Saturday, 17 November 2012

Snooper and Blabber — Big Cat Caper

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey, Layout – Paul Sommer, Backgrounds – Bob Gentle, Story – Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Snagglepuss – Daws Butler; Hazel – Jean Vander Pyl; Major, Elephant, Cop – Don Messick.
Music: Jack Shaindlin, Phil Green, Emil Cadkin/Harry Bluestone, unknown.
First Aired: week of January 17, 1961 (rerun, week of June 6, 1961).
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-034, Production J-97.
Plot: Snooper and Blabber are offered $5,000 to transport Snagglepuss to a zoo.

Snagglepuss mixed with other Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters in the cartoons-between-the-cartoons on the Yogi Bear Show, where he was starring in his own series starting in 1961. But before that, Mike Maltese mixed him with other H-B characters in the cartoons themselves. He gave Snagglepuss the role of an antagonist in several cartoons in each of the three series on the Quick Draw McGraw Show. This version of Snagglepuss was really funny as a lippy and flamboyant “bad guy” in three Quick Draw cartoons and it’s easy to see why he got his own show.

Of the seven pre-Snagglepuss series cartoons, Big Cat Caper is probably the weakest because it’s the most conventional. Maltese is getting all the elements in place that would ultimately be found in the series. There’s the Major (stouter in this one, thanks to Paul Sommer’s design) engaged in a punny-geographic tête–à–tête with Snagglepuss. There’s “Exit, Stage Right.” There’s “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” (which originated in Bert Lahr’s performance in the 1944 movie Meet the People). Snagglepuss is even treated, more or less, as a co-star, getting pounded by an incidental character. Unfortunately, the cartoon’s not as funny as when he confused Quick Draw McGraw by pretending to be his own twin brother in The Lyin’ Lion or scolded Augie Doggie for stepping on his line in The Party Lion. He was far more aggressive in those roles. And, to be honest, his series was likeable but not as funny, either.

The animator in this cartoon is Hicks Lokey, whose theatrical career started in New York City. He worked for Aesop’s Fables studio in the ‘20s (it became the Van Beuren studio, with Paul Terry leaving and opening his own studio), then at Fleischer’s where he supported the 1937 strike. The Fleischer brothers decided he could support himself elsewhere, so he moved to the west coast and worked for Walter Lantz before getting a job with the other Walter on Fantasia, with former Terry co-worker Norm Ferguson putting in a good word for him with Disney. He was an Army captain during the war. What he was doing after that is, no doubt, in someone’s aural history collection but he doesn’t appear to have worked in animation again until 1960, arriving on Hanna-Barbera’s doorstep and staying a couple of decades until retirement. Lokey’s drawing style is attractive in this cartoon. He’s much like Ed Love in dialogue, though less jerky. Snagglepuss’ head doesn’t have two positions (or seven, like Love); Lokey uses five. Snagglepuss has a flatter head in this cartoon and a pointed chin when he speaks certain vowels. And I like the mouth Lokey gives Blabber when Blab is doing his usual police siren impression.

Sommer’s layouts are very basic and scenes have characters travelling left to right, like on a stage (though they do cheat toward the camera, especially when talking to the audience). Even Bob Gentle’s backgrounds aren’t very elaborate; he tries to use a few different shades of green in trees but his buildings are simple squares and rectangles with blocks of colour for doors and windows.

Maltese had a sure-fire way of getting into the action of the cartoon quickly that he used a number of times, and he does it here. Snooper talks on the car radio to his secretary Hazel, who tells him what the next job is and the two exchange pleasantries before the call ends and Snoop and Blab zoom off into the next scene. In this cartoon, Snooper opens by butchering Hazel’s name and revealing he’s travelling on “Blab power.” Cut to Blabber pushing the car because the pair can’t afford gas. You can see the ‘50s are over. The car doesn’t have outrageously huge fins. It also has a door handle but no door. “Eurek-kee-ah!!” Snoop says when told about the job offer from the Major: $5,000 to transport Snagglepuss to the zoo. And he and Hazel get into it about her parakeet, previously mentioned in The Lion is Busy, the other Snooper-Snagglepuss cartoon. “The poor thing hasn’t eaten for so long, he’s shrunken to hummin’bird size,” Hazel drawls. “Well, you’ll get paid after this caper, Hazel. Meanwhile, give your parakeet hummin’ lessons.” The scene ends with Blab doing his police siren impression as he pushes the car.

Cut to the Major and the orange version of Snagglepuss (he wasn’t pink until his own series) drinking tea in the Adventurers Club, the setting of a number of later Snagglepuss cartoons. The mountain lion thinks the tea is “De-lish-shee-ous.” “I might even go so far-uh as to say it’s abom-in-a-ble,” says the caged animal. “Awfully decent of you, Snagglepuss,” replies the Major. Snooper and Blabber knock and come in. “Heavens to Murgatroyd! The things they leave out of cages these days,” Snagglepuss observes. Snoop wants to know how things are in Pick-a-Lily Square and tells the Major he’ll skip the “tea and trumpets.” Snagglepuss gets into an argument with the Major about whether he was caught in the Petawambi or the Zambezi. The Major lets Snagglepuss out of his cage to check a globe. Sure enough, it was the Zambezi (a river which divided the two Rhodesias; I don’t know if there is a “Petawambi”). “And that’s where I’m headed for. Exit, stage right!” Snoop gets his own catchphrase in: “Stop in the name of the $5000 fee!”

Snagglepuss ducks into a city park with a zoo (conveniently, the zoo where Snoop is being paid to deliver him). The Major organises a safari, complete with Blab playing the bongo drums which attract an elephant. Snagglepuss’ comment on Blab’s bongo playing: “Now, ain’t that a kick in the head” (the title of a Jimmy Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn song that came out a little more than six months after this cartoon appeared on TV). You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Hicks here. He animated part of the wonderful pink elephant dance in Dumbo, and he’s been reduced to drawing a limited animation elephant in this cartoon. One of his drawings of the elephant zooming out of his enclosure to meet up with Blab is just a red mass (on twos).

“Heavens to Murgatroyd!” Snagglepuss says again, this time with exasperation over the elephant being attracted by Blab’s “Simba, samba” chat and bongo playing. The elephant doesn’t take any crap. He uses his trunk to Snagglepuss up by the neck and throw him through a tree. Snagglepuss tells the elephant not to be so “Preterb-ed.”

Cut to the Major and Snooper. The Major vows to shoot Snagglepuss “right between the eyes.” He grazes him in the butt. Maltese wants us to make sure we get the butt joke by having the Major repeat his line. “Between the eyes? He must think I’m a midget” is the best response Maltese can come up with for Snagglepuss.

“Stop in the limb of the law!” It’s Snoop’s catchphrase time. And now we get the almost-patented sceptical cop scene. You know, where the heroes explain they’re dealing with an antagonist, the cop doesn’t believe them, then the antagonist shows up and the cop realises it’s true, usually ending his involvement with a phone call to “sarge” about how sick he is or a comment to the camera. The difference in this cartoon is the cop isn’t Irish (he has Don Messick’s growly voice used for brown cats in the Pixie and Dixie cartoons) and the cop makes his comment to Snagglepuss before running out of the scene. Maltese comes up with a groaner. Says the cop to the Major and Snooper: “A loose lion is it? Well, beat it before I loose my temper and run you in for lyin’.” But then he notices Snagglepuss is right in front of him and gulps. “You are kinda like a loose lion, aren’t ya?” “Well,” replies the lion, “I’m not a loose mongoose.” Must be the workload getting to Maltese; he’s been sillier than this.

The cop runs and, miraculously, his hat and nightstick stay suspended in mid-air for 16 frames. Now Snagglepuss pretends to be the cop, bashing Snooper and the Major on the top of the head before the Major shoots him. We get another “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” and more shots “between the eyes” before Blab holds open the cage door and tells Snagglepuss to run in for safety. “Clink!” goes the door and Blabber has himself a $5,000 reward.

The cartoon ends where it begins, except Snoop is now pushing the comparatively-wealthy Blab in the car. The gas station is only ten miles away (in the city?!). Blab agrees to help out. He makes the police siren sound as the cartoon fades out.

There’s a lot of Phil Green’s music in this cartoon, including Custard Pie Capers to once again end the action. My guess is the studio simply had someone record the bongo sounds instead of getting them off a music library. And we hear that light string symphonic music that’s used in a few chase scenes in several of the Snooper and Augie cartoons; I think it’s from the Sam Fox library.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera).
0:25 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Snoop talks to Hazel.
1:14 - PG-168J FAST MOVEMENT (Green) – Blab pretends to be a siren.
1:22 - GR-155 PARKS AND GARDENS (Green) – Snag and Major drink tea, door opens.
1:38 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Snoop talks to Major, Snag talks about the Patawambi, “By Gadfry!”
2:14 - GR-456 DR QUACK (Green) – “I snagged you in the Zambesi,” Snagglepuss runs out out of scene.
2:42 - LFU-117-3 MAD RUSH No 2 (Shaindlin) – Snag runs out door, into park, “You go on ahead, Blabber.”
3:15 - CB-85A STEALTHY MOUSE (Cadkin-Bluestone) – “And flush him out,” Blab walks with bongo drum.
3:24 - bongo drum – Blab plays drum, “regular Gunga Din.”
3:43 - GR-96 BY JIMINY! IT’S JUMBO (Green) - Elephant hears drums, puts trunk around Snag.
4:14 - GR-347 GATHERING THE PRODUCE (Green) - Elephant lifts up Snag, throws him through tree, Snagglepuss shot.
4:24 - GR-248 STREETS OF THE CITY (Green) – “By Gadfry!”, cop scene.
5:21 - jaunty bassoon and skippy strings (Shaindlin) – Snag puts on cop hat, Major shoots Snagglepuss, Snag runs out of scene.
6:06 - light symphonic string music (?) – Snagglepuss runs, into cage, Blab slams iron door, Snoop and Major skid to stop.
6:33 - GR-75 POPCORN SHORT BRIDGE No 1 (Green) – “Nice work…”, Blab offered reward.
6:47 - GR-77 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Snoop pushes car.
7:11 - Snooper and Blabber End Title theme (Curtin).


  1. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth and HB-fanatics from the whole world,

    Do you remember of a scene of this Snooper & Blabber episode, where Blabber appears playing bongos (like Desi Arnaz) to lure the Snagglepuss prototype, singing "SIMBA-RHUMBA-SIMBA-RHUMBA-SIMBA-RHUMBA"?
    It looked like Caribbean music, wasn't it?

  2. As with the original use of the Yogi-Boo Boo-Ranger Smith situation, or some earlier theatrical shorts, like "For Scent-imental Reasons" or "Hop, Look and Listen", this is one of those cartoons that would work better in a vacuum, or at least if you knew of nothing involving the character that came after it.

    It's really a nice bit of politeness within an adversarial situation by Maltese, similar to the niceties between Ralph and Sam before and after the carnage in Chuch Jones' wolf/sheepdog cartoons. But it would stand on its own a lot better if you don't know the template is going to be made into a series, and -- like the tales de LePew the Hippety Hopper cartoons or the 1961-62 season of the Yogi series -- basically run into the ground through repeated use.

  3. I thought the Snagglepuss series was far better than Pepe and Hippety because of its greater variety!