As we work on the ninth film blurbed by the man in his "'Best Films' of 1951" piece, recently re-reprinted in the fabulous volume Farber on Film (number 8 is here),we take a slight mental health break by checking out one of the honorable mentions listed at the piece's end. The final one, to be precise. Here's Manny:
"And, for want of further space, six-inch Emanuels to the following also-rans: The Tall Target, Against the Gun, No Highway in the Sky, Happiest Days of Your Life, Rawhide, Skelton's Excuse My Dust, The Enforcer, Force of Arms, The Wooden Horse, Night Into Morning, Payment on Demand, Cry Danger, and a Chuck Jones animated cartoon—the name escapes me—about a crass, earnest, herky-jerky dog that knocks its brains out trying to win a job in a Pisa pizza joint."
Farber's mentions feature at least two bonafide underground classics: the tension-filled process film No Highway, and Anthony Mann's great account of a foiled Lincoln assassination plot, The Tall Target (not to be confused with Boetticher's The Tall T, and now available via Warner Archives). Many of the others constitute Subjects For Further Research. As for the Chuck Jones cartoon, we've got its number. And title. It's A Hound For Trouble, and it's an extra on the Warner DVD of the Doris Day flick On Moonlight Bay. (Farber on Day: "Cute.")
The hound in question is, of course, Charlie Dog, whom I"ve always considered one of Chuck Jones most convincing and disturbing creations. Yes, Jones' character was based on a dog actually conceived by the great Bob Clampett, but Jones took the mutt places that most Looney Tunes never visited. In a sense, Charlie was as subversively off-putting as Tex Avery's Screwball Squirrel, and hence almost as short-lived (Charlie starred in five shorts.) Whoever wrote the WIkipedia entry on Charlie really nails the guy: "[He is] defined by one desire: to find a master. To this end, Charlie is willing to pull out all the stops, from pulling the 'big soulful eyes routine' to boasting of his pedigree [...] though in reality he is just a slick-talking mutt who rarely realizes that his own aggressive obnoxiousness is sabotaging his appeal to any potential guardian."
Indeed. Hound begins with Charlie getting kicked off of a boat he's stowed away on, and finding himself in a land where no one "capeches" his slick rap. Here he is in both calculating (confiding in the audience) and "soulful-eyed" (wooing a potential master) modes:
Farber says that Charlie "beats his brains out," but what he really does, hoping to impress potential master Pasquale while the restaurateur steps out for a break, is screw up royally. So royally, and aggressively, that you get the idea he's doing it on purpose. As when he stomps on a bunch of grapes and proudly proffers the resulting liquid to an understandably repulsed customer.
Charlie's particular brand of sociopathy—because, you know, it seems as though he really really DOES want a master—is all the more terrifying AND plausible for the way it's exaggerated in the Jones cartoons, which is part of what makes the cartoons almost more terrifying than they are hilarious. At the end of the cartoon, Pasquale takes advantage of Charlie's unfamiliarity with Italian architectural landscapes, and tests his mettle as man's best friend, resulting in this rather anti-lyrical closing image:
...but we all know Charlie will live to hound another unfortunate, another day.
UPDATE: My pal Joseph Failla, a longtime student of Termite Terrace, has some interesting thoughts:
I think Chuck Jones has fans for all stages of his career, from his lushly colorful, storybook beginnings (I still admit to being a Sniffles fan), to his more stylized abstractions, later on. It's really a classic journey that many artists undergo during their lifetime, if they're lucky enough to have such a long career. One of the most interesting processes in Looney Tunes, is watching Jones' finely detailed Road Runner backgrounds disintegrate into linear designs that merely suggest their southwest desert settings. Sometimes having your budget cut out from under you, can be a creative boon.
It's true as Jones came into his own, the Looney Tunes stable of characters grew more engaging, since any number of his creations (or those he inherited) would qualify for a lifetime of psychoanalysis. Although I'm not so sure I don't prefer Bob Clampett's physically zany Daffy, to Jones' more neurotic one. Surely, Clampett's version must have been more fun to animate (DUCK AMUCK notwithstanding), but half the task of animation is fully developing a character's personality, as an actor would thoroughly research his role. So with Jones, Daffy's persona was so distinctly defined, that the animators knew where the next drawing was headed well before they put pencil to paper.