Thursday, 9 July 2015

378. The Squawkin' Hawk (1942)

Warner cartoon no. 377.
Release date: August 8, 1942.
Series: Merrie Melodies.
Supervision: Chuck Jones.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Kent Rogers (Henery Hawk), Ted Pierce (Male chicken), Sara Berner (Mother Hawk / Hen).
Story: Michael Maltese.
Animation: ?
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: A young chickenhawk is tired of being treated like an offspring, and goes out to claim a chicken of his own.

And so the blog marks the first appearance of our tenacious little chickenhawk: Henery, though only named "Junior" in the cartoon. A Chuck Jones creation who mainly appeared in Bob McKimson cartoons in his repertoire of Foghorn Leghorn shorts. Great directors whom both did good interpretations of the character.

Unfortunately, the copyright catalog doesn't give any indication on story credit of the cartoon, and the fact it's "Blue Ribboned" doesn't help. Digging a little deeper, Michael Barrier's wonderful book: Hollywood Cartoons indicates this was Michael Maltese's first work for Chuck Jones, based on a reliable source from a Chuck Jones 1979 interview who confirmed Maltese wrote the story, while he was still a "floater". Judging by the short's narrative and witty scenarios; it's very strikingly like Maltese's work.

Maltese sets the pace of the opening sequence to a fine start. The establishing shot features the household residence of the appropriately punned, "Chick N. Hawk"; and the camera pans to a silhouette shot of Henery arguing with his mother. Henery is resistant about eating a puny worm, despite his encouragements.

The next scene quietly sets the focus on the worm, whilst the argument between Henery and the mother are kept crucial. The worm is torn at two sides of the argument; he cheers on Henery when he refuses to eat the worm, but his mood quickly swings to melancholy and defeat when the mother insists: "Eat the nice worm!".

Chuck's expressions works to a tee, and it's a very clever scene of showing the worm's perspective without losing sight of the cartoon's story; with off-screen argiung to coincide with it. It's also a golden animated sequence.

Chuck's richness and influence from Disney-like animation hasn't quite died away; as the scene of the worm sitting on the spoon that moves in different angles requires a lot of analysis. The mother shaking the spoon, with the worm struggling to keep in position is very beautiful touch. A top-notch job from whoever animated the sequence. If I were to hazard a guess, the scene is very slow and meticulous in its working; I'd consider Rudy Larriva. As the mother punishes Henery for the old "bed without supper" discipline, the worm remains seated at the spoon, feeling safe and relieved.

Chuck's love for visual metaphors blend nicely in the cartoon. Henery's aspiration for eating chicken starts to haunt his dreams. The cliched visual formula for Henery counting sheep begins to take its course, but his desires turn into a figment of his imagination as the sheep morph into bouncing chickens.

Henery supposedly grabs a piece of chicken and bites, only to wake up from his dreams. Chuck's timing on Henery clapping his beak is very crisp. This finally motivates Henery to desert his home in search for a chicken.

Angrily leaving the house; he frantically makes a run in search for his journey: only to lead him to unknowingly fall off a branch and crash on a rooftop. The rapid shots of Henery falling certainly indicate Chuck's better tastes in timing, and a possible ode to Tashlin's rapid pacing in his late 1930s shorts. Henery leaves he has found himself a chicken, which in the following shot is left vague: picturing a silhouetted rooster for gag purposes. Henery zips off-screen only to crash; as the horizontal pan reveals that Henery crashed into a weathervane. Chuck nails the piece of timing to a tee, particularly as the scene requires direct camera instructions as well as layout.

The following sequence calls for some memorable dialogue from Mike Maltese. Henery has fortunately landed on top of an unsuspecting sleeping hen. Henery climbs on top of the hen's body, inspecting, and to his delight: realises it is a chicken.

The following scene is a memorable gag, only more memorable in Jones' You Were Never Duckier. A top-notch job by animator Ken Harris, who not only animates the hen moving dynamically in perspective, but captures the weight as well as the struggles from Henery's feet as he's having a hard time carrying that weight.

Chuck Jones always assigned Ken scenes that were hardest in the shorts, as well as what required a lot of analysis. Used later again in the Daffy cartoon, Harris would've been the obvious candidate to animate that feat.

Mike Maltese's witty writing takes form when the male chicken misinterprets the scenario. He is awakened by the hen, supposedly brushing his neck with her head; whereas in reality Henery is struggling with coordination.

Baffled, the husband chicken asks the audience: "Does it strike you that my wife is acting a little strange tonight?". He stops her, asking: "Hazel, have you been drinking?" as he interprets her actions as rather wobbly, once again, because of Henery's struggles. He orders her back to her nest, until he spots an oddity; her seemingly short legs. Chuck's layouts assures the comparisons in size, by having the father chicken's feet seem larger than usual. He asks, "Hazel, what happened to your legs?", until he discovers Henery. The wife's double-take on "Chickenhawk?!" adds the spot.

In many of Jones' early cartoons; he appears to love the contrast of small vs. big amongst his characters. It was experimented a lot in the Sniffles shorts, Tom Thumb in Trouble, etc. Chuck still used that here, most notably in the scene of Henery inspecting the hen. It works well without dragging on as far as pacing goes.

It works rather better in the shot of Henery attempting to threaten the timid hen. At this point, the mother hen has hidden henhouse inside a henhouse; and panics over her fear of chicken hawks. He grabs her by the neck and threatens, "Are you comin' along quiet or do I have to--", until his moment is interrupted by the presence of the husband chicken.

He asks her, "Is this man bothering you, Hazel?". Chuck's staging of the three characters blends greatly in so many ways, especially how it emphasises not only the contrasts of size, but also how Henery doesn't stand a chance when challenging the husband chicken. The husband socks Henery away from her palm, and building up to a confrontation between Henery and the husband.

Chuck's direction takes advanage of the witty feuds between Henery and the chicken. As the husband chicken advances towards him, Henery hostages himself inside a bottle. Cornered, he attempts to pull faces at the chicken as a static to scare him away.

The following shot establishes the fact that the bottle is partly broken. Henery leaves the scene when he is caught by the loitering chicken, and zips away. The husband advances and crashes inside the bottle.

Chuck's timing also improves for the better in a a mini chase scene around the haystack. The hen is seen hiding at a corner, hoping to splat the hawk with a mallet at the right time. Due to wrong timing, she accidentally hits her own husband with the mallet. Another greatly conceived gag, that works on a lot of levels. Pierce's delivery on the line, "Thank you, Hazel" is added to great effect for the confused chicken.

At that moment, Henery approaches the husband chicken and challenges him to a fight: "Come on, ya big palooka, get up and fight. Put up yer beaks!" The motivated husband stands up, ready for position; leaving intimidated Henery to stammer at the chicken's figure. At that moment, the husband takes off-screen and leaves the henhouse, along with his wife. Believing he has succeeded, Henery attempts to call them back, only to realise his mother scared them away. Chuck's excellent layouts of the unnoticed mother really adds an alarming and intimidating figure.

Maltese sets the ending by using the same structure of the opening sequence. The scene establishes a friendlier relationship between mother and son. The mother asks rhetorically, "Mother knows best, doesn't she?", in which Henery willingly agrees. The ending brings the worm back into the character, who is brought back as a recurring gag device. Believing that Henery has finally given in, he begins to write out a will while salt shakes on his head. For the last few scenes, Maltese chooses the dialogue carefully, for the last gag of course. The mother asks: "And what does my little man want for his dinner?". Henery replies: "Chicken!", implying he hasn't changed his attitude since the beginning of the cartoon, and ending the short on a ironic note. The worm responds to the decision gladly and kisses Henery on the beak.

For the most part, it remains a largely enjoyable Chuck Jones effort who exceeds in comic timing and approach to humour. To some extent, he still has left traces from his Disney-esque influence, particularly for his like of contrasting size, but it wasn't done in vain and the short was still paced very evenly. Maltese's first collaborative work with Jones is the first, and it's certainly promising for the greater material which is yet to happen. When watching the scenes with the worm, it's done so well from a different viewpoint, it's possible to even produce a different concept centring on that character that it writes itself: a likely followup to The Wacky Worm.

Rating: 3/5.


  1. You might want to revise the supervision credit to say Chuck Jones.

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