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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’
Directors: John Foster & George Rufle
Release Date: June 25, 1932
Stars: Tom and Jerry
Jerry is worried they’ll not be safe in Africa, so, to be sure, they change themselves into blackface. But immediately afterwards their plane crashes into the sea, as if the blackface took away their ability to fly! At sea Tom & Jerry are bothered by an equally blackfaced octopus, some sharks and a large whale, which throws them onto the African shore. There they encounter some fantasy monsters (recalling the Waffles & Don short ‘Jungle Jazz‘ from 1930), a gospel quartet of black skeletons, and finally. several cannibals, who chase them away. Iris out.
Unlike any other Van Beuren film, ‘Plane Dumb’ is extremely dialogue-rich. In fact, it’s quite possibly the most dialogue-rich cartoon of the early 1930s. As soon as they’re blackfaced, Tom & Jerry start to talk in fake negro speak. Of course, as the duo is heading to Africa, this makes no sense at all – it only adds to the ignorant racism that completely fills this short. Moreover, one soon forgets that these characters had been Tom & Jerry in the first place.
Tom & Jerry’s dialogue is very reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy, the popular fake black radio stars of the time. The cartoon stars’ trite conversation was supposed to be the sole source of the humor in the cartoon, making ‘Plane Dumb’ the first animated cartoon ever to rely on dialogue. Rarely there was such a strange combination of innovation and backward thinking.
The dependence on dialogue makes the short a failure by all means, as none of it is remotely funny; not only by today’s standards, but also by those of 1932 itself, and the short only got a lukewarm welcome.
Nevertheless, in 1934 Van Beuren produced two cartoons featuring the “real” Amos ‘n’ Andy. Neither of the two were a success. Van Beuren might have known, if he had remembered ‘Plane Dumb’ well…
‘Plane Dumb’ arguably one of the most racist cartoon ever released. It’s so full of severe racial stereotypes, it’s practically unwatchable, today. Its only highlight may be in the animation of the whale, which has some menacing quality.
Watch ‘Plane Dumb’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Plane Dumb’ is available on the DVD ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’
Directors: Hugh Harman & Rudolf Ising
Release Date: October 1930
‘Congo Jazz’, Bosko’s second official cartoon, is Harman and Ising’s answer to Disney’s ‘Jungle Rhythm‘ (1929).
Like Disney’s cartoon, it hasn’t aged very well. The cartoon opens with Bosko wearing a pith helmet and exploring a supposedly African jungle. When confronted by a tiger (a species not endemic to Africa), Bosko immediately loses the pith helmet.
He appeases the tiger with music, and then kicks it over a cliff. Then he has to sooth a large ape, which he does by giving it some chewing gum. Together they play some plucking string music with their gums, while a few monkeys dance. Soon, other animals join in, e.g. a kangaroo, another rather un-African animal. Bosko directs all the animals into an upbeat tune.
The cartoon is low on gags and feels endless, especially during the musical part. The most extraordinary scene is that of a palm tree shimmying to Bosko’s music as if it were a woman. The animation of Bosko is still very rooted in the Oswald-era: Bosko’s body is very flexible, and almost mechanical.
Watch ‘Congo Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Congo Jazz’ is available on the DVD ‘Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume Six’
Director: Hugh Harman
Release Date: September 19, 1931
In the next scene Bosko is washed ashore a tropical island. When fleeing from a lion, Bosko enters a cannibal settlement. Luckily our hero can escape certain death by climbing on a rhino in a lake.
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is hampered by long scenes, which are surprisingly low on gags. The animation, on the other hand, is fluent, and at times no less than outstanding, with the lion chase scene as a particular highlight. The film’s best gag is when out of the cooking pot a skeleton appears to shake hands with Bosko: “Come on in, the water is fine!“.
Watch ‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Bosko Shipwrecked!’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’
Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date: 1930
‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is a silent film and uses German title cards in rhyme. Hein Priembacke is a sailor who’s washed ashore an African desert. Being hungry he first tries to retrieve a coconut, which turns out to be a wallaby. Later he goes to a settlement (which was visible in the background all the time), where he pulls two turnips, which turn out to be Negroes (forgive me the word – it’s used as such in the film itself). The angered cannibals soon chase our hero (“Jetzt wird’s bedenklich, lieber Christ. Der Neger ist kein Pazifist” reads the title card, which translates as “Now it becomes questionable, dear Christ, for the negro is no pacifist“), but he manages to escape to his homeland, hanging on the legs of a stork.
The animation is surprisingly well done, although the action is at times ridiculously slow. The film’s highlight are the animation of the waves and of the landscape on Priembacke’s flight back home. Done with cut outs, the landscape moves stunningly realistically under our hero, creating a great sense of depth, predating Disney’s multi-plane camera by seven years.
Indeed, special effects turned out to be Noldan’s expertise. His star rose when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, and many film makers left Germany. He later provided special effects for German propaganda films, like Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumf des Willens’ (1935), and ‘Der ewige Jude’ (1939). During World War II he worked for the German war industry. Although his role in Nazi Germany is dubious to say the least, he survived the war unscathed, and returned to making films, which he kept on doing until the end of the 1960s.
Watch ‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’
Directors: Harry Bailey & John Foster
Release Date: July 6, 1930
Stars: Waffles and Don
‘Jungle Jazz’ features that unsung duo, Waffles and Don, introduced in three months earlier in ‘The Haunted Ship‘. This time we watch the tall cat and the small dog walking through a jungle.
In this cartoon the duo’s ‘personalities’ are well-established: Waffles is continually scared, while Don remains unimpressed. The film’s highlight is an early scene in which Waffles and Don encounter all kinds of bizarre, psychedelic animals. Waffles and Don hide from these in a cabin, where they find an organ, which Waffles starts to play immediately. This prompts the cartoon’s obligate dance routine, with all kinds of (normal African) animals dancing.
Then, suddenly, they’re surrounded by cannibals! Don even helps them lighting the fire under their cooking pot. But he also somehow manages to scare them away, and the last scene is for four animals forming a barbershop quartet.
‘Jungle Jazz’ is a loosely jointed and erratic short, and it’s a pity the animators didn’t elaborate on the psychedelic animals in the beginning of the cartoon.
Watch ‘Jungle Jazz’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Jungle Jazz’ is available on the DVDs ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’ and ‘The Complete Animated Adventures of Van Beuren Studio’s Tom and Jerry’