Huck be that dumb?

Foster adds an Avery-esque touch to the plot to move the second part of the cartoon. The robber can’t get rid of Huck. You see, the crook went inside the hideout without bothering to pay the $2.30 cab fare. The dopey Huck thinks he just forgot and tries to collect. A fist greets his first request. Then a stove dropped from above.

“Hey, you in the stove!” yells a cop in the best line of the cartoon. The cop asks if a man just ran out of his cab. Huck, with his eyes crossed to accent his stupidity, explains it was someone who owes him cab fare.

Officer: You keep an eye on the house. I’ll call the squad. We’ll get him—dead or alive.
Huck: Shuckins. I don’t really need a poe-lice squad to collect my two dollars and 30 cents.

So Huck goes inside the hideout where the robber’s counting his loot. “Mr. Banker,” he keeps calling him as he asks for his fare. The robber puts a revolver in his nose (with the mandatory horn-honking sound effect) and tells Huck him he knows too much (apparently the robber’s pretty clueless, too) and he’s going to let him have it. And Huck is still too dumb to figure out he’s dealing with a robber.

Their conversation is interrupted by off-screen sirens. The robber goes to look out the window. But he doesn’t run. He uses a slow, medium-shot walk cycle (this one with legs) we’ve seen throughout the cartoon. The cops give him 10 seconds to surrender with the money. I think the layout/background people are going for a spotlight effect with the brown stripes here. Dopey Huck is still going on about his cab fare.

The robber and the cops are engaged in some old-style cinema gunplay. “I’d better stop this before someone gets hurt,” says Huck. And then he still goes on about the cab fare, telling the cops from the window “all this ruckus over $2.30 is ridickuluss.” Evidently the police are fed up with Huck’s stupidity as much as I am because they fire at him in the window. Huck does a silent-filmish jump-into-the-air fright take and we hear the familiar Hanna-Barbera bongo-run sound effect.

Finally, Huck decides to “stop this for the banker’s own good”, whips out a wrench (he’s carrying a wrench?) and clobbers the crook on the head.

We now find ourselves the following day in the final scene. Huck reads aloud a newspaper headline we can see for ourselves and tells us about the $500 reward he’s collected, then cries because he left the meter running in his cab and the amount came to $490. But why would he have to pay? He’s not the fare. And if he owns his own cab, why would it matter? Oh, well. It’s a cartoon not a documentary.

Fortunately, Foster doesn’t seem to have gone with the “stupid Huck” too much more after this cartoon. He did it again two cartoons later with ‘Science Friction’ (a much more attractively-designed cartoon, too) but after that he seems to have settled on using Huck as a guy for whom things just don’t work out quite right or according to plan. It’s a much funnier kind of Huck to me. And more appropriate to his character, too.

I mentioned the kind of clouds that are only found in some Hanna-Barbera cartoons about this era. There are a couple of other background things which I don’t know are specific to one artist or layout guy. You can see the wall shadow in this frame as well as elsewhere in the cartoon. If anyone can tell me if a specific technique was used to make the shadows, please comment. And you also see what I call the “Hanna-Barbera liver spots.” They’re little ovals on the ground or pavement which are supposed to be stones and, I gather, are there to break up the visual monotony.

Noticeable by his absence in this cartoon is Don Messick. Whether he was busy voicing those crappy Spunky and Tadpole cartoons, I don’t know, but Hal Smith was called in to be the secondary voice on several Huck cartoons that aired within weeks of each other, like ‘Pet Vet’ and ‘Piccadilly Dilly.’ It’s possible the voice track for all them was done in one session. Smith demonstrates a talent for a straight read that he doesn’t show often in cartoons. He has a very easy-sounding, pleasant, opening narration.

Some of Spencer Moore’s music in Hi-Q reels L 5 and 6 make up a good portion of the soundtrack here. What’s odd is two of Jack Shaindlin’s standard chase themes—‘Toboggan Run’ and ‘On the Run’—aren’t used as chase music at all. ‘Shopping Day’ was one of the Bill Loose-John Seely “domestics” that was used on the Huck and Yogi cartoons starting in the second season.

0:00 - Huck sub main title theme (Hoyt Curtin)
0:14 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Geordie Hormel) – Long shot of cab driving on streets.
0:26 - TC-437 SHOPPING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Huck talks to audience; crashes; picks up robber.
1:15 - L-80 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Robber gets into cab.
1:17 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – “Knock off knockin’ it off” dialogue in cab.
1:54 - creepy, echoey muted trumpet music (?) – Robber goes into bank; tells Huck to move it.
2:21 - LA-5-20 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck drives robber to hideout.
3:07 - TC-201 PIXIE COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck punched through door, stove dropped on him.
3:53 - L-80 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Cop talks to Huck.
4:27 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck asks for money from crook in hideout; crook puts gun in Huck’s nose.
4:51 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Police sirens, robber yells at cops, police start firing.
5:21 - LAF-72-2 RODEO DAY (Shaindlin) – Huck behind chair; yells at cops out window; clangs crook on head with wrench.
6:20 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Robber falls onto pillow.
6:30 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck in cab; reads headline, cries.
6:58 - Huck sub end title theme (Curtin).


  1. Foster also borrowed from his own wrap-up sequence in McKimson's "An Egg Scramble", where the cops are after the robber and Miss Prissy thinks they're after her egg (Prissy, being a first-time character here, could be as stupid as Bob and Warren wanted her to be, but in hindsight after seeing how she was used later in the Foghorn Leghorn series, even this bit of main-character-can't-figure-out-what's-obvious plotting is annoying in the same way Huck is here, because she was never this dumb again -- gullible, yes, but not dumb -- and it comes across as out of character).

  2. Yes, Good Ole Huck has proven on many an episode that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Also,the way he will take things in stride is amusing. After being trashed, belted, blown up,punched, etc, his reaction is looking at the audience and saying " You know that( Fill in the blank here-Wee Willy-Lion-Burglar-crows ) really has an off beat sense of humor ". Of course " The Vanderbliff twins were " A Load Of Laughs ". For not getting it, this episode has to be in the top two. Huck certainly lived at day at a time. Even when the ole light bulb was at it's dimmest, he was likable. Watching these as a child in the early sixties, I loved his easy going nature, plus,he made me feel PRETTTTTTY smart-Ha!

  3. Yes, I concur entirley that Huck is no himself...I think he's "frustratingly stupid" in this outing, but you have to admire his determination. At least Patt gives us lots of nice funny drawings! Thats why he's my favorite.

    I can't say for sure if Bob Gentle painted this one, but it kind of looks like it. Especially in your screenshot with all the poe-lice officers.

  4. Raoul Krausshaar[?['s music is 1:57 is that weird muted cue, heard on YouTube due to being the full cartoon at 2:08. Everyone to their tastes but I kinda like parts of this. And I caught on to what J.Lee already did...the "An Egg Scramble" like closing. The bit of Huck or anyone laughing then crying was, in Huck's world, redone or done earlier in "Cop and Saucer", another odd story with Huck as a cop.

    [BTW I'm writing this from a cruise ship internet "cafe"..]

    The Hack part of the title maybe just means that Huck's a hack, or has a hack job, but given the use of a tool [a wrench] at the end, a reference to a hacksaw - something that might've been thought of by W.Foster originally for the story, but wasn't.

  5. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    The layout, on this Huckleberry Hound episode, seems being made by Tony Rivera.

  6. "Hack" is New York City slang for taxi cab - as a native New Yorker that's where Foster got the title from (or if not Warren, someone else at H-B from NYC or with slang knowledge).

  7. JL, that would seem obvious. Even I know the term and I'm nowhere near NYC. Any other speculation is internet chatter for the sake of internet chatter.

  8. Yes, Huck is pretty dim in this one. But that wrench he pulls out of nowhere is so nicely drawn!

  9. Well, I wasn't that clear on it. And I sure ain't into [if I know a given fact] spreadin' it around as rumors and falsehoods online either!!! Thanks a lot, JL and Yowp, for clearing that up.

  10. Hal Smith provided the second/guest male voice in about half of the 13 Huck episodes produced for the 1959-60 season. He also guested in Quick Draw and Snooper & Blabber episodes around the same time, in tandem with Messick and Doug Young. The latter two would stay active on those series throughout their run. During the following few seasons Smith would become a regular guest voice on THE FLINTSTONES, TOP CAT, and a few Loopy DeLoop shorts.

    It doesn't seem that Messick made a complete disappearance from the studio, as he still worked on Yogi, Meece and Ruff & Reddy episodes made at the same time. There may have even been a Meece episode with both Messick AND Smith.

  11. I just saw this cartoon about a week ago, and I liked it a lot. I didn't think Huck was out of character or necessarily stupid here, but just overly trusting and naive. Sometimes good-natured people can be overly trusting, as they assume everyone else is as good and honest as they are. (Conversely, crooks are often suspicious of everyone.) A desire to see the good in people even when it's not there is also a part of Charlie Brown's character. He repeatedly trusts Lucy to hold the football without pulling it away because he WANTS to trust her.

  12. This is a good cartoon but as Yowp said, Huck complete is clueless herte...but there's much later HB cartoons that could be called maybe even more unwatchable (>Laff-a-lympics? The Partridge Family in Space? among the usual suspects). Compared to the later ones, even a bad Huck cartoon, in short, looks good by comparision. I still like the gags like Huck clobbers a robber whose own agenda Huck ain't even aware of...The creepy music, is course, most likely the OMAR library from Raoul Kraushaar.SC

  13. That's not all take a look at Yogi's Space Race and Galaxy Goof ups they made not only Huck but Yogi even dumber in these terms series, Hanna-Barbera make up your mind!!!!!