Saturday, 4 September 2010

Snooper and Blabber — Motor Knows Best

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall; Layout – Ed Benedict; Backgrounds – Joe Montell; Story – Mike Maltese; Story Director – Alex Lovy; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervisor – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Denton Fender – Daws Butler; Track Announcer, Crash Smithereens – Don Messick.
First Aired: week of November 9, 1959.
Plot: Snooper takes on the dastardly Crash Smithereens in a car race.

In the world of comedy, before Hanna-Barbera’s Wacky Races (1968), before Jay Ward’s Tom Slick (1967), before Tony Curtis and Jack Lennon staged an Oscar-winning duel in turn-of-the-century autos (1965) came this cartoon about good versus e-vil on the blacktop, the first car racing cartoon made for TV.

Of course, the idea wasn’t really new in animation. It went back to the silent days with the Aesop Fable Coast to Coast (1928) and, to stretch the point a bit, Disney’s Alice’s Balloon Race (1926).

A car race really is a perfect plot for a cartoon. There’s conflict, there’s a climax before the finish and there are loads of opportunities to stick in gags along the Merry Oldsmobile way. So, leave it to Mike Maltese to be the first writer at Hanna-Barbera to take advantage of it (though Charlie Shows did write the Huck ski race cartoon Ski Champ Chump the previous season).

Super Snooper may seem like an odd choice to be in a car race. He is a detective after all. But Maltese kind of stretched the idea of Snooper-For-Hire in several directions in the interests of filling up a full season. And, of the series Maltese was working on, the car race format probably fit Snooper best, certainly better than domestic Doggie Daddy and old western Quick Draw McGraw (oh, wait. Quick Draw did have a car in Lamb Chopped, didn’t he? Never mind).

The cartoon isn’t a laugh riot, but Maltese comes up with his typical clever plays on words, jumbled metaphors, comedy-repetitious dialogue and a surprise ending. Don Messick supplies his stock ‘bad guy’ voice that he used in Cloudy Rowdy and Ala-Kazoop later in the Snooper series and for a couple of decades into the future. And a few of Phil Green’s mainstay melodies are in the background. So it’s an enjoyable cartoon.

Snoop’s in the middle of a phone call as the cartoon begins.

Snooper: Fear you not, Mr. Fender. You won’t forfeit that hundred-grand thousand. Because I will drive your car in the race. For a nominal fee of money, of course.

Snoop tells Blab to “rinse out a few wrenches and things” but the mouse wants to beat it when he hears they’ll be against Crash Smithereens ‘The Terror of the Race Track.’ Snoop collars him as he gives the advice “Don’t take any wooden traffic tickets.”

We cut to the starting line at the race track, where Smithereens is about to accept $100,000 cash from the Denton Fender, who is ready to forfeit due to the lack of a driver. Daws uses kind of a Cogswell voice with some W.C. Fields tossed in for Fender. “Unhand that filthy lucre! The race goes on, you vile villain!” cries Snoop as he arrives on the scene. Good thing, too. We wouldn’t have a plot otherwise. As you might expect, the violence gags start fast. Smithereens drops the car hood on Snooper’s hand. Then he uses a pair of plyers on the hand instead of shaking it. The throbbing in both cases is shown by two drawings. I’ve slowed down both so you can see them. The animation when Snoop yowls in pain and raises his hand is re-used; just the hand is different.

“The race is in the bag,” Snoop confides to Blab. “And here it is, stupid,” adds Smithereens, who puts a grocery store paper bag over Snoop’s head. “Where’d the tunnel come from, Blab?” our hero asks just before starting the race car and crashing off camera.

Maltese’s grammar strikes again:

Snooper: There’s only going to be one winner: I’m.

The gags:

Smithereens leaves behind a black smog cloud but Blab blows it back onto Smithereens’ car. The smog destroys it.

Smithereens uses a fishing rod to snag Snoop. Instead, Snoop’s whole car crashes down on him.

Blab: Look, Snoop! Crash is back in the race.
Snoop: So what? We’re front in the race.

Sorry for the poor frame grab here, but I love Ed Benedict’s cows. I wonder if they're living adjacent to the Farm of Tomorrow?

Crash: Even though this ain’t a Western, I’ll take the short cut and head ‘em off at the pass. Nee-yah-hah-hah-hah-hah-haaah.
Snoop: Look, Blab! Crash took the short cut and headed us off at the pass.
Blab: Why, that’s cheatin’, Snoop. This ain’t a Western.

Smithereens raises a drawbridge behind him. It keeps right on raising. I keep waiting for him to stare at the camera with little eyes and raise a small “Oh, no!” sign before being clobbered.

Cartoon reference:

Blab (looking behind him): Can that be Crash Smitheerens?
Crash: Well, it ain’t Huckleberry Hound.

The bad guy uses a horseshoe magnet to extract Snoop’s motor. “I always win, because I cheat,” he exclaims. “Not this time, you scoivy knave,” says Snoop, as he passes the bad guy and crosses the finish line first. How did he do it without a motor?

Snoop: Elementar-rare-rary, my dear vill-ee-an. I did it with mouse power.

Cut to a shot of an exhausted Blab on one of Benedict’s contraptions inside the engine compartment. Iris out.

Snoop doesn’t say “Stop in the name of...” in this cartoon.

Yes, Crash does a Dishonest John-esque “nyah-ah-ah” throughout the cartoon. Hanna-Barbera had already borrowed it before for Harry Safari on Ruff and Reddy. Crash and Harry have similar designs.

Musically, the score is cobbled together from a couple of familiar Phil Green “Comedy Cartoon” cues and a bunch of trombone-filled circus/show business melodies by Jack Shaindlin. The car engine sound effect is loud and the Shaindlin pieces sound very similar so it’s difficult picking out where one stops and the other starts. They probably date from the late ‘40s and would have been used in newsreels. None of them are available for audition and they’re among a bunch of Shaindlin cues I would love someone to be able to identify. Earl Kress tells me one has ‘Fireman’ in the title.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Hoyt Curtin).
0:25 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snooper and Blabber in the office.
0:53 - CAPERS (Shaindlin) – Blab shocked at hearing Crash Smithereens’ name.
1:23 - GR-77 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Race track starting line scene, Smithereens drives away.
3:05 - fast show biz music (Shaindlin) – Snoop crashes, “I think I’ll smoke that would-be hero out. Nyah-hah-hah!”
3:35 - ‘FIREMAN’ (Shaindlin) – Shot of ‘Smog Fog’ button, smog envelopes Smithereens’ car.
3:56 - fast circus march (Shaindlin) – “Hey!”, car falls apart, Smithereens hooks car, car lands on Smithereens.
4:39 - fast show biz music (Shaindlin) – Snoop and Blab on top of Smithereens’ car, Smitheerens stops at ‘Bridge Control.’
5:29 - related to Excitement Under Dialogue (Shaindlin) – Smithereens raises bridge, it lands on him.
5:42 - fast show biz music (Shaindlin) – Smithereens’ magnet grabs Snoop’s motor, “off to the races.”
6:13 - SIX DAY BIKE RACE (Shaindlin) – Smithereens races away, Snoop crosses finish line.
6:42 - ‘FIREMAN’ (Shaindlin) – Snooper races hands in victory, Blab is motor.
7:10 - Snooper and Blabber end title theme (Curtin).


  1. Thanks Yowp, for your latest Snooper and Blabber post. Don Messick is doing his Stan Freberg impression as Crash Smithereens this time. Are the Snooper and Blabber cartoons in current rotation on any Boomerang shows? I would love to see them all again.
    Thanks, Mark Kausler

  2. Not according to this, Mark. No Quick Draw, No Huck, No Meece, No Augie, either.

  3. Thanks Yowp, I will check in with them from time to time. The Boomerang Zoo is starting again on Monday, so maybe Snooper will join that line-up. FamilyNet dropped Underdog and The Bullwinkle Show, currently Bullwinkle has completely disappeared from broadcast TV. (I don't know if you like Jay Ward cartoons or not, I do.) Thanks, Mark Kausler

  4. The other nice thing about this one is I believe Maltese managed to not use a single gag from "Mutts About Racing", the next-to-last Droopy cartoon from two years earlier at MGM (yeah, he borrowed a little bit from the Warner gag library, but with so many ex-MGMers on staff, I'm surprised at least one or two of the gags from Michael Lah's short didn't end up in there by osmosis).

  5. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    Crash Smithreens seems as a foresight to Dick Dastardly, right?
    We cannot forget that Ed Benedict also did the layouts on the Wacky Races (Hanna-Barbera, 1969) spin-off, Dick Dastardly & Muttley on Their Flying Machines (Hanna-Barbera, 1969).
    Michael Maltese also did the scripts for Wacky Races and their respective spin-offs: Dick Dastardly & Muttley and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop (Hanna-Barbera, 1969), OK?