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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 4, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, 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:
‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 9, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Irène Bordoni
Betty introduces singer Irène Bordoni who sings the title song, first in French, then in English. At the second chorus the live action audience takes over, and during the third chorus we watch a very short animated sequence about a womanizing cat. The cabaret scene has a jazzy score based on Cab Calloway’s ‘The Scat Song’ from earlier that year, after which Bordoni’s sentimental 1928 song rather pales. Thus, after the opening scenes the cartoon unfortunately plunges into dullness.
Watch ‘Just a Gigolo’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘Just a Gigolo’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: March 11, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Cab Calloway
In fact, the cartoon opens with a live action shot of Calloway showing some of his extraordinary dance moves in front of his orchestra. We then cut to a home setting with Betty Boop and her parents, which are apparently of German Jewish descent. Her father scorns her, his jabbering head suddenly changing into a cylinder phonograph. Betty flees crying to her room, and decides to leave home, and she rings Bimbo to come along. This sequence is accompanied by the 1929 hit song ‘Mean to Me’.
The couple flees to the countryside, which quickly becomes very scary, so they hide inside a cave, where the theme song starts. Inside the cave they encounter a walrus-shaped ghost (a rotoscoped Cab Calloway) giving an almost complete rendering of ‘Minnie the Moocher’. During the song we watch images of e.g. skeletons drinking and some prisoner ghosts getting the electric chair. In the end, the ghosts chase the couple back home to the tune of ‘Tiger Rag’.
‘Minnie the Moocher’ makes little sense, and is not as good as the later ‘Snow White’, which also stars Calloway. However, Calloway’s performance is so intoxicating, and the Fleischers’ sense of humor so mesmerizing, it remains a joy to watch the cartoon throughout.
‘Minnie the Moocher’ was the first of handful Fleischer cartoons featuring popular jazz stars, the others being ‘Snow White’ and ‘The Old Man of the Mountain’ from 1933, also featuring Calloway, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re dead you Rascal You” (1932) featuring Louis Armstrong, and ‘I Heard‘ (1933) featuring Don Redman and his Orchestra.
Watch ‘Minnie the Moocher’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Talkartoon No. 33
To the previous Talkartoon: The Robot
To the next Talkartoon: S.O.S.
‘Minnie the Moocher’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’
Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 13, 1937
This enjoyable gem depicts a Harlem-like nightclub for bugs, in which blackface grasshoppers perform hot jazz, led by a Cab Calloway-like bandleader. All bugs swing to it as soon as they enter the club.
After a remarkably erotic act played by a spider and a fly the cartoon climaxes in the jazz song ‘Truckin’, recorded by both the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Duke Ellington in 1935, and celebrating a dance style that was fashionable around ca. 1935-1938. The main feature of trucking is the shoulders which rise and fall as the dancers move towards each other while the fore finger points up and wiggles back and forth like a windshield wiper. At this point in the short even some astonishing effect animation joins in, delivering totally convincing glitter ball effects and beautiful descending fluffy flowers.
Both charming and entertaining, the whole mood of this delightful cartoon is one of sheer joy.
Watch ‘Woodland Café’ yourself and tell me what you think:
This is Silly Symphony No. 66
To the previous Silly Symphony: More Kittens
To the next Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha