Eight years before Batman made his first appearance in a 1939 issue of Detective Comics, another hardboiled crimefighter debuted in newspaper strips: Dick Tracy. While the two shared some similarities, like cool gadgets and outlandish villains, Tracy was always more grounded in reality. He preferred a high-collared trench coat over a cape and mask.
By the 1940s, Dick Tracy was one of the most popular comic strips in the country. His tough, no-nonsense style and noir aesthetic made him an icon. And like many household names of the day, he was parodied in Looney Tunes cartoons, specifically “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” from 1946.
The short starts off on an idyllic farm. An anxious Daffy Duck can’t wait for his next Dick Tracy comic to be delivered, even exclaiming, “Suffering succotash!” Though the phrase became most associated with Sylvester, Daffy also spits it out a few times in early cartoons.
When the postman finally arrives with a stack of mail, including a letter addressed to animator Rod Scribner, Daffy eagerly grabs his comic book and rushes off to read it. He tells the audience that he “can hardly wait to see what happens to Dick Tracy.”
Unfortunately, Daffy literally knocks himself out with excitement after reading about his favorite detective’s adventures. The rest of the short involves Daffy’s kooky, bizarre, noir-tinged dream as crimefighter Duck Twacy.
Right away, there’s a blink-you’ll-miss-it reference to Dick Tracy’s famously sharp jawline. As Daffy, or should we say Duck Twacy, paces around behind his office door, his silhouette morphs quickly into the instantly recognizable shape seen in the image above.
Though the title of this short seems to indicate a Daffy-Porky team-up, Porky only has a small cameo as a streetcar driver with a mustache. Daffy rides the streetcar right to the hoodlum’s well-labeled hideout.
After falling through a trapdoor into the villains’ house, Daffy turns to the audience and asks, “Was that trip really necessary?” It’s a reference to a publicity campaign from World War II asking Americans to hold off on unnecessary travel to conserve gas and other resources. In 1946 when this cartoon debuted, it was most likely a policy gone but not forgotten.
The direct Dick Tracy references really ramp up when Daffy finally stumbles upon a group of thugs near the short’s end. Snake Eyes, a mobster with dice for eyes, is a play on the Dick Tracy villain B-B Eyes while someone with a mouth full of piano keys who Daffy calls “88 Teeth” is a play on the piano-playing Tracy villain 88 Keys.
Other funny villains that Daffy sees are Doubleheader, a baseball player with two heads, Bat Man, an anthropomorphic baseball bat and Jukebox Jaw, a man with a speaker for a mouth and a turntable for a hat.
Another clear Dick Tracy reference is the scowling man with a head flat enough that miniature planes can take off from it. We told you this cartoon is a little out there. He is no doubt a nod to the famous Tracy adversary, Flattop.
Perhaps less well known than “What’s Opera, Doc?” or “Rabbit Seasoning,” “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery” is a fantastic Looney Tunes outing worthy of similar praise. The surreal visuals are a perfect match for Daffy’s wacky personality and the many homages to one of pop culture’s greatest detectives make this short even more memorable.
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