Thursday, 7 July 2016

402. The Wise Quacking Duck (1943)

Warner cartoon no. 401.
Release date: May 1, 1943.
Series: Looney Tunes.
Supervision: Bob Clampett.
Producer: Leon Schlesinger.
Starring: Mel Blanc (Daffy Duck), Darrall Payne (Mr. Meek). (Thanks to Keith Scott)
Story: Warren Foster.
Animation: Phil Monroe.
Musical Direction: Carl W. Stalling.
Sound: Treg Brown (uncredited).
Synopsis: Daffy Duck finds a new target to harass: a henpecked husband who's forced to butcher Daffy for dinner.

Daffy Duck lived up to his name since his first appearance; but the zaniness in the late 30s was tamer compared to a couple of years later. Tex Avery had interpreted Daffy with a more impish personality compared to Bob Clampett. Once Clampett found his own style - he took the "looney" in Daffy to a whole new level.

By 1943, the pace and style of the Warner Bros. cartoons had changed a great deal compared to 1938. Not only had WW2 partly helped enhance comic timing and humour standards but also by character personalities.

In the case of Wise Quacking Duck, Clampett magnifies Daffy's wacky personality to the point where no other directors would dare approach that standard. While directors like Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng gave more depth and insight into Daffy's personality; Clampett stays faithful to the character's origins and exploits the persona so broadly and potently.

As a result of Daffy's refined 'daffy' personality - Mr. Meek becomes the perfect candidate to Daffy's torment and heckling. Warren Foster's narrative is kept simple and to the point: a meek farmer attempts to slaughter Daffy Duck for dinner. Mr. Meek's introduction is only brief but it uses exposition wisely. A visual gag in Mr. Meek's mailbox with his house number read as "1313" sums up the character almost completely.

Mr. Meek is seen carrying a large axe as he tiptoes through his farm. Warren Foster, whose many talents includes bringing subtlety into hysterical dialogue: reveals a remorseful Mr. Meek who cries, "Oh, I hate to do this, folks. But my wife, Sweetiepuss, says if I don't roast a duck for dinner, she'll cook my goose!", a pun Foster uses so subtly and in excellent taste.
It's worth noting the voice work for Meek is top-notch delivery from the unfortunately anonymous Darrall Payne.

From information provided by Keith Scott in Facebook: It's worthy to mention that Mr. Meek was based on a character of the same name from a 1940s radio character from New York centered on a henpecked man. However, the dialogue spoken by Mr. Meek the cartoon is based on the henpecked Wallace Wimple, of the then-popular radio hit: Fibber McGee and Molly - whom Darrall Payne is impersonating.

Animation by Virgil Ross
Clampett also takes recurring themes from Daffy Duck cartoons into new heights. For example, an early common gag would feature the victim breaking the forth wall, remarking "What a crazy duck" or "That duck's screwy" with Daffy butting in at the statement, sometimes declaring: "That is correct. 100% correct"

In this case, Mr. Meek says, "Say, that's that Daffy Duck". Daffy slides in the scene spinning a pie on the tip of his finger. He boisterously yells in a vibrant tone: "You ain't just whistlin' Dixie!" and slams the pie across Mr. Meek's face. Clampett enhances the gag with unprecedented energy and broad animation - that his wackiness feels somewhat human.

Daffy's sheer insanity is also better showcased in the hysterical Jerry Colonna caricature. Mr. Meek responds to a vibrant knocking on the door, with Daffy Duck disguised as a fortune teller. As far as gags go, Warren Foster appears to be reliant on slapstick violence...a common trait of his. Daffy's behaviour gets ruthless when Daffy attempts to "read the bumps" on Meek's head, and creates some by hitting his head with a hammer. A slightly sadistic gag, although it's still in fine taste and spirit of Daffy's "looney-tooney" persona. Foster goes to town on some corny yet harmless puns, like Daffy literally painting Mr. Meeks' arm red as he says: "Perhaps you'd like your calm 'red'. Very well."

Clampett enhances his direction and pacing further in this cartoon; and is never afraid to go edgy on his material. Daffy's introduction scene showcases Clampett's professionalism as a director wonderfully. The peaceful atmosphere of Daffy singing and eating seeds is captured appropriately in music and timing.

Clampett also builds some great suspense as Meek in silhouette is about to anticipate a striking action. The pacing from a slow, quiet mood changes within the blink of an eye as Daffy yells, "Watch it, bub!" in a threatening pose - masterfully animated by Bob McKimson.

Daffy warns Meek, "Listen, you're liable to hurt somebody with that thing!", and so heckles Mr. Meek as he flicks his bill at Mr. Meek's face - resulting in a vibrating gag, topped with a Sold American jingle effect. The mood and energy builds up fiercely once the heckling begins. From Clampett's timing and Milt Franklyn's arrangements - the transition in pace and mood is masterfully effective.

Clampett as an instigator is primarily shown in the haystack sequence which follows. Daffy jumps into a haystack and plays along with a fierce Meek. Clampett's timing is fun as Mr. Meek franctically chops the stack violently multiple times, before ending it with one big strike. The animation shows very strong accents to make the violence tense, and yet comical.

Animation by Art Babbitt.
Then, Daffy screams in agony behind the haystack - masquerading that he's been murdered. He rips off some of his feathers and tosses some ketchup to create a bloody effect in deceiving Meek. He also channels a little of the "Mean Wittle Kid" from the  Red Skelton Show as he yells: "You've crushed my wittle head!".

Mel Blanc's passion for delivery and energy into his performance is unbelievable. Blanc's voice contrasts each other for Daffy's boisterous and calmer dialogue - and yet never loses the character's focus.

"Gruesome, isn't it?"
The edginess kicks in as Daffy presses his head underneath his neck to create a decapitated look, as seen in a close-up surrealistically animated by Art Babbitt. He jumps out of the haystack and runs around frantically in agony. Despite the blood effect being ketchup, it's no doubt a gutsy move from Clampett as far as censorship goes.

Rod Scribner's animation superbly captures a supposedly traumatic, disturbing scene with very strong poses and excellent graphic clarity. Daffy goes as far to ham it up in a dramatic, dying pose as he clutches onto his hold. He staggers and crashes onto a piece of fence. He stands behind it as he anticipates a dying pose. Daffy's pranks has succeeded in deceiving a now remorseful Meek in killing him.

The breakfast sequence is one of the few tamer, soothing scenes in the cartoon. It's a perfect casting choice for Bob McKimson to specialise in cartoon acting. A saddened Mr. Meek walks into his kitchen where the camera pans to a relaxed, unharmed Daffy Duck sitting on the kitchen table pouring himself "a swig of swamp water".

A casual Daffy continues to deceive Meek into thinking Daffy is still dead, as Meek cries: "I killed a poor, defenceless little duck." The Schlesinger staff's admiration for the Dick Tracy comic strip is evident when Daffy calls Meek "B.B. Eyes".

Warren Foster's use of forced puns works well as Daffy asks: "How many lumps does your wife usually give ya?". Meek responds, "Well, this morning, Sweetpiepuss only gave me one lump." He takes off his hat to reveal the "lump" on his head. Not only is the pun amusing, but it also gives us information on Meek's married life. Daffy responds by giving him "another lump" as he smashes his head with a sugar bowl and pours cream on his head in the process. Although the sequence is heavy on character animation acting; it's a good bracer for the more rowdy energy Clampett has in offer.

After a string of gags pulled on Mr. Meek - Daffy reaches his peak in an energetic sequence involving war-related references. Daffy jumps upwards and dives in the style of an aircraft. The use of colour in the shots of Daffy diving is very cleverly used - it deceives the audiences from thinking he's flying from the clouds - whereas the next shot reveals a similar colour from the wallpaper.

Daffy drops an egg on Mr. Meek which he regards as a "secret bomb site". Clampett's interpretation of "wackiness" in Daffy Duck goes unsurpassed as he goes into a frenzy of loud crashing noises while smashing household items to interpret a crash effect.

It gets so broad that Daffy Duck himself, almost loses energy and triggers as he pants: "Say, I'm pooped!"...until he starts again. Clampett and Foster take pleasure in making Daffy an incredibly obnoxious foe for Mr. Meek that his rowdyism and heckling gets to the point where he gets too big for his britches. Mr. Meek's anger is beautifully executed in a gag where his head literally burns to the point where the egg fries. This leads to Daffy very meekly and timidly surrender his fun as his life's at stake again.

Warren Foster's ability in gag development and plot structure work brilliantly in a supposedly dead-end climax. Daffy is cornered by Mr. Meek at gun point, and is vulnerable at this moment. In what appears to be an act of surrender, he remarks: "Well, it looks like Sweetiepuss gets duck for dinner, after all! Don't it?".

A dynamic point-of-view shot
of Mr. Meek's pinnacle moment.
With chance - he gracefully pushes the gun away and performs his striptease as he seductively unveils his skin - once again, fooling Meek. The sequence itself is a throwback to the striptease gags Tex Avery had conceived for some of his spot-gag cartoons...with Carl Stalling playing the same song: It Had to Be You. Another funny moment for Daffy Duck, the sequence feels very sophisticated and poised compared to anything Clampett's done in the short--which can be attributed by its animation.

It's famously known amongst historians and animation enthusiasts the sequence was animated by Art Babbitt during his very brief tenure at the Schlesinger studio (which I wrote four years ago).

Babbitt is perhaps best known for his work (and later, union activities) at Disney and during its pinnacle era of the 1930s and early 40s; animating on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and of course: his contributions to Goofy. While Babbitt denied using live-action reference on this sequence in Michael Barrier's 1986 interview; his animation on Daffy Duck still had a sincere Disney-like quality look to it - in contrast to the broader, looser animation from Bob McKimson or Rod Scribner.

As far as Clampett endings go: this short is no exception. Daffy has found himself at gunpoint, again, which he complains: "No, no, not twice in the same picture!". Mr. Meek shoots his feathers off - revealing a naked Daffy. He throws Daffy in the oven and prepares to roast him at the short's nail-biting moment.

Disturbed by Daffy's agonising screams; Mr. Meek frantically opens the oven to let Daffy live. Daffy remarks, "Say, now you're cooking with gas" which leads to perhaps the most disturbing scene in the entire cartoon: Daffy pouring himself in gravy while laughing hysterically.

As nutty as the ending is, it's slightly discomforting in watching a naked Daffy Duck bathing himself in gravy and clearly enjoying it too much. But, what do you expect from Clampett?

Bob Clampett has directed a handful of zany Daffy Duck cartoons like Draftee Daffy and The Great Piggy Bank Robbery, but in this short: Daffy's personality is far more broader. I'd personally consider it the nuttiest Daffy Duck short the director made. Clampett takes complete liberty in pushing the boundaries of the character with unparalleled insanity and innovative comic timing which is carried almost entirely in the cartoon. Warren Foster also had his share in enhancing Daffy's zany persona with outlandish, hysterical gags and spontaneously conceived situations. For a cartoon with a relatively shorter length; the timing couldn't have been more flown nicely. The short contains a lot of material with its accelerated pace that took its toll.

Rating: 5/5.


  1. Avery seemed to have abandon Daffy after only a few cartoons (Same with Bugs). I've never understood that.

  2. Avery was gone from the studio less than a year after he created Bugs.

  3. It's not a "secret bomb site," it's a secret bomb *sight*. Namely, the Norden bomb sight, which wasn't all that secret! Under ideal conditions, it was, in fact, one of the most accurate sights of its kind in the world as of 1943.