Saturday, 22 October 2011

Huckleberry Hound — Hokum Smokum

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Dialogue and Story Sketches – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound, Horse – Daws Butler; Great-great grandson, Fort Commander, Chief Crazy Coyote – Don Messick.
Music: Jack Shaindlin; Geordie Hormel; Bill Loose/John Seely; unknown.
First Aired: week of February 9, 1959.
Plot: Old Huckleberry Hound tells his nephew how he captured Chief Crazy Coyote in the Old West.

We’ve got a good, li’l ol’ cartoon right he-ah. There’s a running gag with a payoff at the end, a Joe Besser horse, mood music that fits, a smart-ass great-great grandson who’s funny-annoying instead of obnoxious-annoying (thanks to Don Messick’s voice approach) and the thick-lined, somewhat jerky animation of Carlo Vinci.

Sure, you can see how the opening bit is going to end three miles away and there’s a bit a serving of clichéd corn (hotfoot, exploding cigar) but there’s also dialogue that actually sets up the gags on the screen, something I wish Shows and Barbera had done more often.

Several concepts in this cartoon got tried out later when Warren Foster and Mike Maltese took over the writing for the 1959-60. Foster used Chief Crazy Coyote again in Pony Boy Huck, and then brought back the Chief and great-great grandson in Huck Hound’s Tale the following year. Maltese invented Chief Little Runt in the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon Scat, Scout, Scat but gave him the Joe Besser voice.

I like Crazy Coyote. He’s about as wacky as any cartoon character in the late ‘50s, including what was on the big screen, which was watered-down wacky. By this time, Bugs Bunny was spending too much time flouncing around, Daffy Duck had become a bitter fall guy and Woody Woodpecker was tamely going through the motions for Paul J. Smith in inexcusable cartoons like His Bitter Elf. But Huck’s routine is structured the same way as the old theatrical hecklers: they pulled off a fast one on a sap, had some signature razz (a nose honk, a kiss or a laugh), then zipped off stage and on to the next gag. And ol’ Craze is not really an opponant; he’s bugging Huck for the fun of it.

Someone familiar with the animation procedure can answer this, I hope. Are those flickering shadows around the characters caused by the camera light on the plate glass over the cel? Check out the great-great grandson.

This is from the opening scene, where the enthusiastic kid is trying to coax Huck into telling him, yet again, the story of how he caught Crazy Coyote. The best part may be the quick back-and-forth voice work of Daws Butler and Don Messick. The smiling Huck keeps instantly refusing to tell the story and the kid keeps asking him. The kid turns to walk away and old man Huck corrals him with a cane.

Huck: Hold it, there, son. Pay attention when I’m tellin’ the story.
Kid: But you said you didn’t wa—
Huck: Don’t butt in when I’m interruptin’. I wanna hear the yarn agin’, m’self.
Kid: You gonna tell about how you captured Crazy Coyote?
Huck: If you insist. Well, suh, it all started one day back—
Kid: Yeah, I know. You was in the cavalry and the cavalry sent you out and you followed Crazy Coyote’s tracks and you—

That’s when Huck clunks him with the cane to stop the kid from telling the story. It’s the running gag in the cartoon.

The story flashes back and forth from the present to the Old West. Huck relates how he was cleaning his six-gun. He pulls it out of the water. An eye-roller, but I like it. Cut to the present. The kid interrupts and starts telling the story. Clunk! Back to past. “They called for the bravest, craftiest, most cunnin’ Injun-fighter in the West. Namely, me.” The shot shows reluctant Huck and his horse being shoved out of the fort and the wooden gate slammed shut. The horse pounds on the gate, demanding to be let in after hearing from the fort commander “The last scout we sent out disappeared, hoss and all. Yessiree, hoss and all.”

Another off-screen narration gag. Huck relates how he and his horse “galloped into Injun Country.” The shot shows Huck dragging the horse by the tail. Then the gag is topped by cutting to Huck in the flashback saying “Whoa, boy! Easy there, hoss.”

Carlo used to do a two-drawing head-shake take (on twos) in a bunch of the first season cartoons and he does it in a bunch of places in this one. One is when Huck and the horse hear a coyote yell, which is how “them Injuns sig-a-nal t’each other.” This isn’t as rubbery as some of Carlo’s takes.
Horse head shake
The punch-line to the gag is it turns out to be a real coyote. “What a sneaky trick,” surmises Huck. “Them Injuns is usin’ real coyotes.”

Here’s Carlo at work again with a two-drawing fear shake-take (on twos) that he also used in a bunch of cartoons in that season. Again, the take has been slowed down you can see how Carlo handled the drawings. In takes like these, one drawing has the character in a smooth outline; the other is in a wavy outline. We’ve got one more coming up later.
Huck fear take
The cartoon fades back into the present. The kid interrupts the great-great-grandpappy BS:

Kid: Yeah, I know, I know. You saw somethin’ movin’, so you made your hoss lie down, then you got behind the hoss ‘cause that’s what troopers do, then there was no place to hide and then—”

Clunk with the cane again. I like how Shows doesn’t just have the kid quote Huck’s story but quote Huck interrupting his own story with the opinion “‘cause that’s what troopers do.” It adds to the dialogue.

Back to the past. The scene shows what the kid just described and we finally, more than halfway through the cartoon, meet up with Crazy Coyote (you can click on the pan shot above to enlarge it), who shoots Huck in the butt, gives out his hee-haw laugh, then leaps off camera. Then the old hotfoot gag.

A bunch of Carlo’s typical traits in this scene: thick row of upper teeth, stretch drive exit from the scene, and a two-drawing pain take. Huck looks at the smoke rings that he doesn’t seem to realise come from his foot. Punch line: “Injun smoke signals. Let’s see now. They say... OWWW!” This is pretty close to the speed of the take on the actual cartoon.
Huck pain take
The next line’s great. Huck hands his horse his rifle and tells him to keep him covered. “A horse with a gun?” The horse turns to the audience. “It ain’t right!” And the horse is right. Crazy Coyote pops a paper bag (in the Old West?) behind the horse, scaring him into firing into Huck’s butt.

Back to the present.

Huck: And, son, once-st ol’ Huck got to trailin’ a varmint, I stuck like glue (wheezy laugh).
Kid: You say that every time, Gramps, ‘I stuck like glue’ (wheezy laugh). You always say ‘I stuck like glue.’ (Clunk on head. Kid turns to audience). I keep forgettin’ that cane.

Back to the past. Crazy Coyote tries his “ol’ hat trick.” Why do Indian chiefs in cartoons wear top hats anyway? Someone out there must know. Crazy Coyote dives in the hat. Huck pulls out a rabbit. Then a bird. Then an umbrella pops up and unfolds. Crazy Coyote’s inside. “We smoke-um peace pipe,” offers the chief. The umbrella turns into a tee-pee. The Chief hands Huck the “heap-big” peace pipe then Huck tells the Chief to “puff-‘em” a cigar. You know what’s coming next. They both explode. “Heap good gag, Huck,” says the Chief. “You’re pretty cute yourself,” responds Huck. They’re now good friends.

Back to the present again. Final gag. The kid glibly chatters that isn’t the way Huck told it before and launches into the last version he heard. Huck goes to clunk him with the cane. We hear a crack. Huck lifts a broken cane into the frame. Cut to the kid wearing a WW2 surplus army helmet. “You change the story every time you tell it, great-great-great grand-pappy. You change it every time.” “Smarty-aleck kid,” Huck grumps to the camera, which fades out and ends the cartoon.

I realise the kid says “great-great-great grandpappy” and Huck says “great-great” but I’ve gone with Huck. That’s what’s used in later cartoons. And who wants to listen to a smarty-aleck kid anyway?

I’m sorry much of the music has been left unidentified. Oh, if only someone had copies of the cues with their names. Much of the cartoon contains “Indian” music which, I’m presuming, is by Geordie Hormel or Spence Moore’s ghost writer in the Hi-Q ‘X’ series. I could be wrong. Judging by earlier cartoons which use the same music, there may be only two cues; the loud war dance music used during the chase seems to be part of these cue 4/4 time cue with flutes that builds into strings. The last light march/hiccupping cue has a number supplied by cartoon writer Earl Kress, but he couldn’t remember the name of it.

0:00 – Huckleberry Hound/Clementine Sub Main Title theme (Curtin)
0:27 - ZR-39A WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Kid and old Huck opening dialogue, kid walks away.
1:11 - TC-205 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Loose-Seely) – Huck looks surprises, hauls in kid with cane, cleans six-gun, kid bopped with cane
2:07 - four beat tom-tom/flute cue (?) – “The minute I heerd...”, Huck and horse shoved out, “I really doooo.”
2:56 - two drum-beat cue (?) – Just before fade into Huck and horse in Injun Country scene, Huck hits kid with cane.
3:54 - four beat tom-tom/flute cue (?) – Horse jumping, Crazy Coyote shoots.
4:07 - two drum-beat cue (?) – Crazy Coyote laughs, hotfoot, Crazy Coyote laughs.
4:50 - four beat tom-tom/flute cue (?) – Crazy Coyote zips out of scene, Huck shot by horse.
5:20 - war dance cue (?) – Crazy Coyote runs away, “keep forgettin’ that cane.”
5:49 - war dance cue (?) – Huck chases Crazy Coyote, skid to halt, jumps in hat, Huck peers in hat.
6:04 - TC-42 RURAL (Loose-Seely) – “Come out of there,” umbrella become tepee, Crazy Coyote hands peace pipe, Huck hands over cigar.
6:34 - no music – light up cigar and peace pipe, explosions.
6:42 - four beat tom-tom/flute cue (?) – Huck and Crazy Coyote congratulate each other,
“...was right good friends.”
6:53 - LAF-25-3 bassoon and zig-zag strings (Shaindlin) – Kid interrupts, wears helmet, “Smarty-aleck kid.”
7:10 - Huckleberry Hound Sub End Title theme (Curtin).


  1. One thing I loved about this cartoon is that I was never truly sure which one was “Our Huck”, the great, great, great, great, great grand-pappy OR grandson?

    It could be either – or neither! And the respective voices give you no hint at all!

    And finally some love for Charlie Shows? Way to go great, great, great, great, great grand-Yowp!

    ...Ouch! I keep forgettin’ ‘bout that cane!

  2. I think I've said this before, but Shows' weakness tended to be the same as Tedd Pierce's WB stories for Chuck Jones in the early 1940s, in that there's a lot of 'space' between the gags in many of the efforts, and those gaps end up making the story duller than it should be. Going back and forth between the present day cane clunking and the past story with the Chief allows Shows (and Gordon) to fill out the short with two story threads.

    Also, while the animation in the 1958-59 season was more limited than what would follow in the Huck series, the Chief's face at times is really limited, to where we're getting into Sam Singer TV animation territory. Yikes!

  3. And the piece at 6:04 of course, is only heard one other time that most of us know of in H-B", in the first Pixie and Dixie and Mr.Jinks, "Uncle Tex", TC-42 Rural by David Rose though contractually listed as Seely-Loose who as we know got all of the rights by agreement to Mr.Rose's tunes, and was used in Rose's pal Red Skelton's show what with ROse being his music director on both radio and TV, with Rose's commercial 1944 hit "Holiday for Strings" even being the theme song. Very ROse-y..great-great-grant,etc. Yowp..oops, that cane's on me,too.Steve.

  4. Chief Crazy Coyote's braying laugh gets very annoying after awhile, IMHO.

  5. I have always loved the fact that Daws gave Great, Great Grand Pappy Huck a voice similar Pixie & Dixie's " Cousin Tex ". Great cartoon.

  6. One morning while in London back in 1988, I turned on the telly to this cartoon. It seemed to be airing as part of a morning news-and-info show a la GOOD MORNING AMERICA, because it ended into a man and woman behind a desk on what clearly looked like a news set. One said to the other "I think that was Mr. Magoo['s voice] in that cartoon."

    Apparently Magoo is known to Brits, but not Huck. Daws' rendering of Great-Great-Grandpappy sounds nothing like Jim Backus.

  7. The cue used at 6:42,when Crazy Coyote says, "Heap good gag, Huck", was also used in a 1955 "ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN" episode, "Test of a Warrior". They used some of the same "Capitol Hi-Q" production music H-B had access to, in later seasons.

  8. If anyone has ever wondered about the possible origins of Chief Crazy Coyote’s TOP HAT, check out the John Wayne film “The Searchers” (1956) at about the 1:02:20 mark. Jeffrey Hunter trades an old top hat to an Indian elder.

    That film would surely have been fresh in a lot of peoples’ minds at the time the cartoon was produced.