Saturday, 20 July 2013

Huckleberry Hound — Huck and Ladder

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey; Layout – Tony Rivera; Backgrounds – Dick Thomas; Written by Warren Foster; Story Direction – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound, Colonel Cornball, Lion, People in background – Daws Butler; TV Newscaster, Cicero, Gorilla, People in Background – Don Messick.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Bill Loose-John Seely, Spencer Moore, Hoyt Curtin.
Production: Huckleberry Hound K-050.
First Aired: week of March 6, 1961.
Plot: Fireman Huck is hired to capture a circus gorilla.

There’s a clever little con game going on at the beginning of “Huck and Ladder.” An escaped gorilla is scaring away customers from Colonel Cornball’s circus. If the fire department will capture cats stuck in trees, why not an escaped gorilla? So the Colonel calls fireman Huck on the phone.

Huck: An animal in distress? Hmm. What kind? (pause) Well, I mean, let’s just call it my curiosity. (pause) No, sir, the fire department don’t make no extinctions. An animal is an animal, and if he’s in distress, we’ll help him.

What’s fun is you can’t hear Colonel Cornball but you know what he’s thinking. He knows the fire department won’t capture a gorilla so he tries to avoid saying what kind of animal it is. Then when he’s forced to, he sets up Huck with a “you’ll rescue any animal” question. I like how writer Warren Foster lets the viewer fill in the blanks on the other end of the phone.

There are a couple of neat dialogue bits in this cartoon. There’s a silly bit at the start when Cornball yells “Hey, Rube!” for his lackey. “Uh, comin’ Colonel,” shouts the slightly loopy assistant. Then he adds, “My name is Cicero, but the Colonel always calls me ‘Rube.’ I don’t know why.” It’s a shame Cicero keeps moving in a quick walk cycle and doesn’t look at the camera when he makes his aside, but it’s still a nice bit of dialogue out of nowhere. Then, when Huck questions Cornball, Foster’s cynicism comes through:

Cornball: Well, a gorilla’s in the tent and he won’t come out—which is okay—except with him in, the customers stay out.
Huck: I detect a slight hint of commercialism, Colonel.
Cornball: That’s right, son. It ain’t laughs we’re working for.

One might say that brief conversation sums up the difference between cartoonists and studio owners. Perhaps including owners who used to be creative people that animated cartoons.

Foster wrote for Yosemite Sam for so long, he occasionally tossed in Sam-like dialogue when he got to Hanna-Barbera. Cornball is so angered by a TV news report on his patrons deserting his circus, he puts his fist through the set. “And there’s more show biz for ya, ya mealy-mouth video varmint Yankee!” Foster even borrows a gag from Tex Avery. Huck’s fire truck isn’t some rattle-trap. It’s eight miles long, like a limo in one of Avery’s cartoons.

The human characters have pipe-stem legs. Not a surprise, considering Tony Rivera was the layout artist. Old Fleischer veteran Hicks Lokey animated the cartoon and is hamstrung a bit. H-B cartoons didn’t go in for really wild takes, so Huck’s wide eyes (for four frames) after he realises he’s been hired to corral a gorilla aren’t really too wide. And while Lokey scrunches the head and closes the eyes (on twos) in anticipation of the take, Huck is walking while it’s happening instead of coming to a stop, which would make the take register better. I like the look Lokey gives Huck while being shaken in the lion’s mouth.

Lokey has an odd bit of animation at the start of the cartoon when the news announcer tells how the gorilla is terrifying people inside the tent. There’s animation of an overhead view of the tent with dots (representing the people) going away from the tent. But the cels are reused so it looks like the people are running in and out of the tent. Either the people are completely panicked and confused, or Hanna-Barbera wanted to save some drawings.

Something else is really odd in the first shot. The background drawing appears to have part of the production number in the lower right hand corner. The Huck cartoons all had “E” production numbers.

The cartoon takes the fireman job Huck had in the first season’s “Fireman Huck” (where he inevitably failed to rescue a cat) and mixes it with the idea of Huck bringing in an escaped gorilla (“Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie”). The gorilla in this cartoon has no name. I haven’t seen the model sheets so I don’t know if Foster intended the gorilla to be Wee Willie. He doesn’t look like the Willie that Rivera designed for the Yogi Bear cartoon “Stranger Ranger,” but he has Willie’s voice and goes “Eek! Eek!” like Willie.

Let’s go through Huck’s failures.

● Huck checks to see if the gorilla’s in the tent. A fist to the face answers that question.
● “Ol’ Pal Huckleberry” goes into the tent “to win his confidence.” Lokey saved money by not animating the Huck-gorilla fight. There’s a ten-second shot of Dick Thomas’ drawing of the outside of the tent. It doesn’t even budge as the violence happens inside; it’s represented only by sound effects and Daws Butler yelling. Huck goes flying through the top of the tent and lands on the ground in front of Cornporn. “Imagine what would have happened if I wasn’t his ol’ pal Huckleberry,” he observes to the Colonel.

● Huck tries to douse the gorilla into submission with a fire hose. Again, we don’t actually see the fight inside the tent; we do get drawings of the hose moving around. The end result is the gorilla wraps Huck in the hose, which elevated him high in the air over the fire truck. Cartoon physics is at work here; there’s no logical reason Huck should be airborne because the water is shooting up, not down against the ground. The Colonel shuts off the hose and Huck thuds to earth. Tag line: “I should have said ‘Gradual-like’.”
● “Well, we’re makin’ progress, Colonel,” says Huck. “His thinkin’ process is emergin’. And his operational pattern is takin’ shape. In other words—that goriller smarter than us.” For about four seconds, all the Colonel does is blink. Add up the savings, Mr. Hanna! Huck’s solution is to act like a gorilla and lure the beast into his cage “K-A-J,” spells Huck. Lokey’s cycle animation of Huck walking on his feet and hands (eight drawings on twos) features one position where Huck is deformed and doesn’t have any hands. “Eek! Eek!” screeches Huck, adding a “y’all,” like Butler’s southern wolf in the Avery cartoons. The end result is Huck gets in the cage and the gorilla slams the gated door shut.

● The proceedings are interrupted by Cicero, who tells the Colonel the lion has escaped. Cicero has the same walk cycle he did earlier in the cartoon. You’d think Alex Lovy would have cut the cycle drawings from being exposed twice to once and have Cicero run but.. oh, well. “Well, if that ain’t a kick in the head,” says the Colonel, giving us our song title reference for the show. Cut to the lion roaring and running. The gorilla opens the cage door, shoves Huck out and closes it. Now Huck wants back in. After more lion-running cycle animation and Colonel-running cycle animation we cut to Huck in the lion’s mouth. Suddenly, there’s a fire bell off camera. Foster pulls a switch. Huck opens the lion’s mouth, apologises and says matter-of-factly he has to attend to a fire. It reminds me of the wolf and sheepdog cartoons at Warners where the violence suddenly stops because it’s time to stop and the wolf and sheepdog go their separate ways.

The cartoon ends with Huck in his fire truck singing “Clementine,” tossing in some “eek, eek” lyrics and a weak “saved by the bell” gag line before the iris closes. What happened with the rampaging lion? We’ll never know.

The sound-cutter wisely cuts the music when Huck is giving his two punch lines while on the ground. And he decided to use the tail end of the Huck main title theme as a stinger to end the cartoon.

0:00 - Huckleberry Hound Sub Main Title Theme (Curtin).
0:13 - rising scale music (Shaindlin) – newscaster on TV, fist through TV.
0:44 - LAF-7-12 FUN ON ICE (Shaindlin) – Cornball in office, Cicero runs, decides to call fire department.
1:20 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – Huck in fire hall.
2:09 - no music – Fire truck pulls out, skid sound.
2:18 - LAF-10-7 GROTESQUE No 2 (Shaindlin) – “Over here, sir,” Colonel and Huck talk, Huck punched, Huck talks to gorilla in tent.
3:18 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Fight sounds, Huck lands on ground.
3:28 - no music – Huck talks on ground.
3:34 - L-75 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck with hose, “Eeek! Eeek!”
3:53 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Fight sounds, Huck lands on ground.
4:11 - no music – Huck talks on ground.
4:15 - L-1154 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Huck says he’ll act and think like a gorilla.
4:37 - TC-437 SHOPPING DAY (Loose-Seely) – Luring scene, Huck in cage.
5:41 - TC-221A HEAVY AGITATO (Loose-Seely) – Cicero says lion is loose, Huck in lion’s mouth, fire bell rings.
6:32 - LAF-74-2 LICKETY SPLIT (Shaindlin) – Huck opens fireman’s mouth, Huck in fire truck.
6:51 - Clementine (Trad.) – Huck sings Clementine.

P.S.: Before anyone comments, I realise “Hey Rube” comes from the circus. Read about it HERE. It was also a non-sequitur greeting Sam Hearn’s hayseed from Calabasas used on the Jack Benny radio show of the early 1950s.


  1. Regarding yet another of the reasons mentioned why this gorilla MAY be Wee willie is Huck saying "your ol' pal Huckleberry"...Steve C

    1. I also thought in Wee Willie, the playful gorilla.

    2. It seems unlikely that, given the breakneck production schedules Bill and Joe were on that they would really consider continuity when making a Huck cartoon about a gorilla two years after having made a Huck cartoon about a gorilla. As for Huck calling him "your ol' pal", that's just part of his friendly, easygoing nature.

    3. Hmm...very good point, especially your last comment which I already knew.

  2. This is one of my favorite Huck episodes, largely because of the funny dialogue involving discrimination, political correctness ("people are so sensitive these days"), commercialsm, and even psychobabble ("-in other words, that gorilla is smarter than we are.") Even though the reference continues to elude me as an adult, the Rube/Cicero routine is quite amusing.

    The scene in which Huck tries to lure the gorilla into the cage is very charming. The superfluous use of a mispelling gag actually makes perfect sense here, as it fits Huck's character. Who else would bother to spell something out for a gorilla- even a smart one? Don Messick turns in a fine performance with just one word of 'dialogue': the gorilla's "Eek-eek!" He registers confusion ("Eek-EEK?") and hilariously mimics Huck's 'shave and a haircut' utterings as he locks him in the K-A-J.