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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Stars: Arthur Jarrett, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Popular Melodies © Max Fleischer‘Popular Melodies’ is a Screen Song devoted to singer Arthur Jarrett, a crooner who is all but forgotten today. Surprisingly enough, the so-called popular tunes he sings aren’t well-known either, except for Betty’s theme song with which the cartoon ends.

The animation part of this cartoon features a painter who tries to paint with a number of noisy children playing around. When his painting is ruined by one of the brats, he decides to drive to the countryside, but the children join them. There he paints a walking tree and a moving rock, which transforms into singer Arthur Jarrett. Jarrett sings a three songs. During the second song he draws a picture of Betty, who joins him in her own theme song.

Then we cut back to the painter and the children. Oddly, the song is not continued, only its instrumental music. This scene is remarkably because of its animation of figures in white on black, unseen since Emile Cohl’s films. These figures soon flee the painter’s canvas, resulting in a rather scary finale, with the spooky shapes walking and dancing through the countryside. Stange enough, the cartoon ends with a devil wishing the children “pleasant dreams, and good night”. Because of this finale ‘Popular Melodies’ is one of the most interesting of all Screen Songs, even if its star and his first two songs are utterly forgettable. It was also the last of six Screen Songs to feature Betty Boop.

Watch ‘Popular Melodies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Popular Melodies’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 10, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Penthouse © Max FleischerIn ‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ Bimbo and Koko have a chemical laboratory.

Across the street, on a roof terrace, Betty is having a shower, stealing their attention. This part contains a particularly sexy scene of a towel drying Betty by itself. Meanwhile, their cat starts an experiment on its own, resulting in a Frankenstein-like monster, who starts threatening Betty, walking some wires to cross the street. This scene is the highlight of this cartoon, as the movements of the monster, Koko, and Bimbo are perfectly timed to the hot big band jazz accompanying the action. In the end, Betty transforms the monster into a giant flower, dancing on the rooftop with clearly rotoscoped movements.

As one may have noticed, ‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ makes little sense, and its absurdity is greatly enhanced by the many throwaway gags fired at the audience. It makes this cartoon one of the last highlights of the Fleischers’ idiosyncratic pre-code animation style.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 12
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Is My Palm Read
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Snow-White

‘Betty Boop’s Penthouse’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 17, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Is My Palm Read © Max FleischerIn ‘Is My Palm Read’ Bimbo is a fortune-teller, assisted by Koko the Clown.

Betty drops by to see her future told. Bimbo first sees in his crystal ball Betty as a naked baby, and second as being shipwrecked and washed ashore an island. There she sings ‘All by myself’, only to attract a bunch of evil ghosts. Luckily, he Bimbo himself is there to rescue her, but as soon as he has revealed himself, the ghosts appear out of the crystal ball to chase the duo once again (Koko is completely forgotten at this stage).

‘Is My Palm Read’ is one of the Betty Boop cartoons strongly exploiting her erotic character. For example, when Betty enters the room, Bimbo and Koko use special lighting to see her legs right through her elegant dress. On the island we see Betty undressing and catch her briefly in her underwear, although she remains scantily clothed in a sexy tropical costume throughout the island scenes. The result is an erotic and surrealistic cartoon, which doesn’t make much sense, but which is over before you know it.

Watch ‘Is My Palm Read’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 11
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse

‘Is My Palm Read’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

 

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 16, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Ker-Choo © Max FleischerBetty, Bimbo and Koko are joining a car race. Betty Boop is late, because she has a cold, and when she arrives she sings a song about it. In the end she wins the car race by sneezing.

Although ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ belongs to Betty Boop’s golden era, it’s unfortunately one of Betty’s more boring cartoons. In fact, the best gags are the silly ones with which the cartoon starts. Because she wears a driver’s costume, Betty is also less sexy than usual, and somehow it seems this cartoon that points to the design used one year later, when Betty Boop fell victim of the stricter Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 9
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Museum
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions

‘Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Directors: Frank Sherman & George Stallings
Release Date:
 March 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Puzzled Pals © Van Beuren‘Puzzled Pals’ opens with a stork trying to deliver his baby, but finding every home hostile to him.

The bird finally manages to drop the baby at Tom & Jerry’s doorstep. They take the baby in, but he turns out to be a tough brat, kicking everybody’s face in, and being a complete nuisance, while Tom and Jerry try to solve a jig-saw puzzle. At one point the brat gets hold of a giant vacuum cleaner, sucking almost everything in the house, including the clothes on Jerry’s tattoo, until Tom saves the day. In the end the stork incomprehensibly returns and takes the baby away.

Vacuum cleaners were still a luxury in the 1930’s, and this cartoon may contain the first animated gags on this domestic device.

Watch ‘Puzzled Pals’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Puzzled Pals’ 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 31, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Happy Hoboes © Van BeurenTom and Jerry are bums living in a slum. When they have to leave, they ride a train as hoboes, with their home and all.

When it starts snowing (in a scene which has to be seen to be believed) the train gets lost and ends in a wood, where a lumberjack is fed on roast chicken by a stereotyped Chinese cook with rather original cooking methods.

Apart from Gene Rodemich’s excellent musical score, there’s little to enjoy in ‘Happy Hoboes’, with its silent era animation, stream-of-consciousness-like string of events, and lack of gags. However, the snowing scene, in which two clouds transform into two winged women having a cushion fight, is so curious and so original, it’s definitely worth watching, even if the rest of the cartoon is not.

Watch ‘Happy Hoboes’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Happy Hoboes’ 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 6, 1933
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Rating: ★★
Review:

Tight Rope Tricks © Van BeurenTight Rope Tricks’ is a pretty plotless film in which Tom and Jerry visit a circus. They even perform themselves, dressed as acrobats.

The short consists mostly of unrelated gags, but the finale gives the short a nice twist, reusing a lion and an elephant from earlier gags. Also featured is a girl singing with a very Betty Boop-like voice on the tightrope. According to Tralfaz this voice was done by Margie Hines, who had previously voiced Betty Boop. In the end we watch Tom and Jerry flooding the lions, and escaping on the elephant, with the girl on their side.

As always in Van Beuren’s Tom and Jerry films, the animation is terrible: part is still a relic from the silent era (it doesn’t help that some animation is recycled from cartoons from 1930), and all animation is completely devoid of weight. The designs, too, are unappealing and inconsistent. Especially the animal designs are downright poor. Tom and Jerry were anything but on a winning streak.

Watch ‘Tight Rope Tricks’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Directors: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack
Release Date:
 March 2, 1933
Stars: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, King Kong
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

King Kong © Universal‘King Kong’ is, of course, a live action movie, but I follow Andrew Osmond in including the film in the animation canon, as it is the first live action movie to feature an animated star – indeed Kong gets star billing in the opening credits, after the live action actors. The feature is also arguably the first live action movie in which animation is used not incidentally, but extensively, to the point of dominating several scenes.

‘King Kong’ is the father of all monster movies, and much of animator Willis O’Brien’s animation can be regarded as spectacular special effects, but in his portrayal of Kong himself O’Brien has put a surprisingly amount of character. Especially Kong’s death scene is astonishing. There’s real tragedy and sadness in Kong’s eyes and in his last caresses of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray, the first of all scream queens). This is no mere feat, as character animation was still unheard of at the time – even Walt Disney was not that far – and it would take stop motion artists several years to reach a similar sense of emotional depth.

Most of the film, however, is not as much about emotion as well as thrills. The film’s main focus is to thrill the audience, and as soon as Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the natives of Skull Island, it does so relentlessly. The complete island is one big threat to the hapless crew that tries to regain Ann from the giant ape. But also to Ann and Kong themselves, for Kong has to rescue his human love interest no less than three times: from a large Tyrannosaurus rex, from a Plesiosaurus, which moves remarkably comfortably on land like a snake, and from a Pteranodon. This results in three fights, in which O’Brien can show off his skills. Especially the first fight is magnificent. It’s surprisingly lengthy, and it has a real sense of effort, with both forceful animals fighting for their lives. O’Brien also animates a surprisingly lifelike Stegosaurus, and a sauropod that strangely enough has gone carnivorous. And, of course, the girl, some other people, and the planes, at times, when in interaction with Kong.

Obviously not all the 1933 special effects have stood the test of time, but the trick photography is surprisingly good, and at times live action and animation blend into each other seamlessly. Some scenes are no less than astounding in this respect, even after all these years: a good example is a scene depicting Kong handling a tree trunk on which several crew members are clung. One really does believe the animated figure handles the tree trunk, which is filmed in live action. O’Brien has managed to bring a great sense of weight into Kong’s actions.

Another wonderful example of great blending of animation and live action is Kong peeling off Ann Darrow’s dress. This scene is a little erotic, and deepens Kong’s simple and playful character. Of course, O’Brien was not solely responsible for Kong’s portrayal. At times we see close-ups of Kong’s face, which is a giant non-animated model, and some scenes feature a large, mechanical hand. Nevertheless, most of Kong’s appeal is due to O’Brien’s animation. And the big ape has appeal! Indeed, the film is so iconic that Kong is still pretty famous today.

Unfortunately, not all aspects of the movie have aged well. For example, the natives, all portrayed by black people, are pretty backward, and even worse is Charlie, the Chinese cook, who is as cliche as possible, and who even cannot talk right. But the film succeeds in being a real thrill ride, and Fay Wray manages to squeeze more feelings in her one-dimensional role than one would expect. The other actors are less interesting, and pale when compared to O’Brien’s classic creation.

The film’s last 18 minutes take place in New York, and these scenes really make the film into the ancestor of all monster movies, with Kong wandering the streets, causing havoc, and crushing a subway car. However, Kong’s final scene on top of the Empire State Building changes the monster into an utterly tragic figure. Even Mark Steiner’s score, which follows the action closely, adds to the feeling, turning into sadder themes when Kong nears his end. The sole scene elevates the film above most of its successors. And it’s this particular scene, in which Kong battles the aeroplanes on top of the Empire State Building, that provides the movie’s most iconic picture.

Watch an excerpt from ‘King Kong’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

 

Director: Berthold Bartosch
Production Date:
 1930-1932
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

L'idée © Berthold BartoschWhile the cartoon industry flourished in the United States, animation film was developed as an art form in Europe.

In the 1920s Germany had lead the way, with films by Lotte Reiniger, Walter Ruttman and Oskar Fischinger, but by the early 1930’s France had taken over, albeit almost exclusively by foreigners, with great films like ‘Le roman de Renard’ (1929-1930) by Russian animator Władysław Starewicz, ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve‘ (1933) by his compatriot Alexandre Alexeïeff, ‘La joie de vivre’ (1934) by British artist Anthony Gross and American artist Hector Hoppin, and ‘L’idée’ (1930-1932) by Austro-Hungarian animator Berthold Bartosch (1893-1968).

‘L’idée’ was based on a wordless novel of the same name by Belgian woodcut-artist Frank Masereel (1889-1972), who initially co-operated on the film, until he discovered how laborious animating really was. Masereel’s groundbreaking work has a strong expressionistic quality, which is also very present in Bartosch’s film.

Both the international character and the mood of the wordless film are greatly enhanced by the beautiful musical score by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger, who used the whooping sounds of the Ondes Martenot, an early electronic instrument invented in 1928, to great effects. According to Wikipedia, this makes Honegger’s score for ‘L’idée’ the first film music to employ and electronic instrument.

The film tells how an idea can originate and grow, despite dejection, oppression and censorship by the establishment. In practice, Bartosch’s idea has a strong communistic character, becoming an idea of the working class, and being oppressed by clear capitalistic forces. The idea itself is presented as a naked woman, symbol of innocence and purity, and she grows, accompanying the people who become victim of the oppression to the very end. The emotional highlight of the film is when she visits the very person who had invented her the night before his death sentence.

Bartosch had previously worked on Lotte Reiniger’s films, and used her cut-out technique on Frank Masereel’s stark cut-outs to a great effect. The imagery of Bartosch’s film is much more poetic, however, than Masereel’s own work, with a lot of soft-focus, and milky effects, especially on the idea itself, which Bartosch created with the help of soap. The film is also noteworthy for its great sense of depth in some scenes, which can reach a stunning level of complexity. There is for example a scene showing crowds and cars passing by a window, and another with numbers of soldiers marching. Bartosch achieved this sense of depth with a multi-plane camera of his own design, using several glass plates below each other. It’s interesting to note that his device predated Disney’s multiplane camera by five years. True, these soap- and multiplane techniques at times blur the images too much, rendering them too murky to understand what’s happening on the screen, but mostly the film is an excellent example of expressionistic storytelling, and what animation can do.

Unfortunately, the film itself suffered from censorship, delaying its release, which often only happened with an altered, less provocative intro text, and Bartosch never gained any money from it. Nevertheless, it was released in 1934, creating a sensation in Europe, with exception, of course, of Nazi Germany, where it was banned. Bartosch’s second film, ‘Saint Francis: Dreams and Nightmares’ (1933-1938), apparently an anti-war film, was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. After that Bartosch tried to work on a third film about the Cosmos, but because of his deteriorating health work was abandoned. He devoted the rest of his life to painting. Thus ‘L’idée’ sadly remains his only surviving film, but it’s a great testimony of Bartosch’s art, and without doubt it single-handedly places him in the pantheon of great animation film makers.

Watch ‘L’idée’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘L’idée’ is available on the Re:Voir DVD ‘Berthold Bartosch – l’idée’

Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date:
 June 10, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

I Like Mountain Music © Warner BrosIt’s midnight in the magazine shop, and the magazine come to life, starting with a few cowboys singing the title tune.

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is not the first of books-come-to-life cartoons, that was ‘Three’s a Crowd’ from 1932. But ‘I Like Mountain Music’ takes the concept a little further, stuffing the film with many caricatures of Hollywood stars, like Eddie Cantor, Ed Wynn, Edward G. Robinson, Jean Harlow, King Kong (Hollywood’s latest star), and even Benito Mussolini. Also featured is a remarkably realistic skater. I wonder who she is. It’s not likely Sonia Henie, who started her film career only in 1936.

The book-come-to-life concept was unique to Warner Bros. and was reused in many more, and more enjoyable cartoons like ‘Speaking of the Weather’ (1937), ‘Have You Got any Castles?’ (1938) and ‘Book Revue‘ (1946). This early short proves that the unique Warner Bros. style had a firm root in the Hugh-Harman era, even though it was to Frank Tashlin and Tex Avery to push it to its later heights.

Watch ‘I Like Mountain Music’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘I Like Mountain Music’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date:
 April 10, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Bosko in Person © Warner Bros.‘Bosko in Person’ is to Bosko what ‘Just Mickey‘ (1930) was to Mickey: a cartoon devoted solely to the star performing on stage.

Where Mickey was completely alone, Bosko gets help from Honey in an extraordinary song-and-dance extravaganza, including Bosko playing the piano, Honey dancing, Bosko tap-dancing, Bosko’s glove(!) reciting ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, Honey singing a blues and doing a Greta Garbo imitation, and Bosko imitating both Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante. The cartoon ends with a celebration of the end of the prohibition, which after 13 years ended in effect when on March 22, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized again.

Unfortunately, ‘Bosko in person’ is over-the-top, trying much too hard to make Bosko an appealing personality, which he isn’t. Indeed, when turning into Maurice Chevalier and Jimmy Durante he loses himself completely. Moreover, the cartoon is stuffed with repetition as some gags appear not once, but twice. The result is tiresome and desperately unfunny. In the end, the short is only noteworthy because of the caricatures of Hollywood stars.

Watch ‘Bosko in Person’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Bosko in Person’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date:
 January 16, 1933
Stars: Bosko, Honey, Rudolf Ising
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ride Him, Bosko © Warner Bros.This Looney Tune has a Western setting with Bosko starring as a singing cowboy, a new type of Hollywood star that has risen during the early 1930’s.

Bosko enters a saloon in Red Gulch, immediately starts a dance and goes on playing the piano. Meanwhile his girlfriend Honey rides a stagecoach, which is chased by three vicious bandits. This chase scene is simply stuffed with animation cycles. As Bosko is busy entertaining, it takes quite a while before Bosko rides off to rescue his sweetheart.

The complete cartoon is rich in action, but surprisingly low on gags (there’s one about a homosexual). It ends surprisingly however. Suddenly we cut back to three animators. Rudolph Ising asks “Say, how does Bosko save the girl?”, an animator replies: “I don’t know.”, and another: “Let’s go home”, leaving Bosko on his sheet of paper. This gag is pretty unconventional, but one cannot but feel a bit of laziness and disinterest in this scene, as if the animators didn’t care much for their own star themselves. Even so, Bosko would star in fourteen more Warner Brothers films, before Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising took him with them to MGM.

Watch ‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Ride Him, Bosko!’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume Six’

Directors: Harry Bailey
Release Date:
 July 14, 1933
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Rough on Rats © Van Beuren‘Rough on Rats’ is one of the more extraordinary films to come out of the Van Beuren studio.

No other contemporary studio tried as hard as Van Beuren to emulate Disney’s Silly Symphonies. ‘Rough on Rats’ is rather unique in that it even anticipates a Silly Symphony: its subject of three mischievous kittens makes it the direct ancestor of Disney’s Academy Award winning ‘Three Orphan Kittens‘ (1935), and Fleischer’s ‘We Did It‘ (1936).

In this film we watch three kittens wander through an abandoned grocery store. Then the black kitten gets kidnapped by an outrageously large mean rat. This leads to a battle sequence, reminiscent of the Silly Symphonies ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931), ‘The Bird Store‘ (1932) and ‘Bugs in Love‘ (1932). During this battle the kittens throw almost everything in sight at the vicious creature.

‘Rough on Rats’ is ripe with ambition, and pretty entertaining. Especially Gene Rodemich’s score is enjoyable throughout. Unfortunately, the animation varies between excellent to downright poor, and the designs are erratic, varying greatly between scenes. These shortcomings haunted the Van Beuren studios since its beginning, and it’s depressing to note that by 1933 the animators were still not able to tackle them. Doubtless this was influential to the studio’s lack of success. For example, the ideas in ‘Rough on Rats’ are more interesting than those in most of Warner Bros.’ or Ub Iwerks’s contemporary output, but as the execution is not on par with the ambition, the result is close to failure. And yet one cannot blame the studio trying. Anyhow, it was to Disney-alumnus Burt Gillett to teach the Van Beuren animators the Disney solutions to their problems…

‘Rough on Rats’was the last of the Aesop’s Fables (not including the Cubby the Bear cartoons, which appeared under the same flag). Apparently their outdated 1920’s title card and uninspired series name had the better of them. Nevertheless, one year later they would get a follow-up in the ‘Color Classics’, Van Beuren’s venture into color.

Watch ‘Rough on Rats’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Rough on Rats’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 February 24, 1933
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Panicky Pup © Van Beuren‘Panicky Pup’ is one of those very Silly Symphony-like Aesop’s Fables.

It starts unremarkable enough, with several farm animals making music and dancing to it. At one point the cartoon starts to focus on a pup, but the short really gains momentum when the pup chases a cat into a well. Almost immediately, he’s struck by guilt and the complete surroundings turn into a nightmare haunting him. During this sequence the scenery changes frequently around him, as if the pup is transported through time and space, adding to the surreal atmosphere.

‘Panicky Pup’ mixes Disney and Fleischer influences (comparable cartoons are Disney’s ‘The Cat’s Out‘ (1931) and Fleischer’s ‘Swing You Sinners!‘ (1930)), like no other studio did, with surprising, if uneven results. The cartoon is the direct ancestor of other guilt cartoons like ‘Pluto’s Judgement Day‘ (1936), ‘Pudgy Picks a Fight‘ (1937) and ‘Donald’s Crime’ (1945), showing that Van Beuren had a much more interesting and forward-looking outlook than most reviewers grant the ill-fated studio.

Watch ‘Panicky Pup’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Panicky Pup’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date:
 August 26, 1932
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Nursery Scandal © Van Beuren‘Nursery Scandal’ is Van Beuren’s direct answer to Walt Disney’s successful Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931), if a rather dingy one.

It’s night and the moon personally awakes some gnomes, who in turn awake Mother Goose. Mother Goose courts a scarecrow, much to the chagrin of the goose and the other nursery rhyme characters. At one point four gnomes start to sing nursery rhymes in a swinging close harmony style, leading to a long song-and-dance sequence in which we watch several nursery rhyme characters dancing, much like ‘Mother Goose Melodies’, but way jazzier. Composer Gene Rodemich is in excellent form in this cartoon, providing a highly enjoyable score. Notice the seemingly naked and very human fairy on top of the nursery rhyme book somewhere in the middle of the cartoon.

Watch ‘Nursery Scandal’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Nursery Scandal’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation from the Van Beuren Studio’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 4, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Cab Calloway
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Old Man of the Mountain © Max Fleischer‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ was the last of three Fleischer cartoons featuring Cab Calloway.

The cartoon is unique in that it uses Calloway’s swing music throughout the picture. The short uses two of Cab Calloway’s hits: the title song, which the Cab had recorded in June 1932; and during the chase scene ‘The Scat Song’, first recorded February 29, 1932.

The complete cartoon perfectly fits the jazzy score, and it’s musically the most perfect of the three Cab Calloway shorts. Unfortunately, this also means it’s devoid of any story, and relatively low on gags. Nevertheless, the sex-inclined atmosphere and the sizzling hot jazz easily make up for it.

The short starts with some live footage of Calloway and his orchestra. Then we cut to a lion warning everybody of the old man of the mountain. Soon, everybody’s fleeing from the old man of the mountain, except Betty. She goes up the mountain to meet him. The old man of the mountain chases her into a cave (somehow, all three Cab Calloway cartoons feature a cave). There the two sing a duet together, the only duet between a jazz singer and a cartoon star I know of. During this scene the old man’s moves are Calloway’s in rotoscope. Then the old man chases her down, until some animals capture the old guy and tie his limbs into a knot. At one point the old man captures Betty’s dress, leaving her in her underwear.

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is such a great cartoon one is extra sorry the Fleischers did not make any other cartoon featuring the Cab. One month later they would release ‘I Heard‘ featuring Don Redman, but that was the very last of the Fleischer’s great jazz cartoons. Even worse, by August 1933 Betty Boop’s own heydays were almost over. In 1934 she was bowdlerized by the Hays code, never to perform with hot jazz stars again.

Watch ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 18
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Mother Goose Land
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: I Heard

‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 31, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★★♕
Review:

Snow-White © Max FleischerOf all Fleischer cartoons ‘Snow-White’ is probably the most famous. And rightly so, because it brings the Fleischer’s unique brand of surrealism to the max, being simply stuffed with mesmerizing images, unexpected metamorphosis and stream-of-consciousness-like story flows.

The short is also the second of three cartoons featuring the unique voice of Cab Calloway, the others being ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ from five months later. According to Leslie Cabarga (‘The Fleischer Story’, p.64) the film was animated by one man, Doc Crandall. Indeed he’s the only animator credited on the title card. This may be the cause of the short’s remarkable inner consistency. For the images may make no sense, they do flow into each other in a seamless way, with Betty Boop’s ride into an ice coffin as a particular highlight of absurd logic.

The Fleischer’s ‘Snow-White’ has a winter setting. It starts classical enough with the queen consulting her magic mirror. But then Betty Boop enters the scene, making the knights fall apart and the queen’s head turn into a frying pan, symbolizing her angry jealousy. The queen orders ‘off with her head’, demonstrating the action with her own fingers, and soon Koko and Bimbo (as two knights) prepare for the execution. However, in a very strange string of events they disappear into the hole they’ve dug themselves, while the tree to which Betty is tied sets her free himself.

In another weird string of events Betty Boop ends in an ice coffin at the dwarfs’ door. They drag her into the ‘mystery cave’, followed by the queen, who, using her magic mirror, has turned herself into a witch. Koko and Bimbo also enter the cave. Koko starts singing the St. James Infirmary Blues, one of Calloway’s classic hits, with Cab Calloway’s voice and movements. But when the queen turns him into a ghost, Koko suddenly becomes able to morph into a gold chain and into a bottle, illustrating the lyrics of the song. Later the mirror turns the witch into a dragon, which chases the trio, until Bimbo turns it inside out.

There’s a lot going on in this mind-blowing cartoon, which is over before you know it. Being very, very unlike Disney’s later feature film, ‘Snow-White’ is an undisputed highlight of cartoon surrealism, matched by very few other cartoons (the other one which comes to mind is ‘Porky in Wackyland’ from 1938). With this short the Fleischers reached the pinnacle of their pre-code cartoon style, before a combination of the Hays code and a tendency to imitate Walt Disney more toned down their unique vision.

Watch ‘Snow-White’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 13
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Penthouse
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Birthday Party

‘Snow-White’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, Louis Armstrong
Rating: ★★★
Review:

I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You © Max FleischerThere are few classic cartoons that will give such a mixed feeling as ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’.

There’s much to say for it: the short is one of the wonderful pre-code swing cartoons, featuring no less than the great Louis Armstrong, who appears here in person, not only in the introduction, but also as a floating head, in a remarkable blending of animation and live action.

Unfortunately, ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is also one of those ignorant cartoons featuring severe caricatures of black people, in their most cliche form: cannibals. Even worse, in this cartoon a direct connection is made between the backward caricatures and the black performers, as one of the cannibals grows into Louis Armstrong’s singing head, and his drummer (probably Tubby Hall) is likened to another big-lipped cannibal. Thus this cartoon is as entertaining as it is offensive.

There’s not much of a story: Betty, Bimbo and Koko are on a safari in dark Africa. There they encounter a tribe of hungry cannibals, who kidnap Betty. Then we cut to Bimbo and Koko on their aimless search for Betty. Soon they’re followed by a cannibal who morphs into a giant floating native head, which turns into that of Louis Armstrong singing the title song. Bimbo and Koko manage to rescue Betty with help of a porcupine. The last shot is for Louis Armstrong and his band. The complete cartoon is rather nonsensical, but Armstrong’s hot jazz make it a great ride, if an uncomfortable one.

Watch ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 7
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop for President
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Museum

‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 4, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop for President © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop for President’ is one of those rare pre-war cartoons using current events as its subject.

The short was released just four days before the 1932 elections. In it Betty Boop runs for president, imitating the then current president and candidate Herbert Hoover and his Democratic challenger Al Smith. Unfortunately for the Fleischers, it was not Al Smith, but Franklin D. Roosevelt who was chosen as the candidate for the Democrats during the Democrat National Convention (June 27-July 2). Apparently, this scene already had been completed before this convention.

Betty’s opponent is one ‘Mr. Nobody’ (a stick wearing a bowler hat). His song demonstrates that nobody cares for the average man. Betty clearly has the upper hand, however, and the next scenes show some of her rather nonsensical suggestions to improve the country. These at least involve loads of knots of ribbons. The cartoon ends with a picture of a glass of beer, indicating that the 18th amendment was a major issue of the elections. Indeed, from March 22 1933 on, low alcohol beer and wine were legalized, and in December of that year, the 18th amendment was repealed by the 21st amendment. The prohibition years were over.

Watch ‘Betty Boop for President’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 6
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You

‘Betty Boop for President’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 23, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle © Max FleischerThis cartoon features a soundtrack by the Hawaii band ‘The Royal Samoans’, giving the cartoon a lively Hawaii score.

The short starts with Bimbo crashing on an island on a boat, into Betty Boop’s arms. A waterfall throws them into a spot full of singing trees, and later they’re confronted with a bunch of cannibals. Bimbo disguises himself as ‘black’ using mud, and starts singing the Hawaiian war chant. Thus he becomes the natives’ king. The cannibals perform for him, and Betty, too, who dances an extraordinarily sexy hula dance only dressed in a skirt and a flower garland. Unfortunately, the rain washes off Bimbo’s disguise and the two have to flee in a boat.

The movements of the dancing natives and Betty are rotoscoped from the Royal Samoans, rendering them very convincing and lifelike, indeed. Betty Boop’s hula dance is arguably her best scene ever. Apart from this, the cartoon is stuffed with throwaway gags showing the Fleischer’s typical brand of surrealism.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 4
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop , M.D.
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs

‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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