Saturday, 4 January 2014

Huckleberry Hound — Cluck and Dagger

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Art Davis, Layout – Paul Sommer, Backgrounds – Art Lozzi, Written by Warren Foster, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Huckleberry Hound, Gate Attendant 1, Spy with Clock, Spies – Daws Butler; Narrator, Chief, P.A. Announcer, Gate Attendant 2, Clock-Stealing Spy, Spy with Gun, Conductor, Spies – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-052.
First Aired: week of March 27, 1961.
Plot: Agent Huckleberry Hound is assigned to deliver a secret-filled briefcase to the country of Rutabaga.

This spy spoof is really inspired. There are a lot of fun lines and lampooned situations from start to finish, too many to quote. Huckleberry Hound seems to have brought out the best in Warren Foster, perhaps because Huck could be plunked in a different situation in each cartoon, enabling Foster to make fun of something fresh.

Interestingly, there are no Russian or eastern European accents in this cartoon, despite being loaded with spies and set in the Cold War days of 1961. Daws Butler and Don Messick pretty much keep to French accents, as the second half of the cartoon is set on a train from Paris to Rutabaga called the Rutabaga Express, a parody of the Orient Express on which a number of spy novels and films have been based. Well, it may be going to Rutabaga.

The cartoon opens with a great back-and-forth between Huck and the narrator. Huck is an agent with the T.S. and S.L.T.T.—“Top Secrets and Stuff Like That There.” First, Huck looks around when the narrator firsts talks to him because he can’t see him. Then Agent Hound sets up a gag. “Sorry, Mr. Narrator,” he apologises, but information about his agency is classified. So is his next mission. And so is the book he’s carrying—the Classified Phone Directory. “Ain’t that a knee-slapper?” asks Huck. “I get it,” dourly replies the narrator, who finally gets angry when his joke to Huck goes over the spy’s head.

Huck’s called “The Man With a Thousand Faces.” It turns out it’s not because Huck is a master of disguise. He demonstrates a face.

Fade to Huck in the chief’s office (with a stylised painting of George Washington by Art Lozzi). Huck’s being assigned to deliver a briefcase to the Ambassador in Rutabaga. “Where is Rutabaga?” Huck asks. “That’s a good question,” says the chief, who now stops to think. “Rutabaga, rutabaga, let me see. I should know that. But these countries keep changing their names.” The chief was right. The cartoon was made during a period when French African colonies were becoming independent. The incompetent Huck tries to leave the office but walks into a broom closet, losing the briefcase in the process. “I’m off to Battaruga,” says Huck. “That’s Rutabaga, Rutabaga! Not Battaruga,” shouts the chief, who then ponders “Or is it? They could have changed the name again.”

After someone tries to drop an anvil on Huck and then switch his briefcase with a lunch box, Huck is on a flight to Paris. He explains that sometimes, a lady spy will be planted in the next airplane seat to try to get him to talk. No sooner does Huck tell us a smart agent doesn’t do that, he blabs virtually everything (except he calls the country “Turnip”) and even invites the turbaned lady to peek in the briefcase before he realises what he’s said.

The lady doesn’t figure into the plot; she’s just a gag device. Now we get spies galore on the Spy Special. Some have identical white trench coats and blue sunglasses. Huck’s briefcase gets stolen and everyone’s after it. They chase each other back and forth from left to right of the frame, laughing and screeching like crazy (though their mouths don’t move). Finally, Huck asks the conductor for help to get his briefcase back. It’s not forthcoming. The conductor explains: “This is the Spy Express. Everybody steals each other’s bag. That’s how the spies keep their job. So, take a bag, Monsieur. Any bag. They all have secrets in them.” So that’s just what he does when a blob of spies passes by him.

The scene fades into the climax—the lumped group of spies chase Huck on top of the rail cars. A tunnel’s approaching. You can guess what happens. Huck’s smart enough to duck. The others aren’t. We don’t actually see them hit the top of the tunnel. Instead, the scene cuts from the group pointing ahead to stock animation of the impact of an explosion you’ve seen in countless H-B cartoons.

The final scene is back in the chief’s office in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Huck has captured all the briefcases the spies had. “Only the Man of a Thousand Faces could have pulled this off,” says the chief, admiringly. “I know,” replies the immodest Huck, who once again demonstrates the silly face he made to the Narrator earlier in the cartoon. Then he confides in us it’s the only face he can do, “it’s just lucky for me nobody ever asks to do another one.” Huck launches into an a cappella version of “Clementine” to end the cartoon (with the goony face tossed in for good measure). Art Lozzi put George Washington on the office wall. It looks like his other portrait belongs to President Dracula. Maybe that’s a sly comment by someone on the U.S. government sucking tax dollars.

Speaking of Lozzi, here’s his streetscape, from start to finish.

This was the last new Huckleberry Hound cartoon aired in the 1960-61 season. Unlike the others, it uses underscore music written by Hoyt Curtin, as would the nine Huck cartoons produced in the following, and last, season.


  1. If you had to pick a cartoon that would mark the high point of the transitional period of Bill & Joe's studio, this would be a good one to use. You can see all the polish here from 3 1/2 years of figuring out what works for TV animation -- from Warren Foster's dialogue to Hoyt Curtain's music to the slightly more complex layouts and faster pace of the cartoon compared to how the series started in 1958 (the secondary characters here scream out early 1960s Hanna-Barbera, as compared to the earlier shorts where most of the supporting players showed the studio's MGM roots).

    But at the same time, we're still not into the studio's 'cartoon assembly line' days, where everything is boiled down to formulas and it gets hard to distinguish one episode from another -- which, unfortunately, was less than a year away when this cartoon was released (once you had two prime-time series plus the Wally-Touche-Lippy cartoons in development plus a few secondary jobs Bill & Joe signed onto, the quality of the writing everywhere just started its downhill slide).

  2. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth and HB-fanatics from the whole world,

    It's on this "Huckleberry Hound" episode which the name "Rutabaga" was included.
    The name "Rutabaga" was mentioned in another Hanna-Barbera production: the animated movie "Heyyy There, It's Yogi Bear!" (1964).

    1. Also written (for the most part) by Foster.

  3. Might be worth a mention that this cartoon is a product of the pre-Bond era (Dr. No would be released the following year), and it follows the ethos of the Agatha Christie / Graham Greene style of espionage fiction, rather than the gadget and sex drenched world of Fleming's creation. As such, CAD has much different tone, than had it been produced in the mid '60s, when H-B was awash with spy spoofs, fervently attempting to cash in on the pop culture phenomenon of 007.

  4. It's strange that the last Huck cartoon of 1960-61 would have Curtin score, while the other five short subject kept Capital score for all 13 episodes of that season. This one benefits from very good underscore selection, largely adventure/'Alfred Hitchcock' cues commonly heard in FLINTSTONE episodes of the period. The Yogi cartoons with Curtin score tended to use very syrupy cues, although every H-B comedic series from 1961 on mixed and matched scores from the various series.

    Art Davis' animation is quite enjoyable in this, as it is in the higher-budgeted WB cartoons and lower-budgeted Lantz cartoons. I love how Huck impishly smiles at the camera at the iris-out.

  5. “He explains that sometimes, a lady spy will be planted in the next airplane seat to try to get him to talk. No sooner does Huck tell us a smart agent doesn’t do that, he blabs virtually everything…”

    Didn’t Foster write the Frank Tashlin Daffy Duck where Daffy did the same thing with a sexy Mata Hari bird, as a WW II courier?

    Seconding Top Cat James above, it was odd to see a spy spoof at that particular time, when we’d we awash in them soon thereafter!

    1. Warners had done a bit of a spy spoof a few years earlier involving a train, though it was Tedd Pierce and Bob McKimson who came up with "Boston Quackie". But by 1961 with the rate Foster was being asked by Bill and Joe to come up with new stories, I'm sure he didn't think twice about borrowing from anywhere in the WB plant, and not just from his own previous ideas.

    2. Yes, there was a very familiar routine in which the spy grabs a briefcase and runs away gleefully yelling "I got it! I got it!". Immediately, an explosion is heard offscreen. "He got it, all right." That seems to have been used in at least one WB cartoon.

    3. It was Foster, borrowing from himself, as the end gag from 1944's "Birdy and the Beast"

  6. J.Lee, "Cluck and Dagger" reminds me, too, of "Boston Quackie", only for years I saw the Huck short before the Daffy/Porky short (which I first regularly saw in 1974, 17 years after its theatrical release!).