Saturday, October 24, 2015

Snagglepuss in The Gangsters All Here

The best part of any Snagglepuss cartoon is when the histrionic mountain lion fills the air with one of his speeches, with puns and clichés strung together with non sequiturs. He does it in The Gangsters All Here. The plot’s simple. Two gangsters invade Snagglepuss’ home. He pretends to be a lion-skin rug but after getting shot in the head (with no ill effect), becomes so annoyed that he disguises himself in a ‘30s mobster outfit.

Snagglepuss: You’ve heard of the Unmentionables? Well, I’m one of the Unbearables. Ulysses J. Unbearable. Public Enemy One to Ten. Care to start a gang war? Go for a ride? A walk, even. Hijack somethin’? Lowjack something’. Get muscled in. Get muscled out. Peanuts, popcorn, candy bars. Tennis anyone? It’s my racket. Oh? You won’t talk, eh? (bullet goes through hat) Oh, so you think you’re tough, eh? (bullet whizzes over head) Well, I think so, too. Exit, stage left!

Joe Barbera once said he liked to match writers to characters and Maltese was a perfect match for Snagglepuss. He had a great sense of wordplay and, since Hanna-Barbera’s short cartoons were pretty much dialogue by 1961, as long as Snagglepuss was handed amusing lines that fit his character, he could carry a cartoon pretty well.

This cartoon sure doesn’t rely on animation. There are whole scenes of around three seconds when all a character does is blink or turn his head to and from the camera. And here’s an example of a take when Snagglepuss gets shot in the head. There is no take.




Lew Marshall is the animator. Lew, to me, was the weakest of the four guys animating (I’m including Mike Lah) when Hanna-Barbera went into the syndicated half-hour cartoon business in 1958. But even then, Marshall drew some really nice takes, especially of Mr. Jinks. Here, in 1961, laughs are dependent on the situation and the quip. After the gunfire, the crook Muggsy Magilla says “Dat’s a bad taxidermy job. Da head is empty.” To the right is one of Lew’s crash drawings (“Exit, straight up!”). This is as funny as he gets.

Maltese relies on some tried-and-true routines as the story unfolds.

● The TV switch-up bit. The dialogue makes it appear Snagglepuss has been shot to death before the scene cuts to an announcer on TV urging viewers to tune in next week to “The Unbearables.” It turns out Snagglepuss is merely acting along to the dialogue by the Cagney-esque crook Rocky on the off-stage TV set.
● The disguised-as-rug bit. That’s what Snagglepuss does in the next segment when Muggsy Magilla and his henchman McGoofy bust into his cave. Snagglepuss did it before in the Augie Doggie cartoon “The Party Lion” (1959). Yogi Bear did it before that in “Be My Guest Pest” (1958). In fact, it’s the same kind of gag in Daffy Duck’s “Cracked Quack” (1952), written by Warren Foster at Warner Bros.
This part of the cartoon has a nice piece where McGoofy is too stupid to notice the mustard bottle right in front of him (McGoofy has Daws Butler’s Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom voice). “Oh, for Heaven’s sake! It’s over there. Under your nose, even!” says Snagglepuss, and gets up to point out the various things on the kitchen table. “Oh, gee, thanks, lion rug,” replies McGoofy.
● The “Save-us-police!” bit. At the end of the cartoon, Snagglepuss reveals he’s “[J]ust a lion. Law abiding,’ even. A member of the Kiwanis.” The crooks become so afraid, they run to a cop to give up, as a tuba version of the not-yet-Flintstones theme plays in the background. I can’t begin to guess how many times this was used at Hanna-Barbera; it was the memorable ending to the Bugs Bunny cartoon “Bugs and Thugs” (1954), again written by Warren Foster.

Maltese uses the hugely popular The Untouchables TV series about ‘30s Chicago gangsters as a starting point in this cartoon and a running gag. Snagglepuss is watching The Unbearables. Later, he dresses up as one of The Unmentionables (an obsolete term for women’s underwear). When Muggsy surrenders, he tells the cop “Lions is da Unbeatables.”

Snagglepuss ends the cartoon with the “Ain’t the truth, ain’t it the truth” line copped from Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. And we gets Lahr’s “Heavens to Murgatroyd” as well (which gets repeated by McGoofy).

Bob Gentle handles the backgrounds. He doesn’t get a chance to shine. Here’s his establishing shot (Art Goble did the lettering) and part of an exterior followed by some interiors. The last one looks to have been painted with a roller. Comparisons to The Flintstones are invited.



Dick Bickenbach is the layout artist. His incidental characters are pretty standard-issue for the studio.



Don Messick and Daws Butler supply all the voices. Daws seems to have gone to the dentist before the recording session; some of his “s” sounds are slurpy, like Blabber’s. Messick plays the TV announcer, Muggsy, the cop with machine gun and—I’m going out on a limb here—the fly. The pitch is within either Messick’s or Butler’s range. Messick did a similar sounding, though higher-pitched, buzz in “Baba Bait” as the Masked Mosquito. It’s not the same as Daws’ mosquito in the Huckleberry Hound cartoon “Skeeter Trouble.” The fact I compared several cartoons to make a conclusion about a fly’s voice artist shows you I should probably end this post.

14 comments:

  1. So whatever became of Mike Lah, who (as I understand it) was an in-law of Joe Barbera?

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    1. No, Mike Lah and Bill Hanna married twin sisters.

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  2. You commented that the last BG looked as if it had been painted with a roller. Actually large color areas on most early H-B BG's were painted with rollers, then textured with paint on sponges, brushes, stencils, etc.

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  3. Mike Lah left Hanna-Barbera and was one of the four founding fathers of Quartet Films in Hollywood. The other guys were Art Babbitt, A. Arnold Gillespie and Stan Walsh. They went independent to produce commercials for the budding field of TV commercials. Mike got a lot of mileage out of Tony the Tiger for Frosted Flakes, he drew Tony's defining model sheet in the early 1960s. Quartet also did a lot of Jolly Green Giant elves. Mike also animated Dennis the Menace in an animated pilot film for Hank Ketcham. Mike told me that trying to please Hank was the roughest experience of his animating life.

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    1. Broadcasting-Telecasting of July 16, 1956 mentions Quartet's creation and the fourth partner was Les Goldman. The trades don't report Lah as a part-owner until 1960. He had his own company called Audio Cinema some time after leaving HB but it wouldn't have been surprising if he did some work for Quartet.

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  4. Lew Marshall's stuff is pretty ordinary, but I still prefer him to Ken Muse. Yuk.

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  5. The fly's sound effect is supply the great master of voice acting Daws Butler, believe me.

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  6. A lot of "Flintstones" music underscore is used in this "Snagglepuss" episode.

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  7. 1961 was a banner year at good ol' H-B for not only parodying Alfred Hitchcock, but The Untouchables as well. Besides Snag, The Flintstones and Top Cat had their own send-up episodes produced ( "The Soft Touchables" and "The Unscratchables" respectively).

    Also worth noting that "The Unmentionables" was used two years later as the title of a very funny late-era Bugs Bunny cartoon.

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  8. Sorry, Yowp, that's what Mike told me!

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  9. Snagglepuss always reminds me of the Pink Panther

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