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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 12, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating:
Review:

Pudgy the Watchman © Max Fleischer‘Pudgy the Watchman’ opens with an alley cat driving a mouse-like car in a beautiful 3D landscape, conceived with Max Fleischer’s unique tabletop technique.

This cat, called Al E. Katz, stops at Betty Boop’s house, and tricks Betty to hire him as a ‘mouse eradicator’ by using a toy mouse. Meanwhile we watch Pudgy playing with the little critters in the cellar. The cat disturbs this peaceful scene by catching the mice in no time and playing darts using them. But one escapes and sets them all free, while the cat gets drunk from Betty’s wine cellar. With help from Pudgy the mice chase the cat out of the house.

‘Pudgy the Watchman’ has a straightforward story, but that’s the best one can say about this cartoon. The makers forgot to provide it with anything resembling a gag. The result is an utterly forgettable cartoon, and certainly one of the most boring entries even in Pudgy’s already mediocre catalog.

Watch ‘Pudgy the Watchman’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 75
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: The Swing School
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Sally Swing

‘Pudgy the Watchman’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 4’ and the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 27, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★
Review:

The Swing School © Max Fleischer‘The Swing School’ marks a return of Betty Boop to the animal world she came from in the early 1930s.

In this cartoon she runs a swing school for anthromorpic kid animals, including an elephant, a hippo, a giraffe, and Pudgy. Pudgy, like Pluto, had been only a half anthropomorphized dog and wasn’t able to speak. So in this cartoon, in which he’s more treated as a little kid than as a dog, all these animals are devoid of speech. However, they can sing and play the piano.

Unfortunately, Pudgy is not doing well at all, singing Betty Boop’s trite Lalala song way out of tune. So Betty makes him sit in the dunce’s corner. But when a female dachshund takes pity on the pup, and kisses him, Pudgy suddenly bursts into some serious scatting, making the whole class swing.

‘The Swing School’ surfs on the swing craze, which was in full swing (pardon the pun) by 1938. Although the catchy scatting part is a warm welcome back to Betty Boop’s early jazz days, most of the cartoon is terribly slow and extremely childish, and so tiresome that it comes close to the point of being unwatchable. In no sense the cartoon comes close to the Fleischers’ greatest swing cartoons, like ‘Swing, You Sinners!‘ (1930) or ‘Minnie the Moocher‘ (1932).

Only two weeks later, Warner Bros. would release ‘Katnip Kollege‘ covering the same subject, but with much, much more spirit.

Watch ‘The Swing School’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 74
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Out of the Inkwell
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Pudgy the Watchman

‘Out of the Inkwell’ is available on the Blu-Ray ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 4’ and the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 22, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Out of the Inkwell © Max Fleischer‘Out of the Inkwell’ starts with live action footage of a black cleaner reading a book on hypnosis.

Hypnosis as conceived by the Fleischers is more like a magic spell, and has the power of making things come alive. The cleaner hypnotizes a pen that then draws an old-style Betty. He hypnotizes this miniature Betty, too, but she turns the tables on him, hypnotizing the broom and the fan, and finally, the man himself, making him clean the room rapidly.

‘Out of the Inkwell’ returns to the origins of Max Fleischer’s career, blending animation and live action using a character born out of ink. The result surely is one of the more original latter day Betty Boop cartoons, and a delightful mix of live action, stop motion and traditional animation.

The cartoon delivers less than it promises, however, and is particularly hampered by the black man’s extremely stereotyped lazy voice, which sounds like it has been dubbed. Highlight is the hypnotized Betty, who dives and swims in mid air, and who is animated extraordinarily rubbery.

Watch ‘Out of the Inkwell’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 73
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Be Up To Date
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: The Swing School

‘Out of the Inkwell’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 28, 1938
Stars: Betty Boop, Pudgy
Rating: ★★
Review:

Riding the Rails © Max FleischerIn ‘Riding the Rails’ Pudgy, Betty Boop’s cute puppy, follows Betty on her way to work.

He loses her on the subway, where he causes havoc. When he’s being chased by a rather poorly designed and ditto animated conductor he lands on the rails, where he’s almost killed. He hurries off home, and straight back into his bed.

Betty’s ride on the subway recalls a similar bus ride in ‘Judge for a Day’ (1935), and is most enjoyable in its depiction of subway annoyances. However, most of the cartoon deals with Pudgy’s terror, and plays on melodrama, not laughs. This makes ‘Riding the Rails’ a sympathetic, yet rather forgettable cartoon.

Watch ‘Riding the Rails’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 71
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Zula Hula
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Be Up To Date

‘Riding the Rails’ is available on the Blu-Ray Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Vol. 3 and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: February 2, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Red Hot Mamma © Max FleischerIt’s a cold winter night, and to get warm Betty lights a fire.

Soon, however, it gets too hot, and the fire roasts her two chickens. Betty herself soon dreams she’s in hell, dressed only in her nightgown. In a short scene the fires of hell reveal her legs through her nightgown. Later, when the devils watch her perform a sexy dance to a jazzy score, they get hot. But Betty gives them the cold shoulder (literally), which causes them and all hell to freeze completely over.

‘Red Hot Mamma’ is one of the last Betty Boop cartoons to glorify her sexuality, and to have a jazzy score. However, the humor is already much less compelling than from the 1931-1933 cartoons, lacking the weird surrealism of that period. As a result ‘Red Hot Mamma’ is amusing, but far less funny than it might have been, were it produced only a few months earlier…

Watch ‘Red Hot Mamma’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 25
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: She Wronged Him Right
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Ha! Ha! Ha!

‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ is available on the Blu-Ray Betty Boop: The Essential Collection Vol. 2 and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 12, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's May Party © Max Fleischer‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ is one the Fleischer studio’s most surreal cartoons, and one of the last ones containing this type of weird humor, so typical for the studio in the early 1930s.

The short starts with Betty Boop on a boat trip to her own amusement park. There we watch her perform ‘Here We Are’, a hit song made famous by Annette Hanshaw in 1929. The rest with the cartoon is filled with pictures of animals frolicking in the amusement park. Little of the cartoon makes any sense, but there are surreal gags all over the place, like a boat climbing down a ladder while descending a waterfall, a jetty walking towards the arriving boat, and somebody on a swing changing passing elephants into camels.

However, the cartoon runs totally berserk, when an elephant accidentally hits a rubber tree. The sprouting rubber turns everything in sight rubbery, including the moon and the whole scenery, with weird and wild consequences. For example, Bimbo and Koko perform a bizarre dancing scene, and when Betty joins in the trio completely twist the background around. Meanwhile we can hear the intoxicating jazz of Duke Ellington’s ‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ in the background. Most of the cartoon is fun to watch, but this finale is on a league of its own, and turns ‘Betty Boop’s May Party’ into a near-classic.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 15
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Birthday Party
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 14, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Popeye the Sailor © Max Fleischer1933/1934 marked a watershed for American animated cartoons: not only had the sex and horror rich cartoons of 1933 have to make way for the much more prudish content  of the Hays code era – during the same period many studios traded their old stars in for new ones.

In this period Iwerks dropped Flip the Frog in favor of Willy Whopper, Warner Bros. saw the departure of Bosko, and introduced Buddy, Van Beuren said farewell to Tom & Jerry and welcomed Cubby the Bear and The Little King. Even at the Walt Disney studio Mickey Mouse, the biggest star of all, would steadily lose popularity to the 1934 newcomer Donald Duck. The relay race was most visible at the Fleischer studio. In their 1933 cartoon ‘Popeye the Sailor’ Betty Boop literally gave way to Popeye.

True, like Mickey, Betty would keep on starring cartoons after 1933, but due to the Hays code, her sexuality, her biggest feat, was toned down, and by 1934 her heydays were clearly over. Popeye, on the other hand, would grow into arguably the most successful cartoon star of all, starring more than 200 cartoons, and lasting well into the 1950s, before embarking on a career in television.

Of course, Popeye already had been a star before he was introduced to the animated screen, having quickly grown into the leading character of Elzie Segar’s Thimble Theater comics since his introduction in 1929. But when the Fleischers started their films, he quickly became one of the most familiar cartoon stars of all time, still recognizable to present day audiences, where Buddy, Willy Whopper and Cubby Bear rapidly fell into oblivion.

In their pilot Popeye cartoon, officially part of the Betty Boop series, the Fleischers appear very well aware of the potentials of their new hero. It opens with a newspaper announcing that Popeye now is a movie star. The accompanying illustration immediately comes to life, and then we watch an iconic scene: Popeye singing his own new theme song, while socking things into tiny little things, in a string of metamorphosis gags. Popeye’s theme song is irresistably catchy, but who would have thought at the time that it would be still a familiar tune in the 21st century?

During the main section of the film it’s shore leave, and Popeye, Bluto and Olive visit a carnival. Because it’s de facto a Betty Boop cartoon, the human trio is oddly staged in Betty’s animal world, which she, too, would abandon within a few months. Betty’s role is minimized to that of a sexy hula dancer, in reused footage from ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932). Popeye joins in, sharing Betty’s rotoscoped movements.

The cartoon introduces the basic story arc that would be varied upon in many years to come: Popeye and Olive are sweethearts, but Bluto craves for Olive, too, creating friction between the two strong men. There’s a lot of clobbering, and at one point Popeye grabs for a can of spinach to give him extra strength. This premise is very different from Segar’s Comic Strip, with its melodramatic stories which could easily last for month.

Both Bluto and spinach were taken from Segar’s strip, but there they had played minor roles. Bluto, in fact, only appeared a couple of weeks in September/October 1932, never to return to Segar’s comic strip. In the Fleischer cartoons, however, he was promoted to one of the three starring roles, easily eclipsing Wimpy. During his first cartoon, Bluto’s theme music is ‘Barnacle Bill’, extensively used in the cartoon of the same name from 1930. Unlike Popeye’s tune, this theme music would not return in later Popeye cartoons. The love triangle, of course, was far from new, and had been employed in e.g. several Oswald and Mickey Mouse cartoons. But the Fleischers managed to keep this premise surprisingly fresh, delivering several of the funniest cartoons of the 1930s.

The importance of Popeye’s move to the movie screen for cartoon history cannot be overestimated: for the first time in the sound era a comic strip star was successfully put to the screen, for the first time a strong idiosyncratic character appeared on the animated screen, for the first time cartoon violence was not incidental, but a vital part of the series. Strong characters and cartoon violence would recur more often and often when the 1930s progressed, and would become essential to cartooning during the 1940s. Indeed, other characters, most notably Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, contributed to the evolution of a brassier style, but it was Popeye who had shown the way.

Watch ‘Popeye the Sailor’ 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: The Old Man of the Mountain

‘Popeye the Sailor’ is available on the DVD Box Set ‘Popeye the Sailor 1933-1938’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 1, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Parade of the Wooden Soldiers © ParamountBy the end of 1933 Betty Boop’s heydays were pretty much at their end.

Bimbo had left the screen in September, and Koko would soon follow in March 1934. Moreover, it had become clear that Betty Boop was in fact a sort of one-trick pony: apart from singing and being sexy, she couldn’t do little else, and in this period she’s kidnapped in almost every cartoon (apart from ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’, also in ‘Betty Boop’s Big Boss‘, ‘Mother Goose Land‘, and ‘Betty in Blunderland‘. Worse, the hot jazz of August’s ‘The Old Man of the Mountain‘ was replaced by the harmless sweet orchestra music of Rubinoff and his orchestra in ‘Morning, Noon and Night‘ and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’.

In this cartoon Rubinoff plays the title song, a novelty hit from the early 1920s, accompanying a tale about a factory-made Betty Boop doll landing in a toy store. There the Betty-doll gets a warm and grand welcome, she sings ‘I’m Glad I’m here’ and is crowned queen. Like in ‘Betty’s Hallowe’en Party’ the festivities are disturbed by a brutal (toy) gorilla. He destroys many toys and like many before him he kidnaps Betty. Interestingly enough, however, the gorilla’s intentions are not sexual, heralding the new sexless era. Instead, he wants to decapitate Betty as he needs a head for another broken doll. Luckily, the wooden army comes to the rescue, and the parade continues with the captured gorilla and many damaged toys. In the final shot we can see Betty’s panties from behind.

‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ is one of those Fleischer cartoons of 1933/1934 that clearly began to show a Disney influence, in this case from the Silly Symphony ‘Santa’s Workshop‘ (1932), which also features a toy parade. It’s most clear that the Fleischer’s animation had become more ambitious: the mechanical toys behave surprisingly toy-like, and even the Betty Boop doll is clearly mechanical in some scenes.

The Fleischers add some spectacular stagings, and the prologue to the theme song is no less than stunning, with the camera swooping from scene to scene, and zooming out to reveal the complete toy shop. Nevertheless, the funniest shot is typical Fleischer: in the opening scene we watch a giant factory deflating while producing the single package that will contain the Betty Boop doll.

Watch ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 23
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: She Wronged Him Right

‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: November 3, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Hallowe'en Party © ParamountBetty Boop invites a cold scarecrow to her Halloween party.

The scarecrow helps Betty with the preparations, decorating the walls with “witch paint” and “cat paint”. The party itself is very merry until a bullying gorilla arrives. When Betty pulls out the lights, however, suddenly some scary ghosts appear, and together with the painted witches they beat the gorilla out of the house.

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is an uneven, all too loosely composed and a little boring cartoon. It is noteworthy, however, for its most inspired score, which makes a clever use of Betty Boop’s theme song. When Betty’s answering door, one can see her panties from behind.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 22
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Morning Noon and Night
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Parade of the Wooden Soldiers

‘Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: June 23, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Mother Goose Land © ParamountThis short opens with Betty Boop reading a Mother Goose book in bed.

As soon as she wishes she were in Mother Goose land, the Mother Goose from the cover grows full-size and takes Betty to ‘Mother Goose Land’ on her broom. Here we meet many nursery rhymes, while Betty is threatened by a giant spider. When she’s kidnapped by the spider, an army of crows come to the rescue. They carry the spider on its own web, in a remarkable birds-eye scene, in which the spider’s shadow is visible on the ground.

‘Mother Goose Land’ seems to herald a new era in The Fleischer Studios: the animation appears to be more ambitious and more complex than before, showing a slight Disney influence, at least from the Silly Symphony ‘Mother Goose Melodies‘ (1931).

Typical for Fleischer, however, Betty Boop is still sexy, and kidnapped by a spider whose intentions are clearly sexual. At same time, Betty is now featured in more infantile material, highlighted by the sugary close harmony music, something that would become worse in 1934, when the Hays code toned down her character.

Nevertheless, the growing infantility can be seen in all studios, and this transgression from the adult world of sex and violence to an innocent children’s world is typical for the 1933/1934, with ‘Mother Goose Land’ being just an example.

Watch ‘Mother Goose Land’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 17
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Big Boss
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor

‘Mother Goose Land’ is available on the DVD ‘Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vol. 1’, and on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: January 7, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Koko the Clown, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions © ParamountIn this short Betty Boop organizes an invention show in a circus tent, assisted by Koko and Bimbo.

The trio demonstrates different machines, which leads to unrelated spot gags featuring the silly elaborate inventions: a spot remover, a cigarette snuffer, an egg producing machine, a soup silencer and a sweet corn regulator. Then Betty sings ‘Keep a Little Song Handy’ into a recording machine, which turns out to contain two animals.

The gags are mild, and none of the machines is really hilarious. Highlight is the runaway sewing machine, which sows everything together, including the complete tent and even rivers. Unfortunately, this great idea is hardly worked out and when a stork takes the complete tent into the sky, the cartoon ends abruptly.

The film is noteworthy, however, for some original stagings, and for the opening shot of Betty playing the organ, a surprisingly complex and convincing piece of animation, rarely seen at the Fleischer studio. ‘Betty Boop’s Crazy Inventions’ looks forward to the early Donald Duck film ‘Modern Inventions‘ of four years later, which is by all means the better product.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 10
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ker-Choo
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Is My Palm Read

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: April 21, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko the Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Birthday Party © Max FleischerBetty’s working alone at home, singing the song ‘Hummin’ to Myself’, but then her bell rings.

She finds a package at her doorstep, which appears to be a birthday cake. It appears that her friends have organized a surprise party for her. Koko gives her a dachshund, Bimbo gives her three fish in a bowl, and Fleischer’s unnamed stock baby gives her a piano.

In the third scene we watch Betty and her visitors eating at a long table in the garden. All goes well, until two visitors start arguing about a fish, and the complete party ends in a fight. This part includes a remarkably scene of Bimbo changing himself into a machine gun, shooting peas. While the party gets totally out of hand, Betty sails off with a statue of George Washington (don’t try to understand this).

‘Betty Boop’s Birthday Party’ is an enjoyable cartoon, if not among Betty’s best. The flapper girl has her finest moment during the opening scenes,  and the best gag may the unpacking of the piano.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 14
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Snow-White
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s May Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Directors: 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:

This is Tom & Jerry cartoon No. 19
To the previous Tom & Jerry cartoon: Pencil Mania
To the next Tom & Jerry cartoon: The Magic Mummy

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

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. 19
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Popeye the Sailor
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: I Heard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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