by Rachel Newstead
Original Airdate: Dec. 30, 1960
Writer: Joe Barbera
In short: Fred poses as a prowler to scare Wilma, but doesn’t count on a real one showing up…
Having already utilized the “dueling neighbors” and “battle of the sexes” plots, it’s perhaps inevitable that today’s episode, “The Prowler,” would make use of the next item in the Stock Sitcom Situations Handbook, the “wounded male pride” plot.
That’s not a criticism–every sitcom works its way through these, sooner or later. The good ones burn them off quickly and get them out of the way before moving on to more original material. The great ones take these stock situations and still make a brilliant episode. “The Prowler”‘s use of this particular standard situation reinforces this series’ position as one of the great ones.
“The Prowler” very nearly subverts the standard plot structure it’s placed in. Fred objects to Wilma’s taking up judo to defend herself not so much because he’s the man of the house (or cave), but because he’s too darned cheap to pay for the lessons. Pride matters to him, but not as much as money.
The male characters in this sort of plotline often sulk for days before something happens either to convince them they really are big strong he-men after all, or (more common these days) show them they don’t have to be.
Not Fred–he’s too full of misplaced confidence (and too stubborn) to go the “sulking” route. He takes a unique approach by posing as a prowler himself, to prove first that Wilma really needs him, and second (and most importantly, to Fred) that they don’t need the expense of lessons. But as we’ll soon see, the best-laid plans of Fred Flintstone often turn catastrophic.
The scene opens on an exterior shot of the Flintstone home, as we hear Fred making his usual “shower noises.” Wilma calls him to breakfast, and we get a cute gag involving Fred’s “shaver”–a clamshell with a bee inside. (Forget the potential danger of stings for a moment–just what does he do if no bees fly outside his window that morning? Not that it matters–his permanent five-o’clock shadow couldn’t get much heavier anyway).
As Fred sits down to his breakfast of “soft boiled three-and-a-half-hour dodo egg”, he’s interrupted by some rather strange crashing and bumping noises coming from Barney’s place. When Barney comes over, he explains the noises are coming from Betty–and her judo instructor, Mr. Rockimoto.
BARNEY: A woman’s gotta know how to protect herself…
FRED: Well, what about you?
BARNEY: Oh, she’ll protect me, too…
Ba-dah-boom. These are the jokes, folks….
Fred naturally thinks this is hilarious (that Betty’s “protecting” Barney, not the one-liner)–until Barney accidentally lets slip that Wilma, too, is taking lessons:
WILMA (to Fred): What’s wrong with wanting to protect myself?
FRED: What about me?
WILMA: Oh, I’ll protect you, too….
Bah-dah-boom again. Remember what I said in my last review about repetition making a joke funnier if timed right? Well, this is what I mean.
Fred’s also not particularly thrilled when Barney starts making the same sort
of wisecracks Fred made just a moment before, and lets his feelings be known with a vase thrown near Barney’s head.
Wilma calls Betty to say the lessons are off. Betty tells her to come anyway, as the first lesson is already paid for, and the good Professor (a typical bucktoothed Oriental stereotype) does not give refunds. Once Wilma arrives, Betty suggests she can make do with just one lesson. Until, that is, Wilma gets thrown halfway across the room by Rockimoto. Joined by Betty a moment later (I’m a bit tickled by her “save me a seat, I’ll be back in a minute” remark, as well as Wilma’s “One thing about judo–you take a polite beating.” I suspect Mr. Barbera had a little help from Mr. Foster and Mr. Maltese on those lines).
Cut to Fred and Barney a few days later, driving home from work. According to the paper, Barney says, the prowler’s still at large. Fred can’t resist ribbing Barney a little more about Betty taking lessons; Barney happens to mention she’s on her fifth one.
Next comes what I consider the highlight sequence in the episode, which I’ve tried to illustrate here in the best way possible. Fred launches into a tirade about Barney’s allowing Betty to take judo lessons, on the grounds it’ll cost him money. There’s just something about the way the eyes are drawn and the way the mouth moves (it flaps up and down like a Muppet) that’s truly funny here, on the bit of dialogue that starts, “You heard me tell Wilma–no judo lessons! That’s final, clear and once and for all, no judo lessons, no judo lessons!” Sometimes limited animation has its good points–if his mouth movements had been fully animated here, it wouldn’t have been as funny.
The wide-mouthed, flapping-up-and-down motion is pure Fred.
Congratulations on that sequence likely go to Carlo Vinci, the credited animator on this episode; I suspect it’s Vinci mainly because Fred is animated in a similar manner in certain scenes of “Hollyrock, Here I Come,” also from the first season (another in which Vinci gets credit).
UPDATE 9/3/12: My friend good friend and fellow Flintstones fan Howard Fein has the scoop on who actually animated these sequences in his comments at the bottom of this post.–Rachel
One can see it immediately when Fred’s rehearsing his role as “The Frogmouth” with Wilma–there, and in “The Prowler,” he’s quite the literal “frogmouth.” Pity that after those two episodes, he’s never drawn quite that way again.
Meanwhile, back to Betty and Wilma: Betty is teaching Wilma Mr. Rockimoto’s lessons as she goes, since cheapskate Fred will have none of it. Betty demonstrates a hold by grabbing ahold of Wilma’s sleeve; her insistence that there are pillows for Wilma to land on aren’t very reassuring (especially since Wilma “misses” them by a few inches).
BETTY: Now, I’m a prowler! I’ve picked the lock on this door! You hear it–your heart’s pounding with excitement. You see the prowler’s hand reaching (cont. after pictures):inside…reaching…reaching…reaching! What do you do?
WILMA: I scream for Fred…
BETTY: Oh, no, that won’t do you any good–Fred’s under the bed! What else do you do?
WILMA: I faint–that’s what else…
This particular exchange is notable because hiding under the bed is precisely what Fred thinks Wilma will do later on (which is correct up to a point, but I don’t want to reveal too much right now). The cap-off to this particular scene comes when Betty poses as a prowler so Wilma can use Lesson #5–but Wilma instead accidentally throws Fred, who just happens to come in at that moment. The ruse, it seems, is blown.
Cut to a couple of days later, and Fred’s in a foul mood as he’s mowing the lawn (big surprise there), and berates Barney for “thinking” too loud, and in particular, thinking about the judo lesson issue. Barney retorts with “Well, at least I don’t have to hide under the bed!” (Another instance of the funny use of a repeated bit of dialogue).
To prove to Barney just who will be under the bed, Fred proposes to dress up
as a prowler himself; if he fails to frighten Wilma or Betty, he’ll pay for the lessons himself. Noteworthy is Fred’s expression after he asks Barney what Betty will do when she sees the “prowler”: it takes real ability to deliver laughs in a single frame.
Come nighttime. Fred, feigning his usual buzz-saw snoring, sneaks out of the house on all fours; once outside, he dons his prowler disguise and heads toward the Rubbles. Little does he know, however, that the real prowler just happens to be behind a nearby rock–and he’s more than a bit confused by Fred’s presence (honor among thieves, and all that).
The IMDB, the Big Cartoon Database, and TV.com credit a “Mark Rosenbloom”
as the voice of the real prowler, which is something of a curiosity. It sounds for all the world to me like Alan Reed doing a “dumb” voice (he would, occasionally, do incidental voices in certain episodes, but quit when it became clear he still sounded too much like Fred). As this Mark Rosenbloom is only credited with this role and no other, I’m tempted to think it might actually be a pseudonym for Reed himself. (If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please let me know in the comments).
As confused as the prowler is by the presence of another prowler in his territory, he’s even more confused by Fred’s rehearsal and scary “prowler faces”, asking “What is this, amateur night?” He’s further amazed by Fred’s attempting to go through the door. He decides to head over to Fred’s house first before the “other prowler” gets to it.
Fred yells to Barney to help Fred inside; as Barney pulls, the prowler, remarks, “Gee–I never got that kind of cooperation!”
Right about this point we come to what I’ve come to call the “Barney Rubble voice anomaly”: just as Barney pulls Fred inside and sends him flying across the room, out another window and into a flowerpot, Mel Blanc switches to his “later Barney” voice, rather than his “early Barney” voice.
Blanc always claimed that he changed his Barney voice after Daws Butler filled in for him for five episodes (to allow Blanc time to recuperate from his January 1961 auto accident.) Blanc changed it, supposedly, to bring it more in line with what Butler had been doing, thereby making it less nasal–and a bit more Art Carney-ish–than he originally wanted it to be. But here, as early as the third episode in production, we hear the so-called “post-accident Barney voice” when Barney says the line, “Hold on, Fred–I’ll have you out in a jiffy!” and a moment later, when he grabs a croquet mallet to knock Fred loose: “I think a number five mallet will do the trick!”
I consulted both Jerry Beck and, if memory serves, Mark Kausler about this long ago, and both agreed that Blanc’s voice does indeed change in certain early episodes. It’s likely that he was experimenting with the alternative voice very early on, and Hanna-Barbera, with too tight a budget and schedule to do many retakes, kept it in. It’s equally possible that he slipped into that voice accidentally in certain scenes, liked the way it sounded, and decided to do it that way permanently later on. As no one who was there is alive to tell us, we probably will never know for sure.
But back to Fred and Barney, who are still trying to pull this charade off–with not much success thus far. Barney’s mallet whack not only knocks Fred out of the flower pot, but through the wickets and into a tree. A further problem arises, however, when Barney discovers he’s locked himself out, and can’t let Fred in through the door. After failing to accomplish the old “alley-oop” handhold (fat Fred just drives poor Barney into the ground like a tent stake) they decide to use a ladder.
Rather noisily, both fall through the window inside–fortunately, Betty’s a heavy sleeper. At least, until Barney nudges her and tells her a prowler is in the room.
Fred goes into his “scary faces” routine, and Betty screams, but Fred didn’t quite figure on what would happen next. She grabs his arm, and with a “Ah-sitake-ha!” throws him back and forth a few times, finally hurling him out the window. All the while yelling “Help, Barney, help!”, no less.
Fred, having had enough, decides to beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile, let’s check in on the real prowler, who still happens to be at Fred’s place.
Fred tries to sneak back into his house, hoping that Wilma won’t hear him come in. He doesn’t know, however, that the real prowler happens to be watching him: “Talk about nerve–two houses in one night!” he says as he watched Fred tiptoe in. The prowler confronts Fred, quickly throwing him out.
Deciding to call the police over at Barney’s, Fred scrambles through Barney’s window again. Big mistake, as Betty grabs him, and with another “Ah-sitake-ha!”, he finds himself hurled around again. Of course, this time we only hear her reaction rather than see her–we can’t use too much animation, after all. I rather like the remark coming from Fred at this point, who says what we’re all thinking after Betty yells for the police: “She needs the police??”
Shortly thereafter, Barney explains it’s actually Fred masquerading as a prowler; Betty decides to call Wilma and warn her about her “big fat practical joker”. But when she calls, who should happen to be ransacking the bedroom but the real prowler, who actually answers the phone and hands it to Wilma! Wilma screams (earning a confused “Shee! Dames! from the prowler) but thinks it’s Fred (naturally) when Betty informs her of Fred’s little scheme. Remember this for later…
Meanwhile, the real Fred (are you following all this?) hears Wilma’s screams and goes running toward the house. Unfortunately, he still has his prowler get-up on, and is greeted by a phony scream and even phonier spiel from Wilma: “It-is-the-prowler! Luckily-I-have-had-judo-lessons–which my chintzy husband didn’t want to pay for!” Her kick sends him backward into the real prowler’s bag, prompting the prowler to remark: “Hey buster, haven’t we
The real prowler’s getting tired of Fred fast, and decides to pitch him out the nearest window. This time, Fred wisely chooses to stay where he is. Now, just the real prowler’s left in the house–but Wilma thinks it’s still Fred. (Don’t you just love these escalating sitcom misunderstandings?)
She decides to give the real prowler–who she thinks is Fred–lesson number five, but we don’t get to see the actual thrashing. We just hear it from outside the window, as we see Fred’s incredulous reaction. One final throw from Wilma sends the real prowler right through the wall, and on top of Fred. (Stronger than we thought, that Wilma).
The prowler, atop the debris, remarks “Lady, you been takin’ judo lessons!” to which Fred rises from underneath the pile and adds, “That’s for sure!” When Wilma realizes she’d just fought the real prowler, she screams again, prompting the confused prowler to tell Fred, “It’s all yours, bud–I’m cuttin’ outta here!”
When Barney and Betty come over to inspect the wreckage, Fred tells them a real prowler showed up–and true to form, she screamed and went under the bed. Fred mocks Wilma by saying, “Did the big bad prowler scare you?” but his smugness doesn’t last long. The real prowler returns to collect his loot, which sends Betty, Barney, and Fred cowering under the bed with Wilma. The prowler can only remark to the audience, “Boy, this is a for-real nuthouse–that’s for sure!” (In my concluding thoughts, I’ll discuss the use of that phrase in this episode, and why it contributes so much to the humor).
In the tag at the end, everybody’s signed up for lessons–including Fred and Barney. As Barney says, “A guy’s gotta learn to protect himself–from his wife!” There’s a couple of funny bits at the end, politically incorrect though they are: as Rockimoto explains the various levels they can advance through for “just a few measly dollar” (“gold medal, diamond medal, et-a-cet-er-a, et-a-cet-er-a) we get Fred’s whispered wisecrack, “What does ‘et-a-cet-er-a, et-a-cet-er-a,’ mean in Japanese–sucker??” (I’m ashamed to admit my brothers and I used to imitate Rockimoto when we used to watch this episode).
But we’re not quite to the end yet–seems there’s another customer: the prowler, who asks, “How’s business? Pretty good?” Rockimoto gets the rather funny closing line,” You not just-a whistling Dixie!” Iris out.
“The Prowler” is so polished, so “right”, so typically “Flintstones”, it at times can be hard–very hard, indeed–to believe it was only the third episode produced. It “belongs” in a later time, we think to ourselves; all the elements are there. The characters are starting to look as we know them to look, act as we know them to act. The roughness and harshness that plagued the “The Swimming Pool” and “The Flintstone Flyer” are gone; when Wilma unleashed her fury on Fred in “The Flintstone Flyer”, it seemed painful. Now, when she does something even more brutal, it seems funny. It’s a “cartoonier”, more slapstick kind of mayhem–she appears to have an impossible amount of strength, as she drives the unfortunate prowler, whom she’s mistaken for Fred, through a stone wall. It’s all the funnier for being accidental–no threatening Fred with a bowling ball to the skull here.
The writers by this point have found their groove as well–this really is a rather complex story for a cartoon, as misunderstanding piles upon misunderstanding, calamity upon calamity. It’s also more verbally sophisticated than anything we’ve seen so far: they’re starting to play with words now, getting laughs out of innocuous utterances. They take one little phrase–”that’s for sure”–and treat it as if it in itself were a running gag; it’s spoken by Wilma at the beginning, by Fred once, by Barney once, by the prowler once, and it’s practically Professor Rockimoto’s catchphrase. If, that is, a one-shot character can be said to have a catchphrase.
You might have noticed I have made very little mention up to now of the very politically incorrect Professor Rockimoto, and I haven’t for good reason. He matters so little, his un-P.C. nature can be easily overlooked. He’s merely the catalyst of the story–the “McGuffin”, if you will. He serves his function when necessary, and is quickly gone; he also, despite the stereotypical nature of his character, is kind of a funny little guy, particularly when he delivers the closing line at the end. (Mel Blanc’s delivery contributes much to what appeal the character has, certianly).
Finally, “The Prowler” has that elusive quality, that intangible something that marks a great episode–repeatability. It makes people want to see it again, and so imprints itself on people’s minds, it stays with them for years, even decades. The 2001 made-for TV revival on Cartoon Network, Flintstones On The Rocks, not only paid tribute to Ed Benedict’s drawing style in the “look” of the characters and backgrounds, but gave a little wink and a nod to this episode when Wilma at one point attacks a pursuer with a “Ah-sitake-HA!”
If the word “classic” is defined as “enduring through time”, then “The Prowler” more than meets that definition.
That’s for sure.
(Edited for clarity, 3/2/10)
(Picture added, 3/2/10)