Saturday, 24 April 2010

Snooper and Blabber — The Flea and Me

Produced by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Dick Bickenbach; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Irish Cop – Daws Butler; Karl, Rudolf, Lion – Don Messick.
First Aired: November 3, 1959.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber are hired to return Rudolf the Flea to his flea circus owner.

Cartoons seem to attract fleas about as much as dogs do.

It’s puzzling if you think about it. After all, a flea doesn’t have much personality in real life. But it seems almost every studio had several pretty funny cartoons featuring a flea. The one that may instantly come to mind is A. Flea joyfully singing “There’ll Be Food Around the Corner” in the 1943 Warners cartoon ‘An Itch in Time’ (he appeared in another short several years later). Tex Avery built a few at MGM around fleas, too—‘What Price Fleadom’ (1948), with the same flea that was in Rudy Ising’s ‘The Homeless Flea’ (1940), ‘The Flea Circus’, featuring French fleas, and ‘Dixieland Droopy’ (both 1954). Don Patterson directed ‘Flea For Two’ (1955), written by Mike Maltese. Even Famous Studios got into the act with a ‘One Froggy Evening’-style short called ‘Finnegan’s Flea’ (1958).

The flea infestation moved over to Hanna-Barbera, especially into the Snooper and Blabber series where four cartoons co-starred fleas. The last three—‘Poodle Toodle-oo!’, ‘Fleas Be Careful’, ‘Flea For All’—featured the French flea (there’s H-B borrowing from Avery yet again) Toot Sweet. But ‘The Flea and Me’ has different characters altogether.

Carlo Vinci animated this one and it features his early H-B trademarks—stretched diving exits off camera, jerky head animation and thick rows of teeth when necessary. Unfortunately, not much of it is as interesting as some of the stuff he did in the first season of the Huck show. The opening scene shows Dick Bickenbach at work. The door-less car Snooper and Blabber are in should be a giveaway. There’s also a stock cityscape in the background. You can see the building with the café has another business with a name of non-letters. It appeared in a bunch of cartoons, not all of which were laid out by Bick and not all of which had Monte constructing the backgrounds. H-B’s background artist Art Lozzi once explained to John Kricfalusi that “already-used backgrounds from the files were slipped in” so it could be that Bick laid it out, Monte drew and painted it and it was used in cartoons where others did those jobs.

And the two-frame Vinci frightened shake-take is here, too. It’s been slowed down a bit. The frame grabs aren’t great, so the drawing bounces a bit.

The cartoon opens with our heroes in a hurry to the office of the Mammoth Flea Circus, where producer Karl Von Scratchem Bach is walking in a little cycle, shaking his hands in the air in panic. Snooper has Blab take notes as they get Von Scratchem Bach to explain what happened but all we hear is ersatz German. Finally he explains his star, Little Rudolf, “is gofluten the coopen” and “gescrambled.” The detectives are offered $5,000 for the flea’s safe return. “For that kind of dough,” says Snooper, “We’ll get him back if we have to shave every dog in town.”

Snoop figures the first place to look for a flea is the local dog pound. We now get a shot of a bunch of dogs scratching various parts in various ways (in a bigger-budget theatrical cartoon, this would have been a great place for sight gags. Snooper decides to use some strategy (no, he doesn’t say “stragedy” this time). As Phil Green trumpet music blares, Snooper shouts: “Introducing, the one, the only, the world’s greatest wonder flea, none other than Rudolf!” A little figure jumps from a dog’s back onto its nose.

Snooper: I knew it, Blab. Once a ham, always a ham.

Then Rudolf realises he’s been discovered and does a typical Carlo Vinci escape. The detectives chase after him, with Snoop giving his catch-phrase variation “Stop in the name of the Private Eye Bird-Watchers Society!” At this point, our heroes meet up with one of the few stereotypes left in old cartoons that doesn’t invoke the cry of “racism”—an Irish cop. Rudolf hops inside the officer’s hat as Snooper explains he’s worth $5,000.

Cop: My dog has lots of fleas. And you can have them all. For nothing.

Somehow, the cop is so ditzy he can’t tell his hat is jumping up and down on top of his head. The detectives jump on the job and, somehow, strip the officer as they try to get the flea under the hat. “The flea must have fleed, Blab,” observers Snooper, and as the half-naked cop hides in a bush and calls for the police, Snoop and Blab follow Rudolf into a monkey cage of a zoo.

Snooper takes some clippers and snips all the fur off the monkey. But the flea “Flewed the coop, Snoop” and bounces onto a nearby lion. Snoop orders Blab to try the clippers on the dangerous beast to find Rudolf (“Fantastical. He does anything I say,” the amazed Snooper remarks to the audience. One roar from the lion causes Blab to zip out of the lion cage and past Snooper.

After some filler dialogue, Snooper hands Blab a jar of pepper to shake on the lion with the idea that Rudolf will sneeze and then be caught. Instead what happens is Maltese finishes the cartoon with the running gag from the Oscar-nominated ‘The Legend of Rockabye Point’ (1955) that he wrote for Tex Avery. Rudolf sneezes, but the sleepy lion simply grabs Blab with his arm and holds the mouse against his body. Snooper advises the mouse to put the lion to sleep by singing him a lullabye. So that’s what Blab does. Snoop tries to pull him but ends up getting caught in the lion’s other arm. The advice? Keep singing. And that’s how the cartoon ends. Day turns to night. Blab is still singing off-key and we end with the annoyed Rudolf within the lion’s fur putting on earmuffs to deafen the noise and fall asleep. After all, fleas always carry earmuffs with them.

There are several places in the cartoon where a scene goes from having a full background when the characters are in medium shot to a single-colour background (sponged?) in a closer shot. Here’s an example.

Even though this is supposedly the sixth in the series, the Snooper cartoons had started using very short Phil Green cues as bridges instead of the longer “detective” sounding music of Jack Shaindlin, like in the first cartoon. For example, we get only two bars of a solo flute from somewhere in ‘The Bravest Wooden Soldier.’ The Green cues originally came from the EMI Photoplay library and were picked up for the Capitol Hi-Q library, which gave them ‘PG’ names. I’ve used the original EMI ‘GR’ names where I have them.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin).
0:25 - PG-161H LIGHT MOVEMENT (Green) – Snooper and Blabber drive to flea circus office.
0:44 - PG-177C LIGHT COMEDY MOVEMENT (Green) – Snoop reads door sign.
0:51 - GR-98 BY JIMINY! IT’S JUMBO SHORT BRIDGE No 2 (Green) – “I’m ruined!”
1:01 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Snooper and Blabber hear Bach’s story.
1:43 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snoop and Blab drive to dog pound, dogs scratching.
2:07 - PG-171 PERIOD FANFARE (Green) – Snoop intros Rudolf, flea bows and takes off.
2:27 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – Cop in park scene.
3:43 - GR-80 FRED KARNO’S ARMY (Green) – Monkey scene, Blab goes into cage, “Fantastical.”
4:33 - GR-84 THE BRAVEST WOODEN SOLDIER (Green) – Lion roars, Blab tossed out.
4:39 - COMEDY SUSPENSE (Shaindlin) – Snooper hands Pepper to Blab, Rudolf sneezes, Snoop tells Blab to sing.
5:41 - GR-90 THE CHEEKY CHAPPIE (Green) – Blab sings, Snoop caught in lion cage, Blab sings.
6:36 - GR-87 SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD (Green) – Night falls in zoo, Rudolf puts on earmuffs.
7:04 - GR-79 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS BRIDGE No 2 (Green) – Rudolf sleeps.
7:11 - Snooper and Blabber end title theme (Curtin).

1 comment:

  1. Just to add one more to the fleatoon list -- Maltese came to Hanna-Barbera shortly after writing "To Itch His Own" for Chuck Jones over at Warners.