In a blog post last year I discussed Marc Davis's talent for telling a funny story in less than a second. Under most circumstances artists try to avoid clichés, but for this task stock characters and stereotypical situations are your best friends (although I have to say that even here it is remarkable how few truly stereotypical situations Davis uses). Another friend of the quick-joke artist is ritual. If you show characters involved in a well-known ritual, you have already incorporated a good deal of story before you've even begun. The best example of this in the Haunted Mansion is the pair of duelists depicted in the grand ballroom's portraits:
Think how much you "know" within half-a-second. A gentleman of some social standing believes his honor has been slighted by another gentleman of about equal social station, and he has challenged him to a duel. The other fellow makes no apologies and so accepts the challenge. The time period is not modern, but 19th century or earlier. The two men are somewhat stuffy, humorless characters. In particular, they seem almost melodramatically sensitive when it comes to their personal honor. You know all of this at a glance, because you know the rules for this particular ceremony, and you probably share the current perception about the kind of people thought to be attracted to it. A dueling scene is a brilliant choice for a drive-by joke.
And what is that joke? Obviously, the duel settled nothing and continues ad infinitum in the afterlife. What was supposed to be the ultimate way of settling a dispute in fact ensured that the dispute would never be settled. It has always been my opinion that the two shot each other dead, leaving no winner, and so the duel continues, stuck in an endlessly repeating loop. I know that GRD thinks there is a real winner, based on a slight sideways head movement by one of the duelists at the end of the cycle, and others who have worked on the figures confirm that the little movement is there, but it's virtually undetectable to guests, and I'm not yet fully convinced it represents a bullet hit rather than drawing a bead. What would truly settle the issue is if one of the two guns went off before the other. The pistols have a special bulb for a barrel flash as well as a bang, so it should not be an irresolvable question. Perhaps one of you Forgottenistas has an insider's familiarity with the shot sequence.
While we're snooping around backstage looking at light bulbs and head nods, here are a few fuzzy pix that some of you might find interesting. Top left is the actual set up at DL. Directly underneath them the doombuggies are scooting along the balcony. Top right shows them in the shop, not long before installation in 1969. The bottom row gives you some close-ups. Center and right are the same character, one recent (center) and one old (right). As you can see, they've done up his eyes a little differently over the years. That's the Auctioneer's head from POTC, by the way.
There are more unsolved mysteries with the duelists than whether or not one of them won the duel. There is also reason to suspect that they are not located where they were originally planned to be. Much of what follows may be filed under "speculation," but hey, nothing wrong with that so long as you admit it.