Duck Amuck

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(1953, directed by Chuck Jones)

- inducted 2015 –

Duck Amuck is easily distinguishable from the other seven-minute masterpieces that came out of Warner Bros.’ s Termite Terrace stamped with Chuck Jones’s director’s credit. (It’s one of four Jones-directed “Looney Tunes” films that made the top five in the canonical, Jerry Beck-created list of “The 50 Greatest Cartoons.” The equally sui generis What’s Opera, Doc? occupies the top slot; Daffy Duck, the star of Duck Amuck, also appears shows up at number four, in Duck Dodgers in the 24 Century.) It’s theone that introduced hundreds, if not millions, of kids watching Saturday morning TV to the kind of parodistic self-awareness that also manifested itself in Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD and the TV comedy of Ernie Kovacs. These are ‘50s touchstones that may not have seemed like a sideshow to the really important entertainment of their time, but that were essential to the development of what we now refer to as pop culture. Self-aware humor was always present in the Warner Bros. cartoons; characters broke the fourth wall, talked to the audience, bitched about their careers, marched into Jack Warner’s office to demand a little respect.

“But this time, this kind of doodling makes up the whole world of the cartoon. Calling attention to himself as the man behind the curtain, Jones keeps changing his mind about what sort of vehicle he’s constructing for his leading man, changing the scenery or letting it run out, changing Daffy’s own physical form, even messing with the sound. Suddenly cast as a country musician, Daffy opens his mouth to sing, and no sound comes out; he strums his guitar, and the soundtrack erupts with a round of machine-gun fire. By treating the very elements of moviemaking as a joke, Jones does what Orson Welles could do straight: make the viewer aware of the mechanics of his art in a way that makes creativity look like fun, the kind of fun that the viewer might want to get in on. Duck Amuck, like Citizen Kane, is the kind of movie that makes people want to make movies.

“None of this would count for as much if it weren’t for the aspect of Jones’s talent that keeps his most visually imaginative work from turning into a sterile exercise in graphic design: the man could bring pen-and-ink figures into funny, believable characters like nobody else at the studio. The subtle shifts of facial expression and grand gestures that his drawings went through could be amazing when the characters interacted, and they’re amazing here in what amounts a one-man show: first puzzled and confused, soon angry, then wheedling, cajoling, desperate, and finally taking one last apoplectic stand against an insane, vindictive universe, Daffy goes through every stage of grief at least once, including a couple that there may not be words for in the English language. The proof of his sureness as a filmmaker is that audiences always knew in an instant what he meant his characters to be, and it’s confirmed in the final punch line: a film director is the God of his world, and nobody ever did a better job of casting the role of God.”

~ Phil Dyess-Nugent

Principal cast: Mel Blanc
Story by Michael Maltese
Produced by Edward Selzer (uncredited)
Film editing by Treg Brown (uncredited)
Musical director: Carl W. Stalling (uncredited)

Duration: 7 minutes
Languages: English
Filmed in color (Technicolor)
Sound mix: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced and released in USA by Warner Bros.
Premiered in USA on 28 February 1953

Awards and honors:
- National Film Registry selection, 1999
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 15 January 2006