Saturday, 19 March 2016

Snagglepuss – Footlight Fright

Produced and Directed by Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna.
Credits: Animation – Bob Bentley; Layout – Walt Clinton; Backgrounds – Fernando Montealegre; Written by Mike Maltese; Story Director – John Freeman; Titles – Art Goble; Production Supervison – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Adventurers Club Head, Snagglepuss – Daws Butler; Major Minor – Don Messick.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Camera: Norm Stainback.
Filmed: January 5, 1962.
Episode: Production R-80 (seventh of eight Snagglepuss cartoons in 1961-62 season).
Copyright 1962 by Hanna-Barbera Productions
Plot: Major Minor pretends to run a travelling road show to capture ham actor Snagglepuss.

The best Snagglepuss cartoons were filled with plots taking ridiculous but logical turns and clever plays on words. The average ones had enough catchphrases and silly lines so they weren’t a total loss. Footlight Fright is one of the latter. There’s nothing uproariously funny, but if you like Snagglepuss, you’ll smile through this one.

It opens with the Adventurer’s Club (apparently there is only one adventurer) drumming out Major Minor for his continued failures to capture Snagglepuss. Maltese’s story is a parody of how soldiers were drummed out of the army with their epaulettes ripped off and so on. Maltese decides that the major should be divested of his wildebeest whistle. He never wore one in other cartoons, but Maltese seems to have decided “wildebeest” was a funny word, so into the dialogue it went. As John Kricfalusi has reminded Hanna-Barbera fans, you can tell Walt Clinton’s layout work in the early cartoons because the animator drew human characters with ears at collar length. You can see that in this cartoon. Bob Bentley is the animator, though there’s nothing distinguishing about his work here that I could spot. Bentley worked in the Tex Avery unit at MGM and for Frank Tashlin at Warners, among many places, so he got around. “Now, go!” says the Englishman leader of the Club, “And never dampen our teacups again!”

The next portion of the plot is where Maltese generally shines with Snagglepuss—when the pink cat fills the scene with a monologue. Snagglepuss is on the phone, leafing alphabetically through the Yellow Pages trying to get a job acting on stage, but getting hung up on during his increasingly desperate spiel. “As I was sayin’ sir, I know Shakespeare, Ibsen, Longfella. Shortfella, even.” Next call: “Hello, Acme Bookin’ Agency? Your actin’ worries are over. For I play to standin’ room only. Sittin’ room only? I’ll tell you what. I’ll sell popcorn in the lobby. I’ll pop it, peddle it and pay for it, even. Give me a chancst.” Finally, he calls Zylvester Z. Zyzyr (“If ZZZ won’t have me, I’m zunk”). I really like the background colours in Snagglepuss’ cave. When the cartoon first appeared on TV, kids would have been watching them on a black-and-white set so they wouldn’t have been able to appreciate Monte’s various shades of green. Here are some more of his backgrounds. The exteriors are stylised, the interiors have shading.

The plot carries on with Major Minor pretending to be a road show impresario (“lured by the fragrance of greasepaint, the sound of applause and all that show biz jazz”) to capture Snagglepuss. The cat falls for the bait and auditions on a mobile stage. Maltese evokes Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with Snagglepuss’ monologue: “Ere the mockin’bird is mockin’ and long before the dawn hath gone, I’ll be waitin’ ‘neath the balcony with knees a-knockin’. Just call me Snag ‘cause my name ain’t John. Ta ta! Curtain!” The stage turns out to be a cage. (“Heavens to Claustrophobia! I’ve been iron curtained,” he tells us when the metal bars clang down).

Snagglepuss tries to bluff his way out by pretending to be a motorcycle cop but the Major catches on (Major: “Acting? Is that what that was?” Snagglepuss: “Oh, that I should suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous critics.”). The Major is welcomed back into the Adventurers Club and is set to blast Snagglepuss with his rifle (“fortunes of the hunt and all that jolly rot”) but Snagglepuss cleverly makes a last request—a performance on stage in front of the Club members. Incidentally, Bentley isn’t big on matching shots from scene to scene. Here are consecutive frames.

The cartoon ends with Snagglepuss announcing 12 hours of sonnets, which quickly bore the adventurers. The shot is cut to an empty theatre. “Heavens to no taste,” Snagglepuss declares and exits (“actor at liberty”) stage left to end the cartoon.

I must admit I’m puzzled by Snagglepuss’ final performance. The lines go:

It isn’t that I love Caesar less, but that I love Rome more.
Alice Rome, that is.

Who is Alice Rome? Is this just an arbitrary gag or was there someone (or a movie/TV/book character) with that name when this cartoon was made?

Hoyt Curtin’s cues from Loopy de Loop work their way into the score, and the last sequence uses a nice medium-slow accordion version of the Snagglepuss theme.


  1. I love how the Major loses his temper with his ill-informed friends on this one! You could tell by this point in the series, he'd become all-too-familiar with Snagglepuss's trickery.

  2. Very good review (though I don't recall watching this particular cartoon).SC

  3. I was kinda hoping you would reveal who Alice Rome is? I have been wondering about that for some time. There is nothing about her on Google. I guess we will have to put her in the same category as Mrs. Kalabash.

    1. IIRC, Jimmy Durante revealed in an interview that "Mrs. Kalabash" was his late wife's nickname. No clue about Alice Rome, though.