Saturday, 22 September 2012

Huckleberry Hound — The Unmasked Avenger

Produced and Directed by Joseph Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Don Williams; Layout – Paul Sommer; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Story – Warren Foster; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Lawrence Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Narrator, Lord, Madge, Blue Bouncer, crowd voices – Don Messick; Huckleberry Hound, Giles, Harry, crowd voices – Daws Butler.
Music: Geordie Hormel, Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose/John Seely, Spencer Moore, unknown.
First aired: week of January 21, 1961 (rerun, week of May 1, 1961)
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show No. K-046.
Plot: The masked Purple Pumpernickle (Huck) battles a fiendish, tax-imposing lord.

Good ol’ Stupe!

Huckleberry Hound got into some funny situations in his third season (evil monster potato, evil monster-schnitzel) but the one where writer Warren Foster got in some social commentary was “The Unmasked Avenger.” It’s a spoof of the Middle Ages sword-bearing hero concept of The Scarlet Pimpernel but Foster gets in some digs at consumerism and the fickle nature of taxpayers.

This cartoon can also be blamed (along with a certain one starring Daffy Duck) for confusing any children who were not up on their knowledge of the works of Baroness Emma Orczy. Huck plays the Purple Pumpernickel. For ages, I thought the character was making fun of that great hero of the literary world, the Scarlet Pumpernickel. I didn’t realise the word was “Pimpernel.” Everyone’s heard of a pumpernickel. Who’s ever heard of a pimpernel?

Well, I suppose I might have if I had been playing closer attention to the opening dialogue. This is another cartoon where Huck has a conversation with an intoning narrator, who begins with a list of sabre-rattling doers of good deeds. Foster and layout man Paul Sommer set up things nicely with shots of each of the aforementioned heroes, then a long shot of Huck in silhouette on the tower of a castle.

Here’s the dialogue in full.

Narrator: This picture is dedicated to those heroes of yesteryear, the masked avengers who righted wrongs and protected the weak. Masked avengers came in assorted colours—the Green Gadfly, the White Crusader, the Scarlet Pimpernel. But our story deals with the greatest avenger of them all—the Purple Pumpernickel!
Huck: Howdy, folks.
Narrator: Oh, Mr. Purple Pumpernickel? May we call you “Purple”?
Huck: Sure! My friends call me “Purp.”
Narrator: Well, Purp, to what do you attribute your great success as an avenger?
Huck: Well, I, first of all, no one knows me because of my impenit-tru-bub-ble disguise. Then, of course, I do my own laundry.
Narrator: You? The Purple Pumpernickel? Does his own laundry?
Huck: That’s right. See, you start sendin’ purple clothes to the laundry and, I mean, uh, it’s bound to start talk. Well, I got ta get back to my menial varlet job at the castle, which allows me to hear wrongs which need to be avengin.’

As you can see, Huck isn’t really Huckleberry Hound in this cartoon. It’s like another world where a masked hero behaves just like Huckleberry Hound.

To the next scene we go, where the bad guy lord of the manor is calling for his “stupid, churlish dolt of a varlet.” Huck is henceforth known throughout the rest of the cartoon as a stupid, churlish dolt, or “stupe” for short. Huck talks to us about that and tells us we really know he’s the Purple Pumpernickel. Then he raises and lowers his eyebrows like Groucho. It’s funny because it’s unexpected; I don’t think Huck ever did it in any other cartoon. The scene ends with Huck-as-Stupe deliberately dropping a plate of eggs to look stupid.

The evil lord is handed papers to execute all innocent prisoners. That’s Huck’s cue to become the Purple Pumpernickel. But he’s about as incompetent in his secret, sabre-carrying identity as he was pretending to be stupid. He slides along a table and crashes through a stone castle wall. “What was that?” says the lord. “I don’t know,” replies his assistant Giles, “I just don’t know.” Huck is unfazed by his klutziness. He slides back along the table and takes the executive papers with sword, then tries to fence Giles but his sword curls up. “Who are you stranger and why the ridiculous get-up?” demands the lord? Huck elegantly slides his card across the table then makes his exit out the window. Except his purple cape gets caught. “You know, you’d think with all the carpenters they have around this castle they’d have countersunk this nail.” With that, the cape rips and Huck plunges into the moat.

The card reads “The Perpil Pumpernickle.” “Here’s a very good swordsman,” Giles remarks. “And a very bad speller,” the lord observers. They come up with a plan to catch the Pumpernickel all while Huck is washing the floor. “You just cain’t buy inside information like this,” he tells us. The lord sends him away. “Oh, that stupe! What a churlish dolt,” says the lord. “He always speaks quite well of you, sir,” Giles responds.

“Hear ye, hear ye. A new proclamation by his ‘ighness, m’Lord. All taxes are tripled and all taxes must be paid by sundown,” yells Giles from the castle, adding “With cash. No credit cards.” The townspeople are unhappy. “Blimey, Madge,” says one to his wife. “We can’t use our credit cards.” “We’re ruined, ‘arry,” wails his wife. But the townsfolk brighten. For on top of castle (“Ta da!”) is the Purple Pumpernickel. He tosses down two bags. Confusion reigns.

Huck: Here, good people. Somethin’ to pay your taxes with.
Harry: What is it, Pumpernickel?
Huck: It’s cash. From his lordship’s treasure house.
Madge: Cash? What’s it for?
Huck: Well, you know, you kinda use it like, uh, credit cards.

Credit cards?! Now the townspeople understand and are excited about their good fortune. The lord and Giles decide to escape. “I’ll get some money and jewels,” says the lord. “No time, m’lord,” answers Giles. “We’ll use our credit cards.” Yes, even the government runs up bills on credit.

Now comes the climactic scene where the triumphant Pumpernickel reveals “for the first time, whom I really am.” “It’s the stupid, churlish dolt,” says Harry. “Good ol’ Stupe,” adds his wife. Huck doesn’t seem worried that he’s seen by everyone as a complete buffoon. But his very first act is a political blunder.

Huck: Now I promises you things are gonna be different from now on. I’m gonna build new roads.
Crowd: Cheers!
Huck: Free schools.
Crowd: Cheers!
Huck: Old age pensions.
Crowd: Cheers!
Huck: Of course, this is gonna mean taxes.
Crowd: Boo! Boo! Boo! Boo!

Yup. The taxpayers want things as long as they don’t have to pay for them.

As the crowd (consisting of Don Messick, Daws Butler doing solo voices over top of ambient noise) turns on Huck, a large, masked, caped, plume-hatted guy with a sword slides into the frame.

Huck: Who are you sir?
Bouncer: I am the Blue Bouncer. I right wrongs!
Huck: Well, what do you know? I used to be in the masked avenger racket m’self, Mr. Bouncer. I know the whole routine so, uh, let’s get on with it, huh? You-all ready?
Bouncer: Ready.
Huck: Well, let’s go.

And with that, the Bouncer chases Huck along the castle wall, shouting political buzzwords. “Down with the tyrant Stupe! Down with taxes! Down with everything!” Huck observes to the viewers, just before the iris closes, that something about the word “taxes” gets “folks all riled up.”

The Capitol Hi-Q ‘X’ series makes an appearance in this cartoon, with an “English period” cue by Geordie Hormel. There’s also a quacking muted-trumpet piece by Jack Shaindlin that was used on rare occasion, such as the start of the Pixie and Dixie cartoon “A Wise Quack” (1960).

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound Sub Main Title theme (Curtin, Shows, Hanna, Barbera).
0:05 - ZR-127 PERIOD CHASE (Hormel) – Opening narration.
0:32 - TC-202 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – Huck and Narrator chat.
1:15 - creepy muted trumpet music (Kraushaar?) – M’Lord egg scene
1:46 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – “Gad! What a stupid, churlish dolt.”
1:50 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Giles reads executive paper, Huck rushes to get disguise.
2:11 - PG-171 PERIOD FANFARE (Green) – Huck re-enters, crashes.
2:19 - TC-300 ECCENTRIC COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “What was that?”, “Here he comes back again.”
2:28 - ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Hormel) – Huck slides on table, sword bends, “Hold it, Giles.
2:43 - L-80 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – “Whilst I straighten’ out,” Huck out window, falls.
3:11 - comedy flute and quack cue (Shaindlin) – Lord and Giles read card, proclamation, Madge and Harry talk
4:38 - PG-171 PERIOD FANFARE (Green) – Huck on turret, tosses bags.
4:44 - TC-437 SHOPPING DAY (Loose-Seely) – “Somethin’ to pay your taxes with,” Harry and Madge talk.
5:03 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Lord and Giles scene.
5:20 - C-19 LIGHT ACTIVITY (Loose) – Huck on turret, unmasks, crowd ooos.
5:40 - LAF-27-6 UNTITLED TUNE (Shaindlin) – Harry and Madge happy, “This is gonna mean taxes.”
6:04 - L-81 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Crowd boos, Blue Bouncer and Huck talk, then run off frame.
6:32 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Blue Bouncer chases Huck.
6:50 - Huckleberry Hound Sub End Title theme (Curtin).


  1. “Huck observes to the viewers, just before the iris closes, that something about the word “taxes” gets “folks all riled up.””

    Amazing how certain things never change!

    A great cartoon that I wish was on DVD!

  2. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth and friends,

    Talking about the Scarlet Pimpernel parodies, do you remember of a Warner's Looney Tunes short from 1948, with Daffy Duck acting as the Scarlet Pimpernel, titled The Scarlet Pumpernickel (directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese)?