Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 13, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Chess Nuts © Max Fleischer‘Chess Nuts’ is by all means one of the Fleischers’ most original Talkartoons.

The cartoon’s setting is a chess game, and it opens with two live action players playing the game. The ashes of the cigar of one of the players falls down on the black queen, revealing it to be Betty Boop, while Bimbo appears to be the white king. Then there’s a cut to a short stop motion sequence of the pieces moving across the board. Only then we really enter the chess world.

In this chess world the black king or ‘Old King Cole’ (the dirty old man of ‘Mask-a-Raid‘ from 1931) tries to force queen Betty to love him, but king Bimbo saves her from his clutches. Most of the action takes place in a castle next to the chessboard game.

There’s a strong sense of stream-of-consciousness in this short, which simply bursts with random and weird throwaway gags, up to the very last shot, in which we suddenly return to the chess players. The result is a wildly surreal film, and one of the most interesting films the Fleischers ever made. Betty Boop is the very sexy star of this cartoon. Koko, on the other hand, only plays a rather insignificant part.

Watch ‘Chess Nuts’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Chess Nuts’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 11, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Minnie the Moocher © Max FleischerThis talkartoon is completely built around the title song, Cab Calloway’s huge 1931 hit ‘Minnie the Moocher’, which is sung by the great jazz singer himself.

In fact, the cartoon opens with a live action shot of Calloway showing some of his extraordinary dance moves in front of his orchestra. We then cut to a home setting with Betty Boop and her parents, which are apparently of German Jewish descent. Her father scorns her, his jabbering head suddenly changing into a cylinder phonograph. Betty flees crying to her room, and decides to leave home, and she rings Bimbo to come along. This sequence is accompanied by the 1929 hit song ‘Mean to Me’.

The couple flees to the countryside, which quickly becomes very scary, so they hide inside a cave, where the theme song starts. Inside the cave they encounter a walrus-shaped ghost (a rotoscoped Cab Calloway) giving an almost complete rendering of ‘Minnie the Moocher’. During the song we watch images of e.g. skeletons drinking and some prisoner ghosts getting the electric chair. In the end, the ghosts chase the couple back home to the tune of ‘Tiger Rag’.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ makes little sense, and is not as good as the later ‘Snow White’, which also stars Calloway. However, Calloway’s performance is so intoxicating, and the Fleischers’ sense of humor so mesmerizing, it remains a joy to watch the cartoon throughout.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ was the first of handful Fleischer cartoons featuring popular jazz stars, the others being ‘Snow White’ and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ from 1933, also featuring Calloway, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re dead you Rascal You” (1932) featuring Louis Armstrong, and ‘I Heard‘ (1933) featuring Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Watch ‘Minnie the Moocher’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Minnie the Moocher’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 June 28, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Farmerette © Van BeurenIn ‘The Farmerette’ a sexy kitten applies as ‘farmerette’ at an ailing farm.

The farmer (a goat) asks her if she can get the farm on its feet. And indeed, she can, because as soon as she sings ‘Some of these Days’, the farm animals start working, and the hens are laying eggs by the dozen, anticipating similar gags in the Warner Bros. cartoon ‘The Swooner Crooner’ (1944).

These scenes are accompanied by Gene Rodemich’s peppy jazz music, showing that he was one of the best cartoon composers of the era. Unfortunately, the embryonic story is soon abandoned, and we witness a donkey, a sheep, a dog and a cow perform a barbershop quartet song.

With ‘The Farmerette’ the Van Beuren studio apparently tried to copy Max Fleischer’s success with Betty Boop. The kitten sings with a voice very similar to that of Betty, and her main feature is her sexiness. Sadly, the cartoon is troubled by erratic animation and poor staging, so typical for the Van Beuren studio, and the kitten never approaches Betty Boop’s charm.

Watch ‘The farmerette’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Farmerette’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey, John Foster, Frank Moser & Jerry Shields
Release Date:
 June 2, 1929
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Polo Match © Van Beuren.jpgLong before ‘Mickey’s Polo Team’ (1936) or Walt Disney took on playing polo himself, the Van Beuren studio visited the game in the silent short ‘Polo Match’.

The cartoon stars a couple of mice, with the hero being indistinguishable from the others. The mouse plays a polo game with the others on mechanical horses, and most of the gags (even the final one) stem from the horses falling apart. Meanwhile the hero’s sweetheart is harassed and later kidnapped by a mean old cat. Our hero pursuits the cat and saves his sweetheart.

The cartoon is pretty fast and full of action, but none of the gags are interesting enough to keep the viewer’s attention. Nevertheless, the short was re-released in 1932 as ‘Happy Polo’, with an added soundtrack.

It’s pretty likely that the inspiration for the mechanical horses stems from the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon ‘Ozzie of the Mounted‘ (1928) in which Oswald rides a mechanical horse himself. In any case, mechanical horses were clearly much easier to animate than real ones, and one was reused in ‘Hot Tamale’ (1930).

Watch ‘Polo Match’ (or ‘Happy Polo’) yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Polo Match/Happy Polo’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: February 15, 1932
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mechanical Man © Walter LantzIn 1932 Oswald was redesigned to give him a more boy-like appearance. ‘Mechanical Man’ features this new design and opens with Oswald an his girlfriend playing the piano together.

Meanwhile Peg Leg Pete has built a robot, which needs a human heart. Pete kidnaps Oswald’s girlfriend and takes it to his hideout, followed by Oswald. After a long pursuit Oswald manages to get rid of Pete, and rescuing his sweetheart. But it’s a goat who rescues the two from the robot.

When you read this, the cartoon seems to make some sense, but the real thing is rather different: there’s a lot happening on the screen, and nonsensical gags fill every scene. For example, during the chase scene, various skeletons appear at random, giving the cartoon its typical horror atmosphere, but adding nothing otherwise. This gives the cartoon a rather stream-of-consciousness-like character, and at every point one expects Oswald to wake up from this random nightmare.

Watch ‘Mechanical Man’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mechanical Man’ is available on the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 26, 1932
Stars: Lilian Roth
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Down Among the Sugar Cane © Max FleischerIn this Screen Song Lillian Roth sings the entertaining and jazzy title song in a lively performance.

The animated introduction is not particularly interesting, and even a little boring. It focuses on an old man planting (candy) sugar canes, which is then visited by beavers and by a bee, who invites his queen for a walk among the canes. Enter Lillian Roth.

The animation re-enters at the second chorus, and this part is much more interesting to watch than the introduction: in this sequence the animation quite literally illustrates the lyrics, with enjoyable results. In this respect ‘Down Among the Sugar Cane’ is one of the more satisfying Screen Songs.

Watch ‘Down Among the Sugar Cane’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Down Among the Sugar Cane’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 12, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Stopping the Show © Max Fleischer‘Stopping the Show’ is Betty Boop’s first cartoon under her own name, starting a series that would only end, after 88 entries, in 1939.

In ‘Stopping the Show’, she’s the highlight of a show that is half cinema half theater. The show starts off with a “noose reel”, followed by a screening of a short cartoon (!) starring Bimbo and Koko. Then Betty enters the stage. She starts with singing ‘That’s My Weakness Now’, which in 1928 had been a hit song for her source of inspiration, Helen Kane. Then she does imitations of Fanny Brice and Maurice Chevalier.

By now, Betty is so well animated, that she feels like a real character, who easily steals the hearts of the audience. She’s a real cartoon star, second only to Mickey Mouse. Her performance makes ‘Stopping the Show’ a delightful watch, even though it lacks the surrealism of earlier outings.

Watch ‘Stopping the Show’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Stopping the Show’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 1, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Betty Boop Limited © Max FleischerIn this short Betty and the gang are practicing a show on a train.

The show starts with Betty Boop singing a short song, followed by Bimbo who does some juggling, and Koko performing some rotoscoped tap dancing on Felix Arndt’s song Nola.

This short is unique in the Talkartoon canon for containing no less than two running gags: one is a tiny cat singing the old-fashioned song “Silver Threads Among the Gold” between the main acts, the other is a kangaroo who desperately tries to go to the toilet (or is he?).

The cartoon is lively, but pales when compared to other, more surreal entries of 1931-1933. It was the Fleischer’s last Talkartoon, and the first to carry Betty Boop’s name in the title. The character had become Fleischer’s star, being second to Mickey Mouse only. Thus, in her next cartoon, ‘Stopping the Show‘, Betty Boop would star her own series, which would last until 1939.

Watch ‘The Betty Boop Limited’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Betty Boop Limited’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 12, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Dizzy Red Riding Hood © Max FleischerFollowing Van Beuren’s ‘Red Riding Hood‘ earlier that year, the Fleischer’s did there own take on Perrault’s famous fairy tale.

In this short Betty Boop is a particularly sexy Little Red Riding Hood. Bimbo wants to accompany her on her journey, but she rejects him twice. Nevertheless he follows her secretly. He disposes of the wolf first, reaping its skin off to disguise himself as the wolf to win Betty over.

This short simply bubbles over with surrealism and strange animation cycles. The cartoon is brought as a children’s story, but rarely did a cartoon have such strong sexual content. The best part in that respect is a close-up of Betty Boop’s legs, while her garment falls off several times.

The original mix of sex and surrealism makes ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ a highlight of the pre-code era, and it certainly deserves to be seen.

Watch ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 5, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Jack and the Beanstalk © Max FleischerOnly three months after Van Beuren’s ‘The Family Shoe’, the Fleischer studio released their retelling of the fairy tale in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’.

Despite being released after ‘Bimbo’s Initation‘, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ features Bimbo in his old design. Bimbo plays the part of Jack. He is prompted to plant some magic beans, after a giant in the sky has dropped a cigar on him. The beans soon sprout into a giant beanstalk, which takes Bimbo to the clouds. There he discovers Betty Boop, who’s the giant’s prisoner, making pea soup for him. Bimbo ties the giant and flees with Betty on the magic hen, which changes into a car when hitting the road. But an obnoxious mouse releases the giant who follows them using cars as roller-skates.

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is a very enjoyable, but weird and highly surreal version of the classic tale. It was the last Talkartoon to feature Betty Boop with dog ears. In all her subsequent films she would be fully human.

The short features ‘Sweepin’ The Clouds Away’ as its theme song, which had been a huge hit for Maurice Chevalier in 1930. Two years later Disney would visit similar grounds in ‘Giantland‘, which is, as you may expect, way less surreal, but much better animated.

Watch ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 10, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★
Review:

Admission Free © Max FleischerIn ‘Admission Free’ Betty Boop works as a ticket seller in a penny arcade hall.

We’re watching Koko being knocked out by a boxing ball, a monkey watching a boxing game in a mutoscope, and Bimbo trying his luck at a shooting gallery. When he fails to hit pipes and ducks, Bimbo tries to shoot rabbits. One of these wanders into the forest. Bimbo follows him. Suddenly we’re in the forest, never to return to the arcade. Betty Boop only reenters in the last scene, when the rabbit blows Bimbo up into the air with some fireworks. Suddenly Betty is with Bimbo on a large sky-rocket. Iris out.

‘Admission Free’ makes very little sense, and is terribly unfunny. It’s only noteworthy for being the first cartoon to feature Betty Boop’s very own theme song: ‘Made of pen and ink, she can win you with a wink. Ain’t she cute? (Boop-oop-a-doop), Sweet Betty‘.

Watch ‘Admission Free’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Admission Free’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 20, 1932
Stars: Ethel Merman, Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating:
Review:

Let me Call you Sweetheart © Max Fleischer‘Let Me Call You Sweetheart’ is a Screen Song featuring Ethel Merman singing the 1911 hit song.

The cartoon opens with Betty Boop being a baby sitter in a park where Bimbo is a park warden. Bimbo doesn’t try to hide his lust, panting in front of our female hero. To be with Betty, Bimbo kicks off the baby-carriage. The baby falls into the water, steals a hot dog and plays with a fountain. When he returns to the loving couple, it’s night already. Enter Ethel Merman. At the end cartoon there’s some strange sequence with a chicken hatching three eggs, and the chicks being followed by a cat.

Unfortunately, this scene cannot rescue the short, and the cartoon remains completely forgettable.

Watch ‘Let me Call you Sweetheart’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Let me Call you Sweetheart’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 22, 1932
Stars: Les Reis, Artie Dunn, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning © Max FleischerIn this Screen Song Les Reis and Artie Dunn, a.k.a. The Wandering Minstrels, make their screen debut to sing the World War I title song by Irving Berlin.

The cartoon sequence contains many military gags, while Betty Boop introduces the bouncing ball. The most interesting part of this mediocre cartoon is the morning scene, in which we watch trees, a cannon, and even fire and smoke waking up.

Betty Boop already had her picture featured in ‘Any Little Girl that’s a Nice Little Girl‘, and Kitty from Kansas City in the Screen Song of the same name could also have been her, but it’s this cartoon that marks Betty Boop’s first appearance in a Screen Song, underlining her popularity in 1932. She would appear in six more Screen Songs, the last being ‘Popular Melodies’ from 1933.

Watch ‘Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Oh! How I hate to Get up in the Morning’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 8, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Dancing Fool © Max FleischerIn ‘The Dancing Fool’ Bimbo and Koko are painters, who try to paint the outside of a large building in a lengthy and boring intro.

Then they go painting the words ‘Betty Boop’s dancing school’ on the window of that very school. Immediately they go inside themselves, where Betty’s teaching several animals how to dance. This leads to several shots of dancing animals.

This short contains no plot and only a few gags. Its highlight is a scene of strange birds, who dance through, above and under each other. The animators must have thought the same way, for these weird birds appear no less than three times on the screen.

Watch ‘The Dancing Fool’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Dancing Fool’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Crazy Town © Max FleischerIn ‘Crazy Town’ Betty Boop and Bimbo take a streetcar to Crazy Town, where everything is the other way round.

Unfortunately, this great idea doesn’t really lead to a funny cartoon. We’re watching e.g. fish in the sky and birds in the water, an elephant with a real trunk and a fish fishing for a person. In a lengthy sequence Bimbo is a barber adding hair to his customers. None of these scenes even raise a chuckle. In fact, the cartoon’s only interesting part is it’s opening, because the story unfolds like a real book.

It’s weird to realize that as soon as the Fleischers deliberately tried to show a surreal world, they failed, while their ‘normal’ shorts were full of mesmerizing surrealism (e.g. the earlier ‘Mask-a-raid‘ and ‘Chess Nuts‘ or ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle’ from later that year). The theme song of this cartoon is the 1931 hit ‘Foolish Facts’.

Watch ‘Crazy Town’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Crazy Town’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 5, 1932
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★
Review:

The Robot © Max FleischerEven though ‘The Robot’ was released half a year after ‘Bimbo’s Initiation‘ (1931) it features Bimbo in his design before his make-over in that film.

In this film Bimbo is courting a female character, who only wants to marry him, when he can lick ‘One Round Mike’ in a boxing match. Bimbo accepts, but when it’s his turn he builds a robot out of his car to win the game.

Betty Boop has a small cameo in this cartoon when she rushes outside to revive Bimbo’s car-robot (or is she Bimbo’s girlfriend but in a different design? The Fleischers were inconsistent enough to be unclear on this). Apart from this short scene, there’s little to enjoy in ‘The Robot’. The most interesting part maybe Bimbo’s way of courting his sweetheart, which he does by ‘television’, a sort of Skype avant la lettre.

Strangely enough, the idea of a boxing robot was reused in ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from 1933, with equally weak results. There was something going on in 1932 with boxing robots anyway, for also Popeye socks a robot in the ring in the Popeye Sunday comic strip of April, 24 and May 1, 1932. In any case, to most people in the Great Depression robots were the ultimate terror, as unemployment already was a major problem. Luckily, no robot would be used in any factory until the 1960s. And boxing robots still haven’t seen the light of day, yet.

Spread from the April 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions

Spread from the April 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions

More on the robot craze of the early 1930s can be found here and here.

Watch ‘The Robot’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Robot’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 April 23, 1932
Rating:
Review:

Joint Wipers © Van BeurenIn ‘Joint Wipers’ Tom and Jerry are plumbers who desperately try to fix a large leak in a woman’s house.

The duo only manages to drain the lady of her own house, together with her pets, and followed by several other animals. Meanwhile the apartment gets flooded, and at one point the whole building washes away.

Like other Tom and Jerry cartoons ‘Joint Wipers’ suffers from bad animation and an absence of timing. The cartoon’s highlight, if there is any, is when Tom & Jerry celebrate their profession in song, while drops of water play the piano.

Watch ‘Joint Wipers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Joint Wipers’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 March 26, 1932
Rating:
Review:

In the Bag © Van Beuren‘In the Bag’ opens the same way as the Waffles and Don short ‘The Haunted Ship‘ (1930): with the two main protagonists flying a plane that soon crashes.

This time the plane crashes into some Western setting, where Tom and Jerry meet a villain. We can also watch Jerry performing some impossible lasso tricks. Then the two go to a saloon where they perform a Mills Brothers-like song. Unfortunately, the villain appears, robbing everybody, but Jerry saves the day, bringing him back and earning a $1000 reward. Tom then steals the money, or does he?

From beginning to end, ‘In the Bag’ makes little sense at all. The film is surprisingly low on gags, and the action is devoid of any timing. The result is one of the weakest of Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry films.

Watch ‘In the Bag’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘In the Bag’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date:
 February 27, 1932
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rabid Hunters © Van BeurenIn ‘Rabid Hunters’ Tom and Jerry are hunters, who try to catch a rabbit with their semi-anthropomorphized dog and horse.

The rabbit appears to be an early forerunner of Bugs Bunny, outwitting all four characters to a jazzy upbeat score. This soundtrack, by Gene Rodemich, is the absolute highlight of this otherwise erratic, boring and terribly poorly animated short. Also noteworthy is a hallucinatory scene at a tree branch that has to be seen to be believed. Like the Silly Symphony ‘The Fox Hunt‘ from a year earlier, the cartoon ends with a skunk.

Watch ‘Rabid Hunters’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rabid Hunters’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date:
 January 30, 1932
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Rocketeers © Van BeurenWhile Van Beuren’s Aesop’s Fables gained some quality, the Tom and Jerry series remained downright poor in terms of storytelling, staging and animation.

For example, the opening scenes of ‘Rocketeers’ are so deeply drenched in the 1920’s comic tradition that the scene’s silent acting feels terribly old-fashioned. In it, Tom and Jerry are members of the Royal Experimental Society, firing themselves to the moon in an over-sized sky-rocket. Then the cartoon takes quite an unexpected turn: instead of flying to the moon, the rocket plummets immediately and falls into the ocean, reaching the sea floor, where Tom and Jerry encounter some sea monsters and some skeletons (looking back to the Waffles and Don cartoon ‘The Haunted Ship‘ from 1930). But just when one starts to prepare for yet another horror-inspired cartoon, the duo hits on some sexy mermaids. Tom & Jerry perform a song, while the mermaids dance.

The designs of the mermaids are halfway those of Fleischer’s ‘Barnacle Bill‘ (1930) and Disney’s later ‘King Neptune‘ from September 1932. Their stylized, pretty human designs contrast greatly with Tom & Jerry’s own primitive features, and are without doubt the highlight of the cartoon.

Tom and Jerry would fly a rocket again in their last cartoon ‘The Phantom Rocket’, which also plummets into the sea (1934).

Watch ‘Rocketeers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rocketeers’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’

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