Betty Boop’s Life Guard


Previously listed as a first Betty Boop:


Each of the last several weeks I’ve said it was the last of the Betty Boop firsts. I’ve been wrong each time. I thought of another and this time I think it’s the last of the firsts, and why would I be wrong yet another week in a row?

Betty Boop’s Life Guard came out the 13th of July, 1934. This makes it the first of her cartoons released after the creation of the Production Code Administration, the enforcers of the Hays Code. Their rules about suitable public entertainment would tamp down Hollywood’s most risque elements. And Betty Boop would be tamed.

This cartoon doesn’t show much harm its post-Code release. Betty Boop isn’t introduced with her “Made of pen and ink/ She can win you with a wink” refrain. Many commentators say that, and her winking and hip-shaking, were too suggestive for the Hays Code. I haven’t seen a source for that.

But the plot’s appealing. The opening shot, of the seashore and waves removing and putting back the beach crowd, is one the studio would reuse into the 1950s. They were right to; it’s a good gag. Lifeguard Fearless Freddy warns Betty about going out too far in the ocean. She’s confident because she has her inflatable rubber horsey. I’m amazed to learn they had inflatable rubber horseys in 1934. They barely had men going shirtless at the beach back then.

Still, as foreshadowed, Betty’s inflatable rubber horsey deflates, and she goes underwater. This presents a nice sequence of undersea jokes featuring Betty as a mermaid. Everyone goes about singing “Where’s Freddy?”, up to the point that Betty gets chased by a sea serpent. The sea serpent reminds me of the Jabberwocky from Betty In Blunderland, Betty Boop’s Alice In Wonderland/Through The Looking-Glass cartoon released in April of 1934. For that matter, the plot is pretty much that of Betty In Blunderland, a fantasy sequence of Betty in a surreal and wondrous land interrupted by a monster come to grab her away. Betty In Blunderland is a great cartoon, worth attention on its own. I’m not surprised the Fleischers would remake it just three months later. It seems a little odd that Betty and everyone else are so hot for this Freddy fellow, but wondering where he is at least gives something for the musical number to be about.

So here’s a question: how much did the enforced Hays Code affect the cartoon? The Production Code Administration was only established the 13th of June, 1934, too late for major changes in a cartoon getting released a month later. But the newly enforced code wasn’t a surprise dropped onto Hollywood from nowhere in the middle of June either. The very similar Betty In Blunderland would probably have passed without major changes. That Betty Boop was famous for risque jokes didn’t mean that was all she could do.

In Life Guard there’s a little bit of business about 5:30 into the picture with a Jewish rag-collector fish. It seems to me like it should have run afoul of the Code’s prohibition of “willful offense to any nation, race or creed”. But perhaps it like too many ethnic jokes was perceived as just playful. Goodness knows blackface jokes would take decades to finally register as objectionable.

Betty Boop’s cartoons generally got less entertaining after 1934. It’s easy to blame the Hays Code, although this entry shows that perfectly sound Betty Boop episodes could be made under its dictates.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there.

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