60s Popeye: The Day Silky Went Blozo, in which Blozo goes Silky in a big way


We emerge from a second wave of Seymour Kneitel back to the comforting if slightly shoddy hands of Jack Kinney studios. The story for this 1960 short is credited to Joseph Stewart and Jack Kinney and animation direction to Hugh Fraser. Join us now and witness what happend The Day Silky Went Blozo.

Popeye versus The Reluctant Dragon! How can you not like that? Well, I’ll do my best to try … Well, you might not like that way Jack Kinney cartoons seem to animate the first draft of the script. That’s always unfortunate, and a bit more so here for the satiric potential in the premise. King Blozo is, like he always is when we see him, distressed. This silky-voiced dragon is disaffecting Blozo’s people with his Moritz Schlick-like assertion that the meaning of life is play. It’s never too soon to teach kids that society is as cruel as people have decided to make it, and that if we wanted, it could be better.

So Blozo has the problem that his kingdom’s threatened by this dragon encouraging people to sing and dance and be happy instead of, you know, work. Once again I long for the theatrical short this could have been, with two or three more minutes of screen time. And some bit players. And showing things screwed up because people are off prancing around a dragon instead of their jobs. The budget in time and money only allow sending Wimpy off against the dragon, who I don’t think gets called “Silky” on-screen. Wimpy’s spectacular failure against Silky sends Blozo to repeat the premise. And to declare he needs to send the “strongest, most honest, and ugliest man in my kingdom” against Silky.

Silky, a large dragon wearing blue vest, cap, and shoes, plays the trunk of a tree as if it were a flute. A crowd of Thimble Theatre regulars --- Wimpy, Brutus, Olive Oyl, Swee'Pea, Professor Wottasnozzle, et cetera --- sit on the ground watching eagerly.
The first events at the Garden State Arts Center were pretty informal things.

Strongest and most honest make sense. Ugliest is an odd insult to toss in, especially when for all we in the audience know Brutus might be next. The placement dampens the impact of a not-that-good insult/joke. I’d cut it, myself, especially as Blozo doesn’t have many other comic asides to make this flow better.

Popeye challenges Silky to a duel, and the dragon choses the yo-yo as his weapon. The dragon’s yo-yo tricks win over an appreciative crowd, one that includes Brutus in a rare non-antagonist role. He doesn’t even speak, although Jackson Beck earns his pay doing the dragon’s voice. Also a rarity: Popeye eats his spinach but doesn’t use that power to do anything. He’s ready to slug Silky, or at least do some better yo-yo tricks, but Blozo’s been won over by the charms of dragon yo-yo. So all the fighting gets called off. Blozo goes over to Silky’s way of living.

All the key points are here and I like how they play out. I particularly like the weird exceptions of this short, like Brutus’s and Olive Oyl’s non-speaking roles. And Popeye eating his spinach but not using that. Or Popeye being the last one to realize he’s on the wrong side here. He starts in the wrong sometimes, but I think this is the only time he comes around after eating his spinach.

There’s a batch of not-quite-finished bits. Blozo repeating how it’s terrible that this dragon is telling people just what they want to hear. How you tell the difference between the normal Wimpy and the Wimpy who’s taken Silky’s advice to live a frivolous, pleasure-driven life instead. Or the animators not having agreed on how big Popeye the Knight should be, relative to the dragon, so they try all the plausible heights. Or (at about 3:30) animating Popeye’s mouth moving since I guess the soundtrack showed someone was talking, never mind that it wasn’t Popeye. (Come to it, Popeye’s mouth — at least his pipe — moves more while Silky talks than when he talks later in the scene.) The lousy mixing of audio levels, so Silky’s song gets lost underneath the music. As keeps happening with Kinney-produced shorts, no one of these is a difficult thing to patch. But you feel the constraints on time that must have been present that they weren’t patched.

60s Popeye: William Won’t Tell, because in this one, William is Popeye, that’s why


Have we entered a new round of Seymour Kneitel-mania? … Almost! It’s a Paramount Cartoon Studios production this week, so yes, he’s the producer. And the director. The story, though, is given to Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer. So here is 1961’s William Won’t Tell.

I’ve mentioned the curse of competence. It’s not hard to write about great cartoons. It’s easy to write about the fabulously incompetent. William Won’t Tell is mostly a good enough idea done well. But I’ll try to give some decent attention to a cartoon that sets a reasonable ambition and does it pretty well. It shouldn’t be neglected for that.

It’s a fairy-tale setting, like a fair streak of King Features cartoons are. This one doesn’t have a narrator, or any kind of framing device. It doesn’t need one, although that does raise the question why any of these cartoons ever need one.

The town crier reads from a long scroll. He's a skinny, narrow-faced person, with a shaggy, Brutus-like beard.
One of the first bit parts played by Shaggy before he landed that Scooby-Doo job. In his memoir Shaggy admitted the Brutus beard was a strange choice and nobody remembers who suggested he wear it.

The story’s inspired by the legend of William Tell. Popeye Tell pauses in his day of doing good deeds to help the Queen replace her broken wheel. She gives him a kiss on the forehead, that he has to keep secret from the jealous King and the no-less-jealous Olive Oyl. The King learns of this anyway and demands all men pass before him with their hats off. When Popeye refuses the King forces him to shoot an arrow off Olive Oyl’s head. He does, but the trick arrow that makes this easy also knocks his hat off, revealing everything to everyone. The Queen saves the day, with a well-timed explanation and birthday gift for the King, and we have a happy ending.

I don’t have a national-identity attachment to the legend of William Tell. So I don’t mind the shifting of events and motivations and all. There’s a solid logic behind the whole story, too. We get Popeye to be heroic to start with, and for that resolute good nature to get him in a fix, and for that virtue to be what brings the last-minute save. It fits well enough I only noticed later that nobody brings up spinach.

A stubborn and annoyed Popeye blows 'NO' out of his pipe.
Saving this reaction shot for every e-mail I have to answer this week.

There are several nice fangles in this, mostly in the animation. Popeye refusing the King’s order by blowing his pipe to spell out ‘NO’ in smoke. Popeye felling a tree by using arrows that spiral around each other and do the work, the sort of stunt often done in the theatrical shorts. The King trying out and rejecting two apples before putting the tiniest one on Olive Oyl’s head. These all add vitality to the cartoon, and also reward watching. They lift the cartoon beyond the illustrated-radio default.

I bring up again how well I find the story structure. When I look at the other cartoons credited Carl Meyer and Jack Mercer I find one that I thought well-structured (Who’s Kidding Zoo) and some others with decent premises done okay (Messin’ Up The Mississippi or The Baby Contest, for example). I’m curious what happened to make everything come together this time.

60s Popeye: Valley of the Goons, the rare cartoon where Popeye goes sailing


After a bit of Jack Kinney we get back to the comfortable grounds of Paramount. Once more we have story, direction, and production by Seymour Kneitel. This for 1960’s Valley of the Goons.

Considering his name Popeye doesn’t spend that much time at sea. Especially in the King Features shorts, where he got stuck in a boring suburban house. Here, he’s finally at sea — and even in a sailing ship! — but it took being shanghaied to get him there.

I like this one a lot. Not just because it has Goons, although that does help. It does a lot of things right, including getting Popeye on an adventure. It’s also a strongly-plotted adventure. Poachers hoping to make a fortune in goonskin shanghai Popeye, presumably because they need the extra muscle. Popeye, being a hero, isn’t having it. He breaks out of the brig and gives the Goons the spinach they need to kick the pirates out. And the spinach seeds so they won’t have to rely on him anymore. The story’s sensible, the motivations clear enough, and Popeye is resolutely heroic for it all.

As seems to happen, I wonder if this was a condensed version of a comic strip or comic book adventure. Neither the Popeye Wikia nor the IMDB suggest it was. And it’s unfair to say that because a story is coherent and entertaining it must come from somewhere else. There’s no reason Seymour Kneitel can’t write good stories. Still, a condensation would explain why Rough House isn’t suspicious when the Captain takes the knocked-out Popeye.

Someone off-screen pulls by a leash a decoy rabbit, holding a carrot in its mouth. An enthusiastic, happy Goon chases the decoy.
So anyway I hope your year is turning out productive like this.

We get introduced to Goon Valley as “A Backwards Country”, along with some jokes about things being done the wrong way around. Putting a mailbox in a letter, for example, or a mugger forcing cash on someone. (Who seems happy about it, too.) A serious critic might consider the colonialist implications of these pirates raiding a country explicitly labelled “backwards”. And being saved by the white guy coming in and defending them, and encouraging them to adopt his own techniques to fend off future incursions[*]. Me, I’m considering: is this a ripoff of Bizarro? The character first appeared, in Superboy, in 1959, and was popular for good reasons. But he was a lone “backwards” figure. Bizarro’s world (Htrae) first appeared in April 1960, if Wikipedia doesn’t mislead me. It’s … conceivable that this was filling out a couple minutes of screen time with a Bizarro World riff. But I find coincidence is the more compelling explanation. It’s not a unique genius that would think of “what if everyday life, but backwards?” It must have antecedents.

The captain of the poachers isn’t a Brutus figure, although Jackson Beck does the voice. Beck also does Rough House’s voice, using a southern-fried accent I think is unique to this short.


[*] One might ask whether I’m trivializing a serious and worthwhile form of criticism by putting it to a disposable cartoon from the 60s. I don’t intend to trivialize, no. I argue, first, that we learn how to think seriously about things by first thinking lightly about things. Whether by shallow thoughts or by simple topics. If the text doesn’t have enough of a point of view to criticize, it’ll fall apart under examination, and it’s worth learning how to spot that, too. And some serious thinkers would agree that the pop-culture stuff shoveled into kids’ heads deserves examination. But, again, these are for real critics, as opposed to what I do around here.

60s Popeye: Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase


We’ve finally broken Seymour Kneitel-Mania! Briefly. Jack Kinney Studios takes over for this 1960 short. Story by Carol Beers, and animation direction by Harvey Toombs.

Before getting into Popeye in the Grand Steeple Chase a quick warning. At about 7:21 in the short, Popeye uses a then-accepted-by-white-people slur to refer to being cheated. Don’t want you caught unaware.

It’s easy to say why do a horse-racing cartoon. There’s bunches of good setups available. They may all exist in the shadow of Walt Disney’s Goofy cartoon How To Ride A Horse. Also of the Marx Brothers’ A Day At The Races. Fine. Those are the shadows you want to be in.

I’ve mentioned how often Jack Kinney cartoons felt like sketches or first drafts of cartoons. And the previous Carol Beers-story cartoons, Camel Aires and Popeye’s Museum Piece, had more sketchy or baffling storylines. This time around it’s all pretty straightforward. Olive Oyl cajoles Popeye into entering a steeplechase. Brutus sells Popeye a bad horse. Brutus figures to win the steeplechase himself. Despite his dirty tricks Popeye gives his horse “organic spinach-falfa” and wins the race. And, yes, Brutus would surely have won if he hadn’t wasted all that time digging a trap for Popeye. Isn’t that always the way?

The baffling stuff is all tucked into the details. Some of them are jokes, or at least attempted jokes. Wimpy as the racetrack announcer, for example, won’t stop eating hamburgers, even though this reduces his announcements to gibberish. That’s a fair joke. It’s confusing only because I’d expect those names to be jokes. I can’t make out if they are. But not putting in the joke I expect isn’t wrong. Also, credit to the studio for at least claiming there are other jockeys. This sort of Popeye-versus-Bluto/Brutus cartoon often skips having other competitors. Brutus locking the other jockeys in makes the race more full without forcing anyone to animate a third figure.

In the stands several groups of seriously-dressed people watch the race. Olive Oyl is jumping around, swinging her arms and legs, cheering Popeye. Two of the audience are looking at Olive Oyl, annoyed or resentful or worse.
I love how much those two people resent Olive Oyl being all cheerful and excited at a sporting event.

Also I understand intellectually that people dressed more formally back then. But this crowd for the horse race is dressed, to me, like they’re witnessing a State of the Union address.

There’s other small baffling things. Brutus affects a southern accent before putting on the persona of “Colonel Rudolph Brumus” for Popeye. It’s only one line, but why that line? Also, why “Rudolph Brumus”? It feels like a reference to someone adults at least would recognize around 1960. All it suggests to me is trying to do a name that’s amusing without being ostentatiously funny. You know, the way Paul Rhymer filled Vic and Sade with unlikely but not obviously clownish names. I’m never going to fault a writer for stuffing small, needless oddities. When it works, it’s the horse’s “Fax Mactor” fake tail.

There’s a character design oddity. The writing treats it as an obvious hilarity that Popeye’s horse, Sir Gallyhad, might be taken for a racehorse. But the drawing of him? I dunno, he looks like a normal cartoon horse to me. Maybe the animators had to start design work before the script was finished. Or it could be the horse design was prepared for another project. I don’t know what other stuff the Kinney studios was doing around that time.

The biggest characterization oddity: at the end, Brutus’s horse dunks him in the pit they dug to trap Popeye. Olive Oyl and Popeye find this hilarious. But they never discovered the various tricks Brutus had played to rig the race, other than selling Popeye a bum horse. Popeye didn’t even notice Brutus pulling out Sir Gallyhad’s Fax Mactor tail. But then it’s so natural for Popeye and Olive Oyl to laugh at Brutus’s comeuppance. Maybe Beers overlooked that the story hadn’t given them much reason to want him beaten up by his horse.

60s Popeye: Spinach Greetings, unrelated to Seasin’s Greetinks


And now Seymour Kneitel-mania gets us to 1960 and the most seasonally appropriate King Features Popeye of all. How could this have ever lined up so it would publish, in my time zone, Christmas Eve? Other than by my shuffling my schedule around to fill it with reviews this past week? Hey, it happened, that’s enough. Now with story, direction, and production credited to Seymour Kneitel, let’s enjoy some Spinach Greetings.

The Sea Hag has captured Santa Claus and only Popeye can rescue Christmas.

This is a freaking great premise. That may be the best half-hour Christmas special you could make featuring Popeye. This turns out instead to be your regular five-and-a-half-minute cartoon, but never mind. The idea is first-rate.

So I’m sorry that I don’t like the cartoon more. So much about it is appealing. Settling in with Popeye reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. The stockings set up at the fireplace, with the mouse hanging up a tiny stocking ultimately filled with cheese. Wimpy’s stocking having a hole that leads to a garbage bin. Sea Hag’s clear statement of motivation: “Everyone is happy this time of year and it’s all Santa Claus’s fault!” Santa flying a reindeer-headed jet plane, too. The change in vehicle must be easier to animate than eight tiny reindeer. It also fits with Space Age attempts at updating Santa to jets and rockets and other modern vehicles. That didn’t stick, but it makes sense to try.

Popeye learns the Sea Hag captured Santa. He sneaks into her castle. She sends her Vulture to capture and dispose of Popeye. He’s eaten his spinach, so he can kill the Vulture instead. She drops Popeye down her trap door; he punches the alligators in the pit into luggage. She throws a tantrum while Popeye frees Santa. It’s a happy ending. It’s all competently animated, and it all fits together well. But the cartoon somehow fails to have a good escalating tension or action or anything. I’ve mentioned how Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts have only the one gear. That serves a mood piece like Myskery Melody fine, and it works great for Sisyphean cartoons like Popeye Goes Sale-Ing. Here, it keeps the exciting part from being exciting.

Santa, in the cockpit of his reindeer rocket sleigh, waves to Popeye, Swee'Pea, Olive Oyl, and Wimpy.
I understand the plotting reason that Wimpy and Olive Oyl didn’t go along: they’d have to either be captured or else do things that don’t save Santa. If the short had seven minutes to play, there might be time for that. But it’s odd there’s no excuse given for their not helping, not even “The Sea Hag is too dangerous, you hasta stay home”.

Here’s an example of something unsatisfying here. Santa says nothing after he’s kidnapped. He sheds a tear, a moment that works great. But the whole short goes by with Santa doing and saying nothing, at least until his final farewell. I don’t have a good hypothesis why not. If he said nothing though the whole short his wordlessness would seem like a thoughtful choice. It would put Santa outside the normal world even despite being someone who could be tied to a chair. But as it is, it feels like they couldn’t even have Santa be interested enough to tell the Sea Hag she was being naughty. Why not have Santa and the Sea Hag squabble? How could that not be great?

Popeye kills animals this short. It’s something he’s done before, and even jokes he’s done before. Coming back with the cooked carcass of the Sea Hag’s Vulture evokes returning the Sindbad the Sailor’s Roc. Knocking alligators into luggage he’s done several times over. I don’t like that side of Popeye, even when he is doing it to stay alive. And it plays meaner here than it did in the theatrical shorts. Some of that’s because the made-for-TV shorts are less rowdy and rough than the theatrical shorts. Some of that’s because it is a Christmas cartoon. I mean, Santa is looking at you, Popeye.

The Sea Hag ends her part in the short crying how “My Christmas is ruined! Everybody’s gonna be happy!” That moment surprised me. It’s a funny and appropriate way to go out, but I’d expected some softening at the end. That Santa would give her a present. It could be a piece of coal, that she could take as confirmation of her special wickedness. I bet if this were a half-hour special they’d have included that. But I like that it isn’t softened. It surprises while staying the logical result of the characters’ choices.

(Seasin’s Greetinks is a 1933 theatrical short, from before they got Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, and Jackson Beck to do the voices. It’s got no Santa Claus in it, but Popeye does decorate a tree by punching.)

60s Popeye: Popeye Goes Sale-ing, the closest he’s been to sea in ages here


We’re not done with Seymour Kneitel-Mania yet! Story, direction, and production are all credited to him in 1960’s Popeye Goes Sale-ing. Thank you, Paramount Cartoon Studios. Let’s enjoy.

The short starts with Popeye doing his scat singing. It’s nice and cozy and I wonder if they re-recorded it each cartoon or not. I also wonder why it’s used. Is it a simple way to pad out a cartoon that’s run too short? I could imagine doing a bit more of the shopping follies here, although I don’t know if it would make the cartoon any better.

Olive Oyl spots a half-off sale on everything in the department store, giving the opening for a couple reliable jokes showing sofas, tables, coats, that sort of thing cut in half. And then we go into the store and a bunch of schtick. It’s all constructed well enough, although we can fairly ask: is this a Popeye story? It could be any woman-and-man pairing from that era and you’d get about the same scene.

The joke is simple enough. Olive Oyl dives into the mob packed around a sale table and comes out with something she declares a great bargain. Also one that she doesn’t want, so she sends Popeye to get her money back. Getting the refund requires filling out great bunches of forms. I dimly remember the days when returning merchandise involved at least some explanation or effort, mostly writing down on a sheet how this was “not what you wanted”. I’m told that in older days yet it was harder still, except at stores that promised they did no-effort returns. Since there’s no comic value in returning merchandise being no effort, Popeye gets a bundle of paperwork with excessively fussy questions.

Popeye looks over his shoulders, at the camera, while shrugging his shoulders.
“It’s a living.”

And I did want to mention the studio did a nice job on the background. This is not sarcasm. I appreciate how few lines and colors they used to suggest the department-store setting without interfering at all with registering the characters or action.

Brutus isn’t here. But there’s no need for any antagonist. The point isn’t overcoming anything; the point is the Sisyphean nature of the event. And there are two cycles, Olive Oyl’s attempt to get something to find it’s not right, and Popeye’s work returning it. Since our focus stays with Popeye that’s not as obvious as could be. The only way off is for one person or another to get tired of it, and Popeye does, eating his spinach and finally doing something that some other woman-and-man pairing couldn’t.

We leave back on the road again, with Olive Oyl confined to wearing blinders. That’s a joke used in the theatrical cartoons, although mostly for cartoons about Olive Oyl learning to drive. I think this is the first time it was used to keep her from spotting department stores.

60s Popeye: Hair Cut-Ups, part of Seymour Kneitel-Mania here


Seymour Kneitel-Mania continues here at King Features Popeye review headquarters. 1960’s Hair Cut-Ups credits Max Fleischer’s son-in-law for story, direction, and production of this Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Let’s watch.

In form, this is another of the tell-Swee’Pea-a-story cartoons. It’s got a more interesting framing device, since it’s not Popeye reading from a book. The frame, of Swee’Pea being afraid of his first haircut, even has a thematic resonance with the story told. That story is some riff on the tale of Samson and Delilah, casting Popeye as Samson and Brutus as an unnamed bad guy who disguises himself as Delilah.

This kind of setup, Popeye recast as a figure of legend, they’ve done before. Greek Mirthology, from 1954, has Popeye cast himself as Hercules to talk his nephews into eating their spinach. The stories are different enough I can’t call this is a remake of that Isadore-Klein-written cartoon. It’s a variation, though, especially in how the Popeye-figure switches his source of might to spinach. 1948’s Popeye Meets Hercules has a similar “ancient origins” theme, but that Popeye is already hep to the spinach deal.

Popeye, as Samson, holds some of his long, dark, thick hair against his cheek and smiles, so very happy with the feeling and the texture.
Now, if I were an actual critic, I’d have some thoughts about the cartoon having “Brutus” assume a — the — female role in the story. What does it signify that after years trying to beat Samson, “Brutus” is able to win when he abandons the male role altogether? And that his win is immediately destroyed when he sheds the Delilah persona, taking on his male identity again? No, I don’t believe Seymour Kneitel was thinking of investigating gender roles in the Popeye universe this way. But why did Kneitel feel it right to have “Brutus” shed his face covering and Delilah voice before punching out Popeye? Anyway, since I’m not a critic, I won’t think about that instead and will instead giggle about “Popeye” here loving his hair.

As I’d expect from the Paramount studios the cartoon’s competent, even efficient. The modern-day cast is as tiny as it could have, giving Brutus a rare non-antagonistic role so his double can be the villain. Ancient times have an even smaller population, only Samson and his rival fighting over who’s strongest. This opens to a couple of feats-of-strength jokes of the kind the Popeye animators could likely do in their sleep.

There’s a neat little bit when ‘Delilah’ invites Samson into the barber shop. Smoke from Samnson’s pipe threads underneath Delilah’s face covering. It seems like a good visual joke showing Samson’s attraction to Delilah. ‘Delilah’ sneezes, though, revealing that Brutus face. It explains the plan ‘Brutus’ concocted without him having to say it to the viewer. Good bit of work and I imagine a fair number of kids giggling as they worked it out. One strength of a Kneitel production is getting simple things like that done well. When the same element can serve two roles without drawing attention it’s doing well.

60s Popeye: Rags to Riches to Rags, with Wimpy, who never wears rags


And now as promised we are into the big patch of Seymour Kneitel. He’s credited for the story, the direction, and the production of this 1960 Paramount Cartoon Studios short. Here’s Rags to Riches to Rags.

Wimpy is such a great character. If Elzie Segar had created him before Popeye, it surely would have been Wimpy that took over the strip, down to its name. Wimpy’s blend of sloth and gluttony and intelligence and venality and luck fits so well together. As it is Wimpy almost overthrew Popeye. The Lost Popeye Zine has been publishing late-30s and early-40s Thimble Theatre strips showing how much more action Wimpy drove in that era.

So this cartoon is Wimpy-focused. Popeye’s essential, sure, but we open with Wimpy inheriting a fortune. Also a butler, Jeevie, a joke I wouldn’t get when I was six, voiced by Jack Mercer finding the median of his Wimpy and Popeye voices. Also since Lord Percival Wimpy has only the one living heir we learn Wimpy’s the only survivor of his immediate family. I’m sure that’s the one piece of the Popeye continuity to never be challenged in any medium, ever.

If I expect anything from Paramount Cartoon Studios shorts it’s competence. The premise will be clear, it’ll develop reasonably, it’ll end at an appropriate spot. Also, I’ll wonder if this is adapted from a Thimble Theatre storyline. I don’t see that it is. I have suspicions, though. That Popeye’s scheduled fight is against “Kid Nitro”, not Brutus or a Brutus-model character, is suggestive. The scene of Kid Nitro training by punching out a train of identical boxers is the comics strip’s sort of thing. Jeevie also feels like the sort of supporting character brought in for a Thimble Theatre story.

Wimpy counts out Kid Nitro, who's been knocked through the floor of the boxing ring. As he counts, a bag of money with angel wings slowly floats away from him.
How do you get decent odds going up against Popeye? His fight record is something like 2,038-0, with 2,036 wins by knocking the opponent out of the arena and into the crescent moon, that flashes a giant ‘TILT’. Kid Nitro would have to be rated as, like, a thousand-to-one shot, surely, in which case Wimpy can’t put his whole fortune up. There isn’t the money to cover the bet.

And the central scheme of the cartoon feels very comic strip. Not that Wimpy would see a way to double his fortune gambling. But why bet against Popeye? Other than how the cartoon needs some conflict? (Maybe also a way to reset the status quo, but there’s many ways to do that.) Wimpy or Olive Oyl would bet against Popeye in this sort of scenario all the time in the comic strip. But this would get some motivation, like, they think Eugene the Jeep predicted Popeye to lose. Or the odds given for Kid Nitro are just so good it’s almost wrong not to rig the fight.

That logic gap aside, there’s a lot done nicely here. You get why Wimpy’s doing all this. Joining the fight as referee makes sense, and opens the prospect for good mischief. Likely that’s more fun than just seeing him enjoy his wealth. (Although there’s probably jokes about Wimpy living in a hamburger mansion they could have made.) Wimpy’s change of heart is inevitable, and maybe sketchy but reasonable. And it has a nice sequence of Wimpy imagining his fortunes floating away as he counts Popeye out.

The resolution, Wimpy cadging a burger at a diner (Roughhouse’s Cafe?), is emotionally satisfying. Popeye closes by singing how “Even down to the end // You’re still the best friend // Of Popeye the Sailor Man”. The sentiment is almost justified by the action. It’s one more thing to make me wonder if the story’s condensed from a better-motivated version.

60s Popeye: Popeye’s Double Trouble, featuring 1 (one) Popeye


So, everyone here. Do you like Seymour Kneitel? Like, a lot of Seymour Kneitel? Because these Popeye cartoon reviews are heading into a thick patch of Seymour Kneitel-produced, Seymour Kneitel-directed cartoons. Today’s has a story by Joseph Gottlieb but don’t worry, after this, we get a bunch written by Seymour Kneitel too. This … is Popeye’s Double Trouble, from 1961.

The cartoons I watched growing up led me to believe I would encounter doubles of myself much more often than I actually have. It’s easy understanding why physical doubles turn up so much, though. They let you get into comedies of misunderstanding and you don’t even have to make a new character sheet. This cartoon’s one of the set where there’s a specific reason for a double. This time, the Sea Hag poses as Olive Oyl. She’s trying to get back a wish-granting good-luck coin that she accidentally gave Popeye.

Put like that, the gimmick of the cartoon sounds goofy or ridiculous. It doesn’t feel goofy, though. It’s set up matter-of-fact enough to seem reasonable. Sea Hag meant to jinx Popeye by giving him her bad-luck coin, that she carries around with her. She never wonders if keeping her bad-luck coin on her might relate to how Popeye foils all her schemes. Her vulture, in an inexplicable stroke of bad luck, pulls out the good-luck coin. She doesn’t realize until Popeye’s picked it up and wished for a chauffeur. Also the good-luck coin grants wishes. This seems like an arbitrary trait, or two magic-item ideas getting conflated. But the wish-granting turns out to serve the plot well. It gets Popeye out of the trouble of not being able to tell which is Olive Oyl and which is the disguised Sea Hag, since Mae Questel does both their voices.

The Sea Hag, disguised as Olive Oyl, holds Popeye upside-down, smashing his face into the floor.
Really feel Olive Oyl should see a warning sign that Popeye did not think this was out of character.

The story feels well-constructed. Not just in comparison to the loose motivations given the last couple Jack-Kinney-produced cartoons. And there are some touches I quite like. For one, I’m amused that Popeye accepts how the disguised Sea Hag smashes him into a wall or holds him upside-down to shake the coin off him. This doesn’t register as un-Olive-Oyl behavior. Also the waving her arm to shift into Olive Oyl’s appearance is a nice effect. I also appreciate that Olive Oyl gets to take the story lead. She sings the Vulture to sleep, unties herself, is sensible enough to wear a different hat so the audience can tell her from the Sea Hag. And she gets a rare chance to eat the spinach and so save the day. Good showing all around even if she wanders around like she’s dizzy and drunk after her spinach power-up. Well, they have to get a punch line to the dance contest from somewhere.

Wonder if the Sea Hag considered and rejected just asking Popeye for a coin for the phone or something. Yes, I know, if he turned the coin over then the short would be over too soon. Still, it would’ve been the first approach I’d try.

60s Popeye: Camel Aires, a sketch of a cartoon


Today’s Popeye cartoon has a story by Carol Beers, previously noted for Popeye’s Museum Piece. Direction is by Hugh Fraser, who’s had a bunch of credits to his name. And the producer was Jack Kinney. From 1960 is Camel Aires.

You know when you hear that “Popeye, you’ve done it again” music that the cartoon’s gibberish. It’s amiable gibberish, yes. But so far as it makes sense it’s because the characters and situations are familiar enough. Of course Popeye and Brutus are competing over something and it turns out to be Olive Oyl. Of course Wimpy will have some task he’s easily bribed away from. Brutus wil turn out to double-cross whoever’s working with him, and kidnap Olive Oyl. And Popeye will get his spinach and stop Brutus.

And I know I say this about half these cartoons but, wow, this is a sloppy one. Like, to start, Popeye and Brutus read in the paper how a rare stone was discovered in Egypt. OK, fair that they both have the idea of going to recover it for the intersted museum. The subhead says “Princess Olive Oil Believed Owner Of Valuable Gem”. It’s apparently the gem in her crown. What is the word “believed” doing there? And why can’t they get Olive Oyl’s name right?

Popeye has trouble with his camel, Camille, OK. Brutus, riding Frampton, meets up. “Hope you ain’t going to Egypt after that rare stone ’cause you’ll never make it on that ca-mule!” is pretty good trash-talking, echoing how Popeye had said Camille walks like a mule. They’re already in Egypt. This sort of combination deft and sloppy line runs through the cartoon. We see Olive at the top of the pyramid staircase Brutus and Popeye run up. Wimpy with an axe blocks them. Brutus offers a bribe of two hamburgers for Wimpy to show him where the princess is. Not sure who Brutus thought he was running towards right in front of him.

Brutus and Popeye stand at the base of golden stairs. At the apex is Princess Olive Oyl wearing a gem in her headdress. Halfway up the stairs is Wimpy, standing guard, with a battle axe in hand.
Wimpy as guard may seem odd but who would be a better choice besides literally any other Popeye character, including Roger the Dog, Swee’Pea, or one of the cheese men of the Moon?

There’s a nice bit of animation when Brutus punches out Wimpy. And Wimpy has a good line, “O, the perfidy of mankind!” And that’s the last time we see animation of anything important happening. Olive Oyl cries what sure sounds like stock cries for help and Popeye finds his way through the tunnels that are somehow there, only for Brutus to somehow tie him up. That’s all right. Wimpy, after declaring he’s too weak from hunger to save Popeye, passes up his chance to untie the very flimsy handkerchief holding Olive’s hands together, to go save Popeye, whose name she knows for some reason. Wimpy feeds Popeye spinach for some reason. Popeye blows out the flames he’s been tied over, which somehow frees his hands to untie himself, and then I guess Brutus’s camel throws him? Maybe Popeye has something to do with it? Anyway, Brutus is beaten and does it matter if it was Popeye or just the perfidy of camel? Anyway we all close up with Popeye and Olive riding Camille and Frampton, everybody in love with their species-matching partner.

Mulling this over I realize what the story structure is. It’s the narrative equivalent of the simplified, abstracted backgrounds of UPA-influenced cartoons. That is, the important features get highlighted, and everything else gets a perfunctory appearance if at all. When it’s done well, you get a production that’s just the stuff worth your attention. When it misfires, you notice how the chairs can’t stand on that floor.

60s Popeye: Canine Caprice, starring Roger and incidentally also Popeye


It’s been a while since I was studying the King Features Syndicate-made run of Popeye cartoons. I’m going through the roster as King Features gathered them on their YouTube channel, so these follow no logic I’m aware of. For today, it’s a Gene Deitch-produced cartoon from 1962, Canine Caprice. Let’s enjoy.

Gene Deitch, famously, didn’t care about Tom and Jerry when he got the contract to make Tom and Jerry shorts. Didn’t feel the characters were interesting. What I’ve never known is what he thought about the Popeye shorts. The only important animator whom I know to have said a bad word about the 30s Popeyes, for example, is Chuck Jones. And that’s only if we count as negative his observing that they’re scrawny-little-hero versus big-round-bully, like any generic generic black-and-white cartoon.

What gets me wondering is this short. It’s got Popeye in it, but it’s all driven by Roger the Dog. Who’s a talking dog that Popeye buys, in falling for a talking-dog scam. And who takes over the short, messing up Popeye’s life for not much obvious reason. The dynamic’s a lot like that of Shorty, from three of the most loathed Famous Studios cartoons. But Shorty you always knew what his deal was. Why does Roger not talk in front of Olive Oyl until the end of the short? No idea.

Roger and Shorty are not a bad concept. As he got domesticated, Popeye stopped looking for fights, and he got boring. A character pulling Popeye into trouble fixes that. And if you think I’m making a case for Scrappy-Doo, well, yeah. Scrappy being a relative answers why Scooby puts up with him. We don’t get so much information for Roger. I’m still stuck on why Roger didn’t talk to Olive Oyl when they first met, and why Popeye talked to him after that. Roger firing up Popeye’s jealousy over the piano teacher makes sense, although Olive Oyl could have said something sooner. At least there Roger had good intentions.

A beat-up Popeye holds his boxing trophy. Inside the trophy is Roger the dog, looking sheepish and apologetic up at Olive Oyl, who's surprised and irked at all this.
Truth coming out of her Boxing Trophy to apologize to Mankind for making all this unnecessary fuss.

The story starts hobbled. But granting that, the rest of the short holds up. Deitch’s animation looks cheap, yes, but the characters all move, with a good range of motion. You don’t get characters standing and blinking. The dialogue’s okay enough. It includes Popeye’s weird statement that “fights bores me”, which can only make sense if he means televised fights that he’s not in. Or Popeye’s domestication and boringness got really out of control.

I, too, am curious why Popeye’s packing a valise full of spinach cans. In the Deitch cartoons he never seems to have a can on him, so, what is this for?

Anyway, I wish Roger a happy time moving in with Wilbur Weston, a man whose life he can’t possibly screw up any worse than Wilbur can.

Reposted: The 42nd and Final Talkartoon: The Betty Boop Limited


I forgot that when I first posted this I threatened I’d get bored and do a rewatch of them a year later. Took longer than that and I didn’t rewatch with the intention of rewriting these. I am figuring to resume my 60s Popeye-watching now that this is exhausted and I’m slightly less exhausted, though. I have thought about going on to a more important series, such as the full run of Betty Boop cartoons. Or maybe the 60s-70s Pink Panther cartoons, although that would involve a lot of saying “wow, but the timing on this is excellent” and “they gave this bit character a lot of personality”. Which would not be the worst energy to put out in the world, admittedly.


And now, the last of my Talkartoon shorts until sometime next year when I get bored and decide to do a rewatch. This was originally released the 1st of July, 1932. Its credited animators are Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio. They’ve been teamed before, on the 21st cartoon, Twenty Legs Under The Sea and in the 31st, Any Rags?. How they missed the 41st is anybody’s guess.

The Talkartoon series, I suppose, started out as a way to feature a song, but have the framing cartoon be a bit more than setting up to follow the bouncing ball. Over the series’ run, Bimbo and then Betty Boop stumbled into beings as characters and the songs grew less important. And now here, for the last of the Talkartoons, it’s a lot of singing. The framing device is ripped from — I’m not sure the proper little genre name. I’ll call it the Gold Diggers of Broadway genre. Specifically it’s ripped from about the second and third reels of these movies, where — having introduced the long-struggling and the young-up-and-coming performers and their prospective marriage-grade partners, the story comes to a stop so a bunch of vaudeville performers can do their acts for posterity and for the last time. (Since, well, if someone’s seen your trick-sneezing act on film they don’t have to go to the last vaudeville theater in town to see you do it live, right?) So it’s basically a bunch of musical bits that could be strung together in any order, and done as long as it takes to fill out the short.

Betty Boop’s song is a version of Max Rich and Mack Gordon’s Ain’tcha? and I’m glad to have that established. I was having trouble figuring out just what it was supposed to be. The act most interesting to me was Koko the Clown’s soft-shoe. It’s a nice, smooth, fluid movement. It got me wondering if it might be rotoscoped. I don’t feel expert enough to call it that, not without supporting evidence. But there’s something in the way his shoulders move, and in this slight shift in the plane that his feet are in. It suggests to me movement studied from film.

There’s an inexplicably tiny cat who wanders in several times to start singing Silver Threads Among The Gold, or as it’s actually known, “Darling, I am growing older”. It’s a good running gag. I think I’ve seen it in other shorts, possibly from other studios, and I’m wondering if this is a first or earliest instance of it. (Hey, some cartoon had to be the first to use Franz Liszt, too.) But why such a tiny cat? I understand if it’s meant to be a kid running out and getting chased off stage, but the cat seems small even for that.

The short offers two solid choices for old-fashioned animated body horror. There’s Betty Boop and the whole gang getting sheared in half by the train tunnel about 5:15 in. There’s the cow getting hit by the train at about 5:40 and recovering well, at least that first time. (The train also looks to me like a detailed, grey-washed cutout, maybe even a picture, moving across frame, rather than cel animation. If it is, it evokes the way silent Koko the Clown cartoons would use stop-motion on regular pictures to, say, animate his being drawn into existence.)

I’m not sure there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the steps into the train car being a giraffe’s neck. Maybe the train blowing its nose after being fueled up. Also nice to see that Old King Cole recovered from his death and all that and went into the railroad business. And amongst the long-haired musicians (a variation of the one from Fire Bugs? Maybe? I’m not convinced) is a clearly moonlighting Mickey Mouse, right about 4:35 in.

It’s easy to say cartoons fall apart at the end. It’s hard to come up with a good solid punch line that resolves the storyline. This one has several weird ending problems. First is the kangaroo trying to get to what I had assumed was the bathroom: apparently it’s a phone booth instead? All right, I’ll allow it, although did phones even work on trains that weren’t in stations back then? And it’s more of a peanut vending machine than a phone? I follow each whimsical-step here. It just seems like a lot of steps in a row.

But the bigger one. The train hurdles toward the camera and smashes into it, for one last round of the tiny cat singing “Darling, I am growing older”, at about 5:35. But the short keeps going after that? It’s for some good jokes, including the first cow-smashing bit. And the railroad switch-operator business. (And check out that perspective shot at about 5:55 as he lurches over in his bathtub.) And the train worming its way through that tangle of rail lines is great. But why wasn’t the smash into camera and “Darling, I am growing older” the final bit in the short? It would be such a stronger conclusion to the cartoon, and to the series.

Reposted: The 41st Talkartoon: Admission Free, a cartoon that jumps the tracks


When this review first ran I observed I had failed to notice if this was the first Talkartoon showing Betty smiling and winking at us in the introduction. I have failed to notice again. I think we do see Old King Cole, though, as an old guy walking past Betty Boop’s change booth at about 1:04, just before Aloysius pops in. Glad he’s not doomed. I still wonder if animators ever considered using penny-arcade-movies as a way to do blackout gags, showing the one minute worth of material they had for a premise and moving on to the next. Outside this I only remember seeing it (in Fleischer/Famous cartoons, at least) used for clip shows.


I am almost out of Talkartoons to have opinions about. Don’t think I’m not just as worried by this as you are. Today’s was originally released the 10th of June, 1932. Its credited animators are Rudolph Eggeman — familiar already from The Cow’s Husband and A Hunting We Will Go — and Thomas Johnson, a new name. The Internet Movie Database doesn’t list any earlier cartoons from Johnson, but he’d go on to a number of great cartoons like Betty in Blunderland or It’s The Natural Thing To Do. Also some of those faintly sad cartoons where it’s the 50s and Popeye lives in the suburbs and is outsmarted by a gopher or something.

There’s a short cartoon-Indians joke early on in the short. There’s also a bit that reads like it’s maybe some kind of joke on Italians. I may be being oversensitive on that point, but the soundtrack during it is “Where Do You Work-A, John”, which rouses my worries.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been disappointed in an arcade cartoon. Even the ones that are just a frame for showing clips of earlier cartoons capture my fancy, somehow. Maybe part is the sense that you can just dip into anything and move on to something else engages me. It seems to engage animators too, possibly because this is a framing device that lets them just use the good parts of a joke.

I forget if this is the first Talkartoon that’s had not just the “Sweet Betty” song but the introductory title where Betty smiles and winks at us. Talkartoons were about to end and get replaced, production-wise, by the Betty Boop series anyway. Despite the title and her appearance to start things off, she doesn’t have much to do this short. Koko appears, yes, but Bimbo really guides most of the action. And pretty well, too. Stuff like how he slides his pennies down his shirt and then transfers them to his pocket may not have a specific joke. But it’s the sort of action that makes a character more interesting and endearing.

During the part where the monkey watched the fight movie I got to wondering: did animators ever think of this framing device as a way to burn off ideas they only had one or two scenes for? Rather than waste a premise or try to pad two minute’s worth of cartoon into a whole reel? Or to test out characters for their own cartoons? As far as I can tell, no. They just weren’t cautious in that way back then, it seems. And they had little fear of jamming together two or more unrelated cartoons with barely any transition.

Which is just what happens here, somehow. There’s a transition point, yes, Bimbo chasing a rabbit target out of the shooting gallery and into the woods. But somehow the short runs out of arcade jokes and turns into a hunting cartoon. Also jumps from nighttime in the city to daytime in the forest. It’s not a bad hunting short, mind, and the bullet at about 5:20 sneering at the rabbit with the declaration, “go chase yourself” is one of the few funny bits of dialogue from this series. Really all the action with the rabbit is good. As far as I know they didn’t try more with this character, which is a pity. The squirrels are a nice pairing too. But why this change in theme?

The arcade left plenty of room for little jokes you go back and notice. And it starts with a joke that almost gets lost in the digitization. So my blink-and-you-miss-it joke for the week is right up front. The chaser lights around the Penny Arcade sign drip off and run around the whole frame. It’s what’s going on when that weird tinkly sound comes in over the music. Some of the movie or attraction signs are fun, too. I mean, “Oh You Queenie”? “They Forgot To Pull The Shade”? If I hadn’t seen machines with names about like that I’d think they were being too silly. And it’s not a joke at all but I’m startled by the “Play Soccer!” mechanical attraction every time I notice it.

Not sure if that’s a mouse taunting Bimbo at about 4:36. The ears seem too large and floppy, and the tail seems big, but what else could it be?

Bimbo’s brother makes a cameo at about 1:07, in case anyone worried what’s become of him.

You can get Amid Amidi’s _Cartoon Modern_ for free now


I have already lost what person brought this to my attention. I apologize. The important thing is the Animation Obsessive web site has a delightful bit of news. For Halloween, it declared, We’ve Made a Rare Animation Artbook Free to All.

The book is animation historian Amid Amidi’s Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation. It’s a book I remember wanting but not being able to get, back in the young days of 2006. But Amidi expressed his desire, some years ago, to have the book scanned and released as “a high-quality PDF”, and so it has come to pass. You can download the book from Animation Obsessive’s site directly. Amidi has also placed a copy with the good people at archive.org.

I haven’t had time to read it yet. It’s bubbling near the top of my reading pile, for whenever I finish Paul C Tumey’s Screwball: The Cartoonists Who Made The Funnies Funny. (It’s about the early-20th-century zany-screwball cartoonists. You know, the people who invented characters leaping backwards out of the panel when they heard the punch line.) Still, I know Amidi’s book is a massive study of the UPA Style that took over so much of animation in the middle of the 20th century. We’re still living in its wake. It’s worth a few hundred megabytes to read about, or at least look at grand pictures.

Reposted: The 40th Talkartoon: Hide and Seek, A Cartoon I Need An Answer For


So we’re coming near the end of this repeat of my Talkartoons reviews. I’ll need to start actually working again soon. I have no regrets about putting this much of my blog in repeat mode. I haven’t had much time or energy for fun stuff since mid-August and I can at least keep my inexplicably long publication streak going with repeats like this. Plus I don’t know how to bring a guest author on anyway.

Hide and Seek is a cartoon I discuss mostly for its strange anachronistic nature. It looks and feels like a much more primitive cartoon than its recorded release date seems to justify. I haven’t got any new insights about its production. But then I also forgot the cartoon entirely after the original publication, so, it would take a stroke of luck to get anything.

In my recap I warn about the Chinese stereotype character that shows up in the cartoon. This feels to me today like a too-weak warning. If you don’t need Bimbo and a proto-Betty-Boop talking fake Chinese by saying stuff like “Chop suey” at a guy marrying them, skip this short. There’s some fun weird loosely-plotted cartooning in here but not a thing you have to experience.


This Talkartoon comes to me as a mystery. I realized while writing this that I couldn’t find it on the archive.org list of Betty Boop cartoons. This is because it has no Betty Boop in it. It’s also not listed under Talkartoons, but the archive.org roster of “subject: talkartoons” doesn’t have any of the 1932 shorts. I could only find one copy of it online, on YouTube; I just hope that it doesn’t go missing before you read these words. Wikipedia says this short was released the 26th of May, 1932. Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic agrees. I will provisionally accept that as true. But I’d like someone who has primary documentation to confirm because this is a weird one.

Also a mild content warning. The cartoon ends up in China. Not for long. Just long enough for a Chinese man to perform a quick wedding.

So. Yeah. This was allegedly released just about a month after A Hunting We Will Go. The 26th of May, 1932. Is anyone else not buying that? Because this cartoon would make so much more sense if it were released in 1930 instead. Let’s consider:

  • What the heck is with Bimbo? He looks like he did in 1930 and early 1931, before his character had really stabilized and he’d settled on the basic-black look.
  • Where’s Betty Boop? The romantic lead here looks strikingly like a prototype Betty Boop. But at this point why have a Proto-Betty Boop? These aren’t the days of Barnacle Bill or The Bum Bandit. Why not have Betty Boop appear and tie the cartoon to the studio’s clearest star?
  • It’s directed like a silent cartoon. Some of this is the backgrounds. They’ve got this limited use of grey that looks much more like what the studio did just after the transition from paper to full cel animation than what it was doing, say, in last week’s cartoon. Some of this is in framing shots. There’s a lot of use of setting the action inside a circle, against a black backdrop. We saw this all the time in 1930. These days? Not so much.
  • The sound is just awful. Granted some of this is the quality of the print that whoever uploaded this to YouTube uses. But I think it’s something in the source material. There’s no good dialogue even by the standards of a Fleischer cartoon. There’s not many good sound cues. There’s a title card song that seems to have nothing to do with the short. There’s just nothing.
  • There’s just one credited animator, Roland Crandall. This is the first and only Talkartoon that Crandall’s got a credit for. But he did a lot of work for the Betty Boop version of Snow White, and he’d be the animation director for the Fleischer’s Gulliver’s Travels.

So what if this cartoon has been mis-dated, and it was actually released in late May 1930? That would reduce an otherwise strikingly long gap between Fire Bugs (the 5th of May) and Wise Flies (the 14th of July, 1930). The character designs would make more sense. So would the direction. Also the big part the motorcycle has in coming to life. That has the feel to me of a spot joke that kept growing as it turned out the motorcycle was interesting. The style of the backgrounds makes more sense too, as does the use of a not-Betty-Boop for a Bimbo cartoon.

And yet.

There is the copyright date on the title card. The Proto-Betty-Boop is a weird figure, but any weirder than in The Robot — also a 1932 release? And also one with the white-model Bimbo? And the circles of action on a black background?

Apart from one Koko the Clown short, all the Internet Movie Database’s work for Crandall is dated from 1932 through his retirement (from animation) in 1941. And if a 5-May-to-14-July gap in 1930 is implausibly long, then how do I answer the 29-April-to-10-June gap that relocating Hide and Seek to that year would create?

All right, perhaps. It’s still weird. I wonder if Hide and Seek weren’t finished much earlier but not released until some scheduling issue demanded it. Also whether The Robot might have had a similar fate.

So I turn this over to people who know how to access primary documentation: the heck’s the deal here? Huh? You know?


There’s little information about this cartoon online. So I’m going to run out my column here with what happens. This is for the benefit of people trying to figure out what the heck happened after this mysterious cartoon vanishes from YouTube and the whole Internet.

The plot: A kidnapper grabs Proto-Betty Boop. Bimbo and his motorcycle give chase, pursuing him into a mountain and down into Hell. They’re captured by a demon. The motorcycle rescues Bimbo and Proto-Betty, and they make it to a happy ending.

And here’s a more detailed list of incidents, as opposed to just the plot. The title card opens with a tune about you being a detective called in to solve a hold-up and ultimately hypothesizing you’d have to say your prayers. The short opens in a bank where Proto-Betty Boop withdraws a bag of money. A lurking crook whom I thought was Bimbo at first cackles and follows. Bimbo, a cop working one of those traffic island signals you see in 1920s and 1930s shorts, notices the crook. The traffic signal picks up the crook’s card (“I. Grabber, Kidnaper [sic], office 66 Snake St”).

Proto-Betty strolls out of the bank, past I Grabber’s storefront (it even lists him as proprietor). She walks past his open trap door. Grabber pulls a rope out of the trap door and walks behind Betty. This ultimately pulls a goat up behind them. He grabs Proto-Betty and ties her atop the goat.

Bimbo spots this, and takes out three giant links of sausage, which he fashions into a motorcycle. He pursues Grabber up an impossibly steep mountain. Bimbo’s motorcycle can’t manage the incline until it sneaks back into town for a drink from the “Tea Shoppe” speakeasy. Thus fortified it’s able to drive uphill and, at that, through a boulder.

The two chase through an Old Man Of The Mountain rock face and to the smouldering volcanic crater up top. There they race around the cone in the center of the volcano, until the ground level drops down as an elevator. They arrive in Hell’s Kitchen. Grabber and the goat are taken by a giant demonic hand and put into an iron stove. Bimbo and Proto-Betty are grabbed by a demonic hand and taunted by a devil who looks more like a hippopotamus than anything else. The hippo-devil puts them in an icebox.

Meanwhile Bimbo’s motorcycle, undetected, searches for everybody. He finds the stove, and Grabber and the goat baked into pies, where he leaves them. (Their intact heads poke out of these pies; leaving them like that is shocking.) The motorcycle breaks through the icebox and carries Bimbo and Proto-Betty onto a miniature golf course, a reminder that 1930 was when miniature golf was first, er, big. This hole — number 19 — has a dragon or alligator putting a tethered ball through a wooden half-pipe ramp and looks pretty fun, truth be told.

Bimbo, Proto-Betty, and the motorcycle fall through the 19th Hole, down the tunnel to China, 4000 miles below. They land in a Buddha(?) statue’s hands. From it emerges a minister, who marries Bimbo and Proto-Betty Man.

Reposted: The 39th Talkartoon: A Hunting We Will Go


I liked this cartoon more than I felt when I reviewed it a couple years ago. It’s fair to say it’s a little dull, compared to the surreal wild heights Talkartoons could reach. But you don’t always need cartoons to be wild surreal adventures. Sometimes it’s nice to have a string of successful jokes in a row.


I’m down to the last four of the Talkartoon series and don’t go thinking that I’m not as worried as you all are what I’ll do when the sequence is done. But until then, what should I do except carry on as if there’s nothing to worry about?

This cartoon was originally released the 29th of April, 1932, so it’s the third of that month’s productions. The credited animators are Alfred Eugster and Rudolph Eggeman. Both have had credits before. Eugster was an animator for Grand Uproar, the once-lost Ace of Spades, The Bum Bandit, and The Herring Murder Case. Eggeman is credited for The Cow’s Husband.

I’d asked in The Cow’s Husband whether (American) bullfighting cartoons are always on the bull’s side. This short makes me wonder about cartoons about hunting, too. Surely they aren’t all on the hunted animal’s side. But the animal does seem to come out the better for the experience. This might be forced on the plots by the convention that these are humorous cartoons. This encourages the story to set the hunter out for basically trivial reasons, as here, where Bimbo and Koko are trying to impress Betty Boop. But if the hunt is for something trivial, then it’s too harsh to have the animal killed, and that means the animal has to come out better than the hunter does.

(It’s not impossible for the hunter to have good reasons and the cartoon to still be funny. On a vein not too different, there’s those Woody Woodpecker cartoons where Woody, or the wolf, or both are on the brink of starvation. It gives the cartoon a solid dramatic background that strengthens the joke. But I see the hunter as the non-ridiculous hero a lot less.)

So Betty Boop sets the cartoon in motion, singing of how she wants animal furs. And returns at the end, horrified that the animals have lost their fur. For this she gets top billing, which shows how little a star can do and still get away with it. The rest of the cartoon is Bimbo and Koko enacting spot jokes about incompetent hunters.

All the jokes here are okay. There’s only one that I find really good. That’s at about 3:15 when the deer(?) Koko’s shooting at grabs a pistol and shoots back. There’s a long bit, starting about 4:15, where an unspotted cat wants to get into the clam bake, and uses Koko’s bullets at spots, that’s clever enough. It didn’t seem like a fresh joke to me, but that might be my remembering watching this cartoon in ages past and knowing where the business all was going. Some folks might like Bimbo’s shooting at a lion only to produce a pride of lions better than I do, and I won’t say you’re wrong. Nor will I say you’re wrong if you like his shooting them all again with one bullet. It’s a joke I feel like I’ve seen before, but I also know I’ve seen it here before.

The story’s structured sensibly enough. It’s paced too steadily, too measured, for me though. Everything feels a bit slow and there’s no build to the story or tension or loopiness or action. You could probably swap the order of any of the hunting gags and make as good a short. There’s not any blink-and-you-miss-it jokes, not if you blink fast enough to spot the deer pulling his pistol out. Maybe Bimbo kissing the bear at about 5:18. Three’s also no really good body-horror jokes as long as you don’t find animals wearing their own fur as clothing horrifying. Some mice finally show up, in the parade at the end, about 6:50 in, at least.

There is some good animation crafting, though. As Bimbo’s slowly pursued by lions, around 3:45, there’s two levels of background. One’s the ground, moving as Bimbo walks. The other’s the sky, in perspective motionless. It adds some good depth to the scene. About 5:41 there’s a great split-screen image, Bimbo and Koko walking back with their furs. That’s some good camera work and the sort of thing you never see in cartoons.

But I have to rate this, overall, a dull cartoon. It’s all competently done, and crafted well enough that even if it ran in the late 30s it wouldn’t stand out as a primitive cartoon, the way (say) Dizzy Dishes might. Good to have reached that level of competence but that’s all it has.

Reposted: The 38th Talkartoon: Chess-Nuts; could this be the end of Old King Cole?


While the point of these reposts was to save myself mental energy I keep wanting to add something to them. I can’t think of a noteworthy observation not already put in my original review, here. So be it. I’m not quite sure what the chess framing adds to the cartoon, I suppose, besides the chance to use checkerboard backgrounds moving around. I suppose I also don’t know why it has to be Old King Cole, who as far as I know wasn’t a regular character in the Fleischer Studio canon.


Today’s Talkartoon is another from April of 1932. And it’s another animated by Shamus Culhane. The other animator was William Henning, who hasn’t been credited on a Talkartoon before. He did work on Swing You Sinners! though.

A word before we get to the action. The sexual-assault subtext that runs through a lot of Betty Boop cartoons is less subtexty this time around. I mean, the bad guy drags her into a bedroom at one point. And there’s lower-level stuff played for laughs, like Betty’s clothes coming off or an animal peeking up her dress. If you don’t want to deal with that, don’t worry. You’re not missing a significant cultural event. I’ll catch you next time.

Something you discover and rediscover a lot watching black-and-white cartoons: they’re not afraid to have real-world and cartoon interactions. They maybe have more the farther back you go, which seems opposite the way you’d expect. This short’s framed with footage of old guys playing chess. It’s not much interaction. And they do a common trick of using a still frame to animate over. But it’s still neat to see.

Some time ago these Talkartoons introduced this leering old guy that I wanted to identify as Old King Cole. I dropped it as I couldn’t think where I’d gotten that from. It must be this short; the song’s clear enough about who this is.

Framing the action as an anthropomorphized chess game is a fun idea. It doesn’t quite hold together logically, if someone would care about the logic of why the King would need his Queen to marry him. And it has some weird knock-on effects, like forcing Bimbo and Koko to go in white versions of their models. Given that Betty also wears a black dress it seems like it’d be easier if the three of them were the black pieces and Old King Cole in white. Maybe it’s so the resolution can be the white king Bimbo capturing the black queen Betty?

Anyway it’s a good excuse to have a lot of checkerboard patterns moving in perspective, which lets the animators show off what they can do. And there’s a wealth of the weird little mutable-world jokes that black-and-white cartoons get a reputation for: Bimbo’s crown reaching out and punching Old King Cole. A table reaching up to pull Betty’s dress back down. Betty dragging a window out of place. Old King Cole running into a door so hard he falls apart.

There’s a bunch of blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. Maybe you noticed about 1:48 where Bimbo’s hands fall off for a second. But did you notice about 3:50, when Old King Cole is carrying Betty off, that his feet keep slipping out of his shoes and dropping back in? Old King Cole’s falling-apart and reassembling after hitting the door about 3:15 is also done very quickly and underplayed. Plenty of choices here; I’d give the nod to the shoes business since I’ve seen this cartoon dozens of times over the last twenty years and only noticed it today.

Mice only appear once here, as Betty throws a vase through the wall and an adulterous mouse runs back home about 5:26. But then after the initial establishing scene Betty Boop doesn’t show up herself until about 2:45 in. The short is much more a Bimbo cartoon, and he’s actually an effective lead for it. Old King Cole skulks about in a nicely Snidely Whiplash-y manner. Bimbo plays well against him. Some ages ago I talked about Betty Boop’s short-lived boyfriend Fearless Fred. I suspected that Fred’s creation was because Bimbo couldn’t play the Hero role in a Spoof Victorian Melodrama. That Bimbo’s just too vague a person to have a good comeback to the Villain’s taunting. Maybe I was wrong; he holds his own here. But I stil can’t see Bimbo quite playing Fred’s role naturally, for all that he succeeds here.

The closing music tells us Old King Cole is dead and gone. I don’t remember his turning up in another cartoon. But never know; there’s no reason that he couldn’t.

Reposted: The 37th Talkartoon: The Dancing Fool, The Rarest Kind Of Betty Boop Cartoon


When I first reviewed this I admitted having no memory of it. It was a Betty Boop cartoon new to me. On rewatching for this, yeah, I remembered nothing about it. There’s a certain delight in having a new installment of a vintage cartoon, or at least one unfamiliar to you. For most of the cartoons I like — Popeye, the Warner Brothers catalogue, Tom and Jerry — if I don’t recognize a theatrical cartoon it’s because it was way too racist to show on TV even in the 70s and 80s. I’m happy that is not the case here.


This week’s Talkartoon is an unusual one. Not in content; in content it’s a dance party cartoon, with the characters ultimately playing to music until the Fleischer Studio meets the contractually obligated length. It’s rare in that I have absolutely no memory of this cartoon.

Backstory. In the 90s I got the eight-VHS Betty Boop: The Definitive Collection. It wasn’t complete, as I knew even back then. There are some lost Betty Boop cartoons, which nobody could be blamed for not including. There are some follow-the-bouncing-ball singalong cartoons which have Betty Boop and which didn’t make the cut. You can disagree with that editorial judgement but they did have to get the whole collection in with less than 16 hours of video. The live-action shorts with Betty Boop didn’t make the cut. This is an easily defended choice if your goal was to show all the Betty Boop cartoons. Anyway, the variety — and picture quality — of the cartoons was fantastic and I watched all the tapes a lot, even the ones with mostly boring late-run shorts.

And I have no memory of ever seeing this one. If the Internet Movie Database is to be believed, it was there, squeezed between Jack and the Beanstalk and the Screen Songs cartoon Let Me Call You Sweetheart. The first is easy to remember; I reviewed it just a couple weeks ago. The second is easier to remember than this; it includes live-action segments from Ethel Merman. I guess that’s sufficient reason to overlook it.

So this cartoon is credited to animators Seymour Kneitel and Bernard Wolf. Both are familiar hands at this point. It was released the 8th of April, 1932. I can’t find a version on archive.org, only YouTube. This is a version that has a clearer picture with less rasterization. But somehow the whole picture jumps around and sways a bit. I don’t know how. It’s close enough to the beat that I thought it might be an impressive technical bit by the Fleischers, to have the whole scene bounce in a way complementary to the characters’ motion. But it seems to be more some weirdly complicated bit of digitizing the cartoon.

As teased, I’m indifferent to this cartoon. It’s pleasant. It’s got some nice examples of the cartoon character trope of not falling before one notices one’s in the air. It’s got the nice doing-stuff-too-hard gag of Bimbo and Koko hauling their plank and paint all the way up a building and walking across several tall buildings to drop back down to ground level. It’s got some nice bits of business besides that too. Bimbo using his stubby tail as a paintbrush. The mice that pop up out of the windowsill about 3:37 to sing Betty Boop’s name. The mice at about 1:15 who come out ready to catch the falling Bimbo and whose work doesn’t even get noticed.

There’s two halves to the cartoon, one that’s just Bimbo and a weird-voiced Koko; and one that’s Betty and her entourage dancing. Betty took long enough to show up I wondered if she had only a cameo and that’s why I didn’t remember the cartoon from The Definitive Collection. There’s I suppose logic in going from the sign-painting stuff to the dance-party stuff. I wonder if they didn’t start out trying to do a window-washers or a sign-painters cartoon and stitched it to some dancing stuff when they ran out of jokes. Not that the first half isn’t amiable; there’s just not a lot going on.

I can’t pick out a favorite blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe the mice with the rescue trampoline, since they’re underplayed so. Most everything else is very well-established and given time to register, especially later on as the short turns to a lot of dancing. There’s some nice, well-done animation here. I particularly like the tiger hopping out of the strips and dancing with those as partner. (I’m suspiciously easily amused by characters leaping out of their patterns or colors.)

I was more interested when I thought the background and everything bounced in time with the music.

Reposted: The 36th Talkartoon: Crazy Town, a place to visit


In spotting characters from other shorts, last time I looked at this, I failed to mention the bootblack in the barber shop. He looks a good bit like the earlier, screwball, model of Bimbo, that faded out as Betty Boop got a definitive appearance. I also mention cursing myself for not geting that book of Fontaine Fox Toonerville Trolley comics. I’m happy to say I found a copy of the book, and bought it, and it’s generally quite good. It’s a panel comic, mostly highlighting the outsized personality of one of the town residents. Also I bought that Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album on iTunes and it’s largely enjoyable, but there are some songs with racist attitudes or themes. There’s also about 14 versions of “Abdul Abulbul Amir”, including sequel songs about the wives and the children of the original song’s characters, any one of which is an interesting curio but which, if you listen to the album all at once, will drive you to crazy town.


So after that weirdness of two Talkartoons released the same day, the Fleischer Studios went to a more relaxed pace. They didn’t release the next short until the 25th of March, 1932. This one was animated by Shamus Culhane and David Tendlar. Culhane has had credits here before. Tendlar is a new credit. He doesn’t seem to have any other credits on the Talkartoon series either. But he’d stick around, staying with Fleischer and then Famous Studios until that was finally shut down, and then to Filmation and Hanna-Barbera. I’m tickled that he’s got a lot of credits for Superfriends cartoons; a lot of my impression of what superheroes should be like are basically “like the one where the Wonder Twins are outwitted by an abandoned roller coaster”. I’m not sure Tendlar had anything to do with that one, but he is credited on the episode where a mad scientist sends a Stupid Ray back in time to prevent modern humans from evolving, so he can rule a planet of Neanderthals, and the plan would have worked except some Superfriends were visiting Skylab, which was outside the effect’s reach? … I’m pretty sure I have that right, and it’s still wrong. Anyway, here’s a Talkartoon.

The short starts with a familiar song, “Hot-cha-cha” with a fresh set of lyrics. We saw it back in Dizzy Dishes, that introduced who we’d know as Betty Boop. And it’s got a nice title sequence of looking at a booklet and letting that open into the action. Live action-and-animation hybrids were common in the 20s, always startling to people who think Who Framed Roger Rabbit or possibly Mary Poppins invented the idea. The Fleischers built their main series in the 20s on this sort of thing and it’s good to see they hadn’t lost that yet.

I also can’t see a cartoonish, overstuffed trolley without thinking of Fontaine Fox’s long-running panel strip The Toonerville Trolley, and cursing myself for never buying the book collecting strips from that used book store back in Troy, New York, in the late 90s. I don’t think there’s any reference being made here. The trolley driver and the banana-eating guy at about 3:00 in look to me like Old King Cole, from Mask-A-Raid. But that might just be that skinny old white guys in these cartoons tend to blend together.

The short itself is a long string of spot jokes. Betty and Bimbo travel to Crazy Town, and as implied, everything’s silly there. Mostly everything gets a basic reversal. A fish waves around a pole and catches a man. At the barber shop waving the scissors over a head makes hair grow. Big animals make tiny squeaks and a suspicious mouse (at about 5:45) roars like a lion. There’s not a lot of deep thinking going into the story-building here. This goes deep; the short isn’t even decided on whether Bimbo is a screwball character doing wild stuff (like early on, when he plays the trolley’s contact pole like a bass), or a straight-man to whom things happen (as when he and Betty watch with terror the approach of the Vermin Supreme ’32 supporter wearing hats on his feet and a boot on his head), or someone who comes around to embrace the weirdness (as when he gets into the barber shop’s logic). Betty doesn’t do much except react to stuff this short, but it does mean she’s got a consistent viewpoint.

I don’t think I can name a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Everything’s given about the time it needs. I can say the train station joke, with the station holding still and the city sliding behind it, catches my imagination. For its practical benefits, of course. But also because I think of how in a couple years the Fleischers would develop that set-back camera, which let them put animated stuff in front of real-world models that move. It’s always a stunning effect. It’s often the best part of a dull cartoon. And I think of what the city-moving-behind-the-station joke would look like with that effect.

The central song, “Foolish Facts”, wasn’t written for this cartoon. It looks like it should be credited to Frank Crumit. He was renowned for recordings of “Frankie and Johnnie” and “Abdul Abulbul Amir” and writing the fight song for Ohio State University. And he recorded titles that sound like the titles you’d make up about a phonograph star of around 1930, like “She Gives Them All The Ha-Ha-Ha”, “I Married The Bootlegger’s Daughter”, “Oh! Didn’t It Rain”, “There’s No One With Endurance Like The Man Who Sells Insurance”, and “The Prune Song”. Yes there’s a Top 100 Frank Crumit Songs album available on iTunes for only US$5.99. Warning, at least one of the “Foolish Facts” verses not used in this cartoon does one of those 1930s oh-ha-ha wives-are-the-worst-right-fellas jokes. But if you can take that I have to say that’s a good value for a heaping pile of songs that all sound kind of like old-time cartoon music.

Reposted: The Other 34th Talkartoon: Swim Or Sink; your choice


When I reviewed this back in 2018 I didn’t credit a good blink-and-you-miss-it joke. This rewatch, I feel like the bit where the ship falls back together, and smoke falls back into the smokestacks, is exactly the sort of little understated bit of silliness I wanted for that. I notice one of the pirates has a sword that grows a mouth and licks its lips. That’s a joke used in Bimbo’s Initiation to good effect too.


So last week I reviewed what I called the 34th Talkartoon, Minnie the Moocher. But there is a definitional problem here. There was another Talkartoon released the same day, the 11th of March, 1932. Which one is first? Lists seem to have settled on Minnie the Moocher, I assume on grounds of alphabetical order. The other Talkartoon of that busy day is Swim Or Sink. It’s animated by Bernard Wolf and Seymour Kneitel, both names we’ve seen before. Wolf in Minding the Baby. Kneitel in Barnacle Bill, Grand Uproar, and several less notable shorts. Here’s Swim Or Sink, or as it’s often aptly titled, S.O.S..

In content that hasn’t aged well. There’s a quick rather Jewish caricature in a fish that shows up for a line about 2:50 in. And there’s a bunch of pirates who are clear what they plan to do with Betty Boop. Nothing like in Boop-Oop-A-Doop. And Betty’s dress keeps riding up.

Swim Or Sink is nowhere as famous or renowned as Minnie the Moocher. And fair enough, really. It has some quite good animation in the ship-sinking. And a couple nice effects bits. But it doesn’t have any technique as impressive as Cab Calloway rotoscoped into a singing walrus. And the music’s merely ordinary. Picking “What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor” for a song about being at sea or being confronted by pirates doesn’t take imagination.

It might be the more strongly constructed cartoon, though. It’s got two parts, a big action scene of the steamer sinking, and then a chase scene of Betty Boop, Koko, and Bimbo menaced by pirates. Throughout there’s reasons for people to be doing what they’re doing. The spot jokes of animals struggling through the ship-sinking can mostly go in any order, but all of them work. And for some reason I’m always tickled by the lightning bolt that sews together the hole it’s cut in the sky.

The sinking ship almost does that “going down three times” gag about sinking that Roy Kassinger was asking about earlier, but it falls short. I think the pirate ship growing eyes and a mouth and swallowing Betty Boop’s raft is exactly the sort of joke we look for in black-and-white cartoons. So is the pirate captain morphing into a snake when he declares he’ll keep Betty to himself.

About 3:55 in the pirate’s sword menacing Koko grows a mouth and licks its lips; the joke was good in Bimbo’s Initiation and it works here too. The anchor shaking itself dry and sneaking into the doghouse is such a neatly done gag, too. I also like Koko, Bimbo, and Betty doing this funny little walking-dance while the pirate crew chases them.

There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse at about 1:45 in, putting on a doughnut as lifesaver. Another’s on the pirate ship about 3:38 in with rather too much sword. And one more, for good measure, dangling from a rope about 6:05 in. I’m not sure there is a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe early on, when the parts of the doomed ship are falling back into place, when the last bit of the ship — the smoke — drops back into the funnels.

I don’t think there’s any body-horror jokes here, unless you count the pirate crew falling into a giant fish. They seem to be having a jolly time of it at least. The ending might seem abrupt. But “dodging out of the way so your chasers fall overboard” does make sense as a way out of a chase. Works for them.

Reposted: The 34th Talkartoon: Minnie the Moocher, you know, that one.


So here’s one of the big ones, one of the Talkartoons everybody knows. I talked about it at great length back in 2018 and I can’t think of much to add here. Maybe that I still can’t stop seeing a bit of Homer Simpson in the Cab Calloway Walrus. There’s better thoughts to have.


Today’s Talkartoon is a famous one. One that people might have heard of. Possibly by name; it often lands on the top of lists of all-time great cartoons and certainly of all-time great black-and-white cartoons. Possibly by reputation. It’s got images that define, for many people, the surreal world that pre-color cartoons did all the time. It’s a cartoon for which we have credits. The animators were Willard Bowksy, Ralph Somerville, and Bernard Wolf. Bowsky we’ve seen on (particularly) Swing You Sinners! and Mysterious Mose. Somerville is a new credit. Wolf was on Minding The Baby. From the busy 11th of March, 1932, here’s Minnie the Moocher.

Back around 2000, when the Star Wars prequels were still looked on with optimism, Conan O’Brien visited an animation studio. He played around with the motion-capture gear. They used it to render a particularly silly version of C-3PO. Jerry Beck, then with Cartoon Brew, noted that Conan O’Brien put in a great motion-capture performance. He was a natural, putting in big, expressive movements that turned into compelling animation well.

Before motion-capture there was rotoscoping. The Fleischer Brothers hold the patent, United States patent number 1,242,674, on it. The technique, filming some live-action event and using that to animate a thing, made it possible to draw stuff that moved like real stuff did. If you don’t see what I mean, look at anything animated by Winsor McCay. This line work was always precise and well-detailed and fantastic. Then look at how any object in his cartoons falls down. Yeah.

It got a bad reputation, especially in the 70s, as a way studios would finish animation cheaply. Film a guy doing the thing, and then trace the action, and you’re done. But as with most tools, whether it’s good or not depends on the source material. Use the rotoscope footage to guide the line of action and you get better results. Start from interesting live-action footage and you get interesting results. And here, finally, is my point: this cartoon starts with great live-action footage.

It starts with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, in what Wikipedia tells me is their earliest known footage. That’s worth watching on its own. Calloway moves with this incredible grace and style, beautiful and smooth. There’s moments I wondered if the film was being slowed or sped up, with the tempo of the film itself changing. Surely not; that sort of trick is easy enough today but would take far too much coordination for an animated feature of 1932. They’re building the short on rotoscoping some awesome footage.

So awesome it barely matters that Betty Boop is in the short. Even less that Bimbo is. There’s a bare thread of a reason for any of this to happen. A hard-to-watch scene of Betty’s father berating her, leavened by the weirdness of her father’s rant turning into a well-played record. And to ramp the weirdness up a bit, her mother changing the record. Betty’s given comfort by inanimate objects around her that she doesn’t notice, then decides to run away from home. She writes a farewell letter, and about 3:06 in draws Koko the Clown out of the inkwell. It’s a cute joke; most of the Koko the Clown cartoons did start with Koko being pulled out out of the inkwell. Koko’s also the figure that the Fleischers first used rotoscoping to animate. They can’t have meant that subtle a joke. It’s enough to suppose they saw someone dipping a pen in an inkwell and referred to that. But it does serve as this accidental bit of foreshadowing of what would happen.

What happens is Cab Calloway, rotoscoped and rendered as a walrus and singing “Minnie the Moocher”, then a brand-new song. Betty and Bimbo spend the song watching the walrus sing and dance. The backgrounds smoothly dissolve between nightmare scenes. Weird little spot gags about skeletons and ghosts and demons and all carry on. Eventually a witch(?) arrives and everybody runs off, possibly chasing Betty back home, possibly running from the witch(?).

(Quick question: why is Bimbo here? He doesn’t do anything besides be scared, and Betty’s already doing that. Is he lending his star power to the short? … Well, I can think of a purpose he serves. There’s a sexual charge in a strange, powerful menacing a lone woman. That the being is a rendition of a black man adds to the sexual charge. That the woman is here depicted as young enough to be living with her parents heightens that further. But having Betty and Bimbo together diffuses that charge. It’s not eliminated, and I think the short benefits from that charge being present. But it leaves the menace more exciting than worrisome. I don’t know that the animators were thinking on that level. It’s enough to suppose they figured the series was a Betty-and-Bimbo thing so of course Bimbo would be there. Betty hasn’t had a solo vehicle yet. I think it’s a choice that makes the short work better though.)

So there’s not much of a plot. And Betty and Bimbo don’t do anything interesting. That’s all right. This short is built on its technical prowess. Cab Calloway’s dancing is this wonderful magical thing. It turns into animation that’s magical. (For the most part. There’s a bit of the walrus chucking ho-de-ho-de-ho at about 6:58 in that my brain insists on reading as Homer Simpson laughing. That’s not this short’s fault and I hope I haven’t infected you with the same problem.)

There’s all the body horror you could want in this short. To me, the creepiest moment is the cat nursing her young; you, take your pick. The joke that I think it’s easiest to blink and miss has a well-established setup. That’s in how Betty, running away from home, rolls up the one thing she plans to keep, her toothbrush. The joke is she tosses it aside before jumping out the window. It’s so quick a thing did you even notice it when you first watched? I don’t spot any mice in the short, which surprises me since they could fit the ghosts-and-spirits styling easily. Maybe they ran out of time.

Reposted: The 33rd Talkartoon: The Robot, surely Not A Time-Traveller’s Prankish Insertion To History


I’d wanted to do my statistics recap, looking at readership through September. And then stuff got in the way, so please instead consider another look at an oddly anachronistic Betty Boop cartoon. It’s not just in having a robot, it’s in how it seems like a Bimbo cartoon from six or even twelve months earlier. Still neat to see, though.


I have to apologize a bit for today’s Talkartoon. Not for the content; for the presentation. I can’t find it on archive.org. I’ve found it on YouTube, and that looks good, but the link might expire when I’m not looking. If you’re reading this sometime in the future and find that it has, please let me know and I’ll try to fix things. Might even be on archive.org by then.

The cartoon was released the 5th of February, 1932, just a couple weeks after Boop-Oop-A-Doop. There’s no credits for the animators; not even guesses. It’s the last Talkartoon we can say that about.

The cartoon feels anachronistic. For the first time in ages Bimbo’s got the starring role. And he’s got his older, more screwball-character model design. Betty Boop — well, is Betty Boop even in this one? The cartoon was included in the Complete Betty Boop Collection videotapes in the 90s, but on what grounds? She isn’t named, and she doesn’t look much like Betty Boop. Mostly; there’s the scene where she comes out of the circus tent about 4:50 in where she’s basically on model. She looks closer to the possibly proto-Betty-Boop who figured in Grand Uproar or Teacher’s Pest. And there are a lot of scenes where the camera puts the scene in a circle surrounded by black. Sometimes this irises out to a whole scene. It’s a common technique for cutting between scenes or setting focus that silent movies (cartoons and live-action) used all the time. It faded out with the coming of sound, for reasons I’m not sure about. Here it’s everywhere. Given all this I wonder if the cartoon wasn’t made months, maybe a year, earlier and not released until later on.

Oh yeah also it’s about Bimbo’s Robot. In 1932. If that weren’t bizarre enough the cartoon opens with Bimbo’s television. It’s common enough these days to tell stories about stuff that hasn’t been invented yet. It’s startling to realize they were telling stories about stuff that wasn’t yet invented that long ago. Yes, yes, there were experimental television rigs that could transmit upwards of four blurry lines of a Felix the Cat clock back then. It was still a thing for the imagination, not something everyday people could experience. It was a thing of the future, the way robots were too.

Well, since Bimbo wears his car to go boxing it’s more of a mecha than a robot properly. But the concept was still in rapid flux back then. They wouldn’t even discover how to pronounce “robot” so it doesn’t sound weird until 1964.

Despite the screwball-character model Bimbo isn’t a nutty character here, no more than any inventor in a cartoon is. It’s made up for by the story being an actual, successfully formed story. There’s clear motivation for everything Bimbo does, and it builds to a climax that makes sense. It’s a surprisingly non-zany cartoon, but it’s well-crafted.

I can’t say there are any jokes you’re likely to miss by blinking. The horse on top of Bimbo’s invention shack is good but it’s not much of a joke per se; it’s just atmospheric weirdness. Nor are there any real body horror jokes. I can’t figure out what’s going on at about 1:50; I think maybe a dart going through a fanciful heart got cut off by the framing? There’s some good camera work, when the car goes weaving all over the road and when Bimbo’s Robot gets punched high up above the ring. A mouse finally turns up ringing the bell about 4:25 in, and similarly later, and waving a flag during the parade at the end. And I get a good solid laugh from the referee cat’s fast count-out of One-Round Mike.

It’s overall a rather solid showing for Bimbo, who for a wonder gets to lead the flow of action. And for the cartoon, which sets up its premise and develops it without unmotivated weirdness. This might be the one flaw of the cartoon, in that there isn’t a baffling side to it. I’m sorry there’s not information available on who wrote or animated the cartoon. The cartoon shows a plotting skill that is uncommon for Fleischer cartoons of the era. One more anachronism.

Reposted: The 32nd Talkartoon: Boop-Oop-A-Doop, At Last


When I reviewed this I couldn’t identify a blink-and-you-miss-it gag. I think I’ve spotted one, though. As lion tamer Betty Boop cracks her whip at the lions, there’s one moment where the whip grows a hand that snaps at the lion. That’s a cute, silly little thing. And I seem not to have noticed it before. As the subject line suggests, my thesis is that this is finally a fully-formed Betty Boop cartoon, with all the elements in place and working together. But that includes sexual assault, done with more explicitness than usual. Please be advised if you don’t need that in your recreational reading.


It’s another Talkartoon without animation credits. There’s one more, after this, for which we don’t know or have a strong idea who the animators were. And it’s a shame (as it always is) to not know, since this is a cartoon with several noteworthy claims to historic interest. It also needs a content warning. There’s a lot of Betty Boop cartoons with sexual assault as subtext. This time around it’s pretty text. If you duck out at about 5:40 you can avoid the whole thing.

Also I apologize that the archive.org version is so badly pixellated. There’s a much clearer version on YouTube, but I am not at all confident that’s an archival-quality URL. At least for right now here’s a much cleaner version.

So this was the second Talkartoon of January 1932, coming out on the 16th. And it’s of historic significance. It’s the first appearance of the title song “Sweet Betty”, Betty Boop’s theme. I believe it’s the first time we get Betty Boop’s name shown on-screen. And we’ve finally got a very clear example of the Betty Boop Template Cartoon. It’s several minutes of puttering around with spot gags and little jokes, and then the Big Bad, with lust in his eyes and cutaway x-ray of his heart, tries to abduct Betty Boop, until her more desirable suitors pursue and vanquish him.

To my tastes the first part of the cartoon is the best. A circus offers plenty of room for little jokes. And for great dramatic angles. I like the severe angle for the high-diving act, but one could argue that’s the only shot that would make the joke read at all. The angle for the lion sneaking up on Betty is a more free choice, and it’s a great one, very nicely heightening the sense of danger.

That’s also the completely plotless part, though. Not that any of the jokes are bad. Just there’s no reason they have to be in this or any other order, and none of them build to anything. My favorite would be the fat girl who grows and shrinks with each cycle of an air pump. You take your pick. All the jokes are established well enough I don’t think there is a real blink-and-you-miss-it joke. Maybe I blinked and missed it. The closest would be that the bearded lady’s beard is growing so fast that her helper is cutting it every beat. There are some suspicious-looking mice, appearing about 1:12 in as the Tall Man falls apart. (If you don’t recognize what’s going on with the elephant and Koko the Clown, it’s this: the elephant has a giant inkwell on his back. The elephant pokes his trunk into the inkwell and squirts out a drop that turns into Koko, an imitation of how silent-era Koko the Clown shorts started.)

So this time around Koko the Clown takes billing above Bimbo. Bimbo appears, he just doesn’t get billing. He gets a decent runner of a joke, as the peanut vendor. And gets to have Aloysius, it looks to me, as target for his vending. The choice seems odd. If you don’t recognize Aloysius then it’s just an odd choice to cast an infant in a role that any character could do. But if you do recognize Aloysius as Bimbo’s little brother then it’s a really odd choice to cast him in a role that any character could do.

And after five and a half minutes of amiable small jokes the plot kicks in. The ringmaster’s heart grows lusty and he — you know, as the template plot develops it gets less explicit. You get a big bully-type character who just abducts Betty Boop. Coming into her tent and asking if she likes her job? That’s a little raw. It’s a relief that Betty Boop seems to be adequately fighting him off. Also that Koko leaps in to her defense. I’m amused that he gets kicked right back out five times over, and he’s only able to successfully fight off the ringmaster by fighting ridiculously, with a big ol’ hammer.

Betty Boop sings “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”, one of the enormously many catchy little tunes that Sammy Timberg wrote for the Fleischer Studios and, later, Famous Studios. The most-used of them has to be “It’s A Hap-Hap-Happy Day”, which you can hear in the introductory scene on ever Famous Studios cartoon from 1940 to 1966. And I know what you’re thinking but no, “I’m Popeye The Sailor Man” was written by a completely different Sammy working for Fleischer Studios. Sammy Lerner.

It’s the first cartoon with “Don’t Take My Boop-Oop-A-Doop Away”. It’s not the first time Betty Boop’s sung it, though. Because, but good grief, on the 26th of December, 1931, Paramount dropped a live-action short starring Rudy Vallee. In Musical Justice Rudy Vallee and his band are the judge and jury at the Court of Musical Justice. It’s one of a peculiar genre of shorts from back in that day. In this genre, modern music is held up as this terrible stuff that’s degrading society and all that. But it’s argued, successfully, that this stuff isn’t really bad. Sometimes there’s an argument that modern music reflects classic rules of composition and all. Sometimes even that it uses bits of Great Music.

Anyway, so, in Musical Justice Betty Boop, played by Mae Questel for what I think was the first time, pleads for Judge Rudy Vallee and the jury the Connecticut Yankees to let her go on singing heartfelt lines like “Boop-oop-a-doop”. I think the song gets a couple more uses, but not so many. That’s all right. It’ll stick in your head already.

TCM is showing a bunch of Fleischer Cartoons Saturday


I apologize for not providing more notice, but I only learned about this today. A few months ago TCM redesigned their web site so it’s harder to find stuff on the schedule, and it takes longer to load, and you need to do more clicks to find any information, and less of it is on-screen at once. I’m sure it is helping them drive engagement, though not with me.

The important thing, however, is that on Saturday the 2nd of October, from 8 pm through Midnight, Eastern/Pacific, they’re showing some Fleischer Studios work. They have listed the “Cartoon Carnival”, “100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 1: The Silent Era”, and “100th Anniversary of Fleischer Animation – Part 1: The Silent Era”. (This on the United States feed.) The pages offer no specifics about what they’re showing. I assume the first is a documentary and then it’s a selection of cartoons from the 20s and 30s respectively. The Fleischers were a wild studio, reliably on the leading edge of technical ability. They were usually in the forefront of, if not character, at least having funny incidents. I’ve got the DVR set.

Reposted: The 31st Talkartoon: Any Rags? Anybody?


When I started watching this cartoon again I wondered what I was on about, apologizing for the image quality. Then I saw; it’s all badly pixellated. Ah well. I may need to apologize a bit for the cartoon being one long earworm with interruptions for other, smaller earworms. But it is one of the Talkartoons that’s as pleasant just to listen to as to watch for the many visual jokes.


I have to apologize right from the start for this week’s Talkartoon. Not so much about the content. Although I should warn it does use several times the joke that it’s funny if a woman’s clothing should fall off. Men lose their clothes too, but it’s meant to be funny that you can see Betty Boop’s bra. What I have to apologize for is I can’t find a good version of the cartoon online. Archive.org has one with nasty compression artifacts. I don’t see one on YouTube that’s much better. Which figures, since this is a densely packed cartoon with a lot of visual jokes. Sorry; best I can do.

This was originally released the 2nd of January, 1932. It’s the first Talkartoon of that year. And it’s got credited animators: Willard Bowsky and Thomas Bonfiglio, a team that also gave us Twenty Legs Under The Sea.

Can a cartoon be made up entirely of side gags? Sure, especially in the 1930s, and especially from the Fleischer Studios. There is something holding all the jokes together. It’s Thomas S Allen’s ragtime hit of 1902, Any Rags?. It’s a catchy song; here’s a 1904 recording. You maybe haven’t heard of Thomas S Allen but you know at least one of his other songs: 1905’s Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal. Yes, I’m also shocked to learn that song is newer than, like, the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The song, and cartoon, are built on one of those jobs that today seems to come from another dimension, the rag-and-bone man. The job, of gathering up trash that can be put to a new purpose, is still there, of course. It’s just that it, too, has been industrialized, with metals and paper and plastics being gathered by the city every other week (or whatever), and clothing gathered every couple months. Or you see them in the people rooting around trash bins for soda pop cans that can be turned in for the deposits. Still the job as it was sounds daft: gather stuff people were throwing out, and then sell it to other people? Without Craigslist to mediate?

Betty Boop gets top billing, pretty good considering she doesn’t even appear until the cartoon’s halfway over, and is in it about a quarter as long as Bimbo is. Props to whoever her agent was. Koko gets a mention too, and he’s only in for one quick joke. Bimbo is the center of a lot of stray and amusing and often wild little jokes. He doesn’t seem to me to provoke most of them, to be an active participant. But he’s there while they happen, which is worthwhile.

There’s almost nothing but blink-and-you-miss-it jokes this short. I like the string of nonsense items the housewife hangs on the clothesline, starting about 1:30. But there’s plenty of choice. Bimbo swiping the moustache off a lion demanding to know what’s the deal with stealing his pants? Bimbo’s spurned valenteine-heart dropping out of scene on a parachute, about 3:25? The statue of Atlas eagerly showing off his globe to the auction attendees? Take your pick. I don’t spot any real body horror along the jokes. I would have expected, at minimum, the cat that’s put through the clothesline wheel to end up shaved. Maybe everyone at the studio was feeling kindhearted that week.

There’s a fair, not excessive, number of suspiciously Mickey-like mice in the short. A couple turns up about 1:10 in, in the birdcage that Bimbo fishes out of the trash bin. (This short summarizes so weird.) The housewife and her clothespin-attaching assistant at about 1:30 in are also mice.

I like this cartoon throughout. There’s very little story structure. I suppose the auction has to happen near the end, and the garbage turning into a home at the end, but the rest is arbitrary. That’s all right; the progression of music gives enough structure for the short to stay enjoyable and keep feeling like it’s going somewhere. It’s a good example of building a short without any real plot or big jokes. Just lots of little bits of business.

Reposted: The 30th Talkartoon: Betty Boop’s Dizzy Red Riding Hood


Another Talkartoon repeat, and another fairy tale, this time Little Red Riding Hood. I pointed out the first time this ran that as far as I can tell, this is the first (American) sound cartoon version of the Little Red Riding Hood story. I haven’t seen anything to contradict that, although I don’t know there weren’t live-action adaptations. It’s still odd that they went so far off the story template. Interesting, though.


We’re back, in the Talkartoons, to ones with known animators. And a good hand, too: Grim Natwick, credited with the creation of Betty Boop in the first place. (There’s two more Talkartoons without known animators, which we should get to in late April and early May.) This is also the last Talkartoon of 1931: it was released the 12th of December. And if I’m not missing something, it’s the second (known) cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. And the second Talkartoon in a row that’s a fairy-tale adaptation.

I do have to offer a content warning. There’s a joke at about 4:20 in playing on the meanings of the words “pansies” and “fairies”.

The title card narration suggests the cartoon will be risque, in the way that pre-Code cartoons are often reputed to be. This is borne out, at least some; the short is driven by Bimbo’s lusting after Betty Boop. Also maybe by the wolf’s lusting after Betty Boop, although that could just be the normal, empty-stomach sort of hunger.

And it’s got Bimbo in his non-screwball-character design. The one where he’s a bit dull. He’s less interesting than he was last week in Jack and the Beanstalk, yes. But he’s not the boring passive participant in the story that he would get to be. About halfway through he surprises me by beating up the wolf, chasing the wolf’s skeleton out of his own skin for a moment of honest-to-goodness horror, and taking his place. (The wolf also accidentally cuts his head off for a moment there, about 3:12 in, but that’s done so quickly it might not even register.) This is (apparently) the first sound cartoon adaptation of the Little Red Riding Hood story, and only the second in American animation (Walt Disney did a Little Red Riding Hood cartoon in 1922). It’s surprising that even that early on in animation history they felt they had to have the story go this weird.

Given how well Jack and the Beanstalk went, and that most fairy tales are public domain, it’s not surprising they’d try the trick again. But I don’t know how far they had developed Jack and the Beanstalk before starting work on Dizzy Red Riding Hood. They might have realized they were on to something good. Or both cartoons might have started development about simultaneously as the Fleischer Studios realized they had a story source just waiting around right there to be used.

It doesn’t come off as well as Jack and the Beanstalk, though. This cartoon isn’t so zany as last week’s. There are many good little bits of business, and so a wealth of choices for blink-and-you-miss-it jokes. I’d vote for right up front as the handle for the icebox keeps escaping Betty’s hand, and turns out to be a sausage link poking through a hole anyway. Also that Bimbo eats the fish Betty puts in her basket, and the sausage links leap into his mouth. And that’s before a friendly little frog turns into an outboard motor to help Betty through a large puddle.

There are a lot of good little bits of business. I like the forest leaping into Betty’s way. Also that when we first see the wolf, he, Betty, and Bimbo all enter the scene from different depths; it’s a rare bit of three-dimensionality. And I’m really amused that the wolf goes to the trouble of getting Betty Boop to plant flowers just so he can have flowers to stomp on.

There’s also some good draftsmanship on display in a challenging scene about 2:25 in, where Betty and the Wolf are walking along a curved trail in the woods, and Bimbo keeps poking his head out between trees. It’s the kind of angle that’s not seen enough in cartoons, for my tastes. It’s hard to animate so it looks right. This does look right, although it goes on a bit long, as if the studio was so impressed they’d got it right they were checking to make sure everyone noticed. Always the problem in doing the hard stuff right.

Still, none of the jokes feel that big, or land that strongly. There’s a lot that’s amusing; no real belly laughs. The closing scene, with Betty and Bimbo sitting on the moon as if it were a hammock, is a great image, but it’s a strange closing moment not coming from or building to anything. I like the Moon’s despairing expression, though.

There aren’t credits for the voice actors. The Internet Movie Database credits Little Ann Little with Betty Boop’s voice, plausibly as she’d been doing that the last several shorts. It also credits Billy Murray with Bimbo’s voice, again, credible. I don’t know who does the introduction. It sounds to me like someone impersonating Ronald Colman, but I’m not sure that in 1931 that would be a name people could be expected to recognize. The wolf’s voice — at least his singing voice — sounds to me like Jackson Beck. You’ll recognize him as the voice of Bluto and every other heavy in every cartoon and old-time radio show. But that is my speculation and I am not skilled in identifying voice actors.

The wolf, while singing his threats, rhymes “granny” with “bologna”. I have no explanation for this phenomenon.

Reposted: The 29th Talkartoon: Jack and the Beanstalk and of course Betty Boop and the heck?


For all of the nice things I said about this cartoon when I reviewed it, I couldn’t remember it without a rewatch. That’s weird and a shame since it is a good, fun, weird cartoon. Also it’s a bit weird seeing just how different Bimbo is in these cartoons where he’s more of a screwball than he is in, say, Minding The Baby. Like, if it weren’t for the title card would we even suspect they were the same character?


The next of the Talkartoon sequence is another one we don’t have animator information about. Sorry. Looking ahead, it appears there’s only two more Talkartoons without credits. Wikipedia also lists this as Betty Boop’s final appearance in dog form. It’s the first Talkartoon based explicitly on a fairy tale (unless one of the lost ones has something). It won’t be the last. From the 21st of November, 1931 — just two weeks after Mask-A-Raid — here’s Jack and the Beanstalk.

OK, so that’s kind of a weird one. It’s got all the major elements of Jack and the Beanstalk — Bimbo, with his earlier, more screwball design, as Jack; a beanstalk; a cow; a giant; a magic hen. The story’s presented in a lightly subverted form. Bimbo’s aware of the giant because of a dropped cigar. Bimbo just having the beans and needing the cow to tell him to use it. The Magic Hen coming out of nowhere. It’s interesting to me there are so many elements of spoofing the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk story. If I’m not overlooking something on Wikipedia this is only the second cartoon made based on the Jack and the Beanstalk story, and only about the fourth time the story was put on film. There are probably some more adaptations that just haven’t been identified. Still, it does suggest this is one of those fairy tales that are adopted more in parody than in earnest. It’s a curious state of affairs.

I mentioned Bimbo’s got his earlier character design here. He’s also got his earlier personality, the one with personality. He’s a more active person than he’s been since The Herring Murder Case at least. For a wonder in a cartoon billed Betty Boop and Bimbo, he’s actually the lead. I’m curious why he doesn’t stay this interesting. It gives the cartoon shape. And a screwball Bimbo can do random weird stuff to fill in jokes during a dull stretch.

There’s no end of casual weird body stuff this cartoon. It starts out with Bimbo taking his cow’s horn off to use as telescope. Bimbo’s arm turns into a rotary drill to plant beans. Bimbo untying Betty by taking her apart and putting her back together. The Magic Hen swapping her head and tail. The Magic Hen flying apart, then pulling herself together by putting her legs through her neck-hole and grabbing her head. File all these images away for a nightmare at some more convenient time.

Not only does a suspiciously Mickey-like Mouse appear about 4:48 in, but he figures into the plot. Makes for a really well-crafted cartoon, as well as the rare short from this era to have four significant characters. Five, if the Hen counts.

I’m not sure the short has any blink-and-you-miss-it jokes; everything is pretty well timed and set up. Also I’m surprised how big a laugh I got out of the bowl of soup smacking the giant in the face. Maybe you’d count the four eggs the Magic Hen lays turning into tires for her own morph into a car. And the car morphing back into the Hen. Both are such quick and underplayed bits of business it’s easy to not see them.

I’m surprised how well this short worked. Betty Boop cartoons would go back to fairy tales and nursery rhymes. This short gives good reason why.

Reposted: The 28th Talkartoon: Mask-A-Raid, Where Betty Takes Top Billing


In The Shade Of The Old Apple Sauce misses out on my eye by virtue of being a lost cartoon. So here we move on to Mask-A-Raid. It’s a catchy cartoon, centered on a song that’s pretty fun if you cut out the racist verses. The Fleischers did that, but did also leave some stereotype images in the cartoon. I discussed that in my original essay, reprinted below.


So the next Talkartoon in release order, from the 16th of October, 1931, was In The Shade Of The Old Apple Sauce. Wikipedia tells me it’s a lost cartoon. Certainly I never found it. Wikipedia also says it’s “not to be confused with the Screen Songs from 1929 of the same name”. There was no such 1929 Screen Songs cartoon. They’re thinking of In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree, based on the 1905 song. Shifting the name to “Apple Sauce” just shows how hep the staff of Fleischer Studios was around 1931; apple-based stuff was a slangy way to talk about something being nonsense back then. So that’s why really old cartoons will talk about something being “apple sauce” or someone being an “apple knocker” or something like that. And now, someone who’s a fan of the old-time radio comedy-detective show Richard Diamond understands why that time Richard takes on an assumed identity as “Harold Appleknocker” all the other characters react as if this were a joke the audience was supposed to understand. It would just be weirdly dated, like if a comic detective today gave her name as Allison Supertrain.

But there’s no seeing that cartoon. So I move on to the next, from the 7th of November is Mask-A-Raid. There’s no credits to say who the animators were.

Before getting there, though, I have to share a content warning. At the center of the cartoon is the song Where Do You Work-A John, also known as the Delaware Lackawanna Song. It was a novelty hit, five years old at the time, and written by Mortimer Weinberg, Charley Marks and Harry Warren. Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians made it a canonical hit, but Harry Reser and other bandleaders covered it too. Thing is it’s written with the sort of lighthearted stereotyping that was fine back in the days when big city police could start their investigation into the bomb set off in the business district by just looking up who they could think of who was Italian.

The verses used in the cartoon don’t get to the really troublesome ones, but there’s still a bit of an edge there. And there’s masquerade masks that get the stereotyping more on point, with Italian and, for whatever reason, Chinese faces. It doesn’t read to me as malicious, just absurd, but I don’t want to toss surprises up at you.

The short starts with an interesting title: it’s Betty Boop in Mask-A-Raid with Bimbo. It’s not surprising to us today that Betty Boop would have taken first billing, and is sending Bimbo down to guest-star status. But what was going on in 1931 that they saw this coming? Betty Boop’s turned up more and more, yes, but it’s hard to see what she’s done that’s more interesting than Bimbo has.

I mentioned with Minding The Baby that Betty Boop cartoons develop a stock plot. This one draws closer to it: Betty and Bimbo play a while, a big bad interrupts their fun, and then Bimbo has to rally into action. There isn’t the kidnapping and chase to this; it’s just a duel between Bimbo and the King (and his men). But it’s still early in the series.

There’s a lot of this cartoon I don’t get. Not the plot. It’s straightforward and silly and while there’s nonsense to it, there’s not crazy, surreal bits. What I don’t get is there’s a lot that seems like it’s got to be a reference to something. Take the droopy-faced, huge-nosed mask at about 2:20 in. That’s got to be a Chico Marx caricature, right? It seems to make sense, although I don’t think of him as having so large a nose that making it something you have to carry by wheelbarrow a sensible caricature. But if it’s spoofing someone else? … Okay, who? I feel like I should be more sure here. At the end of the short Bimbo goes into a little scat-singing reverie, and that makes sense so far as anything does in the short. But is Bimbo impersonating anybody particular? The body language feels like it to me. His hair grows out. Just a joke that he’s a singer now? But I had understood long hair, back then, to signify classical music fanatics. My best guess is Bimbo’s impersonating one of the band’s singers. I don’t know who that would be, though. I think the music was done by Harry Reser and whatever he called his band in 1931. But what do my ears know?

I’m not sure whether this is a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. But there is a lot going on in Bimbo’s first scene, when he’s the bandleader and a bunch of smaller animals are playing the hippopotamus. There’s a lot going on there and if you notice, say, the suspiciously-Mickey-like mouse playing his toes like a xylophone you maybe missed the dog(?) drumming on the hippo’s head. It’s also easy to miss how the suspicious mice who carry Betty’s cape come to riding on her cape. But that’s also less funny, at least to me. (And there’s more mice in the big scrum around 4:55.) Maybe the guy who tosses peanuts into the trunk of the elephant blowing a fanfare at about 4:25. That’s not a lot of joke, but I don’t remember ever noticing it in twenty years of watching this cartoon. As for body horror, well, there’s not a strong candidate. The gag where two knight’s swords go into each other at about 5:10 creeps me out for reasons I can’t explain, so I’ll go with that.

Reposted: The 26th Talkartoon: Minding The Baby, where Betty got her name


We’re back to another merely good cartoon. Considering it has to star an annoying kid to make sense, that’s doing well. The short really brings you back to a time when teens, given a window of time when their parents aren’t around, would go over to a desirable person’s house and skip rope. I can’t tell you whether audiences of 1931 were supposed to find that silly.


The title card this cartoon credits it to “Betty Boop and Bimbo”. I think that’s the first time we’ve seen Betty Boop’s last name established in one of these cartoons, and I’m surprised that doesn’t rate mention on the Wikipedia articles about this cartoon or about Talkartoons in general. This short also lacks animator credits. Talkartoon credits Shamus Culhane and Bernard Wolf, on what grounds I don’t know. Its release date was either the 9th of September, 1931, according to the Talkartoons page, or the 26th of September, according to its own page. Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice and Magic was the 26th, which makes for a neater arrangement of things altogether.

Most serieses grow stock templates for stories. It’s not laziness or anything exactly; it’s just that the people making a series realize they’ve got these characters who do this kind of thing well, and so go to telling that kind of story more. There is a loose template for Betty Boop and Bimbo cartoons: Betty wants to play with Bimbo, and they do, and some monster comes in and spoils the fun, often kidnapping Betty, until Bimbo rallies into action and everything collapses into chaos. Minding the Baby isn’t there. But I can see that template in embryo. Bimbo’s kid brother isn’t your classically-formed monster. But he does serve a lot of the same role, spoiling Betty and Bimbo’s fun and taking the initiative away from them.

We start with a crying baby and a gently wicked-in-that-30s-cartoon-way version of Rock-a-Bye-Baby. Bimbo’s got to watch his baby brother Aloysius. Also Bimbo has a baby brother Aloysius. This brings the ratio of Fictional People Named Aloysius To Show They’re The Comedy’s Annoying Character to Actual People Named Aloysius In Real Life to infinity-to-zero.

The cartoon’s a buffet of “Hey, that tune!” moments; right as Bimbo’s mother drops off Aloysius there’s background music burned into my brain as the tune for Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (“This is Betty’s/Birthday party jaaaaam”). There’s some incidental music around 2:00 that’s just in everything or at least feels like it. Similarly the jaunty little tune as Bimbo jumps rope. “Rock-a-Bye-Baby” and “How Dry I Am” and “By The Beautiful Sea” are cartoon staples, not just for this studio. The player piano-scroll music that the hippo plays with his snores has been driving me crazy because I can’t pin down the title. This whole paragraph is making me sound ill-prepared. The songs are there, though.

The cartoon’s got a story. It’s a loose one. Aloysius can go on making trouble, or at least old-baby jokes like smoking cigars and checking the Stuck Market, as long as it needs to. But there is reason for stuff to happen, and for Aloysius’s mischief to get bigger and bigger until it ends in some calamity. Surprising to me on rewatch was that Bimbo just gives up on watching Aloysius pretty early on. I’d expect good comic tension to be driven by his having to be both at Betty’s and keeping Aloysius from falling out the window. Instead, mostly, Aloysius gets into and out of his own trouble. Makes you wonder if they really need to watch the kid after all.

There’s no mice at all, suspiciously Mickey-like or otherwise. There’s a couple good bits of body horror. For me the biggest is the cat that gets pulled inside-out by the vacuum. I know there’s other people who’ll find more primal the punch line of Bimbo zipping Aloysius’s mouth closed. By the way, at the time zippers were a basically new thing. I mean, they had been invented decades earlier, but it was only in the 20s that design and manufacturing had got good enough that they could be used. To put the joke in a modern context it’d be kind of like synch’ing Aloysius’s voice to an iPhone that you then mute. I admit it’s a sloppy translation.

I’m not sure about a good blink-and-you-miss-it joke. There’s several nice bits of statues coming to life long enough to participate in the action. But they’re also pretty well-established. Bimbo dangling down a floor and licking a windowsill cake would be a good one, except it’s done a second time. Yes, in service of setting up a third dangle, where he licks a cat (to the same hilariously pathetic little “mew” as in Bimbo’s Express, I think). Still, the cartoon shows a good bit of polish. The setup’s reasonable, it’s developed well, and it comes to a conclusion that’s very nearly a full conclusion. The cartoons don’t feel slapdash at this point.

Reposted: The 25th Talkartoon: Bimbo’s Express, a moving cartoon


After two spectacular cartoons we return to the world of merely good ones. Bimbo’s Express is a decent cartoon, a bunch of nice jokes well-arranged. If it’s disappointing it’s only because The Herring Murder case and Bimbo’s Initiation were that much better. It does add to Bimbo’s world a bunch of minor characters, none of whom turned into anything. But one can imagine where the gorilla-and-cat pair might have. They have a good energy together. The horse is pretty snappy too.


This Talkartoon was released the 22nd of August, 1931. This was not quite a month after Bimbo’s Initiation. But Wikipedia tells me this was the first entry of the 1931-32 film season. It doesn’t seem like much of a season break. But there are changes. Most importantly, Bimbo’s no longer the sole credited lead character. There’s no credited animators, and I don’t see any clear guesses about who’s responsible.

So one of those things I never knew was a thing growing up: “Moving Day” didn’t used to just be whenever it was you roped a couple friends into lugging a couch down three flights of stairs and back up a different three flights. Used to be — per Edwin G Burrows and Mike (Not That Mike) Wallace’s Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 — a specific day, the 1st of May. Most leases would expire then and the city would convulse in a mad dash for cartage as everybody tried to get to a new spot. Gotham doesn’t make clear to me when this Moving Day lapsed. I would guess during World War II, given the housing shortages, when rational people might leap at the chance to sleep inside the fireplace since at least it’s a warm spot in walking distance of the defense plant. But my point is that when this cartoon was made, and when it was first shown, “Moving Day” likely had this suggestion of a specific, big event that people went through nearly annually.

The core of any Moving Day cartoon is, yeah, how to carry stuff in silly ways. The short doesn’t disappoint in having good approaches for this. My favorite is the overall busy scene breaking out at about 3:24 in, when movers toss furniture down the rain gutter and pop the roof off to throw stuff down to the patio and so on. It’s got that big-complicated-mechanism action so dear to the Fleischer Brothers. There’s some other fine silly bits, such as carrying the stove or the bathtub out. Or Bimbo carefully bringing furniture out the window and untying it to drop. And very well, too, with an almost perfect call from below of “I got it!” after each drop.

At least when the moving action finally gets started. The short does take its sweet time getting there. It isn’t all wasted time. Yes, we’ve got the idea that it’s Bimbo’s Moving Van after about three seconds of seeing the moving van. But there is some fun to be had seeing the horse pull the van in a silly way. Also to spot the well-done background, moving at an angle and years before multi-plane cameras were a thing. Also there’s establishing the gorilla and the small cat. Also, I’m apparently incapable of not giggling every single time the cat gets squashed or walks underneath the gorilla and emits that poor, sad little “mew”. I’m not sure it needs as long as it gets. But, oh, that helpless “mew”. Also there’s one of the few jokes you could miss this short if you blinked; a wheel falls off the van and the vehicle staggers until it gets things back.

I’m still more tickled by the cat’s many little “mew” cries. Between those and the guy down below yelling how he’s got the furniture Bimbo’s dropped, this might be a new high-water mark for Talkartoons having funny lines from characters.

This is the first cartoon titled Bimbo and Betty — no Boop, yet — which I suppose shows how the Fleischers realized that Betty had something Bimbo just hadn’t. I’m surprised they recognized it so early. Here she’s got more screen time than, I think, since The Bum Bandit. But all Betty does is spend her time clipping her toenails (complete with a face on her toe, a joke the studio would come back to) and setting up a decent if stock, slightly racy, joke from Bimbo. She could bring a little more to the proceedings.

It’s not a bad cartoon. Lesser than Bimbo’s Initiation, but most cartoons are. It’s got a larger cast than average, and I keep finding the extra cast more interesting than the main. I’m not sure if the horse, gorilla, and cat show up in other cartoons. They make a good impression, especially considering how little they get to do. It’s got to be in the cat’s pathetic little crushed “mew”.

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