Saturday, 7 May 2011

Huckleberry Hound — Jolly Roger and Out

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Sam Weiss; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Warren Foster; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Jolly Roger, Englishman 2, Questioner – Hal Smith; Huck, Englishman 1, Speaker of Parliament – Daws Butler.
Music: Bill Loose/John Seely; Jack Shaindlin; Phil Green; Spencer Moore.
First aired: week of Sept. 28, 1959 (rerun, week of May 23, 1960).
Plot: Admiral Horatio Huckleberry is tasked to bring in pirate Jolly Roger.

Warren Foster left the Fleischer Studio in New York in 1938 for a job as a writer with what was legally the Raymond Katz Studio but was realistically the Bob Clampett unit of the Leon Schlesinger Studio on the Warner Bros. lot. Clampett was making Looney Tunes that truly were looney. They were full of crazed, cross-eyed, one-shot characters making life miserable for the studio’s star, Porky Pig. One of them made an appearance in the middle of 1938. Foster may not have been at the studio for another few months but he certainly remembered the character when he finally left 21 years later and headed to Hanna-Barbera. (The cartoon was remade in 1945 while Foster was at the studio).

The character is Injun Joe of the cartoon Injun Trouble. The payoff is set up all throughout the cartoon as one of Clampett’s gooney characters, Sloppy Moe, idiotically bounces around telling that he knows something that he won’t tell. Finally, he tells. His secret is that Injun Joe is ticklish and Moe starts tickling him. That, of course, helps Porky in his quest to reach the West.

And so it is in this Huckleberry Hound adventure, Jolly Roger has a secret. And we find out what it is in the big climax scene—Jolly Roger is ticklish. And the tickling helps Huck in his quest to bring in the pirate.

Foster certainly had pirate cartoon experience at Warners; he cast Yosemite Sam as a pirate in several cartoons. Interestingly, Foster borrows a gag from a non-pirate version of Sam for this cartoon.

Speaking of Sam, the layout artist for this cartoon was Sam Weiss. Full credits arent available for all the Hanna-Barbera cartoons produced in 1959-60, but the only cartoon where I’ve spotted his name is Huck’s Somebody’s Lion. Weiss was working at the Jay Ward studio in 1959 then spent time at Format Films directing The Alvin Show. He served time on Roger Ramjet, directed for Stephen Bosustow Productions in the ’70s and worked on the G.I. Joe pilot in 1983.

Laid-back Huck pulls off a nice job in this cartoon. Daws Butler’s Carolina accent remains intact (and emphasized in places), even though Huck’s supposedly English. Some of the background art is a treat and Foster comes up with some clever bits (and a funny tag at the end).

Hal Smith gives us a quiet English accent for his narration which opens over a nice little map. A couple of other opening backgrounds involve islands “as lumpy as dill pickles” (because of all the treasure being buried), a seaport with schooners and the Parliament Buildings overlooking the Thames.

Foster gives a sense of old-world atmosphere by referring to “fierce bands of pirates who asked, and gave, no quarter” (who in the world today uses that saying?) and a throwaway gag with a shot of a pirate flag as the earnest narrator describes “The black flag, copied from the label of an iodine bottle, ruled the Spanish Main.” Then comes a shot of the bad guy, Jolly Roger, who rubs his teeth together (and they fall out individually) and has to tell the fumbling narrator who he is (in a confidential whisper). Foster then makes fun of English understatement.

Narrator: As ship after ship left London, never to return, indignation reached a fevered pitch.
Man 1: Ruddy bad show.
Man 2: Raw-ther.

An extraordinary session of parliament hears only one man can stop the piracy—Admiral Horatio Huckleberry. He gives a nice “Howdy, folks” to the viewers at home. There’s a cute gag about Huck and Roger both spotting each other’s ships with spyglasses. Their spyglasses are next to each other. It would have been a better gag if there had been a discovery by the audience instead of their ships floating toward each other.

Huck has a few asides for the audience, too, and Roger is channelling Sam a bit with his threats and alliteration. Can’t you hear Mel Blanc reading lines like these:

Roger: You lily-livered swab! I’ll blast your worm-eating ship right out of the water.
Huck: (to audience) Sounds like pirate talk, don’t it? (to Roger) Beggin’ your pardon, sir—are you Jolly Roger?
Roger: Aye, I’m Jolly Roger, the pistol-packin’-est pirate that ever paced a poop-deck.
Huck: (to audience) Take note how I tricked him into revealing his name and occupation.

After the old gag about a hanging after a fair trial, Huck answers a threat with “It’s no use, Rodge. You can’t smooth-talk your way out’n this one.” Then we get a battle of wits between Huck and the pirate. Huck’s ship gets blasted but manages to move under the cover of the smoke. “I merely topped my topsail and jibbed my jibsail.” Roger tries to board Huck’s ship from his own but get a foot on each with his body stretched. Huck throws him a line. Attached to an anchor. Into the brink he goes. The lighting effect around the anchor is good.

We get the crawls-into-a-cannon-that’s-fired gag, then Huck swings in his best swashbuckling manner onto Roger’s ship, skidding to a mid-air stop at the point of the pirate’s sword. Huck knows he’s in a cartoon.

Roger: Now you’re goin’a walk the plank.
Huck: (to audience) Wouldn’t be a real pirate picture, unless’n someone walked the plank.

Here’s Foster’s most Sam-like gag. Huck’s on the plank. He jumps high into the air, lands on the board and Roger on the other end of the board flies into the air and down with a crash. Didn’t I see that one in High Diving Hare (1948)? Interesting layout on the gag, being done at three-quarters angle from behind.

Huck concludes “everyone has a weakness” but discovers Roger’s is not boxing (a bop on the noggin crushes Huck), wrestling (another bop on the head sends Huck to the deck) or gunfire (Huck misses even with the gun pointed into his stomach). Huck discovers the weakness when Roger lifts him up and presses him nose-to-nose. The noses separate with a pop, Huck tells Roger he has a cold nose and tickles it. “We’ll have us a million laughs from here to the Tower of London,” confides to us.

The narrator returns for the final scene as Huck’s ship arrives in port with Roger attached to a ball and chain. Someone asks Huck how the pirate got the name “Jolly Roger.” Huck replies with a tickle demonstration. “Roger is just about as jolly as they come,” the hound tells us. And that’s the cartoon as far as Ken Muse is concerned. The last six seconds has Huck immobile, except for one eye blink.

Huck has two personalities. He was either a comic hero, taking a bit of a bashing but generally coming out on top, or he was a put-upon guy who failed at a reasonable task. Foster’s Huck was the first kind in the earliest cartoons, but then he switched gears to the more of the second along the way. In several Foster cartoons, Huck wasn’t casual, he was downright clueless (Cop and Saucer, Huck’s Hack). I prefer the first kind of Huck so that’s another reason this cartoon’s a winner for me.

One of the cues I’ve simply put down as “Seagoing Medley.” It includes “Sailor’s Hornpipe,” “A Life on the Ocean Wave” and “Sailing.” Whether the actual cue is three-in-one like this, I’m not sure. I’ve heard it in other cartoons with the first two tunes reversed and without the third. I suspect it’s a Sam Fox library cue.

0:00 - Huck Sub Main Title Theme (Curtin).
0:14 - EM-147 DOCUMENTARY MAIN TITLE (Green) – Map, pirate ship pulls up.
0:34 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Pirate flag.
0:42 - ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE (Hormel) – Pan shot to islands, Jolly Roger introduced.
1:06 - L-1139 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Ships leave harbour, bored Englishment, parliament exterior shot.
1:20 - ZR-126 ENGLISH MAIN TITLE (Hormel) – Parliament scene, Huck spots pirate ship.
1:56 - Seagoing Medley (?) – Roger and Huck banter, cannon fires.
3:04 - LAF-1-1 FISHY STORY (Shaindlin) – Roger laughs, falls in sea, fired out of cannon, Huck on rope, walks plank.
4:36 - LAF-27-2 RODEO DAY (Shaindlin) – “with a full twist,” Roger dives onto deck, boxing gag, wrestling gag.
5:30 - PIXIE PRANKS (Shaindlin) – Gun in stomach gag, “You got a cold nose.”
6:00 - TC-436 SHINING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Roger laughs, Huck pulls into port.
6:35 - LAF-72-2 RODEO DAY (Shaindlin) – “How’d he ever get the name Jolly Roger?”
6:57 - Huck Sub End Title Theme (Curtin).


  1. Begging your pardon but BARBARY COAST BUNNY was not about pirates, and was written by Tedd Pierce who wrote a few 1955-56 cartoons for the Chuck Jones unit while Mike Maltese was at Walter Lantz's studio. BUCCANNER BUNNY (1948) was co-written by Maltese and Pierce. Its 1954 sequel, CAPTAIN HAREBLOWER, was written by Foster.

    The second half of the cartoon, in which Huck tries futilely to subdue his much-bigger adversary, is reminiscent of the Jones/Maltese/Daffy Duck collaborations MY LITTLE DUCKAROO and DEDUCE YOU SAY.

  2. Thanks, Howard, The lesson is never watch a bunch of cartoons simultaneously and write off the top of your head.

  3. I, too, always get titles mixed up as well.

    And every time I see the tickling punchline I too think of the Sloppy Moe ["Injun Trouble" and "Wagon Heels"], too.

    I love Huck's line about Roger being as Jolly as they come and the pirate to narrator conversation, also a longtime Jay Ward trademark and also, of course, a standard Huck one.

    George Hormel's regal fanfare ZR-126 ENGLISH MAIN TITLE is a favorite of mine and very effective in this kind of setting.


  4. PS I predicted that a Huck cartoon would have been reviewed this very date [May 7], since each of the others had already been looked at[one series each, each weekend-Pixie and Dixie, before that Quick Draw, before that Augie, before that Yogi, before that Snooper and Blab, and before that Huck. Good cycle.