We, Robots! (Part 12): H-B Goes Haywire
Hanna-Barbera LOVED robots! This, of course, was self-evident from any viewing of “The Jetsons”, as discussed in a previous chapter of this trail. But it was far from limited to the family of the future, and would find its way into many an H-B episode set in the present day, ans in at least one instance discussed below, in a setting which on its face appears to be medieval. We’ve previous covered robotic appearances in the studio’s first three television series of short subjects. Following is an array of additional shorts from later series of the 60’s, all taking their respective jumps onto the mechanical bandwagon. Notably, the graphic designers of the studio seemed to have no trouble in rolling off the assembly line a dazzling assortment of appealing models for their mecho-men, no two of which seemed alike, each with unique powers and appendages to spare.
NOTE: This week, I leave it to you dear readers to help us find any video embeds for this week’s post. I only found one I could easily share (a Laurel & Hardy no less) – any suggestions on where to find the others are welcome in the comments below.
Mr. Robots (Touche Turtle and Dum Dum, 11/12/62) – Where there was an H-B hero, you could usually find a robot needing to be vanquished. Touche Turtle was no exception to this rule. The title is a clever play upon the feature title, “Mr. Roberts”, starring Henry Fonda, Jack Lemmon, and James Cagney, though the plot has absolutely nothing to do with the maritime adventures of the feature. A typical Germanic-accented mad scientist (voiced by Hal Smith), creates a tall, blocky-built robot, with a large light bulb in its forehead, who is normally seen bearing a very stern expression (but as we will see, capable of mood swings). The scientist addresses the robot in unusually-direct fashion. “This is your brain talking. You will do as I say. You are in my complete control. I made you, and I can break you.” The robot’s response is a slam from a heavy metal fist, that drives the scientist deep into the stone floor of his castle laboratory. The scientist moans that he shouldn’t have made the robot’s personality so sensitive. The robot stomps its way out through the castle door, leaving a gaping hole. Before the robot tramples someone’s flower bed – or even worse – it’s time for a call to that hero of heroes, Touche Turtle, who at the moment is a bit busy, hiding in his shell while getting bashed with an umbrella by an old lady, who didn’t want to be helped across the street. Touche nevertheless answers the call on his shell-phone, and takes note of the robot’s description – as a large metal hand picks him up high into the air. Noting the distinguishing features of being ten feet tall, with 100 watt bulb in his head, Touche is certain he’s found his man. The robot lifts Touche over his head, and throws him for a forward pass, straight into a lamppost. The robot then displays his only unique personality point – a diabolical giggle, almost as irritating as that of Muttley yet to come. Touche’s sidekick Dum Dum challenges the robot to put up his dukes for throttling his pal – but meets the same fate as his hero, tossed into the lamppost frame along with Touche.
Touche tries to settle the score on the field of honor, offering the robot a choice of swords, and calling for Marquis de Queensberry rules. The robot makes his own rules, ignoring the sword in his hand, ad driving Touche into the ground with his fist. Touche resorts to the Western approach, roping the robot’s arm with a lasso. Instead of being hailed in, the robot merely gives a quick flip of his arm, reeling in Touche, who crashes hard into the robot’s metal chest. Touche rolls in a huge Big Bertha style artillery cannon. Before he can fire it, the robot counters by plugging the gun muzzle with his fist, causing the explosive force of the shell to backfire through the barrel onto Touche. “Oh, how he frustrates me”, moans the charred turtle. A final assault with a steamroller amounts to nothing, as the robot picks up the whole vehicle for another forward pass, crumbling it to dust. Touche and Dum Dum are then pursued down the street by the robot at full run. Touche notes that he thinks they’ve finally gotten the robot mad, and Dum Dum replies, “That’s better than nothin’, I guess.” At this crucial moment, the scientist appears, calling for everyone to hold everything. He claims he has figured out what went wrong with the robot, and that a few minor adjustments should do the trick. Working with a monkey wrench inside the robot’s body cavity, the scientist makes a few twists and turns, then announces that the robot is now back in his complete control, with no will of its own. Says who? – as the robot drives both Dum Dum and Touche into the ground with its fist again. “How do you like that?” says the scientist, turning and calmly walking away, lost in puzzled thought. “I know, I know”, says Touche, “Back to the drawing board.”
Job Robbed (Yippee, Yappee, and Yahooey, 11/18/64) – The three Goofy Guards are at their personal best – that is, colliding simultaneously with the King as usual, whether swinging from ropes or making a jet-propelled entrance on a skateboard. But the King doesn’t have their entrances on his mind, but their exit – as he picks up from the Royal Post Office a mail-order package, containing a do-it-yourself kit for one robot. It contains the plans for Guard-o-Vac, the world’s first robotic guard. (It was never quite clear whether this series dealt with a medieval or modern-day kingdom, as, despite all the trappings of crowns, knights, swordplay, etc., technology such as the robot, the skateboard, and the King’s motor scooter were inexplicably readily available.) After laboring all night on assembly, the King tries out his creation, operating a four-button control box. The robot is largely cubic, with a very small head unit containing no mouth nor speech box, and a two-wheel inline skate footing similar to Rosey the Robot, wearing a guardsman’s hat and carrying a sword. Guard-o-vac proves himself a great swordsman, with an extra thrust delivered via an extendable arm, poking a hole right through the king’s crown. He includes a disintegration ray in his eyes, burning a hole right through the three foot thick stone wall of the palace. And, he has a propeller which pops out of his hat, allowing him to fly. “Now I have my own air force”, chuckles the King. He sends for the Guards for the last time, issuing a royal decree that they are canned, and a further order that Guard-o-Vac show them the exit. The guards make a hasty retreat, deciding to run first and fight back later.
After a huddle, the boys decide to prove to the King that the robot is no good, by ganging up to destroy it. Easier thought than accomplished. Guard-o-Vac duels the boys three-against-one, then lowers his sword to reveal a secret weapon hidden within a panel on his chest – a cannon. The boys are sent into frantic retreat again. A challenge to bare knuckle fisticuffs also accomplishes nothing, as Guard-o-Vac uses his extender arm to clobber the three of them with a boxing glove. An attempt to fly over the castle wall in a balloon is thwarted by the robot using his flying skill to meet the balloon and puncture it with his sword. A steamroller, which the guards hope will reduce the robot to a waffle iron, is pushed backwards by the robot, to flatten the guards like three gingerbread cookies in the dust. And an assault with a tank fails again, as the robot makes the vehicle disappear with his disintegration ray. The guards admit defeat, and head for the unemployment line. Happy, the King settles down in his throne, and begins pushing buttons on Guard-o-Vac’s control panel to issue a day’s worth of menial tasks, including scrubbing, picking up laundry, taking care of junior, etc. He’s never issued the robot so many commands before, and overloads the circuits of the control panel – finding the system’s Achilles’ heel. Guard-o-Vac goes haywire, assaulting the king with sword, cannon, and shots of its disintegration ray. The King flees the palace, with Guard-o-Vac in close pursuit. In his retreat, the King passes the guards on the road, calling to them that they’re hired again, and to guard the castle until he returns. “But when will that be?” asks Yahooey. Borrowing an ending from Mr. Jinks, the King calls back, “As soon as this thing’s battery runs down.”
Rambling Robot (Atom Ant, 10/30/65) – An inventive youth who fashions himself as a junior Edison creates a robot in his garage – tall enough to scrape the ceiling when sitting down, with unusual arms made of wooden boards with steel fists attached, and a lower third built out of the broken side frames of a wooden wagon, still with spoke side-wheels attached. The boy’s mom calls him inside for a nap, just as he is giving the robot its first dry run – and the boy leaves its control box in on position. When the boy goes inside, the robot stands up, bursting through the garage roof, and rolls away down the street. Possessing a twisted sense of humor, the robot reacts to the various people and objects it observes with a repeated “(Click! Click!) “Ha Ho!”, and causes general havoc. He compresses cars and buses like they were accordions. He rolls right through telephone poles, snapping them to half of their original height. The boy pursues, shouting to the robot that the world is not ready for him yet, and that if he doesn’t stop, “you’re gonna get me grounded for a month.” Realizing the situation is out of hand, the boy seeks out the anthill of the city’s one protector – Atom Ant. Atom charges into the fray, referring to the robot as a “king size tomato can”. The robot begins to senselessly shove an entire building toward a cliff. “He’s a little too pushy to suit me”, remarks Atom, zooming to the opposite side to push the building back the opposite way. The struggle leaves him temporarily exhausted, while the robot merely turns to seek out new mischief. Atom wheezes that he’s just glad it wasn’t the Empire State Building. The robot picks up a concrete decorative ball from the top of a high fence, then proceeds to bowl it down a real “alley” – one being used by several pedestrians. Atom sweeps the alley clear by lifting the pedestrians off their feet, then outraces the ball, cracking it to rubble with a sock of his mighty fist. Atom asides to the audience, “If he thinks he’s gonna get away with stunts like that, he’s buggier than I am.” The robot shows up at an airport, picking up a plane and spinning its propeller to launch it with an overhand throw. The control tower personnel think its “one of those new mechanical units the air force is always working on”, until the plane crashes, leaving a controller to remark. “Looks like someone pushed the wrong button that time.” The robot rolls by the tower, unapologetically explaining, “Rubber band broke.” Atom has finally had enough, and launches himself in flight full force into the robot’s chest. The robot’s parts become disassembled, lying in a heap on the ground. Atom smiles, stating he’s always wanted a king-size Erector Set – but this time, he’ll do the assembly “my way”. As the film ends, the boy catches up with Atom, asking what happened to the robot. Atom has just finished reconstruction, and informs him that the robot is now “going around in better circles.” How true, as a long shot reveals the robot’s head standing high above them, but with substantial modification to the torso – which now wears a rotating belt of steel, to which are attached its four limbs, supporting saucer-shaped cups for kids to ride in, in the world’s first robot airplane ride.
Some of the hardest to see H-B shorts of the 60’s are the five-minute episodes produced for hire for American-International of Sinbad Jr. and his Magic Belt, inherited from Sam Singer when A-I decided to expand the number of episodes from those available in the original series. H-B, of course, had different ideas than the low-budgeted Singer studios, which was on its last legs. First, the theme song was rewritten in lyric and rearranged in tempo by Hoyt Curtin, into a rather jazzy take on “Sailing Sailing”. Voices were improved, with Sinbad now sounding like Jonny Quest, and Salty the Parrot acquiring the voice of Jack Benny’s parrot, via Mel Blanc. Furthermore, H-B apparently thought Singer’s approach to story climaxes uninteresting, with Sinbad simply tugging on his power belt whenever needed, much in the manner of a reliable can of spinach. Instead, Sinbad would find some way to either lose his belt, or be prevented from pulling it in the normal fashion, in virtually every H-B episode. This often made Salty all the more needed for the stories, as he would frequently be the cause of restoring the belt to Sinbad. Thus, aside from the substantial increase in quality of drawings and animation, the H-B Sinbad’s are easily recognizable as the handiwork of an entirely different team than the Singer Sinbads, and, although they frankly become more repetitious in style of story, including frequent fallbacks upon new recurring villains, they tended to register stronger audience approval when aired as part of the package – at least distinguishing themselves from the frequent plot holes and animation errors/shortcuts so common to most of the Singer product.
Ronstermon (9/11/65) introduces to the series a recurring villain known as Rotcoddam (Mad Doctor spelled backwards). This backwards bit had been used twice before by H-B, for the planet “Muni-Mula” in Ruff and Reddy’s “Planet Pirates” previously reviewed, and in Snooper and Blabber’s “Outer Space Case”, where every title of the royal court on Mars is also spelled backwards. However, it always bothered me that in the Sinbad series, the actors cheated on the pronunciation. Read as it is spelled, the mad doctor’s name would end with the syllable “dam” – potentially causing trouble to the ears of the viewers, who might interpret it as a hidden swear word. The actors were thus forced to give the syllable a forced mittel-European style read (such as, for example, some pronunciations of “Amsterdam”), ending the name more as if they were saying the syllable “dom”. I always felt gypped by this bow to overt politeness. The title of this particular episode is also a cheat, as it is indicated in the script that the name is supposed to be “Monster” spelled backwards – but in actuality, it is only a pronunciation in pig-Latin!
Sinbad and Salty investigate an island where a submarine has recently disappeared without a trace. It is the home of the doctor, which is guarded by what appears to be a huge prehistoric sea monster, much in the style of Godzilla, which captures Sinbad’s ship, and pulls it underwater. The monster surfaces in a hidden lagoon in the middle of the island, which it has reached by an underwater tunnel. There, the missing sub is also discovered. The doctor takes Sinbad and Salty to his lair, where they are bound to chairs, and shown on a TV monitor the powers of the monster, who is merely a giant robot created by the doctor. The mechanical creature lifts the top off a mountain, then crumbles it between his claws. In a demonstration of speed, the doctor has the monster submerge into the sea, counts off five seconds, then announces the monster should be ready to return with the Empire State Building. Instead, the monster rises from the waves, carrying the Eiffel Tower. “Okay, I goofed”, chuckles the embarrassed doctor. Sinbad realizes the doctor must be stopped – but can’t reach his belt for a pull. He tries a plan, pretending to offer the doctor his belt in return for calling off the monster. The doctor responds “No deal”, with intent to take the belt anyway. He tugs upon the strap, only tightening it instead of loosening it – and does Sinbad’s work for him, giving Sinbad the energy charge needed to bust his bonds. Sinbad picks up the doctor’s TV monitor and control panel, and smashes it, The doctor, now worried, indicates that all Sinbad has accomplished is to remove the doctor’s ability to control the monster, who will now stop at nothing. Sinbad gives his belt a second pull for a little extra dose of energy, then sets himself to battle with the beast. A sock to the monster’s nose sends him flying out of the scene temporarily, but the monster charges back with redoubled strength. “Stubborn, eh? Well, there’s a little bit of mule in me too, pal”, responds Sinbad, positioning himself on all fours with his feet facing the charging monster. He delivers a powerful mule kick into the monster’s chest – and knocks the monster apart, its pieces reassembling as a row of small wind-up toy duplications of itself, with winding keys in their backs. Salty remarks that Sinbad just put the doctor into the toy business, and the doctor has to admit, “Why didn’t I think of that?” The doctor cheers that he will make a fortune, then adds “I will rule the world!” Sinbad loudly clears his throat to emphasize that the doctor’s last thought is a no-no, and the doctor sheepishly smiles, acknowledging, “So I’ll settle for the fortune,” Our heroes set sail for home, Salty taking along one of the toys as a souvenir, betting that pretty soon, they’ll be “winding up” everywhere.
Tin Can Man (12/25/65) returns Rotcoddam to center stage, this time building an army of allegedly indestructible soldier robots, wearing steel helmets, carrying bayonet-tipped rifles, and powered by a unicycle wheel. The doctor dons a General’s outfit and finds a sword to carry, as he sets forth with his robot troops to conquer the world. A news interruption gives an uninterrupted headline over Sinbad’s transistor radio of the mad doctor’s advance, and Sinbad and Salty once again approach the doctor’s stronghold. Sinbad challenges that the doctor’s robots can’t conquer the world – and in fact, “Can’t even conquer me”. Sinbad speaks too soon, as a robot charges outside the doctor’s compound, returning with Sinbad dangling from his belt, snagged on the robot’s bayonet point. The blade of the bayonet slices the belt strap in two, and Sinbad falls to the ground, without his power source to pull. The robot flings the broken belt away, than slams the butt of hs rifle down on Sinbad’s back. Sinbad tries a blow to the robot’s midriff, but merely slams into solid metal, failing to make a dent. Meanwhile, observant Salty has picked up the halves of the belt outside the compound, and is busy with a needle and thread, trying to sew the belt back together. The robot tosses Sinbad through the air and out of the compound, just as Salty finishes his mending chores. “Right on target, Salty” says Sinbad, as Salty holds out the belt from the limb of a tree, and Sinbad sails cleanly into its loop, regaining his customary waist-wear. A tug of the belt strap, and Sinbad is properly equipped for the battle. A first blow not only smashes the robot’s rifle, but knocks his arms off as well. “So, you’re not indestructible”, notes Sinbad, turning a screw on the robot’s side, which causes his remaining components to fall apart. “Call out the reserves”, shouts the doctor. A row of soldier robots advances at full speed. “Any of you gentlemen ever played dominoes?”, shouts Sinbad, giving the lead robot a sharp blow to the chest. One robot topples into another, and another, and another – until the entire column lies in a heap of spare parts. Salty asks the doctor what he thinks of his army now, and the doctor shrugs his shoulders and responds, “You can’t win ‘em all.” Sinbad and Salty set sail again, but Salty has salvaged enough spare parts to assemble for them a robot butler, who is ordered to serve them some refreshing lemonades. After all, as Salty notes, “We’ve had a busy day.”
Witch Hitch (Winsome Witch, 1/15/66), finds Winnie hearing a radio bulletin cheerily announcing exclusive coverage of “what may prove to be the end of our civilization” – a flying saucer landing on the lawn of the White House. Its occupant, a four-armed green alien cyborg called Og, announces his intent to “conquer your inferior world.” Winnie, flying in to investigate the disturbance, crashes into him and upsets him no end at losing his place in his speech. Finally remembering to demonstrate to the crowd his superior powers, he disintegrates a tank with a beam from his helmet. Winnie complements him on a nice trick, but since the tank was government property, she zaps it back. “Now cut that out! You are making me look bad.” Og attempts to use an “eliminator” on Winnie – a flat disc which emerges from his helmet, then expands to a crushing metal weight to drop on Winnie’s head. But Winnie moves too fast, disappearing and reappearing behind him before the weight can do its job. Og notes that on his home planet, they outlawed meddlesome women creatures centuries ago. (Perhaps this is why he is partly robotic – how else do they reproduce?) Og zaps Winnie with a disintegration ray, Winnie again does her disappearing act, reappearing in miniature form on Og’s nose, and complaining, “Now what is all this ‘outlawing women’ business?” Og decides to put Winnie away where she will be harmless – flipping open his helmet, and dropping her inside Og’s own head! Bad move, as inside Og’s cranium are a bank of switches, levers, and robotic controls. *Who was originally intended to ride inside Og as pilot, and where are they now?) Winnie’s curiosity is piqued, and she can’t resist turning dials, flicking switches, and seeing just what makes this visitor tick. “Hey, watch it there”, says Og, perspiring as he realizes his mistake. “Don’t mess with those controls!” Soon, Og is bouncing around along the ground uncontrollably, in moves that seem to combine the jitterbug with break dancing. Wiinie finally finds the brake, then pops outside of the alien, returning to her normal size. Og has had it, and states he will now destroy the whole puny planet. Winnie responds “Pish posh”, and remarks that she may have to change him into a hog or something. Og states he does not believe in Earthly myths of witchcraft and black magic – but can’t even finish his speech, before he is transformed into a large green hog. Og claims he has an anti-spell device in his saucer, jumps into the cockpit to find it, then presses its button – and gets “Nothing! I am still a hog!” The alien sulks in defeat, realizing no one will listen to a hog named Og. Winnie finally makes a deal with him – to change him back if he’ll go back to his own planet, to “conquer” it with love and kindness. All ends well – except for the news announcer, who somehow in the magical fallout has, without even noticing, been transformed into a centaur.
Robust Robot (Laurel and Hardy, 12/1/66) – A typical day has Stan dumping out the trash on Ollie (who he has naturally mistaken for the trash can), and also sucking up both the dinner dishes and Ollie’s pants while attempting to use a vacuum cleaner. Stan comes up with the random idea that maybe they would be better off if some big machine could do the household cjores. Ollie applies this thought into practical action, and proceeds to his garage workshop. There, seemingly from his own ingenuity, Ollie constructs a robot, who announces in a speech pattern punctuated with “Beep beep”s that his name is Bolto. Ollie asks that Bolto serve them lunch. Bolto returns with a tray of his own specialty – two nuts and bolts sandwiches, seasoned with mayo-nails. Ollie complains that that would certainly make them sick. Bolto assures them he eats them all the time, and is perfectly healthy, due to the sandwiches containing “plenty of iron.” He force-feeds the sandwiches to out heroes, which land in their stomachs with a metallic thud. Ollie still remains determined to apply Bolto to the task of housework. Bolto takes to vacuuming with eagerness, while Stan and Ollie watch from the sofa. Bolto indicates he needs to clean under the furniture – and topples over his masters onto the floor as he lifts the sofa. “Well, at least he’s efficient”, grumbles Ollie.
Things get further out of hand as Bolto administers forceful baths and scrubbing to Stan and then to Ollie – their third baths today – insisting he is a stickler for cleanliness. L and H retreat to the shade of a tree in the yard, keeping their distance from further actions of Bolto in the house, until Bolto appears outside, insisting that everyone get up for “recreation time”. He launches a forward pass of a football into Ollie’s gut, rebounding off of Stan’s head, then announces he will tackle the ball carrier. Stan and Ollie toss laterals to each other to keep from being the target, but only succeed in having Bolto tackle them both together. Ollie finaly decides he has an idea to get this robot off their backs. The final scene finds Bolto seated at the dinner table, while Stan and Ollie hustle to wait on him hand and foot, insisting that Bolto do nothing himself. “But why?” asks Bolto. “It’s safer that way”, respond the boys, hurrying off to get Bolto another metallic course for dinner. As Bolto chows down, he asides to the audience, “Let’s face it. Us nuts and bolts are smarter than people.”
Robot Rout (Secret Squirrel, 12/10/66) is an entry which receives mention here more for its title than by reason of its content, as in fact there is nothing mechanical involved in the cartoon, except for the device which begins the whole affair. Secret’s old arch-nemesis, Yellow Pinky, is suddenly on the minds of nearly everyone in the populace, who parade in the streets with posters, signs and banners, chanting “Yellow Pinky for President”. Secret and his chief are baffled as to why anyone would want such a notorious bad guy for the Oval Office, until boastful Yellow Pinky tosses a TV set through the chief’s window, tuned to a closed-circuit broadcast in which he reveals that he is turning the nation’s citizens into robots with a miniature ray gun worn on his pinky finger, which he refers to as a “Robotizer”. He could just as easily have called it a “Zombiefier”, as one shot of the ray turns the victim into a minion with no will of his own, obeying Yellow Pinky’s every command. “See you in the White House”, says the villain, signing off. Without explanation as to how the whereabouts of the villain’s lair are determined, Secret and his sidekick Morocco Mole travel by submarine to a remote island to confront Yellow Pinky. As they travel through the jungle surrounding the lair, they are spotted from a balcony by the villain. The Robotizer works at long range, and Pinky fires a shot for a direct hit on Morocco Mole. He commands Morocco to destroy his own partner. Morocco proves more effective as an assassin than he normally is as an assistant, applying a judo flip of Secret into a tree, stomping on his back, aiming a cannon shell at him point blank, rolling over him repeatedly with tank treads, and finally launching him into the sky aboard an explosive Nike missile. Secret comments that this isn’t going to look good on Morocco’s record. Yellow Pinky finally shows himself, revealing he robotized Morocco – and now intends to robotize Secret. Of course, Secret has a weapon for every occasion – an anti-robotizer gun in his trench coat picket. He places his weapon muzzle to muzzle with Pinky’s, and fires a shot right through Pinky’s gun, robotizing Pinky himself. A second shot by Secret zaps Morocco out from under his spell. The two return home in triumph with their captive, foiling Pinky’s presidency plans. Except the populace has now changed allegiances in their selection of a presidential candidate, and – whether he likes it or not – Secret is now the people’s choice, being carried on the shoulders of an eager crowd of chanting supporters, for the fade out.
NEXT WEEK: Some more early-day TV robots, then a shift into television animation’s resurgence period.