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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 2, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Any Rags © Max Fleischer‘In ‘Any Rags’ Bimbo is a garbage collector collecting old clothes and things, which he later sells at an improvised auction on the street.

‘Any Rags’ is pretty plotless, but it’s loads of fun to watch. Betty Boop has only a small role, but her sexiness is played out well, when her dress falls off twice, revealing her bra. Koko even has a smaller role in this cartoon as a customer in the crowd around Bimbo’s auction.

The film’s main attraction lies in its jazzy score, which successfully blends the title tune, a hit song from 1903, with Luis Russel’s much more modern ‘The Call of the Freaks’ from 1929. The cartoon suddenly ends when Betty appears from one of Bimbo’s bags and their chart turns over to transform immediately into a house.

Watch ‘Any Rags’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 30
To the previous Talkartoon: Dizzy Red Riding Hood
To the next Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-a-Doop

‘Any Rags’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 29, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★½
Review:

A Hunting We Will Go © Max Fleischer‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is one of the lesser inspired Talkartoons.

In fact, the short’s greatest gag is in its opening scene, when the sun inhales smokes from a log cabin, which makes it sneeze.

We then cut to the inside of the log cabin, where we watch Betty Boop singing the 1925 hit song ‘Then I’ll Be Happy’. As she sings she’ll be happy with a fur coat, Koko and Bimbo immediately set off to go hunting animals. Koko first encounters the worst drawn deer to be found on the animated screen. Unfortunately, the deer shoots back. Then Koko helps a leopard (not quite indigenous to North America) to its spots.

Bimbo, meanwhile, meets a pack of ferocious lions (sure, why not?) and a huge bear. Despite their mishaps, they both return with many furs, but Betty returns them to the former owners, who are staying in line outside, shivering with cold…

When compared to contemporary Talkartoons ‘Chess Nuts‘ and ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is a disappointing entry. It’s rather low on gags, and its surreal aspects are sparse. It’s not as weak as ‘The Robot‘ or ‘Admission Free‘, but still far from a classic.

Watch ‘A Hunting We Will Go’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 38
To the previous Talkartoon: Chess Nuts
To the next Talkartoon: Hide and Seek

‘A Hunting We Will Go’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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:

This is Talkartoon No. 37
To the previous Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool
To the next Talkartoon: A Hunting We Will Go

‘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:

This is Talkartoon No. 33
To the previous Talkartoon: The Robot
To the next Talkartoon: S.O.S.

‘Minnie the Moocher’ 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 main 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:

This is the 41st and last Talkartoon
To the previous Talkartoon: Admission Free
To the first Betty Boop cartoon: Stopping the Show

‘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 six cartoons featuring Bimbo in his final design, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ features Bimbo with his old, less memorable look. 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:

This is Talkartoon No. 29
To the previous Talkartoon: Mask-a-Raid
To the next Talkartoon: Dizzy Red Riding Hood

‘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:

This is Talkartoon No. 40
To the previous Talkartoon: Hide and Seek
To the next Talkartoon: The Betty Boop Limited

‘Admission Free’ 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:

This is Talkartoon No. 36
To the previous Talkartoon: Crazy Town
To the next Talkartoon: Chess Nuts

‘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:

This is Talkartoon No. 35
To the previous Talkartoon: S.O.S.
To the next Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool

‘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 ‘The Herring Murder Case’ (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:

This is Talkartoon No. 32
To the previous Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-a-Doop
To the next Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 16, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Koko, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Boop-Oop-a-Doop © Max FleischerIn ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ Betty Boop works at the circus as a lion-tamer and as a rope-dancer.

We watch her in a sexy performance on the slack-rope. During this performance we can see the circus-master growing with lust, and back in her dressing room he tries to harass her. Luckily, Koko saves here, so he “couldn’t take her boop-oop-a-doop away“.

This is the first short to co-star Koko and Betty. Koko had returned to the animated screen in ‘The Herring Murder Case’, and he’s clearly comfortable in the circus setting of this short. Interestingly, it’s Koko who is Betty’s lover in this cartoon, not Bimbo. Bimbo’s role is reduced to being a peanut seller in a running gag. Koko’s career in the sound era was short-lived, however, and was to end already two years later with ‘Ha! Ha! Ha!‘ (1934).

‘Boop-oop-a-doop’ is an entertaining short, full of catchy music. For example, on the slack-rope Betty sings ‘Do Something’, a song associated by the singer who inspired her character, Helen Kane, who had recorded it in 1929. The two versions are indeed surprisingly similar, and it is not hard to see why Kane, whose own career had been in a steady decline, sued the Fleischer company on May 4, 1932.

It may very well be that this cartoon alone triggered that event. It at least should have been quite some evidence for Fleischer’s piracy, but after a case of two years, judge McGoldrick saw it otherwise. It’s rather difficult to understand now how the Fleischers could have won. Not only does Betty Boop sound like Kane, her looks are also strikingly similar. Indeed, according to her animator and creator Gram Natwick she was modeled after Helen Kane when conceived for ‘Dizzy Dishes‘ (1930). However, Betty’s grotesque, and rather ugly appearance in her earliest cartoons must hardly have given that fact away. Moreover, in her following films both Betty’s voice and looks were both subject to change. Only by the time of ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ Betty really started to look like her source of inspiration…

Anyway, for a detailed account of the trial, see Trafalz’s excellent blog post on the subject.

Watch ‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Boop-Oop-a-Doop’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

This is Talkartoon No. 31
To the previous Talkartoon: Any Rags
To the next Talkartoon: The Robot

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 November 14, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Mask-A-Raid © Max FleischerIn ‘Mask-A-Raid’ a very sexy Betty is queen of a masked ball.

The king, a dirty old man, fancies her, but she prefers Bimbo. Nevertheless, she makes Bimbo and the old guy fighting each other. Suddenly knights pop up from nowhere and everybody is fighting.

In ‘Mask-a-raid’ some of the random surrealism of ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘ (both 1930) returns to the screen. The cartoon is full of weird images and odd gags, and at times should be seen to be believed. It ends with some great scatting by Bimbo himself.

This is Betty’s first cartoon as a human being (apart from the Screen Song ‘Kitty from Kansas City‘ from only one week before), with her dog ears having changed into large earrings. It’s also the first to give her starring credits. It introduces the new story idea of old men fancying Betty, and harassing her against her will. This story element would also be featured in e.g. ‘Boop-oop-a-Doop‘ (1932) and ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss‘ (1933).

Watch ‘Mask-A-Raid’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 27
To the previous Talkartoon: In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce
To the next Talkartoon: Jack and the Beanstalk

‘Mask-A-Raid’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 October 10, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Minding the Baby © Max FleischerBetty Boop, who lives in an apartment across the street, invites Bimbo over, but he can’t come, because he has to attend his little baby brother Aloysius.

Nevertheless, he does abandon the mischievous little brat and goes to Betty’s house to skip rope. However, Aloysius sucks them back into his own house, using a particularly powerful vacuum cleaner.

Aloysius is seen smoking a cigar and reading the paper, not unlike Baby Herman in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1987). The cartoon establishes Bimbo and Betty as lovers, but it doesn’t make much sense, and its gags feel random and misguided.

‘Minding the Baby’ was the last cartoon featuring Betty with dog ears. in her next cartoon ‘Mask-A-Raid‘ she became fully human.

Watch ‘Minding the Baby’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 25
To the previous Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express
To the next Talkartoon: In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce

‘Minding the Baby’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 August 22, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★
Review:

Bimbo's Express © Max FleischerIn this Talkartoon Bimbo is a moving man, moving Betty Boop’s household together with a horse, a cat and a hippo.

The short features ca. no story and consists of a string of unrelated throwaway gags. The animation, too, is at times completely random. For example, there’s some totally unnecessary and incomprehensible flexible animation on Bimbo’s van in the opening scene. This total lack of direction hampers ‘Bimbo’s Express’, and it fails to fulfil any promise.

The cartoon’s most stunning scene is that of Betty Boop cutting her toenails. But even more striking is Sammy Timberg’s music, which is loosely jointed from numerous familiar tunes, and which anticipates Carl Stalling’s techniques by several years.

This cartoon is billed ‘Bimbo & Betty’, indicating Betty’s rising star. In the next cartoon, ‘Minding the Baby‘, it would be ‘Betty Boop and Bimbo’, and in ‘Mask-A-Raid‘, it’s already “Betty Boop in ‘Mask-A-Raid’ with Bimbo’…

Watch ‘Bimbo’s Express’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 24
To the previous Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Initiation
To the next Talkartoon: Minding the Baby

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 July 24, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Bimbo's Initiation © Max Fleischer‘Bimbo’s Initiation’ is probably the most famous Betty Boop cartoon, apart from ‘Snow-White‘ (1933).

Nevertheless, Betty only plays a small part in the cartoon, which is really about Bimbo. In his previous cartoon, ‘The Herring Murder Case’, Bimbo had been redesigned. He’s now more clearly a dog character, with a predominant black coloring instead of the earlier white. This redesigned Bimbo has some character in his rather original looks, but he’s still far from a character, remaining only a foil for the things happening around him.

In no cartoon this is so clear as in ‘Bimbo’s Initiation’. In the first scene we watch him walking on the street, when he suddenly falls into a well and is being caught in a scary underworld beneath the street. There bearded guys repeatedly ask him whether he wants to be a member of their secret order. Bimbo keeps saying no, and he tries to flee, but he cannot escape the nightmarish world, in which every deadly room leads to another one. These scenes are accompanied by a hot jazz version of ‘Tiger Rag’. Luckily, the last room features Betty, and when she asks him whether he wants to be a member, Bimbo gives in. Then all the bearded figures appear to be duplicates of her!

Betty Boop is completely blank in this cartoon and she still has dog ears here. But the nightmarish world is absolutely inspired. It’s both claustrophobic and funny, and we feel with Bimbo, who’s now victim of a world, in which no law, whether human or natural, applies. No other cartoon was so far removed from the happy world of Walt Disney, and arguably no other cartoon before Tex Avery’s ‘Northwest Hounded Police‘ (1946) and Chuck Jones’s ‘Duck Amuck‘ (1953) would be so compelling in portraying the anguish of a trapped cartoon character. Despite its primitive looks, the cartoon hasn’t aged at all, and it’s an undisputed classic within the complete cartoon canon.

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ undoubtedly has been the inspiration of the scary cartoon sequence in which a girl is caught in Joe Dante’s episode in the theatrical version of ‘The Twilight zone’ (1983).

Watch ‘Bimbo’s initiation’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 23
To the previous Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case
To the next Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express

‘Bimbo’s initiation’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’ and on Betty Boop: Essential Collection 2′

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 May 23, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Silly Scandals © Max FleischerIn ‘Silly Scandals’ Bimbo wants to visit a theater, where Betty Boop performs.

Unfortunately he’s broke, but he finally succeeds in sneaking into the theater by walking backwards along the leaving crowd. Inside we watch Betty singing the 1930 hit song ‘You’re driving me crazy’. Like in ‘Mysterious Mose‘ her sexiness is well explored, as her dress falls off during the performance, revealing her bra.

After Betty’s performance, Bimbo ends up being hypnotized by a magician, who makes our unfortunate hero dance against his will. The cartoon ends in a short, but zany and nightmarish dream sequence.

‘Silly Scandals’ is a transitional cartoon that shows the potential of Fleischer’s fledgling cartoon star Betty Boop, but failing to explore it to the max, still focusing on the rather bland Bimbo. We hear her name for the very first time. Yet, Bimbo is still the only billed star of the cartoon. But the Fleischers were quick learners, and with almost every subsequent Talkartoon Betty’s star would rise, and her screen time increase.

Watch ‘Silly Scandals’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 21
To the previous Talkartoon: Twenty Legs under the Sea
To the next Talkartoon: The Herring Murder Case

‘Silly Scandals’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 April 3, 1931
Stars: Bimbo, Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Bum Bandit © Max FleischerBimbo is a train robber who holds up a train. Unfortunately for him, his stout wife, Betty Boop (called Nan McGrew in this cartoon), is also on this train.

She confronts him and in the end Bimbo unwillingly reunites with his wife, fleeing with her into the distance on the locomotive.

‘The Bum Bandit’ lacks the wild surrealism of earlier Talkartoons, like ‘Barnacle Bill‘ and ‘Mysterious Mose‘ (both 1930), and is thus less interesting to watch. The best scene is when Bimbo practices shooting, e.g. shooting a cow from the sky. There is also some nice and flexible animation on the riding train. Betty Boop has a distinctly different voice here, which was not repeated after this cartoon.

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

This is Talkartoon No. 18
To the previous Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband
To the next Talkartoon: The Male Man

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date:
 September 24, 1930
Stars: Bimbo?
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Swing You Sinners © Max Fleischer‘Swing You Sinners!’ is an early Talkartoon, and a wildly imaginative one, too.

We watch a thief (probably Bimbo, but his appearance in the early Talkartoons is so inconsistent, one can’t be sure). The thief tries to steal a chicken, but runs into a cop. The thief then flees into a graveyard, where he has a particularly nightmarish experience. First the gate locks itself, then turns into a stone wall, and then the graves start to sing…

Soon all kinds of inanimate objects start to haunt him. And although the soundtrack is very jazzy, ‘Swing You Sinners!’ remains a bad trip throughout. At one time the walls close into him, at another a ghost promises him to give him a ‘permanent shave’.

The animation is extremely rubbery, and even insane. For example, when we watch a chicken do some scatting, both the chicken and the background are very wobbly, to a hallucinating effect. In the end we watch countless ghosts marching, followed by even more ghostly images when the thief starts to descend into hell. The cartoon ends with a giant skull swallowing the thief, a surprisingly grim ending for a cartoon with such swinging music*.

In any case ‘Swing You Sinners!’ is a testimony of the sheer creativity, which was the Max Fleischer Studio in the early 1930s, and should be placed among the greatest cartoons of all time.

Watch ‘Swing You Sinners!’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 10
To the previous Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill
To the next Talkartoon: Grand Uproar

‘Swing You Sinners’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

*It may be interesting to note that this is one of the earliest mentions of swing, predating for example Duke Ellington’s song ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)’ by two years, and being miles ahead of the swing craze of the second half of the 1930s.

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 18, 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wise Flies © Max Fleischer

The Fleischer studio had already experimented with synchronized sound in 1924, four years before ‘Steamboat Willie‘, so of all cartoon studios they made the transition to sound the most easily.

The Fleischers’ first sound series were the Screen Songs, the first of which was released in February 5, 1929. Eight months later they were followed by the aptly titled Talkartoons. These Talkartoons didn’t have a single star, but like Disney’s Silly Symphonies explored a wide range of subjects.

These Talkartoons show the Fleischers’ disregard of lip synchronization. This feat was reserved for special scenes, like song sequences. Unlike Disney, the Fleischers recorded all dialogue after animation, inviting the voice actors to ad-lib at will. Thus the Fleischer cartoons were the most talkative of all 1930s shorts. This technique reached its peak when Jack Mercer became Popeye’s voice in 1935, but already peppers their earliest output.

The improvised dialogue suits the studio’s free spirited, and equally improvised animation style perfectly. Add a multitude of zany gags, strikingly jazzy soundtracks and remarkably adult subject material, and it’s clear why the Max Fleischer cartoons from 1930-1933 are among the most delightful of all studio cartoons from the golden age.

‘Wise Flies’, the seventh Talkartoon, is a perfect example. It uses the theme of ‘the spider and the fly’, a theme Walt Disney would also use one year later in ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931). However, the Disney version lacks the sexual overtones present in this Fleischer’s version. In it a six-legged spider spots some flies on a hobo’s head. He tries to catch one, but returns home to his wife empty-handed.

However, later he seduces a female fly, playing ‘Some of These Days’ on his web (a delightfully fast piece of guitar jazz). He then starts singing this tune, popularized by Sophie Tucker in 1926, and a hit for Louis Armstrong in 1929. His song leads to a dance sequence much akin to Disney’s Silly Symphonies from the same era. The film ends when the spider’s wife gets jealous, and interrupts the spider’s courting.

The animation by Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears is crude and simple, but the swinging soundtrack is delightful. The end result is an enjoyable piece of rubberhose animation.

Watch ‘Wise Flies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 7
To the previous Talkartoon: Fire Bugs
To the next Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes

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