Saturday, 19 December 2015

Snagglepuss – Having a Bowl

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Art Davis, Layout – Walt Clinton, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Written by Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voices: Snagglepuss, Butler (Hives) – Daws Butler; Baby (Clyde) – Jean Vander Pyl; Rabbit, Radio Newscaster, Major – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.

Don’t expect to find Christmas cartoons among the shorts in the half-hour shows Hanna-Barbera produced in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The attitude in Television Land back then was Christmas shows were to be avoided because they couldn’t be re-run in syndication during any time but Christmas, therefore it was best to produce shows that could be shown at any time. If we stretch things, the closest we get is Snagglepuss in “Having a Bowl” where he dresses up as Jolly Old St. Nick.

Of course, this is just a disguise Snagglepuss uses to put one over on Major Minor. The cartoon isn’t set during Christmas, or even winter. In brain-dead, auto-word-association fashion, the major sees Santa come out of the chimney, therefore it must be Christmas. That makes it funnier than if it were the Yuletide season. It’s a gag used in a few old theatrical cartoons which usually ends with a character checking out a calendar and realising he’s been fooled. In this case, the major gets his hand snapped by a mouse trap in Santa Snag’s bag.

Come to think of it, writer Mike Maltese gives us a few other gags familiar from theatricals. One is when the baby Clyde points out Snagglepuss’ hiding spots, a la Buccaneer Bunny (1948), co-written by Maltese at Warner Bros. (a pirate’s parrot gets blown up for his snitching). And Major Minor running outside to yell in pain is a favourite of Tex Avery and his writers; Deputy Droopy (1955) and Rock-a-Bye Bear (1952) come to mind, as well as Maltese borrowing it for the Chilly Willy cartoon The Legend of Rock-a-Bye Point (1955).



Art Davis is the animator in this cartoon and Walt Clinton handled the layouts (and designed incidental characters and props). At Hanna-Barbera, Artie drew characters with mouths going way up toward the snout with teeth showing. Clinton was known for having ears around a character’s collar. You can see that here. Also, Clinton’s Major Minor dyed his hair in this cartoon. It’s dark.



Hanna-Barbera’s animation got really tame in the early ‘60s; it was like the big eye-takes and jagged bodies in shock had become clichés to be avoided. But Artie comes through in this cartoon. I love his effect when the baby bites Snagglepuss’ snout, and the take when the Major Minor reaches into the bag and gets his hand caught in a mouse trap. The timing on the latter is excellent. The major is still into his dialogue and the take comes a half second (12 frames) after he reaches into the bag.



The baby changes size through the cartoon depending on the plot. Jean Vander Pyl lends the infant her standard-issue Pebbles voice with standard-issue Pebbles baby-talk.



This may be the only cartoon that anyone appreciates Snagglepuss’ theatrical performances. The baby loves them. The cartoon ends with Snagglepuss, rather reluctantly, performing for the child to keep him laughing lest he be shot by Major Minor. Snagglepuss is positively poetic to open the cartoon:

Oh! What a joyful day to frolic and play. But first I’ll see what the mailman bringeth. Or is it “brungeth”? Mayhap a note or two. Perhaps a billet doux.
And then cometh the phoney Shakespeare.
● Romans, countrymen and babies! Lend me your ears. Lend me your ears. I’ll give ‘em back to you next Saturday. February 29th, even.
● Baby-o, baby-o. Wherefore art thou, baby-o? Thou art here. So exit, for the big reward, stage right.
● Romans, countrymen and baby-criers! All the world’s a stage. With matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He who steals my purse steals cash. About a buck-25. What light through yonder window breaks! Who threw that stove? Who threw that stove?? (to audience) This might very well be the longest readin’ of Shakespeare in history. So, good night! (turns to baby) Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow. (turns to audience) Looks like I’ll be ad-libbin’ until tomorrow.
In case you’re wondering, “cash” is a pun on the line from Othello Act 3, scene 3: “He who steals my purse steals trash.” Maltese has lost me on the “stove” reference. If it were “stone,” it would make sense, as a stone would break a window. But the word, as enunciated by Daws Butler, definitely is “stove.”

And then there’s this odd retort thrown at the major, who has his gun at the ready:

Pause a moment. Pause a moment. Let’s considerate this thing. You’re over 21. You’re old enough to vote. Shave, even. So whaddya tryin’ ta do, throw the old ball game in favour of this diaper desperado just because he wants to go lion huntin’? The question is—do you want to go huntin’? (looks at camera) Heaves to Nimrod! That was a silly question.
Catchphrases:
● Heavens to Murgatroyd! I’m a mail order parent! (After pulling baby from mailbox)
● Heavens to mint sauce! He’s famished. Hungry, even. (After being bitten on the nose)
● Exit, empty pocketed, stage right. (After the major pulls a rifle on him)
● Exit, beard, jolly belly and all, stage left. (After the major pulls a rifle on him again)
And we get a standard Snagglepuss-Major exchange:
Major: By thunder! Didn’t I shoot you in the mouth of the Zambezi? Or was it at the foot of Mount Shasta?
Snag: Neether, neither, major. You grazed me where the ripplin’ Susquehanna bends.
A couple of Dick Thomas interiors. The stylised window reflection against the wall works well in the close-up scenes.



And now for today’s endless run cycle. The cartoon starts with the baby crawling down a rabbit’s hole. The rabbit runs in mid-air and then zooms off. The run is on five drawings, one per frame. The scene has absolutely nothing to with the plot. Either Maltese was amused by it or he was padding for time.



Finally, you might be wondering what the title Having a Bowl has to do with this cartoon. I haven’t the foggiest idea. Pea-soup foggiest from London, even. There’s no bowl in it. No one is bowling. However, I’ve learned over the years here that you readers are smarter than I am and may have caught something obvious that I’ve missed. Leave a comment if you can solve this one.

9 comments:

  1. Maybe they mean you have to smoke a bowl before the title starts making any sense.

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  2. I think it may be a typo. Having a Bawl would make more sense, since babies do indeed bawl, that is, cry even!

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    1. It would be like Bill Hannah not to refilm the title card graphic to replace the 'o' with an 'a' because it would cost too much money.

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  3. Major minor's eye/pupil design from his 'surprised' look are similar to the eyes Artie would give Sylvester in his final years with Freleng. So there was probably a bit of leftover Warner Bros. reaction takes in there, since Davis was a relatively late arrival at the H-B studio after his falling out over who was going to be the director of the studio's TV commercials.

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  4. Hanna-Barbera also used the "old going out to yell in pain so as not to disturb someone" bit in ''Royal Cat Nap''. Tom and Jerry, even.

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    1. It was even used in one the of "The Flintstones" episodes: "The Sweepstakes Ticket" when Fred sneaks in Barney and Betty's house to switch sweepstakes tickets and he steps on a mousetrap so he hops into the woods to scream.

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  5. Or was it Thomas Fitzgerald? Or Jerry Thomas? Or Jerry Hatchcock? Who is to say?

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Perhaps the title is a subliminal suggestion from sponsor Kelloggs.

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