Sunday, 7 February 2010

Snooper and Blabber — Bear-ly Able

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Brad Case, Layout – Paul Sommer, Backgrounds – Dick Thomas, Story – Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Wolf – Daws Butler; Bertram Bear, Junior Bear – Don Messick; Gladys Bear – Jean Vander Pyl. (BCDB credits)
Released: November 20, 1960 (BCDB).
Production: J-114, shot August 18, 1960.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber investigate who stole the Three Bears’ porridge and come across the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood.

Mike Maltese was a great cartoon writer. Readers to this blog don’t need to be convinced of that. But this cartoon shows why he was so great when he was at his best.

A parody of TV and B-movie detectives is a funny idea on its own. So is a parody of fairy tales. But in this cartoon, Maltese marries both. And he isn’t satisfied with that. He tosses in those twists of phrases like he used to chuck into Chuck Jones cartoons at Warners. And he isn’t satisfied with that. He takes the whole ‘Happy TV Family’ concept of the 1950s and turns it around with a nagging wife and a pitying, intellectual kid. So we’ve got several different spoofs going on simultaneously. Maltese knew if you pile humour onto humour, you get bigger humour.

Not only that, if the animation and layouts are really lacklustre, like they are in this cartoon, then you’d better have a good story and some clever dialogue. This cartoon really depends on Maltese and, for the most part, he comes through.

If you’re going to rely on dialogue-based humour, then you’d better have people that can pull it off well. And this cartoon does. Jean Vander Pyl is especially good in this one; she has the perfect tone and delivery for the badgering Mama Bear who endlessly reminds her husband he ignores her even though she’s smarter than he is.

Maltese tried out the dysfunctional bear family in A Prince of A Fella’ but he puts them at the centre of the plot of this cartoon. Before we get to bears, the cartoon opens with some gag dialogue in Snooper’s office, as Blab gets Detective Lesson No. 427 on clues as Snoop points to pictures on an easel. The best part of this routine is the last gag and shows you why Maltese is great. One picture is entirely black. Blab knows what it is. “It’s a black bear eating a liquorice stick in a forest at midnight.” “Wrong again,” informs Snooper, “It’s merely a black sheet of paper.” Other writers would have reversed the lines and made the silly-sounding picture the gag. Maltese turns it around and his twist is unexpected and funnier. That’s smart writing.

Despite Blab’s less-than-stellar answers “never-the-nonetheless” results in Snooper presenting him with his first magnifying glass. But there’s no glass in it. “Anybody who can’t swim, don’t deserve water in the pool,” Snoop informs him. “You know,” Blab remarks to the camera, “That makes a lot of sense to me.” And Maltese’s twist on logic strikes again.

The dialogue’s interrupted by the ringing phone. “Snooper Detective Agency. No case is too tough if the fee is enough,” Snoop answers. And he accepts the case. Maltese tosses in another one of his Dragnet-style criminal code numbers as Blab tries a running gag: “A 903? Somebody stole their liquorice stick at midnight? Somebody stole their black piece of paper?” No, Blab, it’s a porridge theft. Maltese has dumped Snooper and Blabber in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The next shot is of the bear family waiting outside their suburban home. For some reason, Hanna-Barbera mama animals wear a hat with a daisy in it. Here’s the dialogue:

Papa – Here come the detectives, Gladys.
Mama – That’s great! (Papa looks surprised) Spend money on private eyes. Don’t buy a key for the house, oh, no!
Papa – Now don’t start in, Gladys.
Junior – Please, dear parents. At least let us attempt to show family unity in the presence of strangers.
Papa – Junior’s right. Later, after they’re gone (looks angrily at mama) we’ll sit down and have a heart-to-heart, knock-down, drag-out argument about it, okay?

The capper comes when Don Messick (as Junior) throws in a Ronald Colman impression: “Ah, if I were king, what peace and quiet I would bring!”

Snooper prefaces his questioning by showing off his “genuine, stimulated gold badge with lettuce leaf clusters.” Papa Bear starts in on his story:

Papa – Well, somebody broke in while we were...
Mama – (interrupting) They didn’t break in. They walked in. The door was wide open! “Lock the door, Bertram,” I said.
Snooper – Yes, m’am.
Mama – “What’s to steal,” he says. “Admit you lost the key,” I says. “We never had a key,” he says.
Snooper – Yes, m’am. What time was this, sir?
Papa – Look, if I said it was 9 o’clock, she’d say it was two minutes after nine.
Snooper – What time was it, yes m’am? I mean ‘m’am’?
Mama – It was two minutes after nine.

“Little Ragged-muffin” Junior suggests everyone go inside where the crime happened (Maltese pulls off a groaner here. Snooper asks what grade he’s in and he responds that next term he hopes to join the California Bears). Once inside, there’s more nagging dialogue when Blab spots a clue on the floor—a lock of golden hair.

We cut to Junior’s bed where, like in A Prince of A Fella’, Maltese mashes his fairy tales by inserting a Bilko-sounding wolf in the story. He’s disguised in a blonde wig and on the lam from the grandma in the Little Red Riding Hood story. Snooper and Blabber enter the room. “Ee, good gads! She photographs better in the book,” Snoop remarks, who tells ‘Goldilocks’ she’s under arrest as “a porridge filcherer.” The wolf hams it up, begging not to be arrested, but the wig falls off. “It’s a wolf in she’s clothing,” Snoop puns.

The detectives chase after the wolf, who’s told to “Stop in the name of the Private Eye Downtown Office.” Instead, the wolf stops Snooper with a well-timed door close. At least temporarily. Snoop runs after him again, only to be tripped by the wolf, who plops the wig on top of him. Blab skids into the scene and looks across the room at the prone Snooper. “It’s the wolf! That wig don’t fool me!” he exclaims as he bashes him with a nearby cane, telling the wolf next to him “Snoop is sure going to be proud of the way I caught you, huh?” Blabber realises his mistake. The angry Snooper drops the wig on the mouse’s head and chases him with the cane out of the house and down the street, calling him a “little squeak-pip.”

Unfortunately, Maltese’s ending is weak and unsatisfying. Blabber simply turns to the camera as he’s running and states the obvious: “I don’t know why, but I always end up saying ‘I’m sorry, Snoop.’” and smiles as the iris closes. It’s not exactly topper dialogue. And it’s like Hanna-Barbara passed a law in the ‘60s that its cartoons could have only one of two clichéd endings: either someone was being chased, or everyone laughed at something (even Jonny Quest suffered from HB-laughing-itis).

Despite that, it’s a good thing Maltese was around because, aside from him and voice acting, this cartoon doesn’t have much going for it. In fact, it has all the negatives associated with the decline of Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The animation is dull with no exaggeration and consists mostly of head bobs and a few cycles (kind of like Lew Marshall). In Switch Witch, Snooper answers the phone in a shot with his feet on the desk. Here, the layout has him solo, from the waist up in front of an almost plain background. It’s hard to tell from the washed-out screen caps, but to break up the monotony of the background colour, there is a differently-shaded, tilted square. You can find that effect in a bunch of H-B cartoons of that era. The character designs are reused. The fact the cartoon is funny as it is demonstrates why Maltese was such a great writer.

Most of the music is pretty familiar stuff by Phil Green but there’s one spot where a dissonant piano chord is sounded to halt the action. It’s the same kind of effect Hoyt Curtin used in The Flintstones when Fred would ignore someone and yammer until he realised what had been said to him and suddenly stopped. Curtin was writing some underscore stuff for other cartoons at this point and it may have been borrowed from him.

One music bed used periodically in H-B cartoons pops up when the wolf first appears. The first bar used in most cartoons starts with a C, goes up an octave and settles back at F-sharp. It doesn’t sound like anything out of the Hi-Q library. Jack Shaindlin provides the music that reminds me of happy, scurrying squirrels but I don’t have the name for it.

Sorry I don’t links to a couple of these. Reader Rick G. has pointed out several other non-Shaindlin pieces in my collection I haven’t linked to as well, so I’ll get around to it.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title (Curtin).
0:15 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snooper teaches Blabber how to spot clues.
1:38 - GR-453 THE ARTFUL DODGER (Green) – Snoop answers phone.
2:12 - jaunty bassoon and skippy strings (Shaindlin) – Bears argue.
2:48 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Snooper questions bears.
3:41 - GR-87 SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD (Green) – Bears re-enact crime, Blab finds blonde hair.
4:25 - C-C-F# light underscore (?) – Wolf talks to camera, pretends to be asleep.
4:49 - GR-257 BEDTIME STORY (Green) – Wolf snores, wakes up.
5:01 - Piano Chord/Tuba effect (Curtin?) – Wolf goes “eek!”
5:04 - PG-161G LIGHT COMEDY (Green) – Snooper arrests wolf.
5:16 - Sad trombone music (?) – Wolf gives sob story, wig falls off.
5:22 - GR-98 BY JIMINY! IT’S JUMBO Bridge No 2 (Green) – Snooper realises Goldilocks is a wolf.
5:31 - SIX DAY BICYCLE RACE (Shaindlin) – Wolf runs away, slams door in Snooper.
5:44 - HIDE AND SEEK (Bluestone-Cadkin) – Blabber pulls doorknob out of Snoop’s mouth.
6:04 - GR-77 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Wolf trips Snooper, Blab canes Snoop, Snoop chases Blab.
7:00 - Snooper and Blabber End Title (Curtin).


  1. Yowp, i saw that on YouTube [someone else posted it.] The squirrell and sad music were what I'd figured..I thought that as you mention that Jack Shaindlin did write it [it's in "Fan Clubbed" when Doggie Daddy pretends that he's Augie's TV Hero and in the pair's "Foxhounded Fox"[sp?] near the end. The sad music may indeed be by Philip Green.You'd forgotten another arguing bear family-Maltese connection--The Three Bears at Warners [with the big fat dumb Baby and the short sized and temper to match Pa].:)

  2. I think you're right, it's Lew Marshall animation.

    That ending's a cop out!

  3. Maybe the "running away at the end" thing is something Maltese picked up from Keystone Kops comedies or something.

    I never really thought about it, but there must have been a heaping, steaming pile of HB shorts in the '60s that end with someone being chased right to left with the same Hoyt Curtin music in the background, with dialogue like "Run, Hardy, run!" or "Wait till I get my hands on you!"

  4. -or "At least things are back to normal!", or "Ever have one of those days?" Great parlor game, listing cliched cartoon closing lines.

    Like fellow 'second wave' H-B stars Snagglepuss and Yakky, Hokey Wolf had innumerable prototypes. Before his introduction, numerous cartoons featuring a wolf character with Daws' 'Bilko' voice. COCK-A-DOODLE HUCK, HOODWINKED BEAR, OINKS AND BOINK and the subject of this blog post. This must have been an easy voice for Butler to do, because it was used for countless guest chracters in cartoons made after Hokey's series ended: THE FLINTSTONES, THE JETSONS, GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE, episodes of Ricochet Rabbit and Yippie, Yappee and Yahooey.

    This is one of the few Snooper & Blabber shorts without full credits. I'm guessing Brad Case or LaVerne Harding who did relatively few cartoons for the studio and likewise whose styles are hard to decipher.

  5. I can tell a Verne-animated cartoon. If she did anything on here, it was only in fragmented portions.

  6. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    The design on this Snooper & Blabber episode seems familiar to me.
    It was made by Paul Sommer.

  7. The animation for this snooper episode was probably done by Robert Carr. Carr began working at the studio in 1960, does anyone know where he started before he came at hanna barbera, if anyone knows, let me know. Cheers.

    Asim M.Ishak95.