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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 25, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown, Louis Armstrong
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:
‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Release Date: November 26, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
The short starts very well with Flip as a newspaper boy facing a lot of bad luck destroying his trade. Broke, he sits down on the street to worry. Luckily a woman offers him a dollar if he minds her big-nosed baby. The rest of the cartoon is devoted to Flip’s troubles with the baby, which start immediately when the baby swallows the coin. Thus Flip conjures an unhealthy plan to retrieve it from the baby’s mouth with a fishing rod (!). While Flip sets out to get one, the baby swallows a potion which makes the little fellow strong…
Like ‘The Goal Rush‘, ‘Nurse Maid’ is as gag rich as it is unfunny. Luckily, Carl Stalling’s music is very inspired, following the action so closely that most of the tunes are reduced to snippets (for example, when during a chase a Scotchman is encountered, Stalling inserts a few bars of a Scottish tune before resuming the chase music). In fact, the cartoon is recommended for Stalling’s music only, which is a marvel to listen to.
Watch ‘Nurse Maid’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Nurse Maid’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Release Date: October 3, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
‘The Goal Rush’ was released only twelve days before the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘Touchdown Mickey‘ and covers the same ground.
It’s interesting to compare both cartoons, because they’re both lively gag cartoons full of action. Unfortunately, Mickey’s cartoon is better designed, better drawn, better animated, better timed, and better told than Flip’s. So where ‘Touchdown Mickey’ is one of Mickey’s greatest films, and one of the best cartoons of 1932, ‘The Goal Rush’ never really comes off. The gags are often trite, the timing is terribly sloppy and the story meandering.
We watch a football game between Burp University (a bunch of bullies) and Nertz University (Flip and some nerds). Flip’s frog design becomes more and more problematical among the human characters, especially as his love interest is a human girl. The human characters now all have their typical Iwerks designs, except for a very Betty Boop-like farmer girl Flip unveils under a haystack while riding a pig.
There’s a lot going on in this cartoon, but it’s difficult to indicate a good gag. There’s at least a surprising one in which a bandleader shoots a clarinet player who plays off key. The best gag may be the football (pigskin) joining a pig family.
Watch ‘The Goal Rush’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Goal Rush’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date: August 12, 1932
Then we cut to a couple of cats, and when the rain stops a tree magically transfers them on a goose to bring them to a rainbow into the clouds to seek a pot of gold. Once they arrive at the clouds, the castle in the sky from ‘The Family Shoe‘ invites them inside, where they’re treated on several surreal scenes, strange creatures, spooks, skeletons and devils.
These scenes are alternately influenced by Disney and Fleischer, clearly the most distinct studios of the time. This hodgepodge of influences make ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ an uneven and directionless short, as if the studio didn’t know which way to go, let alone being able to find its own voice, which the Van Beuren studio actually never really did.
The cat couple was reused in the similar, but much more successful cartoon ‘Silvery Moon‘ (1933).
Watch ‘The Wild Goose Chase’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Wild Goose Chase’ is available on the DVD ‘Aesop’s Fables – Cartoon Classics from the Van Beuren Studio’
Directors: John Foster & George Stallings
Release Date: June 4, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
This event is heralded by Tom & Jerry, which fills everyone and everything with joy, including inanimate objects like sausages and cheese(!). Have you ever seen cheese being enthusiastic? Here’s your chance! Soon the whole town is singing and dancing to Schultz’s oompah music, and yes, this includes the buildings themselves. But then the police arrives and arrests Schultz…
‘Tuba Tooter’ is a very joyous cartoon, but also rather empty and nonsensical. After all, Schultz’s arrival is actually the only event in the whole cartoon. The animation is erratic, and at times very poor. Worth of mention is a very risque, yet rather freaky scene of two young women dancing in their underwear.
Watch ‘The Tuba Tooter’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Tuba Tooter’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: May 14, 1932
The short features a mouse entering a musical instrument shop at night. The music starts when the mouse accidentally starts the title song on a gramophone. This invites several other mice to join in. After four minutes of musical frolicking a mean cat appears who gets one mouse cornered, prompting the rodent to sing the title track. The other mice, however, come to the rescue and together they get rid of the cat.
The story of ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is very similar to that of contemporary Disney shorts ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ or ‘The Bird Store‘, but the short’s premise is most akin to the Van Beuren short ‘Toy Time‘ from four months earlier. ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is much more sophisticated than the Van Beuren short, though. The animation, by Friz Freleng and Tom McKimson, is excellent throughout, and second only to the Disney studio itself.
The mice are Mickey Mouse but in size, only, and the musical routine involves a French Apache dance, as can also be found in ‘Mickey’s Follies‘ (1929) and the later ‘Woodland Cafe‘ (1937). Harman & Ising’s mimicking paid off, as ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ was among the three very first animated shorts to get an Academy Award nomination. Yet, it’s no surprise it lost to Walt Disney’s landmark cartoon ‘Flowers and Trees‘.
Watch ‘It’s Got Me Again!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘It’s Got Me Again!’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Looney Tunes Platinum Collection: Volume 2’ and the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Three’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: June 28, 1932
The farmer (a goat) asks her if she can get the farm on its feet. And indeed she can, because as soon as she starts singing ‘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
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: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 26, 1932
Stars: Lilian Roth
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: July 1, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
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:
‘The Betty Boop Limited’ 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
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’
Release Date: March 26, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
In the opening scene Flip and the little brat from ‘The Milkman‘ are poor musicians performing on the street to no avail. Being hungry, they pawn their instruments, only to lose their money to a swindler. Later they have to flee for a cop, and find food and shelter at a house, whose owner turns out to be the cop’s wife.
‘What A Life’ is a sentimental film, akin to the Laurel & Hardy film ‘Below Zero’ (1930), and ‘Mickey’s Good Deed’ from later that year. Even more than ‘The Milkman’ it plays at sentiments more than laughs, and it looks ahead to the sentimentality that would dominate the years 1934-1938. Nevertheless, because it’s so typical of the darkest days of the Great Depression, it’s more interesting than most of those films. Moreover, it features a remarkably sexy and adulterous woman in the cop’s wife.
One of the spectators in the opening scene is a clear caricature of someone, but of whom?
Watch ‘What a Life’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘What a Life’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’
Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: October 1, 1932
The short’s story is almost a copy of that of ‘The Spider and the Fly‘ (1931) and features two bugs in love, who are threatened by a mean crow. Luckily their fellow flies come to the rescue, in an elaborate battle scene, in which the flies use e.g. ink, false teeth, shoe polish, an eggbeater, a mousetrap and castor oil to defeat the crow.
The ingenuity of this particular battle scene is intriguing, but unfortunately it follows all too similar scenes in films like ‘The Spider and the Fly’, ‘The Bird Store‘ and ‘The Bears and the Bees‘. The result is a rather traditional Silly Symphony, with its repetitious animation and rhythmical sequences. Luckily, with its two color Silly Symphonies Disney had demonstrated it could do much better, and the studio did not return to this formula, until the elaborate ‘The Moth and the Flame’ from 1938.
‘Bugs in love’ is clearly related to the successful comic strip ‘Bucky Bug’, begun earlier the same year. However, it’s not entirely clear to me whether the hero bug in ‘Bugs in Love’ is Bucky himself, or not.
Watch ‘Bugs in Love’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 31
To the previous Silly Symphony: King Neptune
To the next Silly Symphony: Babes in the Woods
‘Bugs in Love’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: January 5, 1932
This short starts quite boringly with endless bird song routines, but after 4 minutes of this a cat enters, which leads to a small story when the cat captures a small canary and all other birds free the canary and chase the cat away to a city dog pound.
The bird designs are still pretty primitive, and much more akin to those in ‘Birds of a Feather‘ from one year earlier than to ‘Birds in the Spring‘ from one year later. Most birds are clearly drawn from fantasy, and make no sense at all. The provisional realism of the canary in ‘Mickey Steps Out‘ hardly gets any follow-up here. A small highlight form the four ‘Marx Birds’, which mark the earliest instance of Hollywood caricatures in a Disney film.
Watch ‘The Bird Store’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Bird Store’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: November 10, 1931
These human hunters ride rather cartoony horses, and much of the fun comes from the silly ways the hunters ride their horses. One even rides a cow, a pig, a porcupine and a log with four dogs in it. The cartoon opens most spectacularly, with the morning sun’s beaming rays lighting a few forest scenes. A little later there’s a beautiful scene of the hunters and their horses casting long shadows on a hill. A scene like this looks all the way forward to the Ave Maria sequence of ‘Fantasia’ (1940).
The human figures are a bit of a mixed bag, but generally more convincing than those in ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ or ‘The China Plate‘ from earlier that year. Thus, ‘The Fox Hunt’ is one of those films showcasing Disney’s ambition, even though it’s by no means a classic.
The fox hunt theme was revisited nine years later in the Donald Duck short of the same title (1938), which uses the same skunk end gag, which itself was copied from the Oswald cartoon ‘The Fox Chase‘ (1928).
Watch ‘The Fox Hunt’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Fox Hunt’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies’
Director: Walter Lantz or Bill Nolan
Release Date: May 27, 1931
Stars: Oswald the Rabbit
This idea is dropped after three minutes, however, and after that there’s some kind of story with Oswald trying to comfort a crying hippo baby with music. This part features dancing flowers, rag dolls, and musical notes. The latter dance to the song ‘Happy Feet’, a huge hit for Paul Whiteman in 1930. The cartoon ends with the mother hippo hitting Oswald hard, and the baby hippo laughing.
Several animators worked on ‘The bandmaster’ who would later become famous in the field, like Clyde Geronimi, Tex Avery and Pinto Colvig. Could it be possible that the baby hippo’s laugh was provided by Tex Avery himself?
The cartoon contains some lovely flexible animation in a style also fashioned at Walt Disney and Warner Bros. The cartoon doesn’t make any sense, however, and the gags pop in almost randomly. Thus the Walter Lantz cartoon falls short in matching the quality of those other studios.
Watch ‘The Bandmaster’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Bandmaster’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Technicolor Dreams and Black & White Nightmares’ and the DVD ‘Lantz Studio Treasures Starring Oswald’
Director: Rudolf Ising
Release Date: September 5, 1931
The film is practically a remake of Oswald’s first cartoon, ‘Trolley Troubles’ (1927), on which Harman and Ising had worked themselves: Foxy rides a trolley, inviting his very, very Minnie Mouse-like girlfriend along. Like in the former Oswald film, the ride ends with Foxy losing control of the trolley, which leads to some spectacular perspective animation. Unlike the earlier film, however, ‘Smile, Darn ya, Smile!’ ends rather cornily, when it’s revealed it was all a dream.
The title song is sung several times during the cartoon, e.g. by four hobos. It was revived more than fifty years later in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?‘ (1988), when Eddie Valiant enters Toontown.
Watch ‘Smile, Darn Ya, Smile’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Smile, Darn Ya, Smile’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: October 17, 1931
The cartoon opens spectacularly with several war scenes, including an enemy soldier firing his automatic gun at the audience. The cartoon is completely plotless, and Bosko actually only does three things:
- trying to cook a meal and kissing the picture of his sweetheart, before both are bombed (echoing the Oswald cartoon ‘Great Guns‘ from 1927 on which Hugh Harman had worked as an animator);
- helping an officer to get rid of his flees;
- saving a hippo, who has swallowed a bomb, by zipping its body open.
The cartoon is remarkably violent, and there’s a lot of killing going on. For example, we watch literally a dog being shot to pieces. Because all the animals involved still have mechanical bodies (a legacy of Harman and Ising’s work on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit), pain is never suggested, and the violence remains cartoony. For example, the dog, after being shot, just walks away much shorter, while a bird with a hole in his body only collapses because he’s supposed to, not because he’s in pain.
Nevertheless, there’s little to enjoy in Bosko’s World War I cartoon, and even when fought out by practically invulnerable animals, it remains a disturbing event.
Watch ‘Bosko the Doughboy’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko the Doughboy’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 7, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Rudy Vallee
This short starts with Kitty (whom we can recognize as Betty Boop) waiting for the train, until she’s picked up by a mail hook. Enter Rudy Vallee in bowler hat and with old-fashioned mustache, singing the title tune, accompanied by the bouncing ball. The cartoon ends with a particular fat Kitty involved in random events.
‘Kitty from Kansas City’ is important for two reasons: it’s the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is completely human, and second, it introduces a new story element, which was to be used frequently in the years to come: that of an old man fancying her. This time it’s an old station master.
Watch ‘Kitty from Kansas City’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Kitty from Kansas City’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: August 29, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog
With his newfound talent he tries to enter a film studio, but he’s thrown out again and again by the guard. Flip even reuses an Oswald trick from ‘Bright Lights‘ (1928), trying to sneak in under a man’s shadow. When he finally’s inside, the cartoon actually fails to deliver its premise. Flip gets caught in a Western, in some 1001 Arabian Nights setting, and in a Russian drama, but that’s pretty much it. The Russian drama scene is undoubtedly inspired by the 1915 Charlie Chaplin comedy ‘His New Job’.
Although the cartoon fails to make full use of its Hollywood setting, it contains a great corridor scene. This scene expands on the one in the Mickey Mouse cartoon ‘The Gorilla Mystery‘ (1930), adding more zaniness to it. It is a direct ancestor to the marvelous corridor scene in Tex Avery’s ‘Lonesome Lenny’ (1946). Besides this there are some great caricatures of Laurel and Hardy, depicted as dogs. These may very well be the first animated caricatures of Laurel and Hardy ever put on screen. They would return in the very last Flip the Frog cartoon, ‘Soda Squirt’ (1933), along with several other Hollywood caricatures.
‘Movie Mad’ may turn out to be rather disappointing, it does feature great music by Carl Stalling, and it lays out the story plan for both the Donald Duck cartoon ‘The Autograph Hound’ (1939) and the Looney Tune ‘You Ought To Be in Pictures‘ (1940).
Watch ‘Movie Mad’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Movie Mad’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’