This episode of Courage seems to be a parody of an episode of a TV serial from the 1930s based on a novel by Arthur Reeve. It is called “The Clutching Hand” and is about a detective named Craig Kennedy. This serialised original includes the following elements:
- A get rich quick scheme
- Assuming a false identity
The original is slow and pretty boring for a modern audience, but the creators of Courage The Cowardly Dog have created a masterful mishmash of the above elements and made a brand new story for children using the basic formula they have already established for themselves combined with broad strokes from Arthur Reeve.
Children’s stories often feature oversized (or undersized) characters/elements. We have that here, too, with Eustace’s massive festering foot which literally swallows him up.
This is the most difficult to watch episode so far in terms of gross out humour. Despite the cartoon depiction, the foot — and especially Muriel’s home remedies for the foot — really make my skin crawl.
STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE CLUTCHING FOOT”
Much use is made of The Rule of Three in Storytelling. “The Clutching Foot” is basically a spoof of a heist movie, so includes the classic scenes from those. There is a pyrrhic victory for Courage as he sacrifices his health and wellbeing to save the day.
It’s very clear by now that Courage’s needs and shortcomings never change. He is a dog who is charged with the task of saving his home and family.
This would get old after a while, except the humans Courage lives with have different shortcomings and needs depending on the episode. Here, Eustace is foiled by his refusal to see a doctor when his foot festers.
Eustace does not want to see a doctor — he wants to have a nap and wake up and find his foot all better. He lets Muriel try out her home remedies (three of them):
- Pinching crabs
- Green slime
Unfortunately for him, his foot completely takes over while he’s sleeping, and swallows him right up. This is basically an intruder in the house — the massive foot might as well be a monster who has come in through the window or a ghoul. The function is the same, but is a bit more like a psychological suspense story in that the monster is Eustace himself — it’s a part of him. The nasty part of himself is the very thing that will consume him in the end.
And it does. Quite literally.
The gangster persona is a masterful touch for a foot opponent because the big toe can be the Don and the little toes can back up everything he says. The size of the toes equal the hierarchy in a typical gang.
With Eustace stuck inside it unable to speak, the foot itself comes up with a plan. This is a gangster foot, and speaks in a parody of gangsters from American film in the early part of the 20th century. The foot is going to use Muriel as bait, “Do what I say or the fat lady gets it,” and will force Courage to carry out heists for it.
Courage, of course, will do what he needs to in order to save Muriel (and Eustace by default.)
The big struggle sequence involves Courage
- Driving the getaway car
- Breaking into a bank and robbing the place. (He fails because although money showers down it’s all torn and singed from an explosion.)
- Holding up a train.
Courage is trying to appease the bad foot while also saving his family and not breaking the law. He manages to save the train from being robbed by eating a banana and throwing the skin onto the ground. At first I wondered if this was going to derail the train, but in fact it made the foot slip, sending the train far into the distance.
Once again we have a modification of the woman tied to railway tracks (we’ve seen it in an earlier episode with a toy train inside the house). Muriel screams as the foot holds her down. Courage risks his own life by standing in front of an oncoming train.
Stories in which likeable characters are forced to hold up a bank are popular in fiction. We have Thelma in Thelma and Louise, for instance. More recently we have an episode of Season Three of Black Mirror, “Shut Up And Dance”, in which a teenage boy and another reluctant man are forced to rob a bank or risk having their online activities emailed to everyone they know.
I wonder if these stories are popular because we’ve all wondered if we could pull off a bank heist. It’s a task that looks easy if only you can manage your emotions.
When the computer tells him that dog slobber can save the day, Courage is basically learning that the only one capable of saving everyone is himself. He must make the ultimate sacrifice. This is a pyrrhic victory. He must lick the foot.
We see Courage in the bathroom brushing, gargling and flossing to get the disgusting taste of festering foot out of his mouth.
We end with a circular story when Courage discovers the fungus has transferred to his own tongue. The first we know of this is that the gangster voice echoes out from deep inside him. Next we see his mouth open: