Saturday, 17 July 2010

Snooper and Blabber — The Lion is Busy

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Carlo Vinci; Layout – Walter Clinton; Backgrounds – Art Lozzi; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Sketches – Dan Gordon; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Snagglepuss – Daws Butler; Hazel – Jean Vander Pyl; Zookeeper, Desk Clerk, Major – Don Messick.
First Aired: 1960.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber try to capture Snagglepuss but contend with a gun-toting English hunter at the same time.

The early Snagglepuss is a great character because Mike Maltese added a Warner Bros. streak to him. In addition to the catch phrases we all know—“Heavens to Murgatroyd,” “Exit, stage left”—Snag gets to be like Bugs Bunny and the pre-jealous/angry Daffy Duck. He invades people’s space and lips them off, knowing he’s in control and smarter than anyone else in the cartoon. So Snagglepuss would be liable to suddenly pop up out of nowhere when characters are talking about him and happily exclaim some non sequitur like “I like New York in June. How about you?” (far funnier than the late ‘30s-early ‘40s versions of pre-Bugs or Woody, who’d uncreatively shout an insult like “Here I am, fat boy!”).

Snagglepuss can do it because he’s the antagonist. Unfortunately, when he got his own show, someone must have felt the good guy couldn’t do stuff like that so Maltese modified his character. Maltese wrote more plays on words (“I’ve been foreclosed! Five-closed, even!”) and vaudeville-style two-handers with Major Minor (“Didn’t I capture you in the Upper Mbutu?” “Au contraire. It was the Lower Lumbago. And it still hurts.”). He’s still a funny character and it’s the Snagglepuss everyone remembers. But the original, orange, different one is funny, too.

(Incidentally, you won’t find the lines in the above paragraph in any Snagglepuss cartoon. I made them up. Well, I think I did. It shows you what 50 years of watching these will do to your brain).

On television, Richard Diamond had a secretary who was heard but never seen, aside from her legs. So Maltese borrowed the idea and gave Snooper a secretary who was heard but never seen (and never paid, apparently). This cartoon apparently marks the debut of Hazel, given a Southern belle lilt by Jean Vander Pyl. Since she’s new, the dialogue’s straight-forward, though Blab tells the audience in an aside “she’s good to her parakeet.” We hear about the unseen parakeet in later cartoons.

Hazel dispatches them to the zoo, with Blab pretending to be the siren (do detectives really have sirens in their cars?)

Snagglepuss has escaped. The zookeeper confines he “was our star attraction. That’s why we must have him back. Otherwise, he could go shinny up a tree for all I care.” The zookeeper offers to “throw in an old buffalo robe” in addition to the “five-thousand clam dollars.”

Blab keeps up with the ‘si-reen’ sound as he and Snoop are walking down the street. Snoop tells him to “knock it off”, which gives Blab an excuse to say “I’m sorry, Snoop.” It’s a weak catchphrase, but that’s all he’s got.

So they get in the car. Snooper now owns a 1960 Clinton which, unlike the 1959 Bickenbach with no doors, has part of a door in long shots. Now the fun starts. Snagglepuss pops up from the back seat (with a ‘spoink’ sound effect).

Snag: Oh, taxi driver. May I prevail upon you to take me to Africa? And hurry. I’m in a dither to get there.
Snoop: Sorry, sir, but this isn’t a taxi cab.
Snag: Heavens to Murgatroyd! (gets out) I could’ve sworn you was a cab. Not the car. You. (points to Blab). With those ears, you look like a cab with its doors open. I must be off. Exit, stage left.

Off goes Snagglepuss, despite being told to “Stop in the name of the Private Eye Summer School.” If you haven’t guessed by now looking at the flatter-headed Snooper that Carlo Vinci is at work, this scene should convince you. Snag has one of those angular runs only Carlo liked to use, a cycle of four drawings on twos. Look at how his mouth goes off his face during the dialogue; Carlo never worried about that too much. Notice the pastel colours in the backgrounds that Art Lozzi paints in this and other scenes.

Snagglepuss stops at the Adventurers’ Club, where he does a stretch-dive through the door. Unlike most of Vinci’s dives, which are horizontal off the screen, this one is going into the background. See how Carlo moves his butt up then Snag shoots inside.

Snooper has a clever line here, where he exclaims that Snagglepuss is “trapped in a Daniel’s den.”

Now comes a funny little scene at the front desk.

Clerk: What can I do for you, sir?
Snag: I’m a hunted lion in sore need of refuge.
Clerk: This is not a hotel, Mr. Lion.

Art puts some depth in the wood panelling on the desk.

The desk clerk faints. Snag disguises himself as one of the adventurers (the string on his monocle keeps vanishing; it wasn’t drawn on the repeated cell when mouth has a short ‘a’ sound), but Snooper can see through it, thanks to the lion’s tail. See the wide Vinci teeth. And look how big Snag’s head gets.

So it’s “Exit, upper stage right” and into an elevator. Up goes Snagglepuss. And walking to the elevator door is the Major. He’s got a big-headed, barrel-chested design here (reminiscent of Total TV’s later Commander McBragg) but pretty much the same voice Don Messick would give Major Minor in the later Snagglepuss series. Maltese already has their opening dialogue style worked out.

Major: By Gadfreys! It’s old Snagglepuss!
Snag: By ditto! It’s the Major.
Major: Didn’t I shoot you in the Zambezi?
Snag: I don’t know. But I’ve been eatin’ off the mantle ever since. By the way, how is Africa?
Major: Africa is Africa. The tse-tse flies are teetzey-ing. The Veldt is velting.
Snag: Ain’t it the truth.

The bulk of the conversation is done in head shots only, just like the scene with Snagglepuss and Snooper in the car. So instead of animating the mouth, Carlo’s got a different head position for different vowels and consonants.

The major decides to “pick up where we left off,” so he starts chasing Snagglepuss around the Adventurers’ Club, firing his rifle. “What in carnation? Stop in the limb of the law!” exclaims Snoop. The wily cat convinces the Major that Snooper is a poacher. “I’ll show him how we handle poachers in the Punjab,” declares the Major, who starts firing at Snooper. Our detective heroes unsuccessfully try to avoid being shot by disguising themselves as stuffed heads. I love the uninterested yak head above them. Maltese dredges up a variation on an old line he used in one of my favourite Bugs cartoons, Rabbit Hood: “Gosh. The only thing I ever poached, was an egg.”

However, the Major ceases firing. It’s tea time after all. And it’s time for Maltese to parody upper-crust British society.

Snag: Tea?
Major: Brisk.
Snag: Crrrim? [cream]
Major: Lemon.
Snag: Sug-ah?
Major: Plizze.
Snag: Jolly.
Major: Ripping.

That’s Snooper’s cue to push a rifle at Snagglepuss, despite the Major’s annoyance of having a traditional tea break interrupted. Snoop gets Blab to go warm up the car while he puts the cuffs on Snagglepuss. “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” again wails the lion, as he proposes Snooper and the Major divide him equally. The tricky Snag then puts one cuff on the Major and the other on Snooper and it’s “Exit, stage left!” Carlo has Snag do kind of a quick double bounce (with sproink sound effect) before taking off.

The final scene has Snagglepuss driving Snooper’s car (with his nose in the air, the same way Ken Muse drew him driving in the last scene of Quick Draw’s Lamb Chopped). Hazel’s calling Snoop. You just know we’re going to get a “lion” pun here.

Hazel: Hazel to Snoop. Hazel to Snoop. Come in, Snoop.
Snag: Snagglepuss to Hazel. Sorry, but Snooper’s having tea with the Major.
Hazel: Well! Who are you?
Snag: If I told you, you’d think I was lyin’. And you’d be right. Ta ta!

So Blab does his siren sound as they drive to Africa and the cartoon fades out. But don’t worry. The orange version of Snagglepuss, Snooper, Blabber, the Major, the Adventurers Club, the Zambezi and Africa all return the following season in Big Cat Caper. Unfortunately, Carlo Vinci doesn’t. Hicks Lokey is over from Disney to animate from Paul Sommers’ layouts in that one. Those were the only two appearances of Snag on Snooper and Blabber. For the record, before getting his own show, he also appeared on:

Snagglepuss (Augie Doggie, another Vinci-Clinton effort)
The Party Lion (Augie Doggie, Lew Marshall animation)
Lamb Chopped (Quick Draw McGraw, animated by Ken Muse)
The Lyin’ Lion (Quick Draw McGraw, George Nicholas animation)
El Kabong Meets El Kazing (Quick Draw McGraw, looks like Nicholas again)

Considering Mike Maltese put him in seven cartoons in three different shows, it would seem natural he was destined for his own series. It’s too bad the orange Snagglepuss wasn’t in it, but Maltese gave us a funny one, though more lacklustre-ly animated.

The music is a little different here, in that the sound cutter elected not to pick a bunch of the short Phil Green pieces to use as bridges. He uses the most familiar Green tunes associated with Snooper and Blabber, except one. He doesn’t end the cartoon with ‘Custard Pie Capers’, we get a Jack Shaindlin cue instead. We also get three chase scenes augmented with Shaindlin’s ‘Six Day Bike Race’ and another has the word ‘Fireman’ in it (my thanks to Earl Kress for the IDs).

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:25 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – Snoop talks to Hazel.
1:18 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – S&B talk to zookeeper, Snagglepuss in car; takes off.
2:22 - SIX DAY BIKE RACE (Shaindlin) – Snag runs down street; slides up to desk.
3:06 - GR-80 FRED KARNO’S ARMY – Dialogue with desk clerk, Snoop sees through Snag’s disguise, Snag gets into elevator.
4:20 - GR-96 BY JIMINY! IT’S JUMBO (Green) – Elevator door opens, dialogue with Major, Snag shot.
4:54 - SIX DAY BIKE RACE (Shaindlin) – Snag runs, Major slides up to him.
5:07 - CB-87A COME AND GET ME (Emil Cadkin-Harry Bluestone) – Major and Snag “poacher” conversation.
5:18 - SIX DAY BIKE RACE (Shaindlin) – “Keep your gun on him, sir,” Snoop and Blab run past Snag.
5:46 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Major and Snag have tea, Snoop puts gun to Snag’s head, Snag puts cuffs on Major and Snoop.
6:35 - ‘FIREMAN’ (Shaindlin) – Snag talks to Hazel, Blab pretends to be siren.
7:09 - Snooper and Blabber end title theme (Curtin).


  1. Carlo doesn't fail to please this time, he rarely does.
    Snagglepuss has more of a "Quickdraw" edge in his vocal performance this time I'm noticing.

  2. Nice to see your blog's new look! I've seen tuis and noticed a slight WTF ending [also another short in the series, "Hop to it", as well] with Snoop and Blab being seperated willy-nilly.


  3. I really like the new look of your blog. Snagglepuss was better as a adversary to the main heroes than the main character he was 1 year later.

    I remember of that episode. And any of his apparitions too!

  4. The gag structure of a chase or antagonistic activity being interrupted for a lunch break, or the end of the 'work day'. was a trademark of the WB Wolf and Sheepdog cartoons initially written by Maltese for Chuck Jones. It actually has its genesis in the last Screwball Squirrel cartoon Tex Avery made for MGM back in '46.

  5. Avery liked interrupting running scenes, like in 'Little Red Walking Hood' and even in 'I Wanna Be a Sailor' (when Elvia Allman breaks into 'Old Black Joe'). The surprise stoppage was usually the gag. Clampett did the same thing for "nap time" in 'The Old Grey Hare.' Here, it's more part of the plot.

  6. wow before i even read the comments everyone else seems to like it too, i really love the new look as well

  7. It's actually surprising that, with all the classic radio and vaudevillian voices cartoon studios used in the 1930s, 40s and even into the 50s, nobody really thought to borrow Bert Lahr's voice before Maltese and Butler got together -- though given the speed of production at H-B, it's possible that the initial television broadcast of the full-length version of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1959, with Lahr as the Cowardly Lion, may have provided the inspiration for Snaglepuss (and the film did show in sections previously with great fanfare on CBS in 1956, more than enough time for Lahr's voice and mannerisms to become well-known enough to mimic).

  8. That makes sense, JL. Maltese didn't write any Lahr-based characters at Warners that I recall. Young people today may not understand Oz was like an annual holiday special that people looked forward to seeing, even into the '60s when I was a kid. How TV viewing has changed.

    Lahr didn't get a lot of exposure on radio comedy shows, probably because he was based in New York and the bulk of those shows out of Los Angeles. He guested with New York-based Fred Allen a couple of times.