From 1930 through 1960, Warner Brothers released some of the best cartoons ever produced. And the adventures of a particularly loony black mallard duck are among my favorites. For the most part, the early Daffy Duck was bent on “self -preservation” (as he once famously declared) or, like a child, simply determined to cause mischief and chaos. Later, Daffy became a quivering mass of negative emotions with few obvious redeeming qualities. This is the Daffy Duck we all know and love today. So, with these facts in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most brilliant and hilarious films ever made.
The 20 best Daffy Duck cartoons, starting with the first 10…
Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur (1939) Directed by Chuck Jones
Prehistoric caveman Jack Benny decides to take his trusty Apatosaurus “dog” along on a duck hunt! The fast and furious slapstick reaches a crescendo when Daffy lures the caveman to a gigantic, heaving, inflated balloon facsimile of a duck! A moment after Daffy hands the caveman a large knife with which to stab the giant fowl, a huge explosion sends Daffy and the caveman floating up to Heaven! Examining his cloudy surroundings, Daffy ruefully says: “Maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea after all!”
You Ought to Be in Pictures (1940) Directed by Friz Freleng
In this combination of live action and animation, Daffy convinces Porky Pig to quit cartoons in favor of full-length features. However, no matter what he does, Porky is unable to get past the guard at the main studio gate. Meanwhile, Daffy is trying to convince the cartoon producer (Leon Schlesinger) to make him the headliner in place of Porky! Fortunately, Porky returns just in time to give Daffy what he deserves!
The combination of live action and cartoon animation is beautifully done. Also, the opportunity to see some of the famous “Termite Terrace” staff on film should not be missed!
My Favorite Duck (1942) Directed by Chuck Jones
Literally speaking, Porky Pig is a happy camper in the wilderness until he encounters Daffy Duck! Unparalleled mayhem finds Daffy needling Porky to the point of insanity! When Porky tries to start a campfire by rubbing two sticks together, Daffy hands him two sticks of dynamite! The subsequent explosion is the last straw! Over hill and dale, Porky chases Daffy with a shotgun until the film apparently breaks in the projector!
Chuck Jones played a perfect note of character and silliness with this cartoon. The comedy is original and the timing is spot-on, especially the ending.
The Wise Quacking Duck (1943) Directed by Bob Clampett
Don’t let his granny eyeglasses and diminutive size fool you. “Mr. Meek” is more than willing to chase Daffy with an axe and shotgun! That’s because his wife “Sweetie-Puss” wants roast duck for dinner! After a long, slapstick chase that repeats the same gag (“Oh, no! Not twice in the same picture,” wails an exasperated Daffy!), the duck actually ends up in the oven! Aghast at Daffy’s screams of pain, Meek opens the oven to find Daffy happily basting himself! “Now you’re cookin’ with gas,” declares Daffy! Daffy very definitely lives up to his first name in this cartoon! Even though his adversary wants to do him in, Daffy is enjoying the chase! It’s a very funny film.
To Duck or Not to Duck (1943) Directed by Chuck Jones
Moments after a slowly flying Daffy tells us that the hunters can’t hit “the broad side of a duck,” Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy’s tail feathers! Standing up to Elmer, Daffy challenges him to a boxing match! A split second later, they’re inside a boxing ring surrounded by a huge crowd of ducks! In order to pinpoint the rules, a rotund duck referee proceeds to pound Elmer senseless! But after Daffy is declared the winner, Elmer gets his revenge! Daffy couldn’t be more dismissive of his opponent than he is in this film. Moreover, Elmer’s obvious befuddlement throughout the cartoon is priceless!
Tom Turk and Daffy (1944) Directed by Chuck Jones
When a frightened turkey begs Daffy to hide him from hunter Porky Pig, Daffy places his new friend in several unlikely places before settling on the interior of a snowman! But, since Daffy’s self-centered nature is on full display in this cartoon, he soon steers Porky in the snowman’s direction! Fortunately for the turkey, he escapes in time to transform Daffy into Porky’s target! Eventually, after Daffy desperately begs the turkey to hide him from Porky, the events of the cartoon come full circle!
Table turning is the point of this cartoon. The desperate nature of the chase allows the humor to take center stage, and the ending is extremely satisfying!
Duck Soup to Nuts (1944) Directed by Friz Freleng
The fact that Daffy Duck tends to stand out in a crowd fails to impress hunter Porky Pig. Daffy’s contract with Warner Brothers also doesn’t matter! Nothing works until Daffy’s double talk prompts Porky to climb a tree! Convinced he’s an eagle, Porky finally comes down to Earth when he steps off a branch to prove he can fly! Incensed, Porky forces Daffy to face a one man firing squad! Fortunately for Daffy, his bereaved, loudly wailing “family” shows up to put a stop to the impending atrocity!
Since Daffy is clearly aware of the fact that he is dealing with an inferior mentality, the manipulation of Porky is hilarious!
Draftee Daffy (1945) Directed by Bob Clampett
In the final year of WWII, Daffy’s infamous cowardice comes to the fore in his effort to avoid the “little man from the draft board!” After failing to expel the man from his house, Daffy locks the man in a safe, traps the safe behind a hastily constructed brick wall, and hitches a ride on a rocket to get as far away from the man as possible! Unfortunately for Daffy, the rocket crash-lands in Hell! And whom does he find waiting for him…? Why, the little man from the draft board, of course!
Definitely a film of its time, but that’s alright. The laughs increase by the second as the duck grows daffier and more desperate with every failed scheme!
Nasty Quacks (1945) Directed by Frank Tashlin
As the pet of a little girl, Daffy is used to getting his way! This includes loudly dominating the breakfast table! But when the father decides he’s had his fill of Daffy, he gives his fickle daughter a new pet duckling! Big mistake! Even though Daffy momentarily finds himself out on his ear, he returns to set things right! Realizing it’s emotionally easier for him to kill a grown-up duck, Daffy gets a surprise when he feeds instant-grow vitamins to the duckling! In the morning, the father finds Daffy, his new duck wife, and a passel of baby ducklings, loudly dominating the breakfast table!
The obvious hatred the father feels for Daffy Duck leads to some outstanding nonsense. But the fact that Daffy apparently has a libido is just too funny for words!
The Great Piggy Bank Robbery (1946) Directed by Bob Clampett
Imagining he is the great detective “Duck Twacy,” a daydreaming Daffy decides to launch a search for his stolen piggy bank! Since all the bad guys seem to have sprung from the pen of Chester Gould, Daffy encounters mobsters such as Rubber Head, Neon Noodle, and Snake Eyes! After throwing a hand grenade at Pumpkin Head to get an instant stack of pumpkin pies, Daffy finally awakens to find a piggy but not a bank!
Amazingly, this cartoon brilliantly parodies the grit and darkness of film noir detective films. But it does so with a good amount of belly laughs!
But th-th-that’s not all folks…there’s 10 more soon to come.
Blair Kramer is a widely published writer for various publications, including “Velocity: Chicago,” “A Guide to Art in Chicago,” “Comic Book Collector Magazine,” “American Metal Magazine,” and the “Jewish American Historical Society.” He also dabbles in screenplays and comic books. There are only two things in his life that he loves more than good movies. They are his wife and family.