Not quite of the same super-caliber, William Dozier would attempt to make lightning strike twice by producing a campy live-action TV version of radio hero “The Green Hornet”. Comparatively, it failed to catch on. Also, the fanboy set wasn’t too taken with the innovation of bringing Batgirl into her male counterpart’s series, and ratings eventually waned for Bruce Wayne, putting a temporary braking to the trend of live-action superhero adaptations (with the exception of a few comic knock-offs such as Captain Nice and Mister Terrific). But the era of the animated superhero was just beginning. Cheaper to produce than live action, and airing at hours other than primetime when outlandish plots could be presented with condescending seriousness to the tiny tots without playing to a “camp” atmosphere needed in those days to retain an adult audience, Saturday morning cartoons became absolutely deluged with refugees from DC comics and new creations of the established studios passing themselves off as mighty counterparts to the Golden Era comic stars.
Superman would return to the animated screen under Filmation, retaining star voicing though enduring a watered-down attempt at Fleischer realism. Batman would give it a try at Filmation also, with only mild success. Other DC boys such as Aquaman, The Flash, and others would make periodic appearances. But Hanna-Barbera would begin a period of mass-producing its own heroic types, such as The Herculoids, Mighty Mightor, Space Ghost, the more comic Impossibles, Young Samson, and various others, and in later years acquire rights for DC stars as well. It was becoming difficult to find the laughs in Saturday morning lineups, what with all the action “drama”.
Amidst this time capsule, we will explore below the lighter side of the animated super-offerings of the period (mostly also produced by Hanna-Barbera), continuing to spotlight the wishful thinking of the not-so-super and their various misadventures in the name of hero worship.
I must unfortunately begin with something I overlooked from last week’s chronology – my biggest regret being that I didn’t forget it entirely. One of the segments of King Leonardo and His Short Subjects, Total Television’s first major cartoon success but highly primitive in production values when compared with the only slightly-better animated but nevertheless more memorable follow-ups, Underdog and Tennessee Tuxedo and his Tales, was a regular segment entitled “Tooter Turtle and Mr. Wizard.” Tooter (voiced by Allan Swift) was in essence a country bumpkin, bearing a degree of resemblance to Mortimer Snerd but perhaps with a tiny bit more smarts. His only claim to fame was having discovered a small box at the foot of a tree deep in the forest, which is the home of Mr. Wizard the lizard. Though Tooter is many times larger than this magical reptile, he can visit him with a wave of the lizard’s magic wand, instantly shrinking Tooter to appropriate size to fit through the box’s small door.
The series was pure formula – so much so that each episode was made to fit between standard bridging sequences repeated each week, which served as the same beginning and ending for every cartoon. Every week, Tooter would impose himself on the overly patient and long-suffering Wizard with a favor to ask. Every week, Tooter would ask to become something – a new occupation, or occasionally to have some special power. Mr. Wizard would always reluctantly oblige with a wave of his wand, sending Tooter into a spiral, and into his dream. And every film would end with Tooter spiraled back out of his dream with the magic words, “Drozzle Drazzle Druzzel Drome, time for this one to come home”, and Tooter in the stock wraparound bemoaning that he had made a mess of things again, while Wizard gave him the repeated sage advice, “Be just what you is, not what you is not. Folks what do this, are the happiest lot.” This whole thing on every program could get pretty tiresome in a hurry, and the situation wasn’t helped any by the writers, who always opted in the new footage for painfully obvious “humor” with barely a trace of originality. Things got so predictable that, after a short time, the network found that it could slip another commercial break in by dropping the wraparounds completely, figuring by now the kids could recite the beginning and ending of the story in their sleep, and only needed to see the middle.
Yes, Tooter wished to become a super hero, in Stuper Man, or Muscle Bounder (date unknown – circa 1961). The results provide no surprise. He plays the mild-mannered reporter Cluck Kent, and has a girlfriend reporter Lois Loon. He has the usual power of flight and super strength – with the repeated running gag of crashing into “something unexpected in the way” whenever he flies. (Well, it worked later for George of the Jungle.) A holdup at the Mississippi River Bank causes Tooter to give a pounding to two suspicious characters inside – who turn out to be the bank presidents. (We’ll see this predictable gag return again and again in subsequent Hanna-Barbera cartoons to be discussed in this series.) He sinks a getaway yacht, only to find it’s the wrong ship. The real getaway boat fires shells at him which bounce off, but adds a secret weapon of an exploding cannon ball filled with pepper. The pepper is Tooter’s Kryptonite, and he falls helplessly toward the ocean in a sneezing fit, until Mr. Wizard bails him out with the week’s return home incantation. That’s about it. No wonder it almost slipped my memory.
Super Drooper (Hanna-Barbera, Punkin’ Puss and Mushmouse, 6/7/64) – A small cyclone is seen hurtling through the galaxy. An announcer states, “What is that? A fly speck zooming out of space? A rocket? A meteorite? Somebody took the wrong turn off the freeway?” No, its “Superduperduperduperduperdupercat!” (sometimes called “Superduperetc.car” for short), avenger of wrongdoers and protector of small fry. As he proceeds to vanquish a bully cat pursuing a mouse, our view pulls back to reveal the hero is only on a TV screen, watched by hillbilly cat Punkin’ Puss, who comments to us, “Is he kiddin’?” Mushmouse emerges from his mousehole, and begins to cheer on the superhero to whomp the cat good. Punkin Puss shuts off the set, and chases Mushmouse back into the hole with a rifle, blasting several bullet holes into Mushmouse’s hat. He warns Mushmouse not to try watching the show again, as such unfit-for-mouse-eyes viewing might give him “the wrong ideas”. It actually does, as Mushmouse, realizing himself to be a persecuted “small fry”, writes a letter for help to Superduperetc.Cat . Using a doctor’s stethoscope to eaves-drop on Mushmouse’s letter composition, Punkin Puss stays one step ahead of the rodent, borrowing a horse blanket from the barn and using it as a makeshift cape for a disguise. He appears at the mousehole door as Superduperetc.Cat – even before Mushmouse has mailed the letter. Despite Mushmouse’s admiration for his “quick service”, Punkin disappoints his expectations immediately, by repeatedly clobbering the mouse with a broom. But outside, a familiar whirling cyclone appears – the real hero in the flesh. Punkin is not overly impressed, and assumes he’s only a TV actor. “You got a swell act there, but I got some mouse chasing to do. You understand, being a cat yourself”, says Punkin. “You don’t understand”, says the avenger cat, and hits Punkin with a bolt from a space-style ray gun. After repeating his creed of avenging wrongs, the hero adds, “And I hate Superduperduper impersonators!…..You want a lawsuit on your hands?”
Smashing Punkin into the wall, Superduper advises him to change his ways, or he will again return. This isn’t going to stop Punkin for long – and the chase is on again as soon as the hero disappears, with Mushmouse chased into an old stove and up the stovepipe flue. Punkin follows, but gets stuck in the small extension of stovepipe protruding from the roof. Superduper appears again, but Punkin attempts to disguise his motives for being on the roof by claiming to be the new chimney sweep. “But you’re too big for such a little chimbley”, says Superduper – and pulls out a middle section of pipe from the segmented chimney, shortening it from three segments to two – with no logical explanation as to what’s happening to Punkin’s own middle inside the pipe in the proccess! To celebrate Punkin’s “new career”, Superduper calls for some “fireworks”, and lights Punkin’s tail like a fuse – causing the cat to be blasted into the skies like a skyrocket – and be briefly transformed into a one-man fife and drum corps in the sky. But all good things must come to an end – as a telegram arrives, offering Superduper a five year contract in Hollywood. So much for ever vigilant protection to the “small fry”, as Superduper jets off for greener pastures. The field is open again for resumption of the feud, and Punkin uses the broom to full advantage for repeated whompings of the mouse. Mushmouse’s curtain line between flattenings is “All any ol’ cat is to me is one superduperduper headache…Etc…Etc…Etc…..”
Mushmouse turns the tables the following week, in Pep Hep (6/15/64), where, courtesy of a free sample bottle received in the mail from the Speedo Pep Pills company, Mushmouse acquires the speed powers of the Flash and the Road Runner combined. He is now able to perform feats such as stealing cake right out of Punkin Puss’s jaws, pulling Punkin’s whiskers one at a time while dodging crashes of a pair of cymbals between pulls, and tying Punkin’s tail in multiple knots. Punkin declares all out war, and saws himself a cat-sized mousehole in the wall to get at his little adversary. Mushmouse is still too quick to be caught, but Punkin finds the hidden pill bottle inside the mousehole. Figuring taking ten pills will make him ten times faster than Muushmouse, Punkin downs the remainder of the bottle. Mushmouse then advises him of a disclaimer on the instructions contained with the bottle – “not responsible for anyone taking more than one pill”. Punkin begins to vibrate, commenting, “Now he tells me”, and takes off in a jet stream like a comet, uncontrollable and unable to stop. He bounces off trees, hills, buildings, much like his cartoon stablemate Ricochet Rabbit, until a last bounce off the barn shoots him into the heavens. Hours later, Mushmouse stares into the night sky from the barn roof, to observe a still visible streak in the sky, colliding with the moon and boring a hole right through it, then exploding into a glowing star some distance further in space. “Twinkle twinkle little star. How I wonder if you are – Punkin Puss?”, recites Mushmouse for the fade out.
Hero Sandwiched (Hanna-Barbera, Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey, 10/23/65) – It’s hard to tell what century this series’ episodes are intended to portray. Aside from various other topical non-sequiturs throughout the scripts, the King’s medieval-style guards have television, where they are watching an episode of “Mighty Knight”, a flying superhero in an armor helmet. The King catches them goofing off, and orders them back on patrol. Noting the TV program, the King ponders that if he had super powers, he wouldn’t need to depend on the guards’ klutzy services. “Why not?” he concludes, asd summons the royal wizard, Whirlin’ Merlin. He commands Merlin to provide him with super-powers. Merlin begins by zapping the King into a suit of tights and cape, as “Super Soverign”. “Whee, I can fly”, says the king, and jumps out a turret window – until Merlin tells him he had only zapped him the costume yet, not the powers. The King finds himself waist deep in the turf below, upside down. Finally getting around to the power incantations, Merlin demonstrates that the King is impervious to lightning strike, falling trees, and cannonball attack to the chest. However, the powers last only a few moments, and them the King reverts to normal form (demonstrated by Merlin knocking the king over with one finger). To restore the powers, the King must recite the magic words “Skibbeldy Bibbeldy Bop”. The King is barely able to read the words from a paper in Merlin’s hand – but instantly feels a full recharge. Hearing a maiden’s call for help, the King uses super cross-country vision to spot a damsel tied to a tree outside the cave of a fire-breathing dragon. The King zooms off to do battle with the beast – but Merlin has forgotten to give him the paper with the magic words. Fearing imminent disaster, Merlin summons the Goofy Guards for assistance, instructing them to deliver the paper to the King. In musketeer battle cry, the guards shout, “For King!” “For Country!” “And for ten cents an hour!”, and dash to the rescue.
The king arrives at the cave, and flies headfirst into the dragon to deliver a telling blow – but merely bounces off the dragon’s face backwards onto the ground. The power has worn off, and he can’t remember the magic words. The three guards race in in nick-of-time fashion with the paper, but as Yippee holds it up for the King to read, a flame from the dragon’s mouth burns the paper to cinders. Yippee asks what they should do now. “We run like crazy”, yells the King. “It’s nice to have a king who’s a born leader”, comments Yippee. The race is on, with the dragon bringing up the rear, while the King babbles every nonsense syllable he can think of in hopes of hitting upon the magic words. Nothing working, and the dragon’s flame hitting where it can be felt the most, the King bellows a cry for help to Merlin. From the castle turret, Merlin spots the pursuit, and resorts to magic, casting a spell on the dragon to turn him into frog. Now outsizing his adversary by six times, the King puts up his dukes, and tries to dazzle the frog with fancy footwork. But even a frog is more powerful than the King minus his magic words, and one leap in the King’s face knocks the King flat. Yippee remarks, “His Majesty always was a sucker for a right cross.”
Back at the castle, the unconscious king rests in bed. The guards hope they’ve seen the last of Super Soverign. Merlin chickles that they have, because the King will never remember the words “Skibbeldy Bibbeldy Bop”. Unfortunately, the King has just opened his eyes, and overhars. Repeating the words, he is revitalized again, and goes flying out the window. “This is awful”, says Merlin, “Someone has to go along and look after him.” “That’s exactly what we were thinking”, says Yippee, as all three guards charge with their sword points aimed – at Merlin. “I get the point”, the wizard says, and flies out the window himself after the King, following him off into the blue, as Merlin observes, “Why didn’t I listen to mother and be an accountant?”
Super Blooper Heroes (Hanna-Barbera, Magilla Gorilla, 12/25/65) – The last production episode of Magilla Gorilla – and to some degree we might have been better off if it had not been produced at all. Motivations are in serious question for this installment, as all thoughts of selling off the ever-present simian nuisance seems to have disappeared from the mind of Mr. Peebles, who is instead chummy with the big ape, uncharacteristic to his persona. Speaking of persona, even that is fake, as Howard Morris doesn’t make the recording date – I can’t tell if the rotten impersonation of Peebles’ voice is provided by Don Messick or Alan Melvin doubling. Anyway, for no apparent reason, Peebles now watches television after hours together with the gorilla, rather than making Magilla watch his own set as established from the opening credits in the pet shop window. They are both enamored of a superhero show, Captain Supermagnificent. As the show concludes, they both nod off to sleep in their respective beds. But not quite, as each still has one eye open. Believing that the other must have fallen off to dreamland by now, each changes into – a superhero costume: Magilla as Super Simian, and Peebles as Super Shrimp. As they race out of the shop in different directions to begin their nightly patrol, they round a block and bump into each other face to face around a corner. Their secret is out – to each other, anyway, and Peebles (again uncharacteristic of the character, who you would normally expect to order Magilla home), decides that with his brain and Magilla’s brawn, if they team up, they’ll be invincible.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the film is something of a warned-over redo of the one-gag premise of Daffy’s Stupor Duck – crime-fighters who can’t find any crime. A suspicious looking character leaving the bank in a hurry with a sack of money turns out to be the bank president (there’s the old Tooter Turtle cliche revisted). A man holding another at gunpoint turns out to be a plain-clothes policeman who was attempting to apprehend a real culprit. A Frankenstein monster is just a guy headed for a costume party. And most inexplicable of all, a moustached spy type carrying a suspicious package that our heroes believe is a bomb turns out to be a granny in disguise bringing home a birthday cake! Our heroes keep making hasty retreats from these failed efforts, the last of which bumps them into the chief of police. The cop is particularly surprised at Peebles (aren’t we all?), commenting “Kinda old for that kid stuff, aren’t ya?”, and orders them both home (as Peebles should have ordered Magilla in the first place). As soon as he thinks they’re out of sight, the chief says, “I thought they’d never leave”, and performs a whirlwind costume change to announce, “Super Chief strikes again!” Magilla and Peebles, who are actually not entirely out of visual contact, call back to him, “You’ll be sorry!”
Souperman (Cambria, The New Three Stooges, circa 1965-66) – A series which regularly disappointed, despite a clever one-liner here or there, often due to its ultra-short running times that usually took up more footage setting up a plot than time would permit to give it a decent wrap up. Case in point. Curley Joe serves an afternoon lunch of canned soup. For no apparent reason, he is wearing roller skates in the kitchen, and of course slips up, landing one of the bowls on Moe’s head, while Larry takes the second bowl in the face for laughing at Moe. Curley is the only one who advance-sampled a can of the prodict – Super Duper Soup – which announces right on the label, “So much strength in every can, you will be a Superman”. Moe is unimpressed with the sales slogan, and pushes Joe back to the kitchen to get him something else to eat. Curley Joe can’t stop his skates, and rolls right out a window on the 20th floor. Moe and Larry run to see, expecting to see splattered Curley on the pavement. But Curley hit a clothesline halfway down, and is catapulted over the top of the building. As Larry paraphrases the “It’s a bird, it’s a plane” bit, Joe sails over the top of the building and down the other side. Certain that Joe’s going to get it in the longer fall in the other direction, Moe and Larry race down the elevator to ground level. But a street awning has broken Joe’s fall, and landed him upright lightly on his feet, without a scratch. Despute knowing the extra interventions that saved him, Joe himself is impressed to be alive, and credits the soup for his staying power. Finding him unscathed. Moe and Larry are conviced of the soup’s power too – and Moe sees a way to convert this secret weapon into big dough. Chowing down on a healthy helping of the soup, the trio rent super suits, and appear at a talent agent’s office. They claim to have an act to leap over tall buildings. “You don’t need an agent – you need a keeper”, says the proprietor. “Maybe you don’t think we can do it”, says Moe, and the three proceed to the window for a demonstration. They leap for the sky – and quickly find their progress is in the other direction. “What a bunch of dropouts”, sats the agent. “I wonder what they do for an encore?” Rather than any further series of comic demonstrations, as any other studio would have presented to provide the film with gag material, the script ends abruptly here, with Moe and Larry swearing that next time, the only bowl they’ll order will be of chicken soup.
Gnatman (Hanna-Barbera, Squiddly Diddly, 9/24/66) – If you’ve just read the descriptive of the Magilla Gorilla episode above, you’ve practically read the review for this cartoon as well. A nearly direct remake of its predecessor. (Maybe H-B figured with the Magilla episode being the last in the series, not many got to see it – and so thought they could get away with retreading the plot so soon.) This time Squiddly and the Bubbleland manager, Chief Winchley, follow the adventures of “Gnatman” on TV – a minute insect superhero, who even when tied to a flagpole being sawed off of a high building by an evil-doer, can use his mighty wings to keep the pole aloft, and whack the villain over the head with it. The character name for the hero is the closest that animators of the day would dare to use in competition with ABC’s reigning live-action crusader, and one of the only direct lampoons on the show of the period. From here on, you know the drill. Squiddly receives in the mail a giant-size version of the Gnatman suit, and goes out on evening patrol. Identically to Magilla and Peebles, he foils what appears to be a holdup, but is actually a plain clothesman holding a criminal at gunpoint. Also identically, he captures a suspicious character outside the bank, who is really the bank president. (The only new twist is that the “green stuff” bulging from his brief case turns out to be lettuce left over from the sandwich he had for lunch.) Etc. Etc. And of course, Winchley gets himself a suit in the mail, and heads out to make the same mistakes just as Squiddly is coming back in. The kids must have suffered from deja-vu for the entire week – at least until next Saturday.
Super Pink (DePatie-Freleng/UA, Pink Panther, 10/12/66 – Hawley Pratt, dir.) – We open to find out panther lounging in a tree, reading the latest issue of the comics exploits of Superguy. (Well, after 25 years, Bob Clampett’s original lampoon character finally gets his own magazine!) Pink sees visions of life in a supersuit, and decides, why not? Raiding a local clothesline, including among its garments a well faded pair of red flannels, a pink bandana, and a blue tablecloth for contrast, Pink finds the ready-made ingredients for a heroic outfit (Of course, he just committed an illegal act himself in obtaining the suit – I guess he now must devote his life to fighting crime to repay his debt to society.) While attempting to carry his new duds home, Pink finds his services needed a little sooner than expected. A litttle old lady, carrying an umbrella, waits at a bus stop. Above her, at the top of a massive skyscraper, a crew just happens to be hauling a grand piano up by way of a rope pulley. (What, no freight elevator?) The rope chooses this moment to snap. Remembering the first rule of superherodom, Pink looks for a convenient phone booth to make a quick costume change. Only one is in sight – already occupied by a man completely caught up in his conversation, who ignores Pink’s pounding on the door to be let in. As the piano falls closer and closer to its prospective victim, Pink grabs hold of the booth, which just happens to have no flooring, and merely lifts the booth up over the man’s head to set it down on the other side of the panther, allowing him to enter and pull a convenient curtain for his wardrobe change. Now dressed for the occasion, Pink replaces the booth over the man, and races to the corner. Arriving seconds before the piano, Pink assesses the situation, and comes up with an unexpected Wile E. Coyote-style wrong idea. Instead of attempting to catch the piano, he merely opens up the lady’s umbrella, and places it above her head. CRASH!!! The piano lies in a wreck, and the umbrella is badly battered too. And what of the old lady? She pops out of the rubble, and whacks Pink soundly with the umbrella, as out first sequence fades out.
It’s going to be a busy day for the little old lady. From a watchful position on a building ledge, Pink spots the lady again, now at gunpoint of a thug hold-up man who wants her purse. Pink heroically swings into the scene upon a rope, and prepares to teach the hoodlum a lesson. A fist blow to the crook’s chest provides nothing but a swollen hand to Pink. A karate chop proves equally painful to the panther. Next he tries to wrestle the pustol out of the crook’s hand. Nothing budges except the trigger – and a blast right in Pink’s face. Only one course of conduct seems logical – hand the lady’s purse to the smilling holdup man, then beat a hasty exit.
At her home, the disaster-prone lady finds her kitten stick up a tree. Pink appears from the bushes, and again volunteers his services. Rather than climb the tree, he takes a more direct approach to removing the problem entirely – slicing through the tree’s trunk with a chainsaw. The tree falls, bringing the cat down – right on top of the lady’s house.
More mishaps follow. How the lady got her house rebuilt, we’ll never know, but she is seen building a rock garden in her back yard – but can’t budge one heavy boulder. Pink volunteers again. (Aw, c’mon, lady, stand up for yourself. Are you a glutton for punishment?) Surprisingly, Pink succeeds in lifting the boulder, and trudges along to place it in the proper spot in the garden. His view is obscured, so that he fails to see a hose and water pipe in his path. The boulder flies from his hands, landing with a thud. When Pink lifts it, he finds a little old lady pancake underneath. Figuring she needs some rest, Pink neatly slides her like an envelope under the front door of the house. In the next scene, the lady is seen carrying a full bag of groceries out of a supermarket, not noticing a bunching up of carpet ahead of her likely to lead to a nasty fall. Pink takes hold of the opposite end of the long carpet, and attempts to pull at it to straighten it out. If he just knew his own strength, as he yanks too hard, pulling the footing out from under the old lady, sending her and the groceries sprawling everywhere.
The final sequence has the lady driving a car up a mountain road, when one of her front tires has a blowout. Always at the ready, Punk opens up her trunk, pulls out a jack, and jacks up the front end of the car – not taking any care to account for the steepness of the grade. The car rolls backward off the jack, and uncontrollably down the hill. Pink outruns the vehicle, and stands poised to catch it – only to be well and truly run over. The vehicle approaches an intersection with a heavily-trafficked highway. Pink outraces the car again, uproots a stop sign for her direction of travel, and carries the sign into the middle of the busy highway – causing multi-car pileups in both directions, while the little old lady’s car flies through. The road next leads to a rocky wall with closed gate. Once again, Pink outraces the vehicle, opening the gate seemingly in the nick of time – only to have the car zig just a little to the left, and crash right through the wall. Pink catches up again, and this time grabs the car’s front bumper, dragging his heels to slow the car to a stop, directly in the path of a two-track railroad tunnel. As Pink rests on the car hood, nearly exhausted, he hears the horns of an approaching train. Looking both ways, he sees nothing. Playing 50-50 odds, he uses his last strength to push the car to the second of the two tracks – which is just where the train shows up. As the train passes through, it leaves no sign of the car. A few moments later, the battered lady returns, and hands Pink the bent steering column from what was formerly her vehicle. At last, the lady shows a little backbone, and the time for vengeance is at hand. She walks away from the panther, to a telephone booth identical to the one seen in the earlier sequence, enters, and pulls the curtain. She emerges in a pink set of tights, with blue cape, and a large “S” across her chest! Approaching a street traffic signal pole, she uproots it with one pull, and transforms it into a weapon, swatting at Panther with it like a fly, as she pursues him back and forth into the background scenery, for the fade out.
Super Lou (Hanna-Barbera, Abbott and Costello, 10/21/67) – One of the many 5-minute production-line cartoons from this largely uninspired series (a follow up to the studio’s “Laurel and Hardy” cartoons produced for hire for Larry Harmon and Wolper Productions), that lives up to the humdrum average of the output. A routine Cinderfella tweak, with Lou acquiring a fairy godmother when Abbott takes the only ticket and costume they could afford for the annual masquerade ball. (We’ve been seeing such cliches since Mutt and Jeff in 1925 with A Kick for Cinderella.) Asked by the godmother what kind of costume he’d like to wear, Lou declares he’d like a superhero suit. Wish granted, with the usual proviso that the powers wear off by midnight. Needing no pumpkin coach for transportation, Lou flies to the ball instead, making a hit with the crowd with his fancy aerial entrance. Abbott assumes it’s some kind of trickery, and tells Lou to stop showing off, while wondering to himself how Lou crashed the gate. Lou makes a gracious bow to Abbott’s dancing partner, and cuts in on his action, spinning the giggling girl around the dance floor.
Meanwhile, two characters dressed as burglars chuckle to themselves how everyone thinks they’re in costume, when they’re really only wearing their everyday work clothes. They flip off the light switch, and when the lights come back up, expensive broaches and necklaces have disappeared. Abbott sarcastically tells Lou, “Why don’t you do something. You’re the super hero.” Lou brightens. “I forgot!” He confronts the villains, as one pulls out a pistol. Lou extends his neck, and merely chomps off the barrel of the gun down to the handle, then spits out the shrapnel. The second hoodlum opens fire, and the bullets bounce off Lou’s chest – even with a machine gun. Though they had thought Lou did the flying bit with wires, the hoods are now convinced Lou’s for real, and stop their car to surrender. At this crucial moment, a tower clock strikes midnight. The powers go poof, and Lou falls – straight onto the backs of the crooks, his heavy girth pinning them down anyway. Back at the ballroom with the sack of stolen loot, Lou tells Abbott to give the people their valuables back. “Who are you ordering around. Do it yourself”, says Abbott. Using a fake-out ploy, Costello takes advantage of the situation, and advises, “Ah ah AHH…Don’t make me use my super muscles on you!” Abbott becomes motivated and cooperative, while Lou ends the film with his catch phrase, “I’m a bad boy!” (I wonder if the studio ever considered as its next move a series based on the Marx Brothers. Making a working character for animation out of Chico may have proved daunting – but H-B much later actually did a decent job on a Groucho sound-alike in the “Crazy Claws” segment for the Kwicky Koala Show.)
These are so hard to see, we’ll even endure a flickering 16mm print:
The 70’s and early 80’s were a bit of a television cartoon wasteland. I fail to remember or note any particular episodes of interest from this period where caracters played superhero. More likely than not, the studios were too busy churning out their own myriad of so-called real superheroes to base their series on, rather than playing the idea for comedy. So. I find myself skipping to the 1980’s syndicated revival of the Jetsons, which provided an early chapter entitled Super George (Hanna-Barbera, 9/20/85) – A reasonably clever entry, reuniting most of the original voice cast. George is spending a tedious afternoon rearranging furniture for his wife in the apartment. “If we move this stuff around any more, it’ll be due for a thousand-mile check-up.” Jane reminds him, however, of when rearranging was really a job – before they bought the Nebulous Nifty company’s remote furniture rearranger – a hand-held device that levitates the furniture around the room. George admits the device is really one terrific little….He never finishes the sentence, as the remote explodes. The furniture goes into orbit around the room, then accumulates from all rooms of the house to converge on George, pinning him to the wall. Puny George can’t extricate himself without the assistance of Elroy and Astro, who seem to be able to naturally move twice the weight that George can. Jane phones for their Nebulous Nifty representative – a fast-talking, gold plated sales-robot with a permanent blinking toothy grin. The robot arrives, but keeps changing the subject from repair or replacement to the latest product he’s now hawking – the world’s first home thought materializer, known as “Thinko”. Just place your hand on a lighted orb, think a thought, and it materializes for a few seconds in 3-D full color reality. The robot knows his customers, and George is mesmerized. He tries it, and briefly envisions himself in a middle-Eastern harem. “George!”, says Jane. “Just kidding, honey”, says George, curing the errant fantasy by bringing Jane into it on the velvet pillows. Judy has herself on stage winning award for “greatest teen star of the year”. Elroy envisions himself as a basketball player – so tall his head knocks a hole in the ceiling. And Astro has George doing all his doggy tricks upon command. It’s a sale, despite Jane’s reminder of other Nebulous Nifty products besides the furniture rearranger that have gone kaput, including an automatic banana peeler that shorted out the visaphone and their digital toothbrushes. “Yes, madame”, sales the salesbot, “But only after the warranty had run out.” Money changes hands, and Thinko finds a new home.
George tries again, with a thought he knows Elroy will like, “right out of your comic books”. In a blink of an eye, his chest expands with the musculature of a superhero, his shirt similarly expands with a large blue “G” across the chest, and he acquires a flying cape. George zooms around the room in self-propelled flight, then picks up the sofa and breaks it in two. “My sofa”, wails Jane. George isn’t worried, remembering that the hole in the roof disappeared after Elroy’s fantasy, and waits for Thinko to blink things back to normal. Instead, the sensor of Thinko shatters and explodes. And the couch remains broken, and George remains with super muscles! Jane senses disaster, and wants to call for the salesbot again. But George is rather happy about this turn of events, envisioning this as the best day of his life. Until he leans against a wall, knocking away two stories of outer structure from the outside of the apartments. Apologizing to his upstairs neighbors, George says, “Sorry folks. They’re just not building walls like they used to.” Similar mishaps befall George on the way to work. Attempting to lift the passenger bubble of their car cracks the glass half off. And pushing the starter button breaks off the rest of the front half of the saucer. A frustrated George pounds on the car, reducing it to rubble. Then he brightens. “I forgot. Who needs a space car?”, and takes off in super flight.
At the office, he is late for a presentation at a board meeting where merger talks are in progress between Spacely and another company. On the way in, he demolishes Spacely’s secretary’s desk by just leaning on it, putting the blame on the vitamins he’s been taking. At the meeting, he attempts to point to a graph on the wall, and instead socks another hole in the outer wall of the building, not only losing the chart but causing four stories of structure to collapse. The familiar cry of “Jetson, you’re fired!” is heard from Spacely.
Jane is meanwhile trying with the kids to track down the sales robot. No luck. She then decides, “It takes a robot to catch a robot”, and sends Rosie on the errand of hunting down the elusive mass of circuits with her feminine wiles. At a city park, George calls from a pay phone, getting to the family the news that he’s lost his job before his visaphone time runs out. Despondent, he rests on a park bench, where he is “discovered” by another man who says he’s been looking for a guy like him for a business proposition. The man is a wrestling match promoter, and needs an opponent to battle the reigning and undefeated champ, the Jupiter Juggernaut. Despite the risk that would otherwise face any other fighter, George decides he might as well get paid for being stuck with his strength, and accepts the deal.
Word of the impending bout makes the evening headlines. Spacely hears the Juggernaut is in town, and, not hearing the identity of his opponent, sees an opportunity to recoup his losses for a blown merger and a ruined building – bet everything he’s got on the Juggernaut to win. At their apartment, Jane, Elroy and Judy spot a TV advertisement for the bout, and see George’s face and physique broadcast to millions of viewers. A further complication arises – Rosie’s found the salesbot, but the salesbot has flipped his circuits, with a bad case of love at first sight. The salesbot pursues Rosie round and round the room, with nothing on his mind but “I love you. I love you.” Jane asks Rosie to stop him, and Rosie replies, “Stop, nothing. He’s all mechanical hands.” Jane hits upon the one thing that will grab a salesbot’s attention – telling him there’s a call for him from the front office. As the salesbot talks into the visaphone with no reply, Elroy hot-wires him from behind, removing a few circuits, and reactivating only his speech circuitry. Jane demands to know how they can bring George back to normal. “Not to worry, madame. The power of the Thinko machine will fade off after eight hours.” This means that there is only a short time before George will find himself his powerless old self in the wrestling ring. The family speeds to the arena.
At ringside, the Jupiter Juggernaut sees George entering the arena. “Look who’s gonna wrestle me”, he laughs. George takes this insulting remark quite lightly, and lifts the entire ring with the Juggernaut on it for a good earthquake-like shaking. “I was only kidding”, says the Juggernait, in a wobbly, slightly seasick tone. Spacely meanwhile has placed the bet – only to discover after his money is down that George is the contender. Remembering what George did to his building, he sees his sure bet turning into financial ruin. Racing into the arena, he reaches George, and pleads for him to throw the fight. But George won’t stoop to such dishonesty. The family arrives just before the starting bell, and tries to call to George that his powers are about to wear off – but George can’t hear clearly over the roar of the crowd, and doesn’t get the message. The fight begins, and Jetson lifts the Juggernaut off his feet with one hand, spinning him above George’s head. Jane finds a program with George’s super-image on it, and draws a red circle with a cross-line across it over the picture, flashing it to George. As George tries to decipher the meaning of the signal, he gets the point, as his super-muscles vanish in a flash. The Juggernaut falls – right on top of George, pinning him to the mat. Spacely is ecstatic, that George threw the fight for him, saving the company from ruin.
Back home after George recovers, George receives a call from Spacely. He gives George his old job back, and Spacely is happy because he not only made a lot of money, but managed to get the merger back on track – even negotiating the proviso that the deal included the repair of the Spacely Sprockets building. The company they’ve merged with – Nebulous Nifty. No sooner is their name mentioned than the walls of the Sprockets building self-destruct and come crashing down again. Just for spite, Spacely fires George once again. But a more immediate problem raises George’s attention. He had found some loose circuitry on the kitchen table this morning, and installed it into Rosie – not realizing it was the salesbot’s love chips removed by Elroy. Now Rosie appears, pursuing the salesbot around the room with calls of “I love you. “I love you.” “I’ve created a romantic monster”, says George. “Is that bad?”, says Jane. “Heck no”, says George, and imitates Rosie, chasing Jane around the room with calls of “I love you. I love you.”
Next Time: The Disney Afternoon and the WB begin to make their presence known in the genre, along with some newcomers and old friends returning to the Saturday morning scene.