Saturday, January 06, 2007

John, Alias Johnny, Alias Jack, Alias Jackie

Thad presents a scene from Chuck Jones's "Daffy Dilly" (1948), animated by Ken Harris and written by Mike Maltese. There are few funnier scenes in all of cartoonery.

As Thad said, "Daffy Dilly" was not a cartoon that Jones was particularly willing to talk about. Because he became so wedded to his post-1953 interpretation of Daffy as a pathetic figure (Daffy, he would say over and over again, is what we are, while Bugs is what we'd like to be), he didn't like to bring up the fact that Daffy had a long history as a more multi-faceted character, and that he himself had made some of the best cartoons with that version of Daffy.

By 1948 Daffy was no longer the Woody Woodpecker-ish, crazy figure that he had been very early on, and his avaricious tendencies (something that usually set him apart from Bugs) had been a major feature of his character for many years. In this cartoon, he's doing everything out of greed, and the butler character usually gets the best of him; those are things that set him apart from Bugs and would be carried over into the Daffy that Jones came to prefer. But while the Daffy in "Daffy Dilly" is not exactly "Daffy," he has a lot of resourcefulness, has more moods than just the non-stop anger he'd be displaying by the late '50s, and he actually enjoys being a cartoon character. And because Jones doesn't want Daffy to become completely off the wall of annoying like he sometimes went in Clampett or McKimson cartoons, he actually comes up with one of the best versions of Daffy: very different from Bugs Bunny, not exactly a winner, but someone who can have fun and mess with people's minds when the situation calls for it.

But Jones of course abandoned that version of Daffy pretty quickly and became absolutely committed to the idea that Daffy had to act the same way in every situation -- part of the problem with his later cartoons, where all the characters are boiled down to one character trait which they have to display over and over. The Daffy from "Daffy Dilly" appears in a few other Jones cartoons, like "A Pest In the House" and "The Ducksters" and possibly even the first hunting cartoon with Bugs and Elmer, "Rabbit Fire" (Daffy is angry for large swathes of that cartoon, but he also teams up with Bugs at the end to mess with Elmer). These cartoons represent Jones's best work with the character of Daffy, and some of the best work anyone did with the character; it's too bad Jones didn't see it that way.

You can also see some of this "intermediate" Chuck Jones Daffy in this clip from The Ducksters -- Daffy is no longer crazy (even Clampett had sort of given up on that by the time he made "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery"), but he's not the angry asshole he would later become; he's really having fun tormenting Porky, as we all would. And while we see all of Jones's instantly-recognizable poses and expressions -- it's not in this clip, but this was one of the first cartoons where he would show a character's consternation by removing any separation between his eyes, turning his two eyes into one for a moment -- the animation isn't as rigid as it would become in his later cartoons, where the animators were basically filling in the blanks between Jones's pose drawings.

By the way, the person who posted the above clip from "The Ducksters" identifies it as Ken Harris's animation, but it looks more like Ben Washam to me, at the beginning anyway. Anybody know?


Anonymous said...

Great post. The interesting thing about Jones is that the seeds of what went wrong with his cartoons were planted when he was doing his best work, so that the mean Daffy really came about at the time he was doing the Duck Season Rabbit season trilogy. I think Jones' best cartoons are from the first few years of the fifties, but like you I like the late 40s stuff simply because it doesn't have the overtones of what later was to ruin his cartoons from starting around the mid fifties.

Also, a random thought on the Ducksters clip: does anyone else think the placement of the microphone during the central discussion about the jackpot is a bit of a mistake? It looks like the position of the microphone got forgotten during layout, and it ends up obscuring Daffy's face during much of the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

One other thing - "... and the gentleman wins the rock of Gibraltar" is one of my all time favorite Jones punchlines. This is one of the few cartoons I can remember seeing for the first time, and that line absolutely killed me.

Yeldarb86 said...

I think Washam's designs were slightly more elongated, so the animation would have to be his.

The Ducksters was also one of the first instances where Porky would play CO-star to Daffy, as Daffy would inch his way to the dark side. Whereas Porky became a less active character in general (some of his cartoons from the 1950's could've worked just as well with Elmer Fudd).

Concerning the hunter trilogy, Rabbit Fire would be the best of them, as any threesome between Bugs, Elmer, and Daffy were better when it was Bugs & Daffy vs. Elmer, rather than Bugs vs. Daffy & Elmer. Jones' preferation for the angry Daffy does more than demolish the original purpose behind the character; to be "daffy".

Pokey said...

Thank you so much, J.J., for posting this article. It shows a funny side to Chuck's duck that has been ingored since it hasn't been 1950 or so for over 55 years.

"Daffy Dilly" (1948, CineColor), was definitely one of anybody's best WB shorts (along with another from that year, Arthur Davis's "A Hick,A Slick & A Chick"----Jaime, you plannin' a article on this odd one? "It...IS 2706...!")

Anonymous said...

I can confirm that the animation in these scenes is that of animator Ken Harris.

here's a little clue to tell Harris scenes: Ken Harris was one of the few animators at Warner Brothers that put the tongue up at the roof of the mouth to represent "s" or "t" etc in the lip sync. The tongue would occasionally pop up and reverse position with the "inside mouth" colour.

Ken never elaborately drew the tongue in favour of leaving it a simple shape.

Great clip to expose Ken marvelous animation!

Greg Duffell