Betty Boop’s Penthouse


For today’s video, please consider Betty Boop’s Penthouse, one of those Fleischer Brothers shorts I couldn’t remember anything about from the title. In story terms, it’s rather generic: Koko the Clown and Bimbo putter around a little, notice and get a crush on Betty; Betty sings an unmemorable song; there’s a monster who threatens Betty, and the threat dissipates in a moment.

Story isn’t everything. One of the defining traits of Fleischer Cartoons at their best is that they’re stuffed with little throwaway gags. This short has one of the highest throwaway gag counts I’ve noticed; I wonder if the cartoonists didn’t realize there wasn’t much story so they had to fill it up instead. (Or if, in the absence of plot, they could stuff everything in.) There’s throwaway explosions, metamorphoses, skeletons, gloves that clap by themselves, anthropomorphic flame, a Frankenstein allusion, and plenty of good old-fashioned nightmare fuel.

That said, there’s also a blackface joke, the Al Jolson reference that’s so obligatory I wonder if animators even realized they had a choice not to include it when a character’s face was blackened by an explosion, and a bit that seems to be floating around the homosexual-as-pansy stereotype that I guess at least makes sense in the story.

There’s also a really striking moment of seeing Betty Boop in the reflection of a water-drop which shows that when the Fleischers wanted they could do some pretty stunning special effects, and a few unusual camera angles — including a shot of Betty Boop from above that I don’t remember ever seeing done somewhere else — which add to the cartoon’s appeal.