Saturday, 23 March 2013

Snooper and Blabber — Fleas Be Careful

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Lew Marshall, Layout – Paul Sommer, Backgrounds – Bob Gentle, Story – Mike Maltese, Story Director – Alex Lovy, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Snooper, Blabber, Dog, Flea circus owner – Daws Butler; Gisele – Julie Bennett; Narrator, Toot Sweet, Slick Flea – Don Messick.
Music: Phil Green, Jack Shaindlin.
First Aired: 1960
Episode: Quick Draw McGraw Show M-029, Production J-86.
Plot: Snooper helps Toot Sweet rescue his bride-to-be, Gisele, from an evil flea.

“Toot Sweet! Say, he’s the French flea who helped us solve that poodle caper a year ago.” Yes, Snooper, you’re absolutely right about that.

Toot Sweet was featured in three Snooper and Blabber cartoons, the first one being “Poodle Toodle-Oo!” in the first season, followed by this cartoon one season later, and then “Flea For All” later in the year. Mike Maltese wrote “Fleas Be Careful” and it has a superficial resemblance to one of his cartoons for Walter Lantz, “Flea For Two” (released 1955). Both feature a flea rescuing his fiancée from a slick flea, and have scenes involving champagne glasses and the little hero busting down a hotel room door.

You can always count on Maltese to fit a silly non sequitur into his story. In this one Snooper has a collection of “villainous moustaches.” They’re attached to fake noses in a display case. Why does he have one? Just for the hell of it. The collection, having performed its site-gag purpose, never appears again. The humour in the cartoon comes, as it usually does by the end of 1960, by Maltese’s Ed Gardner-inspired dialogue and Daws Butler’s word bending. Lew Marshall’s animation is lacklustre.

Well, Don Messick does a nice job here, too. He’s both the good and the bad flea (meaning there are parts of some scenes where he’s talking to himself) and provides a nice quiet, über-serious narrator. The cartoon starts with a pan over a row of brownstones (which look pink in the crappy versions of the cartoon available on-line) then cuts to a close-up of a window. Yes, the private eye-ball is back!

“Let’s go inside and see how a famous detective operates,” invites the narrator, who chats with Blab about the latest Snooper and Blabber case that “all started one dismal, foggy evening.” That means it’s flashback time, with the occasion pop back into the present as Blab relates what happened. Toot Sweet pulls up to Snooper’s apartment/office in a Snuffles-like dog; the fare is a bone and a half. The flea tosses two bones and tells him to keep the change. “Harken to that door knock and ans-wer it,” says Snoop, then asks the flea. “To what do we contribute this sudden visit?” Blab, back in the present, outlines to the narrator (who remains silent the rest of the cartoon) the story of how Toot Sweet’s girl-friend, Gisele, was lured by a slick flea with a promise of stardom in a flea circus on Broadway. “I could tell Snoop’s nimble brain was workin’ fast.” We get a shot of Snoop’s head stretching in four drawings, all on twos, I think. The popping and bubbling sound effects are what makes the take. Lew Marshall’s drawings are tame. Below right, you see the most stretched Snoop’s head gets. It wouldn’t take any extra effort to make the drawings more exaggerated and funny but the studio was settling into blandness. It’s a shame.

“Me thimble brain tells me to go clue-huntin’ at the flea circus on Broadway,” cries Snoop, as he grasps the obvious. Next comes a scene where Snoop questions a side-of-the-mouth flea circus owner, kind of a low-key Sheldon Leonard type with a square-headed design by Paul Sommer.

Owner: It’s like I said. Dey was here. She an’ a slick-lookin’ flea.
Snoop: Uh, yes, sir. Then what happened?
Owner: I auditioned her. She couldn’ sing, like I said. She couldn’ sing at all. So I said ‘no.’ What else could I do? Den dey left.
Snoop: Uh, they left?
Owner: Uh, like I said, dey left.

The flea circus owner points to the building where Gisele went with the fast-talker flea. We hear cries of help. The rescue’s interrupted a bit as Blabber tries to mooch free tickets to the flea circus. The slick-looking flea holds what’s supposed to be a champagne glass. “Come on, baby, just one little sip. It’s only soda,” says the flea, who turns to the camera and adds: “That’s right. It really is only soda.” Snoop bangs on the door. We don’t get a “Halt in the name of the…” catchphrase. Instead, we hear an “Open in the name of the Private Eye Open Door Policy!”

Toot Sweet breaks down the door and the gag here is the fight between the two fleas is in long shot so all you see is little dots bouncing around on the screen as the camera shakes and some familiar H-B sound effects play in the background. The teeney figure gag was used as far back as Tex Avery’s “Hamateur Night” (1938) at Warners. Snooper interrupts things, telling them they should “leave us settle this like gentle-fleas.” That means with pistols at five paces. Only the bad guy fleas fires early. “Oo la la! I am what you call ‘plugged’,” says Toot Sweet, clutching his chest. Then the bad guy turns the gun on Snooper and Blabber. Blab laughs. “Somehow, a stark-ravin’-mad flea strikes me as funny.” Gisele has had enough. She drops a flower pot on top of the bad guy. I guess she didn’t need help after all. “Like any villain, all I can do is say ‘Coises!’ I give up.” But Blab doesn’t need to “call an ambulance has-tily, to wit.” Toot Sweet is fine. “Like any hero, it was only a flesh wound.”

The final scene’s back in the present. Toot Sweet and Gisele (as dots) bound down what we presume to be church steps outside and onto the taxi-dog to Niagara Falls. “There goes another happy groom into the oblivion of marital matrimony,” observes Snoop. “To which us private eyes are denied, huh, Snoop?” adds Blab. “You can say that again,” says Snoop. Yeah, the obvious dialogue follows. Blab’s tag line is not one of Maltese’s strongest: “Snoop has got a soft heart. That’s why I love him.” I guess he was going for sentiment. Or maybe irony. Oh, well, the cartoon’s over.

A solo electric church belts out three bars of ‘The Wedding March.’ I suspect it’s from one of the Capitol Hi-Q ‘X’ series reels. One bit of music selection is really unfortunate. During the shooting/death scene. Phil Green’s “The Tin Dragoons” saws and clomps away, not providing the least bit of urgency to match what’s on the screen. Conversely, the Jack Shaindlin suspense-string cue used when Gisele yells for help (I don’t have a name for it) is a good selection as it fits the mood. And why the cutter chose four seconds of Green’s “Custard Pie Capers” when the dog is running is beyond me. He could have simply four seconds of the next cue joined in progress and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

0:00 - Snooper and Blabber Main Title theme (Curtin, Hanna, Barbera).
0:24 - GR-93 DRESSED TO KILL (Green) – Shot of row houses, shot of window.
0:43 - GR-74 POPCORN (Green) – Narrator talks to Blab, office scene.
1:29 - GR-77 CUSTARD PIE CAPERS (Green) – Dog runs down street, skids to a stop.
1:32 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – Toot Sweet/dog scene, flea in office scene.
2:24 - GR-80 FRED KARNO’S ARMY (Green) – Blab talks to narrator, Snoop talks to Blab in office.
3:01 - GR-453 THE ARTFUL DODGER (Green) – Snooper questions ticket taker, “Yoo Hoo!”
3:30 - related to Excitement Under Dialogue (Shaindlin) – “Toot Sweet!”, Gisele at window, Slick Flea with champagne glass, elevator light turns on.
4:14 - ASININE (Shaindlin) – “We’re comin’ Gisele,” breaks down door, fight.
5:08 - GR-258 THE TIN DRAGOONS (Green) – Pistol scene, Toot Sweet okay.
6:17 - GR-334 LIGHT AGITATED BRIDGE (Green) – Blab in office scene.
6:31 - Wedding March (Trad.) – Fleas down stairs, call for taxi.
6:39 - tick tock/flute music (Shaindlin) – Dog pulls up, end of cartoon.
7:09 - Snooper and Blabber End Title theme (Curtin).

1 comment:

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

    I've known that this Snooper & Blabber episode reminded very much the short Flea for Two, which was directed by Don Patterson for Universal Pictures/Walter Lantz in 1955, and it was scripted by Michael Maltese.
    Pure coincidence.