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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: 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’

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: unknown
Release Date:
 January 1, 1933
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Coo Coo the Magician © Ub IwerksWhile ‘The Goal Rush‘ anticipated Disney’s ‘Touchdown Mickey‘, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ clearly follows ‘Mickey in Arabia‘ from six months earlier. The setting and the story are too similar to ignore, making ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ quite a rip-off of Mickey’s wonderful cartoon.

Like Mickey, Flip visits some vague Arabian country with his sweetheart. There they meet the magician. When Flip challenges him, the magician makes his sweetheart disappear. While Flip gets lost in an Egyptian tomb, his girl comes in the clutches of a sultan. Flip comes to the rescue, battling several stereotyped black servants, which the cartoon unfortunately also inherited from Mickey’s cartoon. In the end the couple manages to escape on a magic carpet. There’s a short erotic scene of Flip falling into a harem.

Maybe just because it is a copy of ‘Mickey in Arabia’, ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is an enjoyable cartoon. The exotic setting clearly inspired the makers to make other gags than usual, making this short standing above the average Flip the Frog cartoon.

Watch ‘Coo Coo the Magician’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 32
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Funny Face
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Flip’s Lunch Room

‘Coo Coo the Magician’ is available on the DVD ‘Cartoons That Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2’

Directors: Mannie Davis & John Foster
Release Date:
 January 13, 1933
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Silvery Moon © Van Beuren‘Silvery Moon’ starts with the song ‘Moonlight bay’ and the two young cats from ‘The Wild Goose Chase‘ (1932) in a canoe on a moonlit lake. Suddenly, the moon invites them over, producing a giant staircase. Once the two have arrived on the moon, a fairy opens a gate, revealing a dreamlike candy land.

The dreamlike atmosphere is enhanced by scenes that change while the two kittens stay in place. In Candyland the two frolic around, and eat all what’s around until they’re sick. Then they’re hunted by a bottle of castor oil and a spoon, until they fall off the moon, next to their own canoe.

‘Silvery Moon’ was one of the last Aesop’s Fables, and one of the best. Sure, the designs and animation are still poor (some of the animation is reused from ‘Toy Time‘), and the film’s subject may be a little childish, it’s a surprisingly inspired cartoon, showing wonderful events with a natural charm. It’s a pity that ‘Silvery Moon’ is in black-and-white, for its dreamlike atmosphere would make perfect subject for color, which in 1933 still was brand new, anyhow (Disney’s first technicolor cartoon, ‘Flowers and Trees‘ had only been released half a year earlier).

Indeed, the cartoon’s content and atmosphere look forward to several color cartoons of the Hayes code era, most notably the Fleischer cartoon ‘Somewhere in Dreamland‘ (1936), which also features two children visiting a candy world. This makes ‘Silvery Moon’ probably the most forward-looking cartoon the Van Beuren studio ever produced, and it certainly has aged much better than most of the cartoons the studio produced in the early 1930’s.

Watch ‘Silvery Moon’ yourself and tell me what you think:

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 2, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Big Boss © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ opens with a pig putting up a sign saying “Girl wanted, female preferred”.

Betty Boop applies to the job, among hundreds of other candidates. However, Betty sings a sexy version of Irving Berlin’s 1919 hit song “You’d be surprised”, and she’s hired on the spot, while the boss quickly disposes of the competition.

Betty starts typewriting right away. Meanwhile her boss clearly fancies her, even though she’s not dressed as sexy as in her earlier films. He tries to steal a kiss, but then Betty cries for help, and about everybody comes to the rescue (the police, the army, the navy and the air force). This gag anticipates a remarkably similar gag in the Marx Brothers film ‘Duck Soup’, released later that year.

‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss’ is a cartoon full of sex and violence, and a clear example of a pre-code Betty Boop. Only a half a year later this short would have been impossible to make…

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 16
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s May Party
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Mother Goose Land

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

Director: Oskar Fischinger
Release Date:
 December 1933
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Kreise © Oskar Fischinger‘Kreise’ is most probably the first full color film made in Europe.

Made with ‘Gaspar Color’ it certainly makes clever use of color’s new possibilities. ‘Gaspar Color’ required too much exposure time for live action, but for Fischinger’s animations it was perfect.

Color certainly added a great deal to Fischinger’s films. ‘Kreise’, for example, literally explodes with color. As its title implies, the film is composed of circles, only, which move and grow in various ways on an instrumental excerpt from Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

The film ends with a slogan: “Alle Kreise erfasst Tolirag” (Tolirag reaches all circles [of society]), revealing that this totally abstract film is actually a commercial for an advertising agency. This was Fischinger’s trick to get the film past the Nazi censors, who in 1933 had come to power, and who were strongly opposed to abstract art.

Later the film also advertised other companies, like the Dutch Van Houten chocolate company. The film clearly shows that Walt Disney was not the only one who knew how to deal with color, but one wonders whether Tolirag (or Van Houten for that matter) did get a lot of new customers out of it.

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

‘Kreise’ is available on the DVD ‘Oskar Fischinger: Ten Films’

Director: Alexandre Alexeieff
Release Date: 1933
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Une nuit sur le mont chauve © Alexandre AlexeieffPredating Disney’s film to the same classical piece by seven years, this ‘video clip’ to the music of ‘Night on Bald Mountain’ by Modest Mussorgsky is an impressive mood piece.

The Russian-French artist Alexeieff animated ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ on a so-called pinscreen, a device he invented himself , and which consists of a screen with numerous pins, which can be pushed further in or out, to produce a shadowy image together. This technique is highly original, and the images produced are totally unique.The film’s imagery has more in common with surreal paintings from the era than with any other animation film from the 1930s. ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ was Alexeieff’s first film on the pinscreen. Together with his wife Claire Parker he would animate five more, of which ‘The Nose’ (1963) is arguably the best.

The film does not tell a story, but shows us a string of expressionistic images of animal and human forms, floating through air, and morphing into disturbing creatures. The animation is sometimes excellent (with a human figure circling through the air as a particular standout), but at times primitive, too, and the film suffers a little from the crude montage. Both shortcomings are a direct result of the limitations of the pinscreen. However, Alexeieff’s vision overcomes the film’s drawbacks, and ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is rightly considered an animation classic.

Watch ‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Une nuit sur le mont chauve’ is available on the DVD ‘Alexeïeff – le cinéma épinglé’

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: September 30, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'The Steeple Chase' featuring Mickey, his horse and the colonel in a wheelchairMickey is a jockey in a horse race.

Unfortunately, his horse Thunderbolt gets drunk just before the race starts. So he rides a pantomime horse, with his two black stable boys in it, instead. Remarkably, they win, due to a colony of angry and determined wasps, who chase the two poor black boys to the finish and into the distance, while Mickey receives all the glory.

‘The Steeple Chase’ is one of those ‘adventure type stories’ Mickey began having in 1932, and which were undoubtedly inspired by Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip. ‘The Steeple Chase’ is a prime example: it shows clear similarities to ‘Mickey Mouse and his horse Tanglefoot‘, which ran about the same time (from June to October 1933). The colonel from ‘The Steeple Chase’ returns in that comic strip as a grumpy judge.

The early scenes firmly state why Mickey should win the race, e.g. when Minnie tells him “you gotta win, Mickey, or you’ll break the colonel’s heart”. Thus we are more involved in the horse race then in Mickey’s boxing game in ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man‘ from earlier that year. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Mickey’s actually cheating in both these cartoons, and misusing the two black stable boys while doing so. This makes it rather difficult to sympathize with Mickey. Moreover, the race is hardly as exciting as the one in ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ (1932), and the cartoon is by all means inferior to Gottfredson’s classic comic strip. The best gags come from the numerous ways in which the wasps attack Mickey and his fake horse.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 60
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Puppy Love
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Pet Store

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: June 17, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse
Rating:
Review:

Still from 'Mickey's Mechanical Man' featuring a gorilla boxing a robotMickey has build a robot to fight a gorilla in a boxing match, which is called “the battle of the century: machine vs. beast”.

Mickey’s robot has one disadvantage: he runs wild when he hears Minnie’s car horn. Luckily, this fact helps him in the end: when he’s clobbered by the gorilla (on the tune of Franz Liszt’s second Hungarian rhapsody), he seems almost lost. But then Minnie fetches her car horn, revitalizing the robot. From that point he actually cheats, using multiple boxing gloves, a hammer and hits below the belt.

Despite its clear story and high quality animation, ‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is a very weak short, and a low point in the otherwise outstanding Mickey Mouse year of 1933. The cartoon is surprisingly low on gags and it’s difficult to sympathize with the robot character, as it’s mechanical after all, while the gorilla is a living being. Moreover, Mickey’s motives remain unclear and we’re not invited to care about the match.

The cartoon most interesting feat. are the robot’s jerky movements, which are clearly mechanical and based on wind-up toys, but which become rather frantic and ridiculously elaborate when the robot goes wild. Nevertheless, there are some traces of Stan Laurel’s boxing moves from ‘Any Old Port’ (1932).

‘Mickey’s Mechanical Man’ is reminiscent of the Fleischer Studio’s equally weak ‘The Robot‘ (1932). Both films were inspired by rather hysterical stories about robots taking over jobs, which circulated in the early 1930s, and which struck a chord in an era of vast unemployment.

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

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 57
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mail Pilot
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Gala Premier

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: February 28, 1933
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'Mickey's Pal Pluto' featuring Pluto and his little devilish self‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ shows how important Pluto had become by 1933.

It’s the first cartoon having the sympathetic mutt in its title, and it’s he, not Mickey or Minnie, who’s the real star of this short, arguably making ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ Pluto’s first own cartoon.

In ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ Pluto saves a few little kittens from drowning. Mickey and Minnie take them home, but there Pluto grows jealous of the intruders, exemplified by a conflict between his devilish and angelic sides, who materialize outside him, and who speak in rhyme. Unfortunately, when Pluto listens to his little devil, this leads to Mickey putting him outside. Nevertheless, when the kittens fall into a well, Pluto rescues the kittens from drowning again, almost drowning himself in the act. In the end he’s rewarded for this unselfish behavior with a roast chicken.

The moral clearly is that being good will be rewarded, as Pluto’s angel character clearly states in the end. So some of the childish sentimentality that had entered the Silly Symphonies in 1933 sneaks in to the Mickey Mouse series, as well.

‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ marks the first appearance of Pluto’s imaginary little devil and angel, symbolizing his inner conflict. This cartoon was more or less remade in color in 1941, titled ‘Lend a Paw’. Pluto’s little devil would reappear in ‘Mickey’s Elephant‘ (1936).

Watch ‘Mickey’s Pal Pluto’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 53
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Mad Doctor
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Mellerdrammer

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