Friday, August 31, 2012

The Great Sniffles Conspiracy Theory!

After watching all 12 Sniffles cartoons in sequence on the new DVD set “LOONEY TUNES MOUSE CHRONICLES – The Chuck Jones Collection”, I think I may have enough evidence to set a new “Conspiracy Theory” in motion over the character of Sniffles.

We all know Sniffles.  A timid, naïve little mouse with a slow but cute childlike voice.  If you don’t know Sniffles, you can GO HERE for more.  But, I’m betting you do at least know of him…

That Sniffles” starred in EIGHT cartoons between 1939 and 1941.   In them, as noted, he was a shy cute little mouse, who did cute little things.    He befriended electric shavers, went on scavenger hunts, hid out in old book shoppes with his friend The Bookworm (Not the Batman TV villain!), took trips to the country, collected bird eggs, tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve, belled a cat, and visited a toy department.  Those eight outings represented the Sniffles most of us knew.   
There was another, less successful Mouse character at Termite Terrace.  His name was “Little Blabbermouse”.  He talked rapidly and incessantly, annoying everyone around him, and appeared in only one 1940 cartoon directed by Isadore (Friz) Freleng.  …And in a hint of what might be to come, the lone short of “Little Blabbermouse” is also included in “LOONEY TUNES MOUSE CHRONICLES” as a “Bonus Cartoon”!

(…Hah! “Bonus Cartoon”, indeed!)
In the latter part of 1941, a turning point occurred in the career (and perhaps the very LIFE) of Sniffles, with the release of a cartoon titled “The Brave Little Bat”! 

In what would be “Cartoon # 9”, Sniffles encounters another look-alike “mouse” (who is later revealed to be a BAT), who talks rapidly and incessantly in a voice sounding suspiciously like Sniffles – but, say… Isn’t this the M.O. of “Little Blabbermouse”?  You know… The failed “cartoon star” who had not been seen in over a year… and would never be seen again!
Good Bye, Sniffles!  Hello, ???
…Or (Heh-heh!) WOULD HE? 

After this outing, our cute, shy, slow-talking little Sniffles would not be seen for about two years – returning in 1943 in a cartoon called “The Unbearable Bear”! 

The Unbearable Bear” marked a noteworthy reimagining of the Sniffles series!  The emphasis is more on “comedy” than “cuteness”… but all the more significant is that Sniffles is no longer shy – but a RAPID AND INCESSANT  TALKER, and a general pest… as was “Little Blabbermouse”!   Hmmmm…

The final three Sniffles cartoons (numbers 10-12) would find him in motor-mouth mode: “The Unbearable Bear” (1943), “Lost and Foundling” (1944 – not a “pest” but still a talker), and “Hush My Mouse” (1946).   In this last one, Sniffles TALKS SO MUCH that he actually TELLS US what’s going to happen next in the cartoon – before it happens! 
So, what happened here? 

Did “Our Sniffles” walk off the job, or get quietly released, only to be replaced by “Little Blabbermouse” (alias “The Brave Little Bat”), who assumed the stage name of “Sniffles”?   Funny we never saw the shy guy again, after his meeting with that bat! 
...Have you seen THIS MOUSE?

Did directors Jones and Freleng conspire to replace an older “cute” character with a more contemporary “funny” one – one to whom one or both gentlemen may have… (Ahem!) “…owed a favor”? 

Did the “Real Sniffles” meet with foul play – or “suicide by cat”, perhaps, over a flagging career – resulting in “Little Blabbermouse” participating (willingly or otherwise) in the cover-up? 
Over the years, Mary Jane has been strangely silent on this matter!  ...But, note that, in the comics, the mouse talks too!

…And have I just opened up a new “Sniffles Conspiracy Theory”?

Heh-heh-heh!  The fools!

 No matter, it would have been interesting to see where Chuck Jones might have taken this “New Sniffles” during Warner’s glory days of the 1950s!   He sure would have been funnier than Pepe LePew! 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

“Sniffing” Out a Conspiracy!

STOP by here tomorrow -- that is, when we blow the lid off of “The Great Sniffles Conspiracy Theory”! 

And, just in time for Labor Day weekend! 

Hmmm… The End of Summer… The End of Sniffles?  …Do I sense a connection here? 

I’m not sure if this will make me the “Next Oliver Stone” -- or the “Next Oliver Hardy”! 

What did Mary Jane know.. .and when did she know it?
Be here and find out, won’t you! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Day of Respect is Here!

Some time ago, I wrote about Sniffles finally “getting respect” with the DVD release of LOONEY TUNES MOUSE CHRONICLES – on sale today! 

Check out THIS REVIEW of the set!  It appears to be even better than I expected! 

Look at all the EXTRA STUFF on Disc Two:  ELEVEN additional WB “Mouse Cartoons” ranging from 1935 thru 1967! 

And a new feature with Maurice LaMarche (of PINKY AND THE BRAIN – two mice more recently associated with Warners!) 
Despite the lack of Star Power (sorry Sniffles!), this may very well be the best Looney Tunes DVD set to be released in quite some time! 
Of course, Warner Home Video finds a way to let us down by providing NO content notes on or in the package (according to the review) – But, I’ll just take the info off the review and create my own label.   

Support this effort -- and let Warner know that sets without major characters will sell!  It's the best chance we have of getting Looney Tunes beyond Bugs, Daffy, and Tweety!

…And be back here later in the week for a new Looong Animation DVD Review in two parts!  Not this set... It'll be something else! 
Sniffles rules!   

Monday, August 27, 2012

One Giant Leap…

There’s not much I can add to the news of the passing of Astronaut Neil Armstrong… except to say that he may very well have been the “Last Great American Hero” in the eyes of all – before the effects of Watergate and subsequent occurrences permanently polarized this nation into differing “ideological camps” that are, today, stronger and more entrenched than ever. 

In that, I mean that we, in American society, have probably never again been “On the Same Page” as intensely as we were on the day Mr. Armstrong took his historic “Small Step”!   Today, more than likely, there would be voices of differing persuasions, shouting indignantly that the resources applied to a Moon landing would be better utilized for one or the other side’s particular special interests!

Yes, we were divided over some serious issues in 1969 – but, for at least that one day, we were as united as I’d ever seen in my lifetime.   And, I’ll never forget the thrill of that!   

On a purely personal note, Neil Armstrong’s courageous feat rendered THIS COMIC BOOK STORY that I worked on, as a “period piece”, forever stuck in its year of origin – 1963. 

Why?  Because in 1963, the Moon had yet to receive its first Earthly visitors!  And, in this comic, it did! 
The tricky thing was that its first appearance in the United States was in 2011 – so I had to explicitly frame it as having occurred in 1963.  And, in doing so, the natural thing to do was to paraphrase Mr. Armstrong’s historic quote and begin with: 

1963… When the “Giant Leap for Mankind” on the Moon was still six years away…”

When discussing comic-book scripting, I often evoke the phrase “Writer’s Shorthand”.   Considering that there were probably no readers that questioned my use of Armstrong’s words – and that all surely knew what was being referred to – Neil Armstrong provided me with a perfect example of that particular technique. 
For that, I’d like to dedicate my script, for the Mickey Mouse comic book story I titled “To the Moon by Noon” to Mr. Neil Armstrong!  


Saturday, August 25, 2012

DVD Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

(Released: 2002  by Republic Entertainment, Inc.) 

Another looong DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

I’d hate to wake up some morning and find out that you weren’t you!”

…Well, that would all depend on WHO you were talking about, wouldn’t it? 

But, in the mother of all terrible segues, I’d sure hate to wake up some morning and find out that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was a romantic comedy! 

The core concept of this classic is so well known, I don’t have to spend much time setting it up. Do I? 

Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) returns from a medical conference, to his hometown of Santa Mira, to find an increasing number of residents declaring that their friends and/or relatives are somehow “different”. 

With girlfriend Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter) he unravels a startling mystery of “seed pods” from outer space “creating duplicate bodies” for the townspeople, and those “bodies” completely assuming the identities of their intended victims.

…But, somehow, I’ll bet you all knew this!  So, we’ll just go with some choice QUOTES from the film, for your reading pleasure: 

The first “Pod Person” to be discovered in its early formation begins to take shape: 

It’s FACE, Miles, it’s VAGUE!”

It’s like the first impression that’s stamped on a coin!  It isn’t FINISHED!” 

You’re right!  It has all the FEATURES, but no DETAILS!  No character!  No Lines!”

Miles attempts to offer an explanation to the unexplainable:

So much has been discovered these past few years [ JOE’S NOTE: I’ll assume he means “These past few years of ‘50s Sci-Fi films – where, admittedly, quite a lot of bizarre and fantastic ground has been covered! ] that anything is possible!  Maybe the result of atomic radiation on plant life, or animal life!  Some weird alien organism, a mutation of some kind!

Whatever intelligence or instinct it is that can govern the forming of HUMAN FLASH AND BLOOD – out of thin air – well, it’s fantastically powerful!  Beyond all comprehension!” 

The “explanation” (such as it is) is later offered to Miles by one of the Pod victims:

Miles, you and I are scientific men.  You can understand the wonder of what’s happened.  Just think, less than a month ago, Santa Mira was like any other town – people with nothing but problems.

Then, out of the sky, came a SOLUTION!  SEEDS, drifting through space for years, took root in a farmer’s field.  From the seeds came PODS, which had the power to reproduce themselves in the EXACT LIKENESS of any form of life. 

Your NEW BODIES are growing in there.  They’re taking you over, cell for cell – atom for atom.  There’s no pain.  Suddenly, while you’re asleep, they’ll absorb your minds, your memories, and you’re reborn into an untroubled world!”

…You know, there are days I’d actually consider signing up for that! 

But, just before I do, I recall Miles giving us the “message” of the picture: 

“In my practice, I’ve seen how people have allowed their humanity to drain away!  Only, it happens SLOWLY, instead of all at once!  They didn’t seem to mind!

But, just SOME people, Miles!”, adds Becky.

All of us – a little bit!”, counters Miles.  We harden our hearts and grow callous! Only when we have to FIGHT to stay human, do we realize how precious it is to us!”

YEAH, MILES!  Take it to those “Sons of Switchers”! 

And so, we have 01:20:08 of superbly paranoid action and thrills.  Our two solid leads (McCarthy and Wynter) uphold my unofficial observation is that ‘50s Sci-Fi films needed no real "stars" – just a good premise, a good monster, or both.  (…And “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” clearly had BOTH!) 

As is our custom in these reviews, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


A Disappointing Non-Array of Extra Features:  Not quite a nearly complete lacking of Extra Features, as has been found on other ‘50s Sci-Fi DVD packages like THIS ONE.  But, nearly so. 

My standard for a movie DVD’s Extra Features is the inclusion of a theatrical trailer for the film, a commentary track, and “making-of” or background featurette.  Neither a commentary track nor a featurette is included with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, giving it a major CON in this area.

Given the decades-long popularity of this film, and its entry into our very lexicon, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” deserved more!  “Pod Person” has become a part of our language, and its INFLUENCE on future artifacts of popular culture is unquestioned.

From VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (“The Wax Men”, “The Deadly Dolls” – both 1967), LOST IN SPACE (“The Phantom Family” – 1967, “Target Earth” – 1968) to SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES (“Unity” – 2000), and even “The Strange World of Gregory Gopher” in issue # 127 of the MICKEY MOUSE comic book series (1970) where important citizens were being replaced by duplicates made of living vegetable matter, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” has left its mark on more than I can possibly list in this space – making the lack of such features regrettable indeed.

BELOW: "Influence of the Body Snatchers"!
Oh, to control Judy!

That's a LOT of influences!
I’m willing to concede, though, that its 2002 release was still a bit “early in the game” for the generally-held standards for a DVD production and give it the benefit of a doubt.  At least the set offered far more than would a standard VHS tape of then-recent vintage.


It’s ‘50s Sci-Fi:  That means you’re in for a wild ride (often – but not always – in Black and White), with stalwart heroes facing down monsters, aliens, bizarre mutations, and any other strange phenomena the screenwriters could come up with.  The general feeling is not unlike that freewheeling Sci-Fi / Adventure period for television during the early to mid-sixties.  The rules, such as they were, were being made up before your eyes - -and what a glorious sight it was. 

Full Screen vs. Letterbox:  The viewer is offered a choice of “Full Screen” (as you would have seen the film on television (before the “flat-screen era”) or “Letterbox”, though  they call it “Widescreen” (simulating the widescreen theatrical experience – but within a small RECTANGLE, leaving far too much “blank space” around all four sides of the image).

It’s NOT widescreen!  Widescreen would fill up the entire image area of my widescreen TV.  But, since such TVs were not in common use (if they existed at all) in 2002, I’ll commend Republic for offering a “Letterbox”, image, no matter what they CALL it. 

For the record, the letterbox image was so small within the overall area of my TV screen, that I actually preferred the “Full Screen” version. 

Oddly, the choice between “Full Screen” and “Letterbox” is presented on TWO DIFFERENT SIDES of the disc.  Side A is “Letterbox”,  while Side B is “Full Screen”.  Beyond that, the two sides are identical – offering all of the same options and features. 

The Film:  One of the most famous films of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre.  Creepy and exciting, in a ‘50s-sort-of way you won’t soon forget. 

The Cast:

Kevin McCarthy as “Dr. Miles Bennell”.

Dana Wynter as “Becky Driscoll”.

King Donovan as “Jack Belicec”.

Carolyn Jones as “Theodora (Teddy) Belicec”.

Larry Gates as “Dr. Dan Kaufman”.

Whit Bissell as “Psychiatrist” (Uncredited.  In framing sequence only.)

Richard Deacon as “Doctor” (Uncredited.  In framing sequence only.)

And there’s even a small part for Sam Peckinpah as “Charlie the Meter Reader”!

RUN!  It’s Sam Peckinpah!

Extra Features (Such as they are):

Theatrical Trailer for “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”: (02:02)

VOICEOVER:  They come from ANOTHER WORLD, spawned in the light years of space, to TAKE OVER THE BODIES AND SOULS of the people of our planet – bringing a new dimension of TERROR to the giant ‘SUPERSCOPE' screen!”

A cursed, dreadful MALEVOLENT THING was happening to those he loved!”

HUGE ON-SCREEN TEXT: "Walter Wanger brings you the ULTIMATE in Science Fiction – INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS!”

RUN!  It’s Walter Wanger and his Superscope!
Walter Wanger sure covered a lot of cinematic ground, considering he also produced THIS classic of another genre! 

TV Interview with Kevin McCarthy: (07:24)

Hosted by Los Angeles television personality Tom Hatten, a familiar face who presented Popeye cartoons and classic movies.  The interview dates from 1985, and Hatten is quite energetic and enthusiastic in his participation.  Among the tidbits revealed:

Kevin McCarthy was a New York stage actor, who came west for the film. 

Exteriors were shot in Sierra Madre and (everyone’s favorite outdoor location) Bronson Canyon. 

Despite many assertions to the contrary by film critics and historians, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” was not created as a reflection of the real-life “McCarthy (no relation) Era” – at least in the opinion of KEVIN McCarthy. 

Run!  It’s a lot of OLD CARS! 

The most revealing item was that McCarthy was called back to film a wrap-around framing sequence to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” that featured familiar actors Whit Bissell (THE TIME TUNNEL) as a psychiatrist and Richard Deacon (THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW) as a doctor. 

Whit Bissell
The original ending left McCarthy’s Dr. Miles Bennell running crazed along the highway, trying to warn anyone who might listen about the Pod People.  That was considered by the studio as too much of a downer and the wrap-around, where Bissell – as a credible authority figure – comes to believe Miles’ wild tale, leaving the audience feeling that SOMETHING may be done about the threat after all. 
...Ya Gotta Believe me!

…Of course, maybe NOTHING was done, and we’ve all been Pod People since 1956 – as if we’d notice the difference!  (…That sure would explain modern politics!  ...And "reality" TV!)

As evidence of the last minute nature of the add-on, Bissell and Deacon are not credited as part of the film’s cast. 

In terms of information on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, Kevin McCarthy’s brief interview may not adequately replace the Commentary Track and Making-Of features “that might have been”, but he DOES supply some choice info in the available time. 


Invasion of the Body Snatchers” remains an icon of the ‘50s Sci-Fi genre. 

It’s one of those films that everyone should see at least once.  It merited not one, but two, modern remakes.  At its core is a frightening concept that was well-executed, even back in 1956.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers” did not need an overabundance of CGI effects, excessive violence, blood or gore to tell its story.  Its story was – and IS – chilling enough, just the way it is! 

Despite being light in the features department, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is recommended for fans of fifties Sci-Fi and all the entertainment products directly or indirectly influenced by the imaginative core concept, eerie small towns… and especially for those like me who DON’T enjoy gardening!  We can use this film to warn our spouses of the evils that plant life can bring!  …BURN ‘EM ALL!

Friday, August 24, 2012

R.I.P. Phyllis Diller.

At TIAH Blog we note the passing of Phyllis Diller on August 20, 2012 at the age of 95.   Her TV appearances on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, BOB HOPE SPECIALS, and the like were unforgettable.  
Update: December 2012: Here's Phyllis Diller on GET SMART, as Maxwell Smart's plastic surgery gone wrong!

...And below on FAMILY GUY! 

She also had somewhat of a secondary career in animation, voicing Peter Griffin’s mother on FAMILY GUY, was a rival to ANIMANIACS’ Slappy Squirrel, and even met SCOOBY-DOO! 

Phyllis Diller was a pioneer for women in the world of stand-up comedy – and for that, as well as her unique talents, she is to be admired.  She got that way by being both funny and gutsy.   

…And, given the time she did this (2001), you can’t get much gutsier than her “nude” appearance on the late and lamented FOX sit-com TITUS. 

…Then, she even drops the towel! 

Rest in Peace, Phyllis Diller… generations of comedy practitioners and fans are in your debt.  

My hat's off to you... but my towel stays on!