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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: September 23, 1932
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle © Max FleischerThis cartoon features a soundtrack by the Hawaii band ‘The Royal Samoans’, giving the cartoon a lively Hawaii score.

The short starts with Bimbo crashing on an island on a boat, into Betty Boop’s arms. A waterfall throws them into a spot full of singing trees, and later they’re confronted with a bunch of cannibals. Bimbo disguises himself as ‘black’ using mud, and starts singing the Hawaiian war chant. Thus he becomes the natives’ king. The cannibals perform for him, and Betty, too, who dances an extraordinarily sexy hula dance only dressed in a skirt and a flower garland. Unfortunately, the rain washes off Bimbo’s disguise and the two have to flee in a boat.

The movements of the dancing natives and Betty are rotoscoped from the Royal Samoans, rendering them very convincing and lifelike, indeed. Betty Boop’s hula dance is arguably her best scene ever. Apart from this, the cartoon is stuffed with throwaway gags showing the Fleischer’s typical brand of surrealism.

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

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 4
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop , M.D.
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Ups and Downs

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

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: unknown
Release Date:
 August 13, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★★♕
Review:

Room Runners © Ub Iwerks‘Room Runners’ starts with Flip trying to sneak out of his apartment block to escape six months of arrears. Unfortunately, he’s discovered by the landlady, and a long chase starts, which also involves a policeman and a running gag of a man with a tooth ache.

‘Room Runners’ takes the eroticism introduced in ‘The Office Boy‘ to heights that even surpass the sexual references in Fleischer’s Betty Boop cartoons. Already in the first scene we watch a young lady (the secretary from the previous cartoon) wandering in her night gown. Flip then runs into a bathroom, where a naked woman takes a shower, and he spies on naked ladies twice. Finally, the landlady falls into a painting of a naked woman, with bare breasts.

The cartoon is gag packed, but the animation is erratic, and the visual language sometimes straight from the silent era – something typical of the mid-1932 Flip the Frog cartoons. Both this strange mix of styles and its strong erotic content make ‘Room Runners’ a unique short. If one should watch just one Flip the Frog cartoon, this one should be it.

Watch ‘Room Runners’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 24
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Office Boy
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Stormy Seas

‘The Office Boy’ is available on the DVD Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks

 

Director: unknown
Release Date:
 July 16, 1932
Stars: Flip the Frog
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

The Office Boy © Ub IwerksIn ‘The Office Boy’ Flips applies to be an office boy, and he’s hired on the post, after he has washed away all his competitors with a fire hose.

Once at work he accidentally starts a record player, and he and the sexy secretary start to dance to some rumba music. Later, a cat and a mouse cause havoc, leading to the secretary losing her dress, and Flip being fired.

‘The Office Boy’ is a gag-packed cartoon, the best of which is the one with a face Flip paints on a dirty window. Flip’s voice is remarkably Mickey Mouse-like in this cartoon, but most of the humor would not fit Mickey, at all, as many gags involve the sexy secretary, repeatedly revealing her underwear.

The secretary would be used again in Flip’s next cartoon, ‘Room Runners‘, which is even more erotic. The secretary is also shown chewing bubble gum, in one of the first animated depictions of this 1928 invention (another contender is the Mickey Mouse film ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ from April).

The erotic secretary seems proof that Iwerks wanted to compete with Fleischer’s sensual Betty Boop cartoons. However, it may also be an example of an increased amount of sex references employed by Hollywood in 1932 in general, for a stronger sexual content can also be noted in live action movies from the era.

This higher level of eroticism in Hollywood cinema remained extant until 1934, when the Hays code kicked in with a vengeance, and the tables were turned exactly the other way: for most of the 1930s cartoons often became ridiculously goody-goody and childish, reaching a low point around 1935/1936.

Watch ‘The Office Boy’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 23
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: The Bully
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: Room Runners

‘The Office Boy’ is available on the DVD Cartoons that Time Forgot – The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 2

Director: Boyd La Vero
Release Date:
 1932
Stars: Marty the Monk
Rating:
Review

Mexican Lilly © Associated Films‘Mexically Lilly’ is the last of three known Marty the Monk cartoons.

Like Marty’s previous cartoon, ‘Mere Maids‘, it opens with live action footage of Boyd La Vero himself, but this time, the cartoon is a complete original, even though it thematically covers similar grounds as ‘The Cactus Kid’ (Walt Disney, 1930) and ‘Hot Tamale’ (Van Beuren, 1930).

‘Mexican Lilly’ thus is a classic Western cartoon. It starts with Marty riding horseback, being followed by a bunch of thugs(?). He escapes to Mexico, where he visits a canteen. There he encounters another villain, but he’s rescued by a fan dancer, who takes him to her bedroom, where she – believe it or not – strips before Marty’s very eyes. She leaves Marty to perform a risque fan dance. But then the thugs appear, and in a dark gun fight, everyone gets killed but Marty, the fan dancer, and the Mexican villain, who runs into the distance, naked.

‘Mexically Lily’ makes a little more sense than Marty’s first two films, but the animation remains crude and erratic. Unfortunately, Steve Stanchfield’s copy is rather poor, and devoid of sound, which was recreated, with okay results. The film was to be Marty’s last known screen appearance. I’m sorry to say that he will not be missed.

‘Mexically Lilly’ is available on the DVD ‘Cultoons! Rare, Lost and Strange Cartoons! Volume 3: Monkeys, Monsters & More!’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: December 12, 1931
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Dizzy Red Riding Hood © Max FleischerFollowing Van Beuren’s ‘Red Riding Hood‘ earlier that year, the Fleischer’s did there own take on Perrault’s famous fairy tale.

In this short Betty Boop is a particularly sexy Little Red Riding Hood. Bimbo wants to accompany her on her journey, but she rejects him twice. Nevertheless he follows her secretly. He disposes of the wolf first, reaping its skin off to disguise himself as the wolf to win Betty over.

This short simply bubbles over with surrealism and strange animation cycles. The cartoon is brought as a children’s story, but rarely did a cartoon have such strong sexual content. The best part in that respect is a close-up of Betty Boop’s legs, while her garment falls off several times.

The original mix of sex and surrealism makes ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ a highlight of the pre-code era, and it certainly deserves to be seen.

Watch ‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Dizzy Red Riding Hood’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date:
 May 2, 1931
Stars: Flip the Frog, Honey
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Ragtime Romeo © Ub Iwerks‘Ragtime Romeo’ initially seems to revisit a theme that Ub Iwerks had explored before with Walt Disney in the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit film ‘Rival Romeos‘ and the Mickey Mouse short ‘The Barn Dance‘ (both 1928), when we watch both Flip and a Pete-like character ride their anthropomorphized cars to Honey’s house.

But when Flip starts to serenade Honey, events take a different turn. Flip serenades her on a guitar, while yodeling and whistling, and on a piano, waking up all the neighbors. Surprisingly, they all respond enthusiastically, urging Flip to play more, except for one, who desperately tries to block out the noise. In the end she calls the police, which arrests the still performing Flip and Honey.

This short contains a piquant scene, in which Flip’s portrait watches Honey undressing. Later, the real Flip watches her naked silhouette through the window curtains. Iwerks’s studio would add more of these risque moments in future shorts, like ‘What a Life‘,  ‘The Office Boy‘ and most notably ‘Room Runners‘ (all from 1932).

Watch ‘Ragtime Romeo’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Flip the Frog cartoon No. 10
To the previous Flip the Frog cartoon: Laughing Gas
To the next Flip the Frog cartoon: The New Car

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

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: August 31, 1930
Stars: Betty Boop
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Still from 'Barnacle Bill' featuring Barnacle Bill and Betty Boop on a singing couch

‘Barnacle Bill’ is a literal visual illustration of the folk song of the same name, made famous by Hoagy Carmichael’s 1930 recording.

Barnacle Bill (another version of early Bimbo) is visiting Betty Boop, who’s called Nancy Lee in this cartoon and who apparently is the Captain’s love. All neighbors gossip about it, and when the captain arrives, he chases Barnacle Bill into the sea, where the latter dances with some remarkably humanized mermaids.

‘Barnacle Bill’ is the second cartoon featuring Betty Boop, and it introduces the strong sexual overtones, associated with the character in her early years. One example is Betty’s dress that rolls itself up, exposing her legs. There’s also a couch that itself replaces several chairs when Betty invites Barnacle Bill inside.

‘Barnacle Bill’ uses musical dialogue almost exclusively. It contains some odd perspectives and flexible animation, but most important of all, it is wildly surrealistic, creating a completely original world of utter weirdness. For example, when Barnacle Bill threatens to bust in the door, the door shrinks and hides under the welcome mat. Later, we watch Barnacle Bill swim through the air, and dive into the couch. And when he leaves Nancy Lee’s apartment block, he sails one of the stairs. Touches like these make watching the cartoon a mind-blowing experience. I don’t think it’s considered a classic, but to me it should be.

Watch ‘Barnacle Bill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Talkartoon No. 9
To the previous Talkartoon: Dizzy Dishes
To the next Talkartoon: Swing, You Sinners!

‘Barnacle Bill’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: May 18, 1934
Stars: Betty Boop, Max Fleischer
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

Betty Boop's Rise to Fame © Paramount‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame” is a compilation cartoon, but it’s easily one of the best in its kind.

It features Betty Boop and her creator, Max Fleischer in a nice mix of animation and live action. Fleischer asks Betty, who is depicted as a tiny cartoon character, to perform for a reporter. She does three of her finest moments, using footage from ‘Stopping the Show‘ (1932), ‘Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle‘ (1932) and ‘The Old Man from the Mountain’ (1933).

In between, there’s some lovely interplay between Betty and “uncle Max”. Even these new scenes are sexy, when Betty changes clothes behind an ink pot and some books. This delightful cartoon can be regarded as an ode to Betty’s glorious past. From now on sex and eroticism would be banished from her cartoons due to the censorship of the Hays code.

Watch ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 27
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: Betty in Blunderland
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Betty Boop’s Trial

‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: September 1, 1933
Stars: Betty Boop, Bimbo, Koko The Clown
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Still from 'I Heard' featuring Betty in underwear and Bimbo © ParamountBetty Boop works in a tavern near a coal mine, where Koko The Clown and Bimbo are working. The latter discovers some ghosts in the mine.

This short contains an excellent swinging jazz score by Don Redman and his orchestra, who are introduced in the beginning of the picture, playing in a zany cartoon decor. The music includes adapted versions of Don Redman’s hit songs ‘How am I doing?’ (1932) and ‘I Heard’ (1931).

‘I Heard’ was the last Fleischer cartoon to feature a great jazz score. Don Redman, and his predecessors Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong, where soon replaced by Rubinoff and his orchestra playing light classical music in ‘Morning Noon and Night‘  and ‘Parade of the Wooden Soldiers’ (both late 1933). Even worse, the cartoon marked Bimbo’s last screen appearance. Being an animal he was no longer accepted as being Betty’s suitor in a Hays Code dominated Hollywood which shunned all eroticism and ‘unnatural sexual behavior’, including human-animal relationships.

After Bimbo, Betty would shortly date a human character named Fearless Freddie, but from 1935 on she remained a bachelor apparently with no interest in men whatsoever. In this cartoon, though, she’s still sexy, and she can briefly be seen in her underwear, after the elevator she and Bimbo had taken has crashed.

Thus, in many ways, one can regard ‘I Heard’ as the last of the classic Betty Boop cartoons. After this cartoon, the intoxicating mix of sex and surrealism was only seen once, in the compilation cartoon ‘Betty Boop’s Rise to Fame‘ (1934), a last tribute to Betty’s glory days.

Watch ‘I Heard’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Betty Boop cartoon No. 19
To the previous Betty Boop cartoon: The Old Man of the Mountain
To the next Betty Boop cartoon: Morning Noon and Night

‘I Heard’ is available on the French DVD Box Set ‘Betty Boop Coffret Collector’

Director: David Hand
Release Date: June 29, 1935
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Review:

Who Killed Cock Robin? © Walt Disney‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ is a musical mystery very loosely based on the nursery rhyme of the same name. Its source material notwithstanding, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ is the most adult Silly Symphony ever made.

True to the Silly symphony concept, all characters either sing or speak in rhyme to Frank Churchill’s music (with Jenny Wren’s sensual blues as a highlight), but in a bare seven minutes the cartoon manages to mock both the law, racialism and gay people, while displaying an unusual eroticism through Jenny Wren, who is a very fine caricature of famous Hollywood actress Mae West, a tour de force by Joe Grant (design) and Hamilton Luske (animation).

These features are especially striking when one bears in mind that the Hays Code was already active in 1935. Due to his self-censorship of the movie industry sex and violence were banned from the movies. To illustrate its effect: due to this code an erotic cartoon character like Betty Boop had to be tuned down and was turned into a goody-goody and quite a bland character. Yet, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’ displays its satire and eroticism in full glory.

When Cock Robin has been shot by a mysterious shadow, the Keystone Cop-like police randomly arrests some bystanders: a tough-looking guy, a black bird (in those days blacks were easily arrested just because of their color) and a cuckoo who resembles Harpo Marx. They’re treated very roughly, being knocked by the cops almost all the time. And when Jenny exclaims that justice should be done, the judge simply orders to hang all verdicts even though nobody knows who’s guilty!

It’s Cupid, an obvious caricature of a homosexual, who prevents this cruel sentence. Cock Robin appears to be alive, and finally he and Jenny Wren reunite in a hot kiss. Thus ends one of the most spectacular cartoons of the 1930s.

Watch ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 54
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Cookie Carnival
To the next Silly Symphony: Music Land

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