Saturday 27 March 2010

Quick Draw McGraw — Scat, Scout, Scat

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Animation - Ken Muse; Story - Mike Maltese; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson. (No credits).
Voice Cast: Narrator - Peter Leeds; Quick Draw, Baba Looey, Big Chief Little Runt - Daws Butler.
First Aired: October 13, 1959.
Plot: Big Chief Little Runt tries to stop a railway station from being built on Indian Territory.

Joe Besser was perfect for television animation. He had a distinctive voice with a distinctive delivery (but easy to passably imitate) and some well-known catchphrases, thanks to appearances in Columbia two-reelers in the 1940s. Characters based on Besser showed up in Warner Bros. cartoons, including the cop in Hollywood Daffy (1945) and the for-the-sake-of-a-gag elephant in Rabbit Fire (1951), written by Mike Maltese, and Book Revue and Hollywood Canine Canteen (both 1946), written by Warren Foster.

Maltese and Foster brought along their apparent love of Besser when they arrived at the door of Hanna-Barbara, as they started putting Besser-inspired characters in—of all things—westerns. A Besser horse shows up in a couple of Huckleberry Hound ‘Old West Flashback’ cartoons (presumably written by Foster), and as Big Chief Little Runt in Quick Draw McGraw’s Scat, Scout, Scat, a Maltese concoction.

The only person who never got some benefit from the presence of these Besser-like characters in cartoons was Besser himself, ironic considering Hanna-Barbera hired him in the early ‘70s as a voice actor. H-B used its star, Daws Butler, to invoke Besser in the minds of viewers.

Scat, Scout, Scat is early in the Quick Draw series so it’s a little different from later entries. I personally like the portrayal of Quick Draw here. He isn’t an utter boob. Sure, Quick Draw has silly dialogue but he’s generally one step ahead of his noisy opponent, like he is in Bad Guys Disguise. Later, it seems Quick Draw gets bashed around through the whole cartoon and loses, similar to Daffy Duck in cartoons like Dripalong Daffy (written by Maltese) but without Daffy’s ego trouble.

The voice work’s a little different in this one, too. The narrator is Stan Freberg’s sometime straight-man Peter Leeds, in what appears to have been his only work on early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Leeds had a steady career that spanned radio, films and television. He was a protégé of Dick Powell, was acting in the late ‘30s, served during the War (he later toured bases with Bob Hope), and then found a place in the funny Frebergian Universe. Oh, and he bought George Gobel’s home in 1958. But enough trivia. Also noticeable is Baba Looey’s voice is lower-pitched here and in several other cartoons though, at the end, Daws brings his register up to a familiar spot in playing the “old” Baba.

This is another cartoon where Maltese has come up with a nice little structure. The bulk of the action happens in flashback, with a little twist at the end. The opening is not all that unusual—the narrator sets up the story and there are several pans and trucks into background cells which take up 20-plus seconds of the cartoon with no animation. I don’t know who did the layout but this frame is so flat, the building in the background looks like it’s in mid-air.

There’s a nice little dissolve at the start, too, from a white statue of Quick Draw and a solid background (made with a sponge?) to the same pose of the “real” Quick Draw in colour in front of some standard-issue distant mesas on spotted desert sand. He’s pointing out where a railway depot should go.

Baba Looey warns Quick Draw’s pointing to “injun country” and he doesn’t “thin’” Big Chief Little Runt will like the railway coming through. Quick Draw retorts with his most-famous catch-phrase and their conversation is interrupted by an “or else” message on an arrow from the Chief. Quick Draw shoots the arrow back with an “Or else what?” message and gets a quick reply. Daws gives a great casual reading: “At least Little Runt answers his mail.”

There are some typical Hanna-Barbarisms here. Though writer Charlie Shows has gone, his hallmarks linger on with butt-piercing jokes and rhyming couplets (“Indians don’t scare me none, son,” “Head for the fort, sport!”) and Quick Draw reading a message aloud that we can see on the screen in a static shot that saves ten seconds of animation. And we get a couple of mismatched shots, as if Ken Muse did all the two-character drawings in one sitting then went back and did the single-character upper-body animation.

Back to the plot. The “or else” is a swarm of arrows in perspective. Note the rolling, blobby cloud in the background. Some cartoons had clouds like that (Tony Rivera layouts?); others featured semi-translucent white ones that Dick Bickenbach seemed to favour. Quick Draw and Baba beat a retreat and then the Chief enters using the patented Hanna-Barbera slide. A character is in a slide pose on a cell that’s moved across the background (while we hear the H-B slid sound effect). It’s a well-used trick to simulate animation.

Now comes a string of gags, set up almost the same way. Chief gives a running commentary to the camera. Then he’s blasted. Then he comments again with a Besser catchphrase, occasionally with a kind of a violence coda to top it off. In the first one, he’s standing on the heads of two other stereotypes and is so busy giving his blood-curdling yell (in time-saving cycle animation) it gives Quick Draw a chance to shoot him. Chief yells “Retreat!” The braves run away, leaving him in mid-air. Chief turns in the direction they ran and screeches “Oooo, you cra-zies, you!” before dropping with a thud.

Little Runt gets revenge on Quick Draw with the exploding peace-pipe gag. Then he ties up our hero to burn him at the stake but Quick Draw unexpectedly blows out the match. Quick Draw volunteers to go back to the fort and get him a light and we get the “such a pinch” threat from Chief Besser. Instead, a cannon emerges and fires. “Ooooh. That cra-zy!” says the running Chief before the cannon ball clobbers him.

Next the Chief digs underground into the fort and right into an awaiting cannon. The Chief promises “such a smaaa-sh” before he is fired into the distance. He trots back to the fort waving a white truce flag but that doesn’t count because his fingers are crossed. “I’m such a sneee-ak” gleefully says the Chief as he whips out a bow and arrow, but Quick Draw puts his hands up to reveal a mini-cannon under his coonskin cap. “Kinda sneaky myself” chuckles Quick Draw.

Finally we get dramatic warpath-evoking music and Quick Draw running from a flurry of arrows (we get “Head to the fort, sport” again). He tries to push open the front gate but gets shot in the butt with an arrow. With each stab, he pushes the fort until it’s finally over the boundary line marking Indian Territory and therefore safe for all.

So we return to Quick Draw pointing out where the railway depot should go and that dissolves back into the statue shot from the beginning with the narrator crediting him for signing a peace treaty. There’s a downward pan into a gag as it’s revealed the statue has the three arrows (in marble) embedded in its butt. And admiring it are Quick Draw and Baba Looey, their white beards and feeble voices revealing we’re now some time in the present.

Baba walks away, and that reveals the three arrows are still stuck in Quick Draw, who wonders whatever happened to Big Chief Little Runt. Another arrow shot into his butt answers the question. Cut to an old version of Little Runt. “I’m still such a sneee-eek!” he tells us as the iris closes.

So, if you’ve lost track, here’s the Besser “Such a...” tally:
“Sneak” – 2
“Smash” – 2
“Pinch” – 1
“Old Stubborn” – 1
“Hotfoot” – 1
“Clever” – 1
“Smarty” – 1
“Surprise” – 1

And we get one “You, crazies, you.”

There are a couple of animation errors that flash by. The first one is tough to catch. Baba is talking to Quick Draw, who is leaning over. But in two frames, Baba’s mouth moves to somewhere in the distance, then back onto his face in the next drawing.

Then when Quick Draw is reading at the reply from Little Runt, his eyes move off his head during one mouth movement and move back after two frames.

There’s a piece of music that seems to pop up in all H-B “Indian” cartoons (like The Brave Little Brave) that starts with four trombone notes in a minor key followed by a tom-tom then works itself into a faster, and more orchestrated, war-dance. My guess is it’s a Geordie Hormel piece in the Hi-Q “X” series which is where most speciality music ended up. The first piece is from the “M” series.

0:00 - Quick Draw sub-main title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:16 - ZR-39A WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Narrator sets up plot over books and statue.
0:42 - TC-205 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Bill Loose-John Seely) – Quick Draw points out future spot for train depot; shot in butt.
1:15 - warpath music (Hormel?) – Quick Draw reads letter to scene where Indians retreat.
3:10 - CAPERS (Jack Shaindlin) – Little Runt drops to ground, peace-pipe scene.
3:49 - GR-472 HICKSVILLE (Phil Green) – Quick Draw blows out match, threatened with “such a pinch.”
4:08 - GR-248 STREETS OF THE CITY (Green) – Quick Draw runs back to fort, Little Runt hit with cannonball.
4:27 - warpath music (Hormel?) – Little Runt crawls with shovel.
4:38 - MAD RUSH No. 1 (Shaindlin) – Little Runt digs tunnel into cannon.
5:10 - no music – Little Runt fired into the distance.
5:14 - GR-99 THE DIDDLECOMB HUNT (Green) – Little Runt with white flag; shot with mini-cannon.
5:48 - warpath music (Hormel?) – Arrows fired at Quick Draw, fort pushed over boundary.
6:13 - TC-205 LIGHT MOVEMENT (Loose-Seely) – Quick Draw points out future spot for train depot.
6:23 - ZR-39A WESTERN SONG (Hormel) – Quick Draw dissolves into statue, old-timer Quick Draw shot in butt.
6:52 - GR-79 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS BRIDGE No 2 (Green) – Little Runt “still such a sneak.”
7:01 - Quick Draw sub-end title theme (Curtin).

Wednesday 24 March 2010

The Hanna-Barbera That Never Was

I’ve always wondered if there are more projects in Hollywood that get shelved than those that don’t. I don’t mean pilot films; I’m talking about stuff that makes it to a certain point in production and is stopped indefinitely.

It certainly happened in animation. I’m not going to give a shopping list of concepts here, but suffice it to say Disney had some feature ideas on a burner that got turned off; the Gremlin one comes to mind immediately.

The same thing happened at Hanna-Barbera. Disney’s aborted cartoons (and even Jay Ward’s, thanks to Keith Scott’s book) are well-documented. Hanna-Barbera’s may not be, though newspaper stories reveal a couple of things the studio was working on that somehow disappeared.

One of the Associated Press’ TV-movie columnists referred to one project in this story, dated June 21, 1963. It’s a pretty typical puff piece that was done about then. It seems Joe or Bill always went out of their way to make sure there was a reference Tom and Jerry in every interview (preferably playing the irony angle about their firing by MGM) and that they were making piles of money through world-wide marketing. Buried in the puff piece is word about a feature that never was.

Hanna, Barbera Went Far In Six Years

HOLLYWOOD (AP)—The house that a hound built now rises in modern splendor over the historic Cahuenga Pass, gateway to Hollywood.
Of course, Huckleberry Hound wasn’t the only one who built the new home of Hanna-Barbera Productions. He got help from the Flintstones, Yogi Bear, the Jetsons, Top Cat, Quick Draw McGraw, Touche Turtle, Wally Gator, Lippy Lion and Loopy De Loop.
Quite a crew of house builders. And the saga of Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera is quite a success story. Just six years ago they started in business with a writer, animator and cameraman.
Today, 250 people labor in the new Hanna-Barbara plant, the most modern cartoon factory in the World. So far the company has turned out 160 cartoon shorts for television and theatres. Coming up: “Whistle Your Way Back Home.” An animation feature starring the stalwart hound, Huck.
Hanna and Barbera, both 20 year veterans of “Tom and Jerry” at MGM, have had many surprises with their success. Not the least has been the boom of the merchandizing end of their enterprise.
“We never realized how much money there was to be found in character products,” said Hanna in his luxurious new office (his and Barbera’s are separate and equal). “When we were at MGM, we never did much about merchandizing tieups. There were too many executives and lawyers to go through.”
That aspect was not neglected when they went independent. Now their characters adorn products in 44 countries; that’s how far the cartoons are circulated.
“In this country alone, we have 480 licensees who manufacture 2,000 different items,” said Hanna. They include pajamas, rattles, booties, ties, jewelry, comic books, all kinds of toys, wading pools, lamps, bubble bath, etc.
Seven million Huckleberry Hound shoes have been made in Japan. Rugs are made in Belgium. There is a soda pop in Sweden called Flinta, after the Flintstones. We sold a million copies of the Pebbles dollars at $5 a copy.”
What does all this return to Hanna-Barbera?
“Our license fee is five percent of the wholesale price,” said Hanna. “We figure a gross of $50 million in merchandizing this year so that will mean a return of $2 ¼ million. And that is almost pure profit. Except for a little art work, we contribute nothing but the name.
“Merchandizing is already about 25 per cent of the gross profit.”

“Whistle Your Way Back Home” found itself in the soundtrack of a different feature that seems to have taken its place—Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear (1964).

Then, there’s this item in Dick Kleiner’s syndicated column, dated June 30, 1964:

Hanna-Barbera, the geniuses of animated cartoons, are going to try making feature films with live actors next.
Joe Barbara says they’ll either start in the fall with either “Father Was a Robot” or “Mr. Mysterious,” two properties they own and have been working on.
“We’re going to use a storyboard technique,” Barbera says, “just as we do on the cartoons.”

Shooting on “Father was a Robot” was supposed to start in October 1964. Then plans changed. Broadcasting Magazine, in 1965, revealed it was going to be a TV show for the 1966-67 season and developed by Bernard Fain and Al Ruddy, who created Hogan’s Heroes. The second proposed movie was based on the first book by Sid Fleischman, published in 1962. You can read about it here. It sounds like it would make a nice animated feature, even today.

But, in reading a short note in Boxoffice’s edition of May 15, 1965, you’d never know either of those films were ever planned.

Hanna Barbera’s First
HOLLYWOOD—“The Green Goose” will be the first in a series of live-action films by Hanna-Barbera, starting in the first week of August, according to president Joe Barbera. The script is being prepared and casting is underway.

Boxoffice had reported as far back as May 21, 1962 that H-B was going into the live-action business just as soon as its new studio was built.

I don’t know anything more about The Green Goose, other than it’d make a nice name for a pub across from an animation studio.

In a way, I’m glad the Huck cartoon never got made. I’m not entirely convinced Huck could carry a whole feature and still make it feel like a Huckleberry Hound cartoon. Unlike Yogi, who already had a clearly-delineated adversary, conscience and setting that could be built upon, Huck had himself. And that was about it. A whole world would have had to have been created around him to sustain a feature. Huck’s personality would have to be developed beyond that of a pummelled relaxed guy who makes one-liners about what’s just happened to him. What may have emerged as a feature could likely have been much different than what attracted people to Huck’s low-key character in the first place and thus be panned by the audience. Still, it would be interesting to see what kind of story concept was being bandied about and how far the proposal got.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Huckleberry Hound — Freeway Patrol

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna. Credits: Animation – Ken Muse; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Story Sketches and Dialogue – Charlie Shows and Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Narrator – Don Messick; Huck, Mugsy the Robber, Bird – Daws Butler.
Episode: Huckleberry Hound Show K-007, Production E-40.
First Aired: week of November 10, 1958.
Plot: Fleeing bank robber tries to outwit Huckleberry Hound of the Freeway Patrol.

Satire comes in all flavours, including in cartoons. Tex Avery used (among other things) kind of an outlandish ridicule to make fun of things like movie travelogues and automobiles. Paramount’s satires of suburban and modern behaviour circa 1960 were more cynical. But Hanna-Barbera, perhaps considering they were aiming primarily at kids (but hoping spending-happy adults would watch), went in more for a gentle lampoon.

Television was becoming a target of cartoons as the ‘50s wore on. The Huckleberry Hound Show followed the trend, using a parody of ‘Dragnet’ as the opening for Huckleberry Hound Meets Wee Willie, and then turning their eyes on ‘Highway Patrol’ when this cartoon was made.

Well, they borrow from the title. Huck doesn’t act at all like Broderick Crawford. Through the cartoon, he’s sleepy and dumb at times but ultimately in control. And then the running gag re-appears to end it all, so Charlie Shows, Joe Barbera and Dan Gordon have a nicely structured story here.

There are other things familiar here. There are those evergreens with the branches that flip up like Marlo Thomas’ hair on ‘That Girl.’ Since the same trees grow in cartoons by various background artists, I have to presume Dick Bickenbach was responsible for them in layout. He’s also designed some more late ‘50s cars with tail-fins but no doors. He’s also responsible for the cloverleaf that is the opening shot of the cartoon; later, there’s a road-level view with streetlights the same as he created for the “super-highway” in Yogi’s Baffled Bear. And the animated sunburst effect that’s used for disembodied speech, in this case out of a car radio, showed up in a number of Hanna-Barbara cartoons for several years. Ken Muse also drew it in Jinks’ Mice Device.

The opening is familiar, too. Huck cartoons, even when Warren Foster took over from Charlie Shows in season two, began with a narrator setting up the premise. Don Messick uses a stentorian style this time, perhaps because Highway Patrol featured the intoning Art Gilmore as its narrator. Gilmore has a Hanna-Barbera connection, by the way. He plugged Kellogg’s over the original intro and extro of The Huckleberry Hound Show (not the version heard on various CDs). The Messick narrator informs us millions of motoring Americans are protected “by a special dedicated group of officers—the Freeway Patrol. Alert. Eagle-eyed. Ready for any emergency” Naturally, the shot is of officer Huck dozing off at the wheel while driving. The opening also sets up the cartoon’s running gag. The dispatcher sends Huck (in the inevitable ‘Car 13’) to investigate a stalled truck. The camera focuses on an underpass as the police car races inside it. The camera shakes. We hear Huck report to headquarters and then the camera cuts to the gag shot.

Huck: I found that stalled truck. Send new patrol car.
Dispatcher: Oh, no. That’s three this week and it’s only Tuesday.

Now that it’s been established that Huck is inept and snoozy, the plot can unfold. There’s a bank robber driving a 1958 Bickenbach on the freeway. The narrator informs us “The Freeway Patrol springs into action.” Mind you, it takes a bit of shouting for the dispatcher for that happen, since he has to wake the sleeping Huck. Even then, there’s a delay as the new Car 13 gets into another smash-up.

The crook encounters “a roadblock” which is nothing more than Huck standing on the road like a school-crossing guard. Now we get comedy out of the situation more than the dialogue. The crook mocks concern about a robber being on the loose and shows his driver’s license, complete with mask and criminal occupation listed.

Huck: How comes you’re wearin’ a mask?
Robber: Uh, er, I, I’m the Masked Hornet on television.
Huck: Well, let’s see here now. So you’re a TV star.
Robber (bashfully): Heh heh heh. I didn’t think you’d recognise me.
Huck: Gosh! Can I have your autograph, Mr. Masked Hornet?
Robber: Anything for me fans.

There are some cartoons that Huck is so incredibly and consistently stupid that it’s annoying (Huck’s Hack is one). But the gag here is so silly that I’ll go along with it. Especially considering how idiotic star-struck fans can be in real life.

After the crook drives away, Huck looks at the autograph book and realises he’s been had. So the chase is on.

First, the crook puts on his brake. The sudden rear-end stop wrecks another Car 13 (but doesn’t scratch the bad guy’s car. Sturdy, those ’58 Bickenbachs). “Short car, ain’t it?” remarks Huck to the camera, emulating a sign in a Tex Avery cartoon. Next, the crook puts up a detour sign, which works in any cartoon. There’s a weird bit of topography here. Huck’s supposed to be on a freeway. He’s in the country in one shot and suddenly finds himself in the middle of a city block in the next. Oh, well. Let’s go along with that, too.

Huck drives onto a hoist in a garage which the crooks sends through the roof and into the sky. But nothing bothers Huck. He looks at a passing bird, smiles and remarks “That’s a right purty view from up here.” I like the way Bick turns the car at an angle; all we’ve seen through the whole cartoon is side views to accomodate the right-to-left roll of the background cells.

How does Huck get down? That’s left to your imagine.

As the narrator tells us: “Well, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and fool all of the people some of the time, but a sharp cookie can fool ol’ Huck most any old time.” The robber gets a flat so he whips out a housewife-y wig and pulls the woman-in-distress routine. We get the sob story tune ‘Winter Tales’ in the background as the ‘lady’ wails how helpless she is. Yup, Huck gets fooled. He starts to fix the tire and the crook takes off in his car. Huck turns to the camera and says, “You know, I just never could understand women.”

Ah, but the chase continues. Huck gets in the crook’s 1958 Bickenbach (to save animation, the wheels don’t turn; the car is stationary and the background rolls over and over). We reach the climax scene, with unnecessary narration augmenting the crook’s scheme to stop Huck—by raising a drawbridge. Huck drives right into the sky and, casually knowing he’s in full control of the situation (he isn’t stupid after all, you see), lands right on the smugly laughing crook. Chase over. Case closed.

“And so we say ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol! Guardians of our highways. Protectors of our...” The narration’s interrupted by an on-screen crash.

The narrator tries it again. “As we were saying, ‘hat’s off’ to the Freeway Patrol. You might slow ‘em down, but you can’t stop ‘em.” The camera pulls back as Huck toodles down the street on a child’s scooter.

Daws re-used incidental voices, and I’m pretty sure he used the robber’s again on Fractured Fairy Tales and various petty crooks on The Flintstones. It’s distinct enough that my guess is he based it on some actor in old crime movies.

There’s not too much music by Bill Loose and John Seely for a change. We get a rare appearance (maybe the second) of the ‘Tick Tock/Pop Goes the Weasel’ mash-up (L-992) by Spencer Moore.

0:00 - The Huckleberry Hound Song (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) – Main titles.
0:26 - ZR-45 METROPOLITAN (Hormel) – shot of freeway, Huck races to into overpass, crash sound.
1:09 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck talks with headquarters.
1:19 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Robber fires gun, headquarters calls Huck.
1:40 - ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION (Hormel) – Dispatcher wakes up Huck.
2:16 - L-78 COMEDY UNDERSCORE (Moore) – Huck reports after crash, Masked Hornet gag.
3:32 - TC-303 ZANY COMEDY (Loose-Seely) – “Hornet” drives away, robber brakes and Huck crashes.
4:23 - LAF-20-5 TOBOGGAN RUN (Shaindlin) – Detour set up, Huck sent into sky. from gag.
5:00 - L-992 ANIMATION CHILDREN (Moore) – “Right purty view”, robber gets flat.
5:11 - L-1158 ANIMATION COMEDY (Moore) – Robber puts on wig, Huck stops.
5:22 - SF-? HEARTS AND FLOWERS (arr. Vic Lamont) – “Woman” gives sob story, drives off in police car.
5:40 - LAF-2-12 ON THE RUN (Shaindlin) – Huck chases robber, flies into sky from drawbridge, lands on crook.
6:42 - ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET (Hormel) – “So we say ‘hat’s off’...”, Huck rides away on kid’s scooter.
7:11 – The Huckleberry Hound Song (Hanna, Barbera, Curtin, Shows) – End titles.

Monday 15 March 2010

Getting the Most Out of Limited Animation

One of my favourite one-shot characters has to be the TV director in Yogi’s ‘Show Biz Bear.’ It’s from early in the second season of the Huckleberry Hound Show when Don Patterson, George Nicholas and Ed Love came on board to animate. I’ve gone into the background of those three ex-Disneyites before. They all, for awhile anyway, tried to stretch the low budgets and fewer drawings of limited animation as far as they could go. Here’s a little example from the cartoon I’ve just mentioned.

Instead of a two-position head bob with the occasional shake, which seems to describe what all characters do in H-B cartoons by the time Yakky Doodle hit the air, we get four positions. At this point of the cartoon, the director has looked at Yogi, turned to the camera, shrugged and said “What can I lose?” Instead of just staying in the position or just going to the next pose, we get some subtle movement. He straightens up and drops his head down on twos. You can see below how the angle of his nose changes and the head stretches upward.

Here’s the animation slowed down. It’s not like what you see in the actual cartoon, but it may give you a better idea of the movement.

Then the director looks at the camera and says “Besides, he’s got his own bear suit.” What you see below aren’t all of his mouth movements, but you can get the idea. The head is stationary while the mouth moves around the face. But there’s variation in the expression as the eyes are closed or looking in a different direction while the mouth is held for a frame. It gives the impression of extra movement.

I really like the character’s design, too. The general consensus is it’s by Tony Rivera, newly-arrived from Disney.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Snooper and Blabber — Gopher Goofers

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Don Patterson; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Bob Gentle; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Snooper, Blabber – Daws Butler; J. Horti Culture, Gopher – Don Messick.
First Aired: week of January 11, 1960.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber are hired by a millionaire to get rid of a gopher on his estate.

The idea behind Snooper and Blabber was to parody the tired clichés of the TV and B-movie detective genre. But when you need a bunch of story ideas in a hurry and used to write for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, you’ll use whatever you can to meet a deadline. That’s no doubt what faced Mike Maltese when he was asked to come up with plots for ‘The Quick Draw McGraw Show.’ So he mothered a cartoon where he simply took his detective characters and plopped them into a standard Warner Bros.-style, heckler-comes-out-on-top cartoon.

That can be the only possible explanation for Gopher Goofers. After all, why would anyone hire detectives to get rid of a gopher? Why wouldn’t they hire an exterminator? Well, I guess there is one other explanation—anything can happen in a cartoon. Maltese apparently liked the concept because he used it in Quick Draw McGraw’s Doggone Prairie Dog, which aired the same season with a similarly-drawn (but not identical) title character.

Maltese never wrote the Goofy Gopher cartoons at Warners but this one may remind you of the kinds of violence gags you’d see on one of those. And instead of the oh-so-polite dialogue which was the most enjoyable part of the Warners shorts, Maltese inserts his own style with lots of adjectives that characters dutifully recite, as if they’re reading parenthetical stage directions.

Instead of opening the cartoon with a shot of an eyeball on Snooper’s office door or window, we get it on his helicopter this time, with the title characters in silhouette and the white clouds (sponged?). They are on their way to the “vast, richly estate” of “fabulously wealthy” J. Horti Culture, descriptive terms that crop up several times in the dialogue.

There’s something I really like about the backgrounds here. Bick and Bob Gentle came up with a lot of roses and the main background features a flat gazebo in the back and some kind of tree with little round berries on the leaves. The orangy sky is an interesting colour choice; I’m presuming it’s the correct colour from these TV screen grabs anyway (pardon the annoying TV cable channel bug. I wish these were out on DVD).

Snooper still thinks he’s in a detective cartoon. He deduces he’s been called because Culture has a no-good nephew who is trying to do him in to get the estate. That’s when the ground shakes and we get some sight gags leading up to the appearance of the title character. The best one is how an apple drops from a tree and a buzz-saw noise, the uneaten core is sent back up. It’s almost the same as in Barney Bear’s Victory Garden (1942) except the gopher in that one pulls a tomato plant underground then pops it back up with the tomatoes eaten like apples.

Blab informs us it’s a “13-09. A landscape caper.” Culture offers a million dollars to get rid of the pest and we get some vaudeville-type corn in reply:

Snooper: For that kind of dough, I’d do a bicycle act with a hungry crocodile.
Blabber: What do you mean, Snoop? We don’t own no bicycle.

So now we proceed with a series of gags as Snooper’s attempts to get the gopher out of the garden fall apart through our heroes’ stupidity and the gopher having obviously watched old cartoons and knowing what’s coming. First, Blab lowers a mousetrap with a fishing line into the hole. Like Bugs Bunny, who has multiple holes when convenient, the gopher pops up with the trap through another hole, jibbers to the camera and snaps it on Snooper’s tail. Naturally, Blab thinks he’s caught something and reels Snoop through one hole and out the other.

Next, Snooper tries a metal orange and a magnet. But the gopher pops up through the second hole and offers the orange to Blab who swallows it (with a thud). Snoop uses the magnet and pulls Blab through one hole and out the other.

The rodent dashes off with Snoop loping after him. Don Patterson developed a six-drawing run cycle for the gopher. When he lands on either foot, it’s on twos. The other drawings are on ones. Earlier, when he has the gopher chattering, he varies the cycle again, with some drawings on twos and others on threes. By contrast, Snoop’s run is on twos.

“Stop in the name of the Private Eye Summer School!” is Snoop’s variation on his catchphrase in this cartoon. And the gopher does. To pull the old pick-a-card-with-dynamite trick.

Now, Snooper and Blabber pretend to leave, sounding like they’re reading badly off a script loud enough for the gopher to hear, then hide behind a tree. The gopher sings to himself, toddling along in a little head-bobbing cycle. He’s on ones, except when each foot is in the mid-air and Patterson leaves it there for an extra frame.

The gopher doodly-doos across some atypical Hanna-Barbera paving stones to the diving board of a swimming pool. Snooper runs after him. The gopher does a little knee-bending dance as casually pours glue on the diving board. Snooper mishears Blab’s warning about the glue and attempts his “triple-side somersault swan dive” into the pool after him. He doesn’t get that far.

A hunting rocket set to “gopher” is Snooper’s next weapon. The gopher does a variation of an old Warners gag and draws a picture of himself on the back of Snoop’s trench-coat.

Finally, Snooper decides to use TNT to blow up the gopher’s hole. But, instead, he blows up the grounds of the estate—along with the million-dollar garden he was supposed to protect.

Finally, we get one of those “what?!” endings. As Culture is about to hand over the million-dollar cheque, we hear the gopher, then see the millionaire’s boutonnière disappear into his smoking jacket. Finally, the flowers on the wallpaper disappear into the base-board. How’d the gopher get in there? Oh, that’s right. Anything can happen in a cartoon.

Don Messick once mentioned the gopher voice was among his favourite. I suppose if you asked someone what a gopher sounded like, he’d make the toothy noise Messick makes here. It sounds more like Messick during the scene when he heads to the ironing board. The little woodblock/flute tune of Jack Shaindlin’s fits the little walk he has, even though it’s not scored to the beat.

I still haven’t been able to find the title of that piece nor one of a bunch of marching band-style chase themes chopped at the end of the cartoon. More than half of the music is from the Q-2 series from EMI Photoplay by Phil Green.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:25 - GR-347 GATHERING THE PRODUCE (Green) – Snooper and Blabber in chopper.
0:42 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snoop and Blab talk to millionaire.
1:13 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – Jackhammer sound, gopher appears.
1:31 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – $1,000,000 offer made.
2:33 - GR-90 THE CHEEKY CHAPPIE (Green) – Mousetrap gag.
3:07 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Orange gag, card gag.
4:25 - GR-76 POPCORN SHORT BRIDGE No 2 (Green) – “A double-dealing gopher.”
4:34 - GR-453 THE ARTFUL DODGER (Green) – Snooper and Blabber pretend to leave.
5:00 - tick tock/flute music (Shaindlin) – Gopher heads to pool, puts glue on diving board.
5:22 - LFU-117-3 MAD RUSH No 3 (Shaindlin) – Gopher jumps off diving board, Snooper sticks to glue.
5:41 - GR-87 SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD (Green) – Rocket gag.
6:10 - STEALTHY MOUSE (Harry Bluestone-Emil Cadkin) – Blow-up estate gag, Snooper gets cheque.
7:00 - fast chase music (Shaindlin) - Boutonnière and wallpaper flowers disappear.
7:10 - Snooper and Blabber end title theme (Curtin).