Sunday, 3 August 2014

339. The Henpecked Duck (1941)

Warner cartoon no. 338.
Release date: August 30, 1941.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Porky Pig / Daffy Duck / Junior / Various voices), Sara Berner (Mrs. Daffy Duck).
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: John Carey.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: During a divorce trial, Daffy Duck is sued by his wife but losing their egg by the use of magic.

Clampett, again, feels he still has the responsibility of directing a Looney Tune short, where Porky Pig must have a screen appearance, despite the fact that earlier this year: the system at Warners was becoming more relaxed, and Clampett himself had already begun directing a couple, coloured one-shot cartoons.

This time, however, by keeping Porky to a limited role, Clampett makes Daffy Duck the star of the short, and was already a cartoon star, having appeared in several Porky shorts as well as a few coloured Merrie Melodies.

This could have been a pressing advantage for many times with Clampett who was frustrated of using Porky in every short, and yet having Daffy Duck appear more regularly would have perhaps turned out more better quality shorts that way.

In this short, however, Daffy is seen portrayed as a henpecked husband, with this short being one of the earliest of the "married" Daffy Duck shorts, which is a formula that's been used several times over his Warner Bros. career. Porky Pig, however, is a tad underplayed, but to a suitable role where he is portrayed as judge for the "Court of Inhuman Relations".

The establishing scenes of Daffy Duck and his wife, are very well outlined by Warren Foster, who establishes their personalities and problems brilliantly, as well as Clampett expressing it visually. Daffy's entrance to the courtroom expresses a melancholy atmosphere. With the arrival of Mrs. Daffy Duck, it's a different sort of mood, a more intimidating mood.

Clampett uses some intense camera angles, like low-level figure shots of Daffy's wife, who exclaims repeatedly, "I want a divorce", and the use of the camera angles are handled brilliantly to capture the mood and tension the wife is feeling.

Daffy's scenes are also great in close-up, to express the depression he is facing. Not to mention, the backgrounds are usually kept very simple, an old device by Clampett to make the chemistry of the scene match the action or emotion from the characters.

Not to mention, the stereotypes of the wife acting like a control freak is also amusing too, especially how she treats Daffy. It's evident in the scene where Mrs. Daffy Duck, off-screen, bellows "Well, don't stand there, say something!". Just as Daffy was about to speak, letting out a breath, the wife smacks his beak, henpecking: "Don't you dare open your mouth, you and your lies!". This is great use of conflict by Foster in terms of stereotyping marriage conflicts, especially when dealing with your wife. Before Porky can grant her a divorce, however, he wishes for her to reflect the story that related to the circumstance. Just as she is about to begin the story, the multiple rings then flashback back to the event, an old filmmaking device to show a flashback.

Looking at the flashback segments, not only does Clampett use some artistic shots to convey the mood, but he also does a wonderful job capturing it in the flashback sequence, too. The starting scene is a great example, as Daffy Duck and his wife's henpecking chemistry is presented entirely in silhouette. Daffy's wife is about to leave the house, and asks Daffy to sit on the egg during her day out. She threatens to "wring his little neck" if the egg goes missing.

It's the sort of technique that could have been inspired from Frank Tashlin. It's great when presenting a scene involving dialogue as well, as that is exactly how a scene ought to be presented--as watching them fully interact with dialogue, as the silhouette makes the scene look more striking.

A technically ambitious to do, especially when the wife exits fro her silhouette as she reveals herself fully once she walks out of the door. Another great scene occurs much later on in the short, during Daffy's major dilemma, where he is frantically searching around the house, attempting to retrieve the missing egg. Daffy moves frantically that he appears rapidly when moving in perspective animation, making the layout and staging of the scene rather perplexing to do.

All through the flashback sequence, the audience get a real taster of Daffy Duck's inner emotions, and Foster and Clampett certainly explore more of the character, and thus giving him more of an identity. Compared to being routinely casted as an all-round goofball, who enjoys pestering his enemies for the fun of it, Daffy still shows the wackiness he was born with, but is presented as a more three-dimensional character.

Notice in the scenes where Daffy scolds at his wife behind her back, mocking her henpecking mannerisms as she scolds ("Yes m'love!") numerously, only to find she rapidly opens the front door, very suspecting towards Daffy's mockery. This ends, once Daffy returns to his nest as he responds meekly, "Yes, m'love".

Another great sequence occurs when he loses his egg during his magic trick act. Attempting several times to retrieve the egg from under his sleeve, his emotions get carried away where he expresses a lot of impatience from the flawed magic trick. He shouts out the spell, "Alakazam!" several times and more desperately as he begins to break down on the door, in a almost panic attack. Mel Blanc, himself captures the anxiety and panic-strickened emotion Daffy faces which makes the scene work successfully. The forth-wall cut, "Say, is there a magician in the house?" is also a charming touch for a 1941 audience.

As Daffy Duck has been sitting on the nest for, supposedly quite a long period, he becomes very restless when sitting on the nest. He looks at the egg to examine it, and by accident begins to create some magic himself. This is a charming little sequence which is succeeded with some decent character animation. Perhaps the most challenging scene to do in that segment would be the close-up of Daffy's hands, which requires a lot of acting.

The hands are seen playing around with the egg, until Daffy accidentally uses both hands to make them disappear. Then, with some knowledge of magic, he finished the spell "Hocus pocus. Flippity flan. A razzamattaz, and Alakazam!". Then, the egg appears, through the charming "Byoop!" sound effect, which, according to Clampett, was created by himself. A charming little sequence, until everything goes wrong for Daffy..

Upon discovering that the Mrs. is returning home, Daffy awakens after a faint and attempts to find an item to disguise the missing egg. After frantically tugging at the door, he uses the fallen doorknob as the perfect disguise to find the egg. Upon placing it on the nest, the handle inanimately turns the other side up, meaning the metal bar is sticking upwards.

Only Clampett would include such subtle, crude humour of Daffy sitting on top of the other end of the doorknob. Upon feeling the pointed part, he immediately reacts and briefly turns into a pose that makes him look rather camp.

Upon the arrival of Daffy's wife, she storms in a shot of both of them appearing in silhouette. The use of the silhouette is once again used to portray the conflict, making the scene appear ambiguous to an audience. Not to mention, it's also used as a gag purpose, as Daffy's wife holds Daffy's neck upwards, in order to reveal his secret. The pointy handle sticking out from the nest is also very amusing in Clampett's own subtle ways. Daffy's wife looks at the handle in awe, "Mama's little darlin'", before her double-take.

And so, as the short cuts back to the modern day, Daffy's wife still barks "I want a divorce!". Daffy, on the other hand, pleads to Porky to give him another chance in performing the trick. Porky accepts his offer, "Alright, but remember, just one more chance!".

This follows with a suspenseful montage of the courtroom's reaction, creating suspense and tension, just how it should be. And so, Daffy, with a lot of anxiety surrounding his feelings, performs the spell uneasily, but lo and behold: the egg appears once more.

The take from the hen in the jury is priceless, she looks at herself with pity, murmuring, "Alakazam and you get an egg? Oh dear, and for 15 years, I've been doing it the hard way!", once again making the joke subtle in Clampett's taste. After the missing egg's recovery, both Daffy and his wife reconcile. Then, the egg begins to hatch, and so Daffy's new child is hatched. This so ends rather cutesy as Daffy's junior responds "Case dismissed" and bangs on the gavel gently as the cartoon irises out.

The Henpecking Duck is another hit that Clampett would turn out once in a while, after directing a lot of mediocre material. I'd say because the short is merely a Daffy Duck short, and much less Porky, as Daffy Duck was already starting to achieve stardom by this point, and becoming a more popular character such as Bugs Bunny. Clampett evidently made the short very visually fulfilling with not only simple backgrounds or silhouettes, but also great staging as well as the use of intriguing camera angles to convey emotions and atmosphere in the scenes. Daffy certainly proved to show more identity, much like how he was explored further in Freleng's You Ought to be in Pictures. Overall, it is a funny short, it is very charming, and the chemistry between the characters are believable. It is certainly one of Clampett's brighter shorts of 1941.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. The "15 years" joke would be recycled into Bob McKimson's "Crowing Pains", also written by Warren Foster.

  2. Steven, KHJ in Los Angeles had a show called "I Want a Divorce." I can't help but think Foster borrowed it.
    The "Case dismissed. Step down!" was from a radio show as well.

  3. The whole Daffy-missing egg-shrewish wife concept would be used again 20 years later for Art Davis' final Warners cartoon, "Quackidle Tears". But this is a fairly important short in Clampett's evolution, since it's the first time he's really taken the duck completely out of the looney bin and given him motivation for his wild actions and a stronger story structure.