Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Dick Tracy Collection...

This 4-disc DVD set houses all 130 short-subject episodes of The Dick Tracy Show. I purchased this collection earlier this year and have probably watched it 7 or 8 times...well, not in one sitting and not each and every disc. I watched all four of the DVD's sprinkled throughout a week-long span and ever since that time I've often reached for DVD #1 and #3 the most even though DVD #2 and #4 are just as good. There's roughly 30-32 short episodes per DVD. Each and every adventure opens and closes as if it's a full-length half hour cartoon and so you'll find yourself seeing the same opening and closing sequences over 30 times per DVD. One of the things I would have done differently is have an opening at the start of the DVD and then just air each episode back to back to back and not show a "closing sequence" until the final cartoon on the DVD airs. However, that isn't the way it is on this collection.

In this series Dick Tracy doesn't participate too much in the crime solving. Instead, that part of the work is handled by a series of leg men who star in the individual episodes. First up is Hemlock Holmes, a white dog with a Cary Grant voice, who goes about his work with the aid of the bumbling Retouchables. This group of inept police are patterned after the Keystone Cops but have a name based on The Untouchables. Joe Jitsu is a parody of Charlie Chan and often uses his unassuming super-strength to punish his opponents. Go-Go Gomez is a Mexican character who has super speed...sort of like a human depiction of Speedy Gonzales. One of the ironies about Go-Go is even though he has super speed he speaks rather lazily. Heap O'Callory is a bumbling policeman with a voice similar to Andy Devine. Heap is featured on the outside cover of this collection chasing after Flat Top.

A lot of the voices are based on celebrities. Flat Top's voice is based on Peter Lorre. The Brow has a voice similar to James Cagney. B.B. Eyes has a voice similar to Edward G. Robinson. Itchy's voice often comes across sounding like the exaggerated voice made famous by Joe Besser. Once you see an episode with Itchy you'll understand what I mean. Prune Face has a voice similar to Boris Karloff's natural speaking voice. Some of the other villains have the typical dumb-bell voice or the stereotypical gangster voice...those voices can be heard via Oodles, Stooge Villar, The Mole...a French accent is given to Sketch Puree. The voice of Mumbles is hilarious. Some of the voice actors in this series are Everett Sloane as Dick Tracy; Benny Rubin as Joe Jitsu; Paul Frees as Go-Go Gomez and Flat Top; Jerry Hausner as Hemlock Holmes, Itchy, Stooge Villar, etc.; Johnny Coons as Heap O'Callory. Mel Blanc voiced Flat Top and Go-Go Gomez on an infrequent basis.

One disc is devoted almost entirely to adventures featuring Joe Jitsu while another has a majority of Go-Go Gomez adventures. Heap O'Callory isn't featured nearly as much while Hemlock Holmes is confined mostly to the first and second disc. In one of the episodes Hemlock Holmes and the Retouchables have to be rescued by Joe Jitsu...marking one of the rare moments where two of Tracy's underlings are featured in the same episode. The Retouchables are a spoof of The Untouchables but with a comedic twist inspired by the Keystone Kops. One of the running gags is how the Retouchables can never remember their orders. For example: suppose there's a robbery at a shoe store on piper street. Well, the Retouchables in unison would mangle their orders by saying something like "there's a pipe robbery at a shoe story" and another may 'correct' that description by saying "no, there's a pipe store being robbed on shoe street", etc. etc.

I found the cartoons to be completely entertaining...I loved them as a kid/teenager in the early '90s but seeing that I'm a bit older now I get the biggest kick out of the vocal work and the culture references. The banter between Prune Face and Itchy is hilarious as well. "Itchy, STOP that scratching!!" is something of a catchphrase. Another recurring feature is a scene where the cop on patrol can freeze time, typically at a crucial part of the story, in order to call in to Tracy with an update. Typically this feature requires comical commentary from whichever underling is reporting back to Tracy.

If Hemlock Holmes, for example, is about ready to fall into a burning building he'd holler "Hold everything!!!" and then the action would stop and he'd relay to Tracy, via wrist watch radio, the latest happenings by referencing the current situation. Hemlock would say something like: "I'm hot on their trail, Tracy, it's getting hotter each second!". Tracy, going only by the words Hemlock used and unaware of the true danger, would say something like: "Keep cool, Hemlock, I'm on my way...".

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Laff-a-Lympics, Volumes One and Two...

About a year ago I wrote a blog about the soon to be released DVD, Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. I'd bought Volume One earlier in the year and a few weeks ago I finally got around to purchasing Volume Two of this obscure, though popular, series. I know those who read this may wonder "how can something be popular yet be obscure at the same time?". This sort of thing is common among vintage cartoon series...programs that achieve a level of popularity with an audience but over the course of time it becomes obscure and largely forgotten by the masses...yes, largely forgotten...except by those who have a fondness for the series. This holds true for Laff-a-Lympics. The series ran in the late '70s and would often turn up in reruns at various times in the 1980's. Personally speaking I first saw this program when it aired as part of the USA Network's Cartoon Express on Sunday mornings. I believe this happened to be the late '80s or early '90s at the latest. I've always had what some may classify as off-beat taste and I generally appreciated all forms of cartoons...even at a younger age. When I first saw this series I remember being excited seeing all of these unrelated characters from various cartoon programs featured in an ensemble program. Yogi's Treasure Hunt is another ensemble program that aired in reruns on Cartoon Express around the same time as Laff-a-Lympics.

Laff-a-Lympics focuses on three sets of teams: The Yogi Yahooies, The Scooby-Doobies, and The Really Rottens. Throughout each episode one or two characters from each team would compete in sporting events. The goal was to receive the most points by the end of the episode...and the winner would receive the Laff-a-Lympics gold medal. The hosts of the show were Snagglepuss and Mildew Wolf...each character wore yellow sports jackets to mirror the style of jackets in use by real life ABC-TV sportscasters of that time period. The play-by-play broadcaster heard on every program making commentary on the sporting events was Don Messick.

The Yogi team was comprised mostly of Hanna-Barbera characters that originated in the late '50s and early '60s: Yogi Bear, Boo-Boo, Cindy Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quickdraw McGraw, Snooper and Blabber, Pixie Mouse, Dixie Mouse, Mr. Jinx, Wally Gator, Augie Doggy and Doggy Daddy, Yakky Doodle, Hokey Wolf...the lone exception was Grape Ape, a character that originated in the mid '70s.

Scooby's team consisted of a collection of what would be considered Hanna-Barbera's more contemporary characters: Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Scooby-Dum, Babu, Captain Caveman, Brenda, Dee Dee, Taffy, Hong Kong Phooey, Speed Buggy, Tinker, Blue Falcon and Dynomutt.

The Rottens consisted of brand new characters, except the team captain, Mumbly. This team was basically used for comical antagonism and conflict...playing tricks and cheating their way to hopeful victory. Mumbly was switched from a good detective to a cheating scoundrel in this series. Originally Mumbly appeared in a series of shorts which later appeared as part of the short-lived Mumbly Cartoon Show. The shorts originally aired on a series known as The Tom and Jerry/Grape Ape/Mumbly Show. In this series Mumbly embarked in crime solving adventures while his human boss, Schnooker, attempted to take the credit for everything. Mumbly's appearance is a dead ringer for Muttley...right down to the speech pattern and snickering laugh. Dread Baron, a new character created for the Rottens team, is said to be a redesign of an earlier character, Dick Dastardly.

The Rottens consisted of Mumbly, Dread Baron, The Great Fondoo, Magic Rabbit, Dinky Dalton, Dirty Dalton, Dastardly Dalton, Mr. Creepley, Mrs. Creepley, Junior Creepley, Orful Octopus, Daisy Mayhem, and Sooey Pig.

A running gag in the series is the constant deduction of points due to cheating...often applied to the Rottens...but there are a few episodes where Yogi Bear cheated and points were taken away. In some episodes where it appeared the Rottens were going to win, cleanly, something would happen to cause them to lose. In one particular episode Daisy Mayhem was on her way to winning an event but one of her team mates, the Great Fondoo, wanted to make sure she won. He cast a spell which backfired...causing Daisy to lose.

Each DVD features 4 half-hour episodes. There are two "on-location" locales per episode. Volume One features the following:

1. The Swiss Alps and Tokyo, Japan
2. Acapulco and England
3. The Sahara Desert and Scotland
4. Florida and China

Volume Two features the following:

1. France and Australia
2. Athens, Greece and the Ozarks
3. Italy and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
4. Egypt and Sherwood Forest

As you can tell, the series was a spoof of The Olympics, ABC's Wide World of Sports and Battle of the Network Stars. At the conclusion of most episodes, announcer Don Messick would parody the kind of narration heard on Wide World of Sports by enthusiastically saying something like: "...tune in next week for the thrills, chills, and all-around exciting spills as we go around the world with our star athletes...".

The voice cast, as you could imagine, was rather large. The Yogi team, however, consisted of just a couple of voice actors. This is due to the multi-talents of Daws Butler, by and large, as well as Don Messick.

Don Messick voiced Boo-Boo and Pixie Mouse while Frank Welker did the voice of Yakky Doodle. Welker was a replacement voice for Jimmy Weldon. Doggy Daddy was voiced by John Stephenson. Grape Ape's voice was performed by Bob Holt. Julie Bennett did the voice of Cindy Bear. Daws Butler did the voices of all of the other characters in the Yogi team: Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Hokey Wolf, Quick Draw McGraw, Mr. Jinx, Dixie Mouse, Snooper and Blabber, Augie Doggy, and Wally Gator.

The voices in the Scooby team were a bit more lengthy as almost every character had it's own voice actor/actress:

Don Messick did the voice of Scooby-Doo. Casey Kasem did the voice of Shaggy. Daws Butler did the voice of Scooby-Dum. Mel Blanc was on hand as the voice of Captain Caveman and Speed Buggy. Frank Welker did the voices of Dynomutt and Tinker. Gary Owens did the voice of Blue Falcon. Joe Besser was the voice of Babu. Scatman Crothers did the voice of Hong Kong Phooey. Laurel Page was the voice of Taffy. Marilyn Schreffler was the voice of Brenda. Vernee Watson was the voice of Dee Dee. Collectively Dee Dee, Taffy, and Brenda were known as The Teen Angels who assisted Captain Caveman at solving mysteries. The Teen Angels, of course, were a parody of Charlie's Angels.

The voices in the Rottens team were more in line with the Yogi team in that only a few voice actors/actresses did the entire cast:

Don Messick did the voices of Mumbly, Mr. Creepley, and Dastardly Dalton. Bob Holt did the voice of Dinky Dalton and Orful Octopus. Daws Butler was the voice of Dirty Dalton. Frank Welker provided the voice effects for Sooey Pig, Junior Creepley, and Magic Rabbit. John Stephenson provided the voices for Dread Baron and The Great Fondoo. Laurel Page was the voice of Mrs. Creepley while Marilyn Schreffler did the voice of Daisy Mayhem.

Last but not least are the hosts. Snagglepuss was voiced by Daws Butler. Mildew Wolf was voiced by John Stephenson. The character of Mildew was originally voiced by Paul Lynde in a series of short subjects titled "It's The Wolf" which aired as part of the Cattanooga Cats program but he was either not available or not interested in reprising the role for Laff-a-Lympics and so the role was given to John Stephenson.

Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble make guest appearances demonstrating the art of Lacrosse. Alan Reed voiced Fred Flintstone...reports suggest this was the final time the character was voiced by Reed, who passed away in 1977. Mel Blanc returned to his role as Barney Rubble. In another sporting event Jabberjaw makes a guest appearance as an underwater referee. The character was voiced by Frank Welker. He gave the character a voice based on Curly Howard of The Three Stooges.

I happen to enjoy Laff-a-Lympics and I hope more episodes become available. Some belly-ache that there are only 4 episodes being released on each DVD but the way I see it you can't predict the future. It's hard to tell if more episodes will become available...I hope more episodes are released...but until then the first 8 episodes will have to do. Laff-a-Lympics originally ran for 16 episodes in 1977 during the months of September through December. The official name, as I mentioned at the start of the blog entry, was Scooby's All-Star Laff-a-Lympics. In 1978, eight more episodes were produced and aired as Scooby's All-Stars. This gives the Laff-a-Lympics format a total of 24 episodes.