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.

Statistics Saturday: Some Cartoons In Which Popeye Does Not Each Spinach


  • Goonland (Fleischer Studios, 1938)
  • Spree Lunch (Famous Studios, 1957)
  • Bimbo’s Initiation (Fleischer Studios, 1931)
  • Sleepy Time Donald (Disney Studios, 1947)
  • The Woody Woodpecker Polka (Walter Lantz Studios, 1951)
  • The Ruff and Reddy Show: The Mad Monster of Muni-Mula (Hanna-Barbera Studios, 1957)
  • Poppa Popeye (Paramount Cartoon Studios, 1960)
  • Rickey Rocket: The Count Draculon Caper (Ruby-Spears Productions, 1979)
  • Gilligan’s Planet: Too Many Gilligans (Filmation, 1982)
  • 2 Stupid Dogs: Let’s Make A Right Price (Hanna-Barbera Studios, 1993)
  • Dave the Barbarian: Night of the Living Plush (Walt Disney Television Animation, 2004)
  • Loonatics Unleashed: Planet Blanc: In Search of Tweetums (Part II) (Warner Brothers Animation, 2007)
    • Reference: The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age, Alan Trachtenberg.

Reposted: The 22nd Talkartoon: Silly Scandals, My Second Look


I thought, and Wikipedia confirms: this is the first time Betty Boop’s gotten the name “Betty”. She doesn’t have a last name yet. Looking at this cartoon yet another time, I’m struck by how huge the stage is, and how big the putative production is. I suppose it isn’t preposterously out of line for what real productions were like at the time. But it still seems like, wow, that’s a lot of penguin dancers the show has to pay for. No wonder movies creamed this sort of show. Probably I shouldn’t watch this and think about what the weekly payroll would have to be. Well, it’s better you learn that I’m like this sooner or later.


I’ve looked at this Talkartoon before. It was part of my sequence of Betty Boop firsts. This is credited as the first cartoon in which Betty Boop is named, and that’s half right. She’s named Betty, at least, which is a step up from what she’s been before. And it’s animated by Grim Natwick, at least according to Wikipedia; the animator goes unnamed by the actual credits. From the 23rd of May, 1931 — two and a half weeks after Twenty Legs Under The Sea — here’s the next Bimbo cartoon, Silly Scandals.

So in 1930 everyone who was capable of making a sound recorded a version of Walter Donaldson’s You’re Driving Me Crazy. I’m up for that. It’s a solid, catchy song about the sense of obsession with a lost love. And the singer avoids sounding terrible about their obsession. I’m surprised it hasn’t been used more in cartoons. But perhaps its use was limited by how the song doesn’t make sense unless there’s a credible target for this obsession in the cartoon. And once you get past Betty Boop there’s a shortage of female cartoon characters who are, at least in-universe, supposed to be sexy. Desirable, perhaps, but someone who could appear on stage with a racy song and not seem at least a bit ridiculous for doing it? Might have to wait for Jessica Rabbit there.

This is listed as one of the early Betty Boop cartoons. There’s good reason to call this Early Betty: she’s nearly reached the canonical character design. She’s got Mae Questel’s voice. She’s doing Betty Boop things: singing and receiving a male’s gaze. She’s not the lead of the cartoon; rather as in Dizzy Dishes, she’s just something that Bimbo stares at for the middle third of the picture. (Also as with Dizzy Dishes, someone else gets her “Boop-oop-a-doop” line.)

But it’s a Bimbo cartoon. He gets some nice business early on trying to sneak into the vaudeville theater. The best business is also the first bizarre visual gag here, his pulling up his own shadow to disguise himself as an umbrella. I like that sort of endlessly-morphing world joke in cartoons. They were more common in silent cartoons, which also tended to be high-contrast black-and-white stuff. Without having to worry about grey value or, worse, actual colors you could turn one shape into another with a minimum of distractions. After sneaking in there’s Betty’s song, and a bunch of standard someone’s-in-the-way-at-the-theater jokes. They’re done well enough, they’re just ordinary. And yeah, there’s a couple iterations of Betty’s dress falling down and revealing her bra. It’s not a very racy joke, but it is the sort of thing they’d never do after the Motion Picture Production Code got serious in 1934.

Bimbo once more ends up helpless and caught in a bizarre, surreal environment. It’s a good story shape. And it lets the cartoon close with a minute of weird body-morphing gags, hands and feet growing to weird shapes. And then 25 seconds of pure special effects, dancing circles and spirograph shapes and all that. It’s the sort of close that unimaginative people are joking about when they say the animators must have been on drugs back then. But it’s also structurally weird. The story has got the structure of “Bimbo transgresses/is caught/is thrown into a wild, surreal punishment” that he’s been through several times already. But the transgression — sneaking into the theater — isn’t one that the magician could have known about. Unless the transgression is just meant to be laughing at the flower trick not going according to plan. But that’s not a lot of transgression; if the magician can’t take someone giggling when a flower sasses him back, he’s in the wrong line of work.

There’s two blink-and-you-miss-it gags. The first, that I like better, is the curtain lifting to reveal two janitors shooting dice and getting the heck off stage fast. The other is just the curtain lifting again to show the tattered, ugly base. There is a solid bit of body horror, in the magician (meant to be the Faintly Mickey Mouse character this cartoon? He hasn’t got the ears but the snout and nose are evocative) terrifying a dog into becoming two strands of sausage links. Creepy stuff.

Reposted: The 21st Talkartoon: Twenty Legs Under The Sea (there’s more; I counted)


When I first reviewed this I seem to have missed a couple good little jokes. One has the Sun angrily squirted in the eye by a whale, leading the Sun to pop out of place, on a spring, trying to bite the whale back. Good bit of business. I mention the two fighting but the sun popping out like that should get a mention. There’s also two minor characters who look like Betty Boop mermaids. I understand not including this on any lists of Every Betty Boop Cartoon (neither character says or does anything, and they’re only briefly there at all) but it’s neat to see the Fleischers working out they have a character there. I feel a bit warmer about this cartoon today than I did in 2018, but agree with my original assessment that it’s a pretty decent cartoon, lacking a strong enough story to be good on that end, but not arbitrary enough to be a good surreal nightmare-landscape cartoon.


There’s a new animator credited in today’s Talkartoon. Willard Bowsky’s turned up repeatedly here, including in Wise Flies and Swing You Sinners!. The new name is Tom Bonfiglio. He’d do a couple more Talkartoons and then, if I’m reading this right, jump over to Disney studios. After that I have a looser sense of what’s happened to him. At some point he changed his name to Thomas Goodson. I can find one biography of Joe Barbera suggesting Goodson worked at Van Buren Studios in the mid-30s. And I can find another biography suggesting Goodson was working in educational films in the 1960s. That’s not much, I admit. It’s what I have.

So here, from the 5th of May, 1931 — just a week and a half after The Male Man — is the next Talkartoon in the series, Twenty Legs Under The Sea.

There’ve been a lot of underwater scenes in animation. They’ve always been hard to do. There’s great freedom in characters not having to stick to the ground. But it’s also hard to convey the resistance water offers to movement. And there’s the convention of putting a wavy-motion visual effect over everything, even if a real camera wouldn’t see anything like that. I think it took until Finding Nemo for a cartoon not to use that convention.

This is another cartoon where Bimbo’s pulled into a surreal landscape. He isn’t quite simply minding his business. If he’s going fishing, it’s fair that the fish respond. Even in Swing You Sinners Bimbo did something to earn his torments. But it supports my idea that the animators knew they had a reliable story here. The good part of these Bimbo-in-surreal-landscape cartoons is they give lots of space for weird gags, and the Fleischer Studios were really into weird gags. The bad part is that it wipes out Bimbo as a character. If he’s too screwy a character then he’s not inconvenienced by being in a screwy setting. A strong character in a crazy setting can work, because Duck Amuck, but Bimbo’s no 50s Daffy. He’s not got enough to do to stand up to the setting.

Also this isn’t so wild and surreal a cartoon, really. It starts off promising: Bimbo trying to fish, having a few little weird incidents, and then getting pulled undersea by a giant fish/whale who’d asked for help putting the hook in his mouth. He gets a shave from a lobster barber, and then … is … the King of the undersea world suddenly? Some more songs and then he leads his people to their death. It’s a punch line reminiscent of the grimness of The Cow’s Husband although after many fewer gags.

It’s weird that what we see underwater is a barber and then a throne room. My understanding is that in the silent era shorts were plotted by giving a lead animator the theme and letting them do what seems amusing. I’m not sure how much that was still going on in this era; making the cartoon match with a soundtrack loosens how much the people drawing it can improvise. Bimbo puttering around a town where everything’s normal but it’s done by sea creatures makes sense as a cartoon. Bimbo finding himself somehow king of a weird place makes sense as a cartoon. Shifting between them without obvious reason doesn’t make sense, and in the bad ways. I wonder if one scene was animated by Bowsky and the other by Bonfiglio/Goodson. I also wonder if some connective tissue was lost, or just never animated. The short comes in at 5:52. The last couple weeks have been just over six minutes, and, for example, The Cow’s Husband is seven and a half minutes long. Even ten seconds can be a lot of plot.

There is a lot of music. After the lack of any really featured cartoon last week there’s an abundance now. Anchors Aweigh, My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean with some good bits of a whale and the Sun fighting it out, a bit of doggerel that I guess you’d call We’re Going Over To Maggie’s (which I can’t find information about, so I guess it’s original to the short? Or a now-forgotten folk song, maybe), what I guess is an original piece about We Are The King’s Bodyguards. The last has a riff that sounds to me like Merrily We Roll Along, which was a then-very-new song. (And isn’t it weird to think that song was ever new?)

There’s no mice. Where would they even fit in? (Easily: just put a couple in the boat.) There is a really solid body-horror gag as a pair of fish swim ahead of their own bodies, so their faces and skeletons can eat tiny turtles about 4:25. (Yes, their skeletons swim ahead with their faces. It’s a little hard to make out with the contrast as it is here. Watch as they emerge from their bodies and as their bodies catch up.) The sun trying to bite at the whale/giant fish is a nice touch of weirdness. And I would rate as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke how Bimbo’s lighter doesn’t work when he’s in the boat (he has to do a nicely complicated bit of lighting a candle), but works perfectly when he’s underwater.

I can’t call this a good cartoon. It’s an amiable one, and I’m not sure that We’re Going Over To Maggie’s isn’t going to become part of the soundtrack of my puttering-around-in-life. But there isn’t a story, just a string of set-pieces. And the set-pieces are all nice enough, but not all that exciting or funny or weird. There’s some stronger ones coming.

Reposted: The Twentieth Talkartoon: The Male Man


This is a post office cartoon. I didn’t ask, on original publication, why there aren’t more post office cartoons. This one’s pretty great, with a lot of nice weird action and several changes of setting and pace that make sense and stay interesting. On the other hand, maybe there aren’t all that many post office jokes to do. Sometimes one cartoon is all you can do with a premise. Still, it’s a good showcase for Bimbo, who’s more interesting than his usual. And a great showcase for the Fleischer Studios imagination, stuffed full of weird little jokes. I regret the print archive.org has of this cartoon is so muddy. Maybe we aren’t missing any important jokes but we are seeing them more dimly than we ought.


I went in to the next Talkartoon in release order, the 24th of April, 1931’s The Male Man, not knowing anything about it but guessing that it would probably be a bunch of post-office jokes. If not those, then body-building jokes. Wikipedia hasn’t got a specific entry on the short. The credited animators — Ted Sears and Seymore Kneitel — aren’t new ones to this series. Nor is Grim Natwick as the uncredited animator. So past that, it was an open field in which anything might well happen.

I had certain expectations once I knew for sure this was a post-office cartoon. A bunch of door-to-door jokes, mostly showing the person at home not wanting to be bothered. Maybe getting bad news and retaliating against Bimbo. Also a bunch of the mechanization-of-daily-life jokes, in sorting and routing packages and stuff. Maybe some scenes of dealing with customers come to the post office. And that’s more or less what’s delivered. Bimbo never works the post office customer counter, but otherwise it’s about what I expected.

A hobo living inside a mailbox? That’s a good joke. The mailbox that gets smaller as Bimbo squeezes letters out is also a solid one. That Bimbo keeps dropping letters is also about what I’d expect. (And not all letters; there’s a fair mix of packages, so that even a boring setup scene is more interesting than it has to be.) That another of those omnipresent mice would appear at 1:17 in and start scooping them up, the way the Department of Street Cleaning people are always cleaning up after parades in this era of cartoons, also works. The mouse throwing the letters down the sewer at 1:31 surprised me, yes; I thought he’d just be one of those quietly helpful minor characters helping chaos from breaking out. The letter-sorting slots (with amusingly equal space given to Africa, New Jersey, Mexico, Harlem, Egypt, and B’kly’n, and what work is done by that second ‘ there?) feeding back to the same bin has that classic-cartoon sense of pointless modern activity. All quite properly formed stuff and I was amused by this all and appreciated the energy with which it was delivered. It also has some nice technique: Bimbo walking along a curved path in perspective at about 2:50. And Bimbo walking along rooftops, moving in perspective, at about 3:00. A couple good Prohibition-era gags. Santa Claus, for crying out loud.

Then about 3:40 in things change. Bimbo delivers a letter to the abandoned, haunted house, and gets pulled down to the basement and a panel of a dozen shrouded skeletons who demand a letter be sent. The letter morphs in strange, surreal ways: turning into teeth, growing, squirming out of his hand. Menacing Bimbo. And the threat of the envelope dominates the next two and a half minutes of cartoon. More envelope menace than I would have guessed a cartoon could support.

That might make it sound like I wasn’t amused. No, no, I had a great time with this. I never saw this coming. It foreshadows the classic Bimbo’s Initiation in how Bimbo is pulled into a strange, surreal, threatening setting through no fault of his own. It also echoes the action in Swing You Sinners, although there at least Bimbo had done something to morally deserve retribution. It gives him great stuff to react to, although the side effect of that is he as a character gets lost. Personality is, to a large extent, the stuff you do that wouldn’t be done by anybody else in the same situation. If a skeleton hands you an envelope which then falls on the floor, turns into a pair of dentures, and bites your finger, what is there you can do? There’ve been times in this series when Bimbo’s threatened to become a character in his own right, a screwball looney kind of like we’d see later in the decade with Daffy Duck. But here’s another case where the setting overwhelms him. All he can do is react.

Stuff ends with a cascade of letters that’s spectacular to behold and beyond the limits of what the digitization process could sustain. It does remind us that when the Fleischers wanted their cartoons could be as technically proficient as anyone in the business, which is to say Disney.

I don’t quite get Bimbo in the post office remarking on the fish who’s addressed Alaska. I mean, I get it, but only as a bit of weirdness. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a deeper joke, or to refer to anything in the pop cultural air at the time. Might just be that sending something to Alaska, a remote territory where Presidents go to die of food poisoning, was something Bimbo could reasonably find remarkable.

Not sure there’s a real blink-and-you-miss-it gag. Maybe the Washington stamp on the skeletons’ letter licking itself and patting itself back down. I’m also surprised there’s not really a featured song this short. There’s a couple appearances of Abner Silver, Al Sherman, and Al Lewis’s I’m Marching Home To You. But it’s not much featured. (Here’s a version, with Billy Murray and Walter Scanlan, that has a lot more lyric and some comedy bits. And here’s a surprising appearance of the song.)

I’m not sure whether the short ends properly. I feel like the octopus closing in on Bimbo while gathering letters was the setup for a possibly trimmed joke. But it is acceptable that the octopus just wants the letters delivered too. Hard to read that ending.

Reposted: The Nineteenth Talkartoon: The Bum Bandit, my second look


Now my third look, I suppose, if this counts as a fresh look. Not sure I have much to add to these comments from 2018. But I am amazed again to look at the animation and see how much better, in technique, the Fleischer studios got in only two years. I mention it in my original comments, but rewatching all these shorts in a month’s time emphasizes how fast they improved.


I’ve already covered the next Talkartoon, The Bum Bandit, a while ago, when I was doing a review of milestones in Betty Boop cartoons. But it’s been a while, and I’m a slightly different person from whom I was then. And there’s a difference between looking at a cartoon as part of the Talkartoons series and looking at it as part of Betty Boop’s character development. We’ll see what comes out different this time. I’m not looking at my earlier comments before writing this.

The Bum Bandit was originally released the 3rd of April, 1931. Its main animators were Willard Bowsky and Al Eugster. We’ve seen both animators before, although not teamed like this. Also animating, without credit, was Grim Natwick, says Wikipedia. I don’t know that they have evidence for this other than that Betty Boop appears. We’ll see.

Slight content warning: there’s a racist joke at about 3:57 in, with a blackfaced character and five, presumably stolen, chickens up his sleeve and going “yassir”.

There’s an easy way to think of the Talkartoons. They were this bunch of things the Fleischers did, with sound and extended music bits, while they were busy discovering Betty Boop. Then once they did, they had the Betty Boop series in all but name and, by the end of 1932, in name too. It’s kind of a Whiggish history. Going through each cartoon, even the ones forgotten because they don’t have Betty Boop in them, shows what it was more probably like: poking around to find some good ideas, finding a fairly decent one in Bimbo, and gradually realizing they had a much better character in Betty Boop.

And this cartoon is almost a miniature of that progression. It starts with Bimbo, certainly. And he’s puttering around doing nothing in particular. This allows a couple of pretty good shooting gags, as none of his shots hit anything near where they ought, and what they do hit makes no contextual sense. One hates to over-praise randomness as a comic virtue, but to unintentionally shoot a cow out of the sky has this gleeful, childish chaos to it. And then, as he tries to rob a train, Betty Boop takes over. Bimbo stays in the cartoon, but he’s not driving the action anymore.

At least, it’s mostly Betty Boop. She’s finally gotten the rail-thin body that marks Canonical Betty. She hasn’t got the right voice, though. She’s voiced (not badly) by Harriet Lee, rather than by Mae Questel (or some others) doing a Helen Kane impression. And she’s introduced as Dangerous Nan McGrew. I’m open to the argument that this isn’t Betty Boop yet. She doesn’t act like Betty.

Curiously, perhaps, Dangerous Nan McGrew was also the titular character of a 1930 Mack Sennett comedy starring Helen Kane. I haven’t seen that movie, so won’t venture any guesses about how that movie might have influenced the character or this cartoon. I mean, Wikipedia puts the movie in the “See also” section for this short, and vice-versa, but that falls short of saying whether there was deliberately a link or what it was.

The cartoon has a slightly weird story setup: we spend some time with Bimbo, establishing that as a bandit he’s kind of a menace. At least he’s willing to shoot, if ineptly. Then Betty Boop/Dangerous Nan comes on, harangues him, and takes him off back home. And that’s it. I’m used to a Fleischer cartoon rambling its way around the plot; it’s surprising to have one that’s basically two scenes and no development of anything.

I can’t say there’s a blink-and-you-miss-it joke. There’s a lot of jokes, some quite ridiculous, but they’re all given enough time to be noticed and appreciated. And none that run on too long, which is a nice feat. Maybe Bimbo’s sheepish “No” after Dangerous Nan asks whether he’s found that cow yet. I’m tickled by Bimbo’s robbing the squirrel, but your tastes are your own. There’s several mice, passengers on the train, although there’s enough mixed species that none of them stand out as obviously Mickey Mouse riffs.

Also the scene of the train screeching to a halt, with this long zooming in until Bimbo stands front and center, is really well-done. The Fleischer cartoons get some respect for technological innovation, albeit mostly in stuff like the multi-plane camera with real-world sets in the background. They get less credit for stuff like this. It makes a simple scene more exciting than it needs to be, and good for them for that.

The center of the short is this song “The Holdup Rag”. I can’t find evidence that the song existed before this cartoon. If it is original for this short, then that’s the more impressive since it is a really catchy tune that I could see being modestly popular in its own right. I don’t remember it being used for similar hold-up or robbery scenes in other cartoons. This seems odd and probably I’m just not thinking of reuses of the song.

And now on looking at my earlier comments: I’m relieved I don’t say anything that seems particularly ridiculous to me now, especially since apparently I just reviewed this back in June? It doesn’t seem like that recently, but 2017 was a lot of a year.

Reposted: The Eighteenth Talkartoon: The Cow’s Husband


I apologize that I must be late in recapping the plot of Alley Oop. I did not have the time to write up the summary as I’d hoped. I intend to post tomorrow and then get back to the usual weekly schedule.

When I first posted this review my comment about (American) bullfighting cartoons seeming to always come down on the bull’s side started an interesting conversation. Partly, about whether the cartoons really are on the bull’s side. Like, in this short, the bull attacks first. Doesn’t that show the bull is villainous? My instinct is to say the bull’s fighting for his life, after all; we wouldn’t hold it against the protagonist if he got help. (And, since Bimbo is a screwball character here, the attack doesn’t do any harm anyway.) I still feel that way, but it is an attitude I’m bringing to the cartoon. Is it the cartoon’s attitude?

When I first reviewed this I didn’t say anything about the trash-talking song between Bimbo and the Bull. It’s wonderful stuff, though. Great little song.


This week’s Talkartoon is from the 13th of March, 1931. One of the credited animators was Shamus Culhane again. The other, Rudolf Eggeman, didn’t get listed in the credits for anything we’ve seen so far. And I don’t know much about him. The Early NY Animators blog has a tiny bit more, including attributions for some scenes in “Dizzy Dishes” and “Barnacle Bill”, plus cartoons I hope to get to. Early NY Animators found recollections of him working as far back as 1916, for the Pat Sullivan studio, but with the note that he had a reputation for crude and messy work. If Eggeman animated anything after 1932 they don’t know about it, and nor does the Internet Movie Database. (The IMDB doesn’t have anything from before 1930, when Eggeman joined Fleischer Studios, though.)

Do bullfighting cartoons always come down on the bull’s side? At least in the American tradition. I confess my deep ignorance of other countries’ animation patterns. I can’t offhand think of one, though, where the audience is clearly expected to be on the toreador’s side. Even when the bull is a big, menacing, unfriendly presence. I suppose the knowledge the bull would really be doomed however the fight goes makes him unavoidably sympathetic.

So this gives the cartoon some plotting trouble. You can have a sympathetic character be the toreador; Popeye, Bugs Bunny, and the Pink Panther did some great work in their bullfighting cartoons. But Bimbo’s a weaker character than any of them, even here where he’s doing the sorts of reality-warping gags that you’d get from screwball Daffy Duck. Take the bull, who’s naturally sympathetic to start with, and start his cartoon with a minute of teary farewells to his children and even his fly, and there’s no hope for Bimbo to actually star in his own short.

The teary farewell does give the first line of Talkartoons dialogue I remember making me laugh aloud though: the second child’s reassuring “Don’t worry, daddy, we’ll collect your insurance” is great. It makes more shocking the next child’s “never mind, Pop, momma’s gonna buy us a new daddy”. It feels like a joke from a more modern, cynical-edging-on-nihilistic cartoon. I didn’t like that; it felt like a shock-for-the-sake-of-shock joke, and I’m less fond of those these days. But that cynicism is of a piece with the end, and the bulls marching off unknowingly into the butcher’s.

So Eggeman had a reputation for sloppy work, albeit work that the Early NY Animators blog credits with good, funny expressions and movement. This makes for an interesting counterpoint because this cartoon features rotoscoping. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope (the patent was issued 100 years ago this past 9th of October). It made the studio. Thanks to tracing the movement of a real figure they were able to make Koko the Clown move in more natural, believable ways in-between being melted into a blob of ink or stretched into a hammock or something. It’s still one of the indispensable tools for the animator. Every studio would use it when they had some movement they needed to get right. It’s at least intellectually part of the heritage of motion-capture animation.

The bull’s dance is rotoscoped. I’m curious who the original dancer was, but that’s probably lost to time. The animation suddenly bursting into this smooth, gracious ballet figure, though, still stands out. I haven’t got any idea who did the actual tracing and adaptation of the original movement to a bull’s body shape. Maybe it was Culhane, who did have a strong drafting hand.

The cartoon several times uses the gag of someone’s accessory going about its business while they do something else. That’s a Fleischer Studios staple. It’s also got a nice proper fight-cloud, that I don’t remember encountering in the Talkartoons before. I only spot mice once, a trio of them on the giraffe’s neck at about 6:38 in.

I like the logic of the parade reversing course after the cop warns they’re going the wrong way down the one-way street. But my favorite blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag is Bimbo and the bull staring one another down, nose to nose, until Bimbo’s nose comes off him and attaches to the bull. I was worried they’d repeat the joke, spoiling its whimsy, their next face-to-face showdown.

Reposted: The Fourteenth Talkartoon: Mysterious Mose, perhaps Betty Boop’s first showing


As mentioned in the original text, I have to skip the 13th Talkartoon, Accordion Joe, as it’s not generally available. Now, though, we’re back in the cartoons I remember extremely well from having the Complete Betty Boop Cartoons VHS collection in the 90s. Bimbo gets a great showing here, possibly his best showing as a character capable of strange, surreal, fluid and logic-defying stunts.


I can’t do the thirteenth Talkartoon, not for want of will. That one, Accordion Joe, is not technically a lost cartoon. The UCLA film library has prints of the title. But that’s as good as lost for someone like me who isn’t near Los Angeles and can’t be bothered to, like, try finding a copy. So we move on to the next.

I’ve enjoyed the last several Talkartoons, no question. They’ve been nice discoveries, cartoons I had never seen before, or not seen in so long I’d forgotten them. This week’s is different. It’s one I know well. She’s not named in it, and she’s still not quite found her right model yet. But it’s got Betty Boop. And unlike her previous outings, she’s the protagonist, at least for the first half of the cartoon. For the first time she’s important to the goings-on. From the 26th of December, 1930, and animated by Willard Bowsky, Ted Sears, and (Wikipedia says) Grim Natwick, here’s Mysterious Mose.

This is almost the type case for a minigenre of cartoons the Fleischers would do: the surreal adventure set to a jazzy tune. Here the tune is Mysterious Mose, which Wikipedia tells me was a new song in 1930. I had assumed it was a folk song given new form. Live and learn, if all goes well.

These cartoons-set-to-jazz include some of the best of the decade, or of all time. They would give us beauties like Minnie the Moocher — apparently some of the earliest known footage of Cab Calloway performing — and Snow White. And lesser but still fantastic pieces like Popeye’s Me Musical Nephews. I don’t have a good idea why a surreal jazz cartoon works so reliably. I understand classical music playing well against cartoons: the strong structure gives the chaos of the cartoon more room to play. A good jazz piece has the illusion of a looser structure, though, so what is the cartoon playing against? I suppose you could argue that the apparent freedom of a jazz piece harmonizes well with the apparent visual freedom of the cartoon. But that seems like we’re getting near an unfalsifiable hypothesis. On the other hand, maybe it’s just that animated cartoons go well with both classically-structured music and the strong beat of this kind of jazz (and swing, come to think of it).

So the cartoon is great throughout. It starts out nice and creepy, the proto-Betty sitting up in bed surrounded by mysterious noises. And haunted! I’m not sure if we need to see Betty put her blanket over an invisible creature in her bed three times, but it is such a solid gag I can’t fault them doing it. It’s a neat bit of business and I don’t think I could resist.

I’m not sure that I like Betty Boop’s nightshirt flying off twice. I’ve been getting less amused by women left vulnerable. But it’s as close as they probably dared to having her be frightened out of her skin. And for the early, most normally scary parts, vulnerability is emotionally correct.

Halfway through Bimbo shows up, as Mysterious Mose. And more strongly the screwball character I’ve realized he was in his early days. We lose the spookiness as Bimbo brings a string of inventive weirdness in. And then even Bimbo fades out of the protagonist’s role, as stuff gets crazier without him until he takes drastic action with a tuba. I think all the jokes work, but it does reach a point where there’s no longer narrative. We don’t necessarily need narrative, but it does leave the cartoon without a good reason to end now rather than a minute sooner or later, other than that the song’s run long enough.

Take your pick for the body-horror joke of the cartoon. There’s plenty of choice. I’d probably take the cat who recovers from being smacked by turning into nine cats, or the chain of fish that turn into a caterpillar. There’s also Betty’s toes growing faces and arms to hug each other. The shadow of Mysterious Mose popping his head off and bouncing it. Then slipping in through the keyhole and snipping his own shadow off. Mose moving so much by turning into an ink dot and changing the shape of that mounted moose head. A couple mice show up, around 4:55 in, to add to the music and signal the action getting out of Bimbo’s lead for a minute.

There’s a nice blink-and-you-miss-it joke, at about 3:50. It’s when Betty’s heart flutters out and over to Bimbo, and Bimbo’s heart reaches out to grab it. Bimbo’s heart is wearing a robber’s eyemask. Great touch.

I’d thought that while scared Betty’s eyes spiralled, a use of this effect for something other than “character is being hypnotized”. I was wrong, though. They’re just flashing in concentric circles. Well, it looked like an eye spiral initially.

Reposted: The Twelfth Talkartoon: Up To Mars, thanks to a pantsless Mickey Mouse


This Talkartoon gave me yet another chance to talk about the history of amusement parks. It’s a subject easy to get me going about and you’re lucky I only went on this short while about it.


This week’s cartoon happens to call out Merry Christmas. And to get a Happy New Year back. That’s the sort of subtle act of timing that’s really beyond my abilities; it just got lucky. But here’s Bimbo’s second cartoon in three weeks, and the second in which he was named as such. From the 20th of November, 1930, and animated by Rudy Zamora and Shamus Culhane: Up To Mars.

So why does this short start in an amusement park? (At least after some striking and neat special effects animation.) Why not, I suppose you could say. Also that it’s somewhere you could just have lots of big firecrackers hanging around. I suspect there’s a deeper reason. It goes back to A Trip To The Moon. I don’t precisely mean Georges Méliès and one of the maybe three silent movies even people who don’t care about silent movies recognize. But that helps. A Trip To The Moon was a ride at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901, in Buffalo, New York, showing exactly that. It was moved to Coney Island to be one of Steeplechase and then Luna Park’s signature rides. And to inspire trip-to-outer-space rides, to the Moon or Mars or other worlds, from there. So a trip to Mars starting at an amusement park might not be just because you gotta get rockets from somewhere. It might be because you could get to Mars from there.

Other planets, in the cartoons, were often wackyland places of reverse-logic and sight gags; see Tex Avery’s 1948 The Cat That Hated People for similar and I’ll admit better sight gags. I haven’t checked what earlier, and particularly silent, cartoons did with other planets. But the placement makes sense; jumping to another planet does give license to get weird and surreal.

It’s the second cartoon where Bimbo gets named. But he gets less distinctive stuff to do than even in last week’s Sky Scraping. I suppose he makes the choice to chase after the strikingly Mickey Mouse-like rodent that had been in his Roman candle. But that’s not a lot of character. And once up on Mars he has even less to do; he’s mostly just watching the shenanigans. Arguably the mouse does more to affect the cartoon. I kept waiting, once Bimbo fell in with the Martian soldiers, for him to be detected and that to become the story. Somehow it never did. He does get a few frustrated moments to snarl and snap at people in a satisfyingly dog-like manner, which is worth something certainly.

This is the second week in a row that the Moon gets punctured. Also the depiction of Saturn as a character with a big hat is one that I believe gets repeated in the October 1932 Betty Boop’s Ups And Downs.

It’s maybe too well-established to count as a blink-and-you-miss-it joke but I laughed when Bimbo tried to light the rocket and sets a cat’s tail on fire instead. The elderly Martian dancing with his detached legs and no body is a good reliable body-horror joke.

Reposted: The Eleventh Talkartoon: Sky Scraping, Where Bimbo Gets A Name


Not many second thoughts about this Talkartoon review from back in the day. I love a skyscraper-building cartoon and I’m not sure the theme has ever failed for me. I guess we’ll see if and when I get back to the King Features Popeye shorts and if they do a skyscraper-building cartoon.


So, something new’s added to the Talkartoon family for this short, released the 1st of November, 1930. Bimbo’s emerged from his prototypical form as this slow-motion screwball character who’s been around five-or-so times. He’s worthy of a name. It’s not given on-screen because of course not. But it’s there in the title card that I assume is the original title card and not a later addition.

There’s a couple cartoon premises that seem to always work for me. One of them is the orchestra, typically playing the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two. And another is this short’s theme, that of skyscraper-building. My supposition is that the premise gives the cartoon a natural, logical structure. The underlying material is necessarily ordered, so the cartoon can riff on that and have pretty near every joke land. (And one of the all-time best-ever cartoons is Friz Freleng’s “Rhapsody in Rivets”, fusing the two premises.) With skyscraper-building cartoons I think there’s another factor: all those steel girders. That is, to use the setting at all you need to draw these big steel meshes, often in perspective. It’s hard work drawing a plausibly in-construction skyscraper, and I think the knowledge that they put all this work in influences the audience. The dazzling visual can carry a weaker script.

Skyscraper-building would probably always be popular; the idea just boggles the mind to start. The skyscraper races of the late 1920s added fine and ridiculous drama to the construction, and if you haven’t read up about the spire on the Chrysler Building and its secret installation please go look that up now. Thank you. In the early 30s the last spurt of skyscrapers under construction, such as the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, were much-needed work for thousands of people, and a curious note of not-yet-broken ambition. Great themes to hang art on.

So. Bimbo finally gets a name this cartoon. But he’s not called by name in the cartoon. He’s also barely in the cartoon itself. I suppose we do see him repeatedly, but I’m not sure that he stands out compared to the other workers. Dragging his feet to get to work and tripping over two bricks, working sleepily, but racing home, is fine enough, but it’s not a deep bit of personality.

And it feels odd that Bimbo trips over two bricks but hasn’t got a third punchline. And that there’s two strings of him sleepily laying mortar on bricks but not a third. The so-called Rule of Three is, like many comic rules, better a guideline for not screwing up a premise. But this does feel like punch lines were set up and then unresolved. I’d suspect scenes lost to editing but it’s tough to figure what they would be or why.

There’s suspiciously-Mickey-Mice all over this short. And even a suspiciously-Felix-the-Cat too, at about one minute in, having swallowed a quartet of mice while they passed behind a billboard. Which was almost my moment of weird body horror this short. All the while they passed behind the billboard I was thinking about oh no, they’re going to go there. But somehow the skyscraper reaching up high enough its structure pierces the Moon hit me harder. It’s a solid joke, especially as I didn’t suspect it coming.

A couple years after this short Disney would create the multiplane camera, making it possible to have animated elements moving in foreground, middle-ground, and background. The Fleischers would one-up that by building a multiplane camera that could also use real-world sets, for some live-and-animated scenes that are still dazzling. This short might prototype that, by having the girders and people in the foreground moving while the background’s held fixed. It’s a simple trick, but an effective one: there’s distance here.

A skyscraper-building cartoon has three compelling end points: the work day ends, or the building’s finished, or the building collapses in ruin. (And note how “Rhapsody in Rivets” does it.) This short takes mostly the first ending, fair enough, albeit with a weird coda after Bimbo’s rushed home from work. So, once more, I’m satisfied.

Reposted: The Tenth Talkartoon: Grand Uproar


Finally hit it: one of these Talkartoons I didn’t remember anything about from the title. Reading my original thoughts from 2017 helped some, but overall, not much. On rewatching I feel more confident saying the Gay Caballero and the Senorita are maybe not intended to be Bimbo and Betty Boop. But if this short had been included on that eight-volume Complete Betty Boop VHS tape series in the 90s, we’d accept this as an early Betty Boop cartoon.

The introduction talks about how this originally ran out of sequence, this time on purpose. Don’t worry about it.


The next cartoon would be Swing You Sinners!, but I just reviewed that for Halloween and I don’t think it’s been long enough I’d have different feelings about it now. So here’s the next, instead. From the 3rd of October, 1930: Grand Uproar, animated by Seymore Kneitel and Al Eugster. Kneitel’s already shown up here a bunch that we know of. This is Al Eugster’s first credited appearance. Eugster spent over six decades animating, from silent-era Felix the Cat to Disney’s Snow White to the last years of the Paramount studio, when Shamus Culhane and Ralph Bakshi made it their strange own, and on past the end of theatrical cartoon shorts.

The cartoon felt a little out of place, somehow. After a bunch of Bimbo cartoons in a row he doesn’t appear this time. At least unless one of the characters is meant to be him in a modified form. Perhaps one could argue the Gay Caballero is meant to be Bimbo. On the first look at the Senorita I wondered if she might be an off-model Betty Boop, but I don’t think that’s sustainable. She’d need more hair curls over her face, I think. And maybe they just weren’t thinking about Bimbo for this one.

Wikipedia gives the release date of this carton as the 3rd of October, 1930, barely a week and a half after Swing You Sinners! was released. That seems weirdly close to me; no other pair of Talkartoons their first year were released so near one another. It made me wonder if the short was made earlier, perhaps before Bimbo started to crystallize as a character, and got held up any. But it doesn’t look as primitive as, say, Fire Bugs did. I’m curious how the scheduling for the short worked out. It’s probably foolish to read too much into the timing of successive shorts, though. The release dates don’t seem to show any particular pattern. February 1931 has two Talkartoons released in a single week.

There’s no end of suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters in it. And I’m not sure I have a candidate for the blink-and-you-miss-it joke. All the clear jokes are made pretty clearly, with about the right focus to appreciate them. There are several Fleischer studios cartoons that feature stage presentations and, for my tastes, they always work. There’s something about putting on stage theatrics with cartoon mechanisms that works for me. But I also couldn’t get enough of the hippopotamus apologizing his way through rows of the audience, so, what do I know?

For all the title promises an “uproar” there’s really not one. The action is all fairly well controlled. Even the climax doesn’t feel like it’s getting out of control. It’s funny enough, I think, and fitting. Just the title promises more chaos than the short delivers. There’s nothing wrong with a cartoon like this that’s just a bunch of jokes in a setting. But that there isn’t a protagonist probably keeps it from being able to build to any particular finale. Possibly the cartoon needed more Bimbo.

I have the impression the early joke about looking at the hippopotamus with all those diamonds is a reference to something, but I don’t know what it is.

Reposted: The Ninth Talkartoon: Swing You Sinners!


I’m not sure why my original review of Swing You Sinners, the ninth Talkartoon, was so circumspect in its content warning. I remember a tedious argument with someone about how “eating watermelon and fried chicken” could be a racist stereotype against Black people when basically everybody likes watermelon and fried chicken. I may have been giving too much credit to people who claim to not understand how something could be racist-coded. My original 2017 review — another one out of order, so that it could coincide with Halloween — was rather close to the start of the modern discussion about how much of The Classic Cartoon Look derives from minstrel shows. Anyway, this is a short cartoon that’s a great example of what’s fun and exciting and glorious about black-and-white cartoons, with movement and music and pacing and surreal images and a plot that makes impressionist sense. If “Bimbo’s Initiation” didn’t (deservedly) get in the way, this is probably the Talkartoon that would get on best-cartoons-of-all-time lists.


I’m not figuring to wholly abandon order in these reviews of Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. It’s just that it is Halloween, and it is the Fleischer Studios, and surely they’ve got some cartoon with a nice dose of spirits and demons and graveyards and the sorts of merry gruesomeness that makes for the fun of Halloween. If I’m not overlooking something in the titles they don’t have an actual on-point Halloween cartoon. But spooky-enough stuff? Oh yeah. They got plenty of that.

So let me start with the first that’s clearly Halloween-ish enough. It’s Swing You Sinners!, originally released the 24th of September, 1930. The credited animators — they were finally getting some attention — were Willard Bowsky and Ted Sears. Wikipedia reports that also animating were George Cannata, Shamus Culhane, Al Eugster, William Henning, Seymour Kneitel, and Grim Natwick. That’s a heck of a power lineup there. Think of any mid-20th-century cartoon whose animation impressed you and at least one of that set was one of its animators. I exaggerate only slightly.

About 3:30 into the short is a weird Jewish-caricature spirit. Apparently this specific scene was drawn by Culhane and in his memoir (Talking Animals and Other People, as I remember from Like 1992 well worth the read) he worried about that. But, you know, he knew a lot of Jewish people, some of them on staff, so surely that was fine.

Not mentioned so far as I remember: this is a cartoon in which Bimbo, drawn in all black apart from his shoes, gloves, eyes, and a patch around his mouth, starts out by stealing a chicken, gets pursued by a cop, and stumbles into a surreal jazzy environment. I don’t think I’m over-interpreting the cartoon to say there’s some racial coding going on here. Not that chicken-stealing in the comics is an exclusively black pastime. If it were we’d have a major reinterpretation of Barney Google and Snuffy Smith to do. But when I hear lines of dialogue delivered like Amos and Andy characters would I know something’s going on. I’m not that clueless.

If I haven’t put you off the short altogether, then, let’s watch now.

So. There’s a somewhat similar, famous cartoon, Bimbo’s Initiation, that we’ll get to in time. It’s more famous because of a Betty Boop cameo that gets it attention from her fans. In it Bimbo gets roped in off the street and subjected to a long, strange series of surreal and slightly horrifying experiences. I didn’t quite realize how much “Bimbo In A Nightmare World” was a recurring theme for the Talkartoons.

Have to say it fits him well, though. He’s a pretty generic character; going out trying to steal a chicken is more active than I’m used to for him. But it does make it easier for the audience to identify with the lead character if he isn’t trying (or even able) to do anything about the situation. The world’s gone mad for him, and that makes for some fine nightmarish imagery.

As Bimbo-In-A-Nightmare-World cartoons go, I think this is less frightening than Bimbo’s Initiation. That’s due to the plot setup. Here, Bimbo starts out trying to steal a chicken; so, his being plunged into a demon-haunted world makes sense as moral balance. In Bimbo’s Initiation he doesn’t do anything to earn his torments; he’s literally just walking down the street and falls in a hole. (A manhole, but something something evoking Alice’s rabbit-hole something something literary reference.) Stealing a chicken is disreputable, certainly. It’s forgivable, if the person has to steal or starve. But it gives moral justification for Bimbo’s torments.

And they’re a good set of torments, must say. There’s some astounding animation effects here. This cartoon came out seven months after last week’s entry, Radio Riot, and it feels like it’s years ahead. You really get a sense of how fast sound recording and cel animation were improving to watch a pair like that. The fight between Bimbo and the chicken is fantastic, with the spinning of the background a trick so good I’m surprised more animation studios didn’t rip it off. From about 6:50 on there’s no real story left; there’s just astonishing scenes.

Wikipedia claims the cartoon was animated by a “complete new staff” following several animators quitting, and that makes it all the more amazing. But they did have a heck of a talent pool with Culhane, Eugster, Kneitel, and Natwick. I don’t really know anything about George Cannata (almost nobody does) and William Henning, but still, that’s a heck of a team to have.

Unless I blinked and missed it there’s no suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like characters in the short. The title may be uninspired but it makes sense; the action is built around singing “Swing You Sinners” and it’s hard to think of a more logical name. Has it got a logical ending? Yeah. There’s an arbitrariness to why have the action stop now rather than ten seconds sooner or later on. But given the setup the story has to end with Bimbo either atoning for his sins or being trapped in them forever, and since the Fleischers were a New York City studio, it’s the latter option. Disney or Warner Brothers or someone else on the west coast would have let him out.

It’s hard picking out a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag. The format inspires stuffing the screen full of weird little bits. I think I’d pick out the double ghosts sleeping in the stairwells, seen at about 6:05 in. But there’s so much great stuff happening. There’s the animate scythe at about 5:25. There’s the underpants that turn into an extra ghost at about 6:25. It’s not a gag — it’s part of the nightmare — but the graveyard walls enclosing Bimbo at about 4:50 is is fantastic. Good solid scary cartoon.

Reposted: The Eighth Talkartoon: Barnacle Bill; and Betty Boop gets a name (it’s not Betty)


Anyone interested in the history of theatrical short cartoons knows how messy Bugs Bunny’s creation was. There’s several plausible “first” Bugs Bunny cartoons, including several black-and-white forerunners with rabbits who … don’t look or don’t act quite right, but not in any way that clearly distinguishes them from Early Bugs. It should not surprise that Betty Boop had a similar confusing early history. Still, as I hadn’t watched the early Betty Boop cartoons in production order before, I was taken by surprise by how she wasn’t quite herself in her second cartoon.


If the Fleischer Studios cartoons have any reputation in the current pop culture it’s “those black-and-white cartoons the animators must have been on drugs when they drew”. They always say this about stuff packed with weirdness and whimsy and more nonsense than is needed. It seems to reflect some need to make alien the mindset that does stuff purely for fun, as though intense play were unfit for the dignity of modern life. And like most reputations it’s overblown. Most of their cartoons are straightforward things with little fillips of weirdness because they had the time to fill.

So here’s one of the cartoons that isn’t an exception. It’s eight minutes of almost nothing but weirdness. This cartoon, originally released the 30th of August, 1930, was animated by Seymour Kneitel and Rudy Zamora, along with — Wikipedia says, anyway — Grim Natwick. And it’s kind of a weird one.

This is listed as a Betty Boop cartoon. It was on the eight-VHS Betty Boop collection I watched so often in the 90s. I imagine anyone with a clear idea who Betty Boop was would list this as one of her cartoons, even though she’s still in that dog-based model abandoned not soon enough. But the cartoon gives her a name, clearly and obviously, in Bimbo’s notebook: she’s Nancy Lee. Apparently “Betty Boop” is a rewrite, the way Tom Cat started out as Jasper. Huh.

Or it’s a character. The cartoon has a — well, plot seems like the wrong word. But it’s doing something. It’s playing out the folk/drinking song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. A cleaned-up version was a hit song of 1928 and again 1930. Bimbo, acting consistently with the screwball nature I talked about in Dizzy Dishes, sneaks off his ship. And then gets into character, I suppose, as Barnacle Bill. Perhaps Betty’s just playing the character of Nancy Lee here. It seems a little weird, but in 1935 the Fleischer studios would pretty much remake this as a Popeye cartoon, Beware of Barnacle Bill. And in that one Bluto is certainly “playing” Barnacle Bill.

But that’s plenty of fussing about Betty Boop’s “original” name. There is a lot going on in this cartoon. Nearly every moment is a weird visual gag. I wonder if this is a side effect of tying so much of the cartoon to the song. There’s not a lot to do visually if you stick to the lyrics of any version of the song “Barnacle Bill the Sailor”. One person sings four lines, and the other person sings four lines. If you’re going to make it visually interesting you have to pack in weirdness. So sure, Bimbo knocks on the door with his tail. Or he leaps into the sofa as though it were a pool of water. Or Betty/Nancy’s chairs sneak out of the room and a sofa takes their place. The front door shrinks in horror and hides when Barnacle Bimbo threatens to tear it open. The apartment door swallows him into the room.

Put aside, though, how packed it is with throwaway visual gags. Did you notice the camera angles here? There are all sorts of weird perspective shots. Some of them make sense, shooting Bimbo from far above when he’s talking to Betty on the second floor, or Betty from below when she’s talking to Bimbo down below. Being above Bimbo when he’s walking up or down stairs makes sense. But, for example, the opening scene doesn’t need the boat to be charging at the camera to read cleanly, even to allow the boat (and bird) to sing. They chose to start from a weird perspective. It’s easy to imagine these scenes being framed in boring ways.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it does, and then it blows right past it. Coming to the end of a round of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” is the sensible stopping point. Finding that Bimbo’s been hitting on Gus Gorilla’s girlfriend (I suppose?) makes great internal logic. It makes Bimbo out to be a bit of a jerk, but a screwball character tends to be a jerk anyway. And puffing yourself up as Barnacle Bill is choosing to embrace the jerkiness. When they redid this as Beware of Barnacle Bill they cast Bluto as Barnacle Bill, wisely realizing that as the only moral person in his universe Popeye couldn’t take that role. Also I wonder if this doesn’t justify Bimbo fearing Gus Gorilla in Dizzy Dishes. Surely the cartoons were in production simultaneously, at least at some point. Maybe the logic of who did what to who got mixed up. Or, yeah, maybe it’s just that the big hulking character is always the villain and the scrawny little guy is the protagonist.

And yet after this perfectly good ending the short goes on. We get a chase, and a nice ridiculous one. I guess it gets the short up to eight minutes, if that’s what they were going for. It does end with delightful weirdness. But it’s also the sort of strangeness-for-strangeness’s-sake that gets these cartoons their reputation. … Well, all right. A lot of these cartoons are really weird.

There’s some suspicious-looking mice at about 0:53 and 1:25 in the short, all scenes before Bimbo gets off the ship. It’s hard to pick a best blink-and-you-miss-it gag — there’s a lot to feast on — but I’ll nominate the ship walking into harbor and having sneakers on. It’s another odd little touch in a short that’s overflowing with them.

Reposted: The Seventh Talkartoon, And The One Anyone Knows Anything About: Dizzy Dishes


From this moment in my Talkartoons rewatch, Betty Bop began taking over. As mentioned in the original post, it’s not obvious from her first appearance that she was the new It character. Years later, I stil don’t know how it is we know the gorilla’s name is Gus. The Betty Boop comic strip has been through at least one full circuit of its (Sunday strip) run and … it gets some characters in place, and does all right by them, but it’s still quite generic.

Finally maybe back on track. I’m up to the seventh of the Talkartoon series. It’s arguably the most famous one. It’s one I’ve already reviewed, because it’s the debut of Betty Boop. But, heck. I’ve seen the cartoon many times. What’s one more? From its original release the 9th of August, 1930, here’s Dizzy Dishes.

Bimbo’s looking different from how he did in his debut in Hot Dog. It’s a common fate of characters in those days. It’s a small change, mostly: his head’s black rather than white. Or maybe I was wrong in Hot Dog and Bimbo was supposed to be the cop. As mutations go this isn’t a big one. Betty Boop would change much more between this, her first prototypical look, to the iconic image and then a bit more to her final appearance in her own cartoons.

Bimbo does a fair job driving the action this short. Everything that goes on relates to how he’s the waiter and apparently chef of this cabaret and not all that interested in being either. It’s a strange choice. I mean, it’s amusing, yes. Fair enough he should find a flood of rhyming orders annoying. That he goes the long, ridiculous way around actually preparing roast duck? That he puts it off for a dance number? The internal logic is weird. Granted that Gus Gorilla (if the Internet Movie Database is right in identifying him) looks menacing. How is he going to be less dangerous if he’s served his roast duck? How does hacking a chopping block into a locomotive engine help matters any?

And I guess the answer has to be that Bimbo, this cartoon has a personality. And that personality is the zany screwball. He’s not as fast-paced or as wild as black-and-white Daffy Duck. But try imagining this cartoon done with that early Daffy Duck as the waiter. It kinda fits, doesn’t it? … And then it makes sense that Bimbo doesn’t even try to placate a menacing-looking customer. A screwball doesn’t work if he cares.

The cartoon devotes a lot of its time to a song, like all these shorts have done so far. And that gives what everyone agrees is the debut of Betty Boop. She hasn’t quite got the form that would have her eighty years later still be put on bumper stickers I’ve never seen on an actual car. Really, her original, Grim Natwick-designed model is kind of hideous. Bimbo’s smitten, although I can’t say that’s due to her inherent charisma. It seems like any singer-character put in this role would do just as well. Her voice is appealing enough, but I might think that because of later associations. There is a weird little irony that in Betty Boop’s debut Bimbo steals nearly all the chances to sing “boop-oop-a-doop”. I’m not sure anyone could look at this and realize, yeah, that singer’s the character who will take over this series and then get her own cartoon series after that.

But the cartoon’s got a decent flow to it. There’s fewer dull segments, and few bits where the cartoon is clearly just repeating an amusing gag until everybody in the audience gets it. There’s a suspiciously Mickey-like mouse back in this cartoon, applauding at about 4:30 in. The roast duck laying an egg that hatches into another roast duck (about 4:10 in) is such a weird moment. When I showed a friend this, back in 1998 when we only had episodes on videotape — nobody had solved the problem of sharing video online back then — he was horrified enough he nearly refused to watch the rest. You don’t get cartoons like that anymore.

And as long as I’ve got Betty Boop under discussion: I just discovered that Comics Kingdom has started reprinting the Sunday installments of the Betty Boop comic strip. They started this months ago; I hadn’t heard is all. I hate to admit, but the strip — about Betty Boop’s foible-filled life as a movie star — is pretty dire. But at least you can make out where the jokes are supposed to be. I have my suspicions that possibly Max Fleischer didn’t actually write and draw every panel.

Reposted: The Sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies


And now from November 2017 originally here’s my thoughts on the sixth Talkartoon, full of surprises. Also flies. Note the admission about how I messed up the order of things when I originally published this.


Just that string of words — “sixth Talkartoon: Wise Flies” — looks weird to me. This is because I know from time immemorial that the sixth Talkartoon was Dizzy Dishes, the famous introduction of Betty Boop. I think the problem is Marriage Wows, which I had to skip a couple weeks ago because I don’t know any way to see it. Wikipedia mentions that as a cartoon that turns out not to be lost. I suppose the books I read as a young cartoon enthusiast were unaware of Marriage Wows, so didn’t count it in their list of cartoons.

Now some of you may wonder what happened to the fifth Talkartoon, Fire Bugs. Nothing in particular. I just somehow missed it when I started preparing this, and now it’s too close to deadline for me to have a bunch of other thoughts about a whole other cartoon. I’ll try to loop back and get it next week. I’m sorry for the confusion.

So here’s the sixth Talkartoon. As ever, it’s credited to director Dave Fleischer. Two of the animators get credit, though: William Bowsky and Ted Sears. They didn’t do it all themselves; Wikipedia credits Grim Natwick with animation too. From the 18th of July, 1930, here it is:

Some cartoons keep surprising. I had this one pegged after the first scenes: it’d be a couple flies taunting the guy they’re skiing down, until eventually the spider pokes in, scares everyone, and after a frantic music number gets tied up by the blandly pleasant male lead fly. It’s an unexciting story structure but it’s a good, functional one.

I was a little surprised the spider poked in right away to interrupt a fly picnic. Didn’t throw my expectations too badly, though. We’d need to meet the blandly pleasant male lead and the female who’d get abducted by the villain, after all. But the female fly squirts the spider into embarrassed submission, and the spider trots back home, defeated. And turns out to have a wife and to be hungry. That’s a sympathizing touch. It’s easy to hiss at the villain who’s just out to cause harm. When they’re shown to just want to eat? That’s harder. That he’s got a family — in something I didn’t see coming, including kids to feed — makes the narrative stranger. The spider ends up the protagonist, possibly by default as none of the flies seem to be in successive scenes. (Perhaps this reflects different animators taking over the successive scenes.)

But the flies do get some nice odd scenes. A picnic is normal enough for anthropomorphic insects. The fly in a plane is weirder. I imagine it reflects how plane-mad the public was in the early 30s. Maybe it’s whimsy. Maybe it’s thoughtful: the scene is basically that of a guy cruising in his car and picking up a woman. But would a female fly even in principle be impressed by a car? A plane makes sense for that role.

The plotting’s a bit curious. It’s partly spot jokes about flies and a spider, fine enough. And it’s partly about, clearly enough: spider needs to feed himself and his family, but he can’t catch anything. Then about 3:54 in all that’s put on pause so the spider and fly can perform “Some Of These Days”, Shelton Brooks’s toe-tapping hit from 1910. (It had, Wikipedia tells me, got rerecorded by Sophie Tucker in 1926. Sold a million albums that way. Then it got into 1928’s Lights of New York, another candidate for the title of “first talking motion picture”. The cartoon came out in that while the song was inescapable.) But that turns the last scene from hunter-and-prey into an odd infidelity-romance bit. That’s an interesting surprise to me too. It’s a shame that got resolved with the spider’s wife coming out in battleaxe mode. But it does add a nice sad touch to the final chorus of “No flies!”

This isn’t a cartoon with big laughs, at least not for me. There’s a few nice small laughs, like the spider reading the Fly Paper. But overall it’s a curious short that’s not quite plot-driven, but feels like it has more story than just a couple jokes about flies doing things.

Does the title make sense? Absolutely. It’s a little punny, but not absurdly so, and it’s definitely a fly-driven cartoon. Does its ending make sense? Here, too, yes: there’s good reason to end the cartoon at this point rather than another. There aren’t any really good weird body-horror-ish jokes, things where people come flying apart or something crazy like that. The spider’s teeth hopping while he dance and I guess that’s about it.

I don’t know whether to read the sleeping man at the start of the cartoon as a black figure, or just a guy with a heavy beard.

Next Tuesday! I ought to do Fire Bugs. Maybe I’ll do Dizzy Dishes. Maybe I’ll get hopelessly confused again and go review the fifth episode of the Disney’s Hercules Saturday Morning Cartoon for some reason. I don’t know. I’m just doing the best I can.

Reposted: The Fifth Talkartoon: Fire Bugs (with a surprise musical visitor)


The chat in the first couple paragraphs reflects a mistake I made back in November 2017 when this first appeared. I skipped one of the Talkartoons and reviewed the next and noticed only when I was about to hit publish. But after this and Wise Flies I get things sorted out, and don’t skip any cartoons except those that are lost or generally inaccessible.


OK, this time I think I have this pesky “order” of things worked out. With luck, I’ll soon do two Talkartoons in a row in the way they should be. We’ll see. This week’s is Fire Bugs, originally released the 9th of May, 1930. If Wikipedia’s right this is the first Fleischer Studios cartoon to credit the animators. So we know two of the people responsible for its look and humor: Ted Sears and Grim Natwick. Sears would go on to be the first head of the Disney story department. Natwick is famous for something coming up next week if I can do time right. I give that a 50-50 chance of happening.

So. First thought. There was a time when nobody had thought to use Franz Liszt for a cartoon. There was, incredibly, a first time that the strong beat and wonderfully varied melody and great, riotous structure of the Hungarian Rhapsody Number 2 was first set to an animated creature clowning around on the piano when something more urgent was under way. This was not that time. The earliest I’m aware of is the 1929 Mickey Mouse cartoon The Opera House. It’s hard to imagine there are many earlier cases. Still, Fire Bugs is one of the early examples of this song becoming the Golden Age of Animation composition.

I had stopped tracking when suspiciously-Mickey-Mouse-like mice appeared in these cartoons because we went a couple weeks without any. This cartoon more than makes up for their absence. Kind Of Mickeys are all over the first scene, in many of the subsequence scenes, and pretty well fill out what would otherwise be negative space in this cartoon. They never quite do much, but they run around, and that can be enough. At least one gets a good gag of being picked up by the fire hose.

There is a lot of fun in this cartoon. It’s a great example of the rubber-hose style where nothing just moves. It has to be wrangled out of shape and then it consents to move. It’s a look I really enjoy. It feels lively.

The title makes sense; it’s a cartoon about a fire fighter that I suppose is our second Bimbo cartoon. And the story parses too; the fire call comes in, Bimbo(?) and his horse Sparky make their way to the scene; they rescue the longhair musician despite his best efforts to finish his piece. It ends at a logical point, as the Hungarian Rhapsody does. Sensible.

There’s not really a blink-and-you-miss-it joke, or else I blinked. (The ‘Fire Water’ barrels in the basement are on-screen too long to really count.) I do like the swapping of positions between Bimbo and Sparky as they slide down the firepole. There’s also, yeah, some dull bits where they drag out a bit of animation, maybe to make sure we saw the pansies dancing, thank you, now move on. Maybe to make sure the cartoon didn’t come in too short. You’d think an apartment fire would be enough for a good cartoon.

The musician at the end saying “My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, I thank you, goodbye” is a pop culture reference. It’s riffing on the tagline of The Four Cohans, or as we know them if we watch a lot of Turner Classic Movies, James Cagney as George M Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The horse’s name is surely a pop culture reference too. Sparkplug, or Sparky, was the name of Barney Google’s flea-bitten horse in the comic strip that, back then, was incredibly popular. I mean, like, popular in a way you’d think I was joking if I told you about. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was nicknamed “Sparky” after that horse. I haven’t read the strips of the 1930s so I have no informed opinion about whether everybody was just crazy back then. But Comics Kingdom has been running the Barney Google strips of the early 40s, and yeah, they’re pretty interesting. The strip, like many back then, was a serial adventure comic. I could believe it being justifiably a craze.

I already was enjoying the cartoon, even if it stalled for time before getting to the apartment building, when the Liszt kicked in. After that I was fully delighted. Glad to see it.

Reposted: The Fourth Talkartoon: Hot Dog (it’s just Bimbo)


This essay first ran in November 2017. It does give our introduction to Bimbo, although as I note, I’m not completely sure which character is Bimbo here. Character designs were looser things back then.


At least, Wikipedia says this is the introduction of Bimbo. He doesn’t look a lot like the figure I know from a lot of Betty Boop cartoons. But characters were more fluid things back then. The figures billed as “Betty Boop” before she got title credit are all over the place; why not Bimbo too? Here’s Hot Dog, originally released the 29th of March, 1930.

So, uhm. I understand that in the early days cartoons weren’t exactly plotted. They were sort of sketched out with the idea that here was the theme, and here are the obvious high points to hit, and each of the main animators would take a segment and do what seemed to make sense. It’s a hard way of doing things well. You can see why plotting took over. When this loose, semi-improvised format works it gives cartoons a wonderful jazzy vibe, even in the days before sound. Each segment is this joyous burst of nonsense and who cares if, like, different scenes are using different models for the star? When it doesn’t work there’s a slog of scenes that don’t have points repeating the one gag someone had for, like, a car going down the street.

Hot Dog is curiously in-between those. It’s got a clear plot. Bimbo is cruising the streets to pick up a woman. When he finally does it’s kinda assault-y, and a cop (who looks more like what Bimbo settled on than Bimbo does here) gives chase. Bimbo stumbles into one of those parades police are always having in Keystone Cops pictures and the occasional Harold Lloyd short. Marched into court, Bimbo pleads his case: it’s the Saint Louis Blues. With the song played well enough, he leaves.

It’s a surprising introduction to Bimbo. Betty Boop shorts prepare me to see him as the guy who points at stuff and says “Oh!” until they drag Koko the Clown out of retirement. I can’t fault him cruising for women. Picking up someone not even the slightest interested puts me in the weird case of rooting for the cartoon cop.

Thing is for all the clear direction of the plot there’s not a lot to watch here. It’s like all the animators figured someone else would have the showpiece bit. There’s some fair enough jokes in each bit. I like the car moseying by growing its tires into long legs, at about 2:07 in. There are a lot of little throwaway bits of silly business and things moving in that rubber-body style in the whole court scene.

But the whole cartoon plays like setup for jokes. There’s no really big scenes, no payoffs. And even for an era when you could count on any good bit of business being repeated there’s a lot of repetition here. And padding: why does it take so long for Bimbo and his car to appear in front of the woman he eventually grabs? Why spend so much time playing “Pop Goes The Weasel” while she just walks along the edge of the frame? I wonder if they didn’t realize the cartoon was running short and looked for stuff they could just repeat. I’m not sure I even have a favorite joke here. There’s some nice freaky 30s cartoon style humor in the grabbed woman growing roller skates out of her toes at about 3:03. And there’s the car tires growing into legs. The picture of Justice interacting with Bimbo. But that’s about it. It’s left me wondering if there’s some contemporary pop-culture reference here that I’m missing.

I didn’t spot any suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like mice. I suppose Bimbo is meant to be the Fleischer studios’ Mickey Mouse, but nobody would confuse him for Mickey at a glance.

The cartoon is in a weird state where the cartoon never gets around to anything bad, but it doesn’t have any good stuff either. Wikipedia claims this to be the first Fleischer Cartoon using grey tones, which I guess is so if you don’t look at Radio Riot. Maybe they mean using grey tones throughout the short. But in that case I’m not sure that the parade-of-police scene uses grey. Still, it has historic import for introducing Bimbo and, at 2:55 in, his immortal first words: “My[?] sweet-loving[?] sweet[?]” They were still working out sound in 1930. Also, apparently, how to pitch woo.

Reposted: The Third Talkartoon: Radio Riot


Yeah, I am in urgent need of a break in my workload. For a while, then, I’ll reprint reviews of the Fleischer Studios Talkartoons. This is the series that introduced Betty Boop to the world, although we’re not there yet. This essay first ran back in October 2017.


I didn’t ditch the second Talkartoon on purpose. It’s just that the short, a 1929 titled Marriage Wows, might as well be a lost cartoon. According to Wikipedia the UCLA film library has the nitrate elements for it. But otherwise? As far as I’m aware it’s not available online, and it might not even be available for normal non-scholarly people at UCLA to see. There is a 1949 Famous Studios short of the same title, but goodness knows whether it’s a remake of the early talkie. Possibly it is in part; the 1949 short is the sort of string of spot gags that would be as easily made in 1929. And the central song is Me and My Gal, from 1917. But the 1949 cartoon is a Screen Songs follow-the-bouncing-ball short. Talkartoons, as far as I know, never did that. Besides, Fleischer Studios already had the Screen Songs series going in 1930.

I’ll put that aside and go on to the next Talkartoon. Originally released the 13th of February, 1930, it’s Radio Riot. There’s no credits for it, besides the Directed by Dave Fleischer title, but we’ll start getting some idea who drew stuff in the next couple cartoons.

So there we have it. First, yes, the title makes sense and has something to do with the cartoon. The framing device is a day’s worth of radio programming. Morning exercises, a musical number, a scary story for impressionable kids. It’s a short programming day but after all it is only an eight-minute cartoon. It’s a framing device much like SCTV used in its first season, before they got into telling plots of the backstage happenings.

As with last week’s Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark, I believe this cartoon was drawn on paper. After the first scene there’s not much grey in the cartoon; it’s in black and white, mostly. I suspect the frog’s scenes were done on animation cels, and the rest on the old-fashioned white paper.

Speaking of the frog. I know there’s animation fans who see a frog of this vintage and think of Ub Iwerks’s Flip the Frog. He was the star of a couple dozen genial shorts after Iwerks left the Disney studios and set up his own animation company. It’s coincidence, though. The first Flip the Frog cartoon was released in August 1930. Frogs must just have been in the air.

There’s a double dose of Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like characters. First there’s a pair doing exercises in the scene starting about 3:18 into things. And then there’s a bunch more, mouse kids I assume, in the ghost-story scene that starts at 6:19 and closes out the short.

I’m not sure there’s a proper blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag that I really liked. Possibly the way the exercising radio receiver and table about 1:15 in are out of step with the frog’s direction. But I did enjoy the frog explaining the exercise program was brought to you by the “Noiseless Biscuits Company”. It sounds enough like a company name that you don’t right away notice the nonsense. That’s often the best sort of nonsense.

The most startling joke to me: the goldfish doesn’t jump back in the fishbowl! The heck, guys? It also looks to me like the first pair of mice meet a grizzly yet not-quite-on-camera end. There’s implicitly something sad going to happen to those flies caught on paper as part of that radio star’s “Where o Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”. Video is innocent in this one.

Does the short have an ending? Yes, it has. The framing device implies there’ll be a last broadcast of the day, and of the short, and that makes narrative sense. And the scary part makes for a good closing act. I am again satisfied.

Reposted: The First Talkartoon: Noah’s Lark


I have hit a particularly bad stretch of … everything … and need to scale back my workload even more. So I’m putting my King Features Popeye rewatch on hold. In the meanwhile to preserve this posting-every-day thing that’s apparently important to me here’s a republishing of my thoughts about the first Fleischer Studios Talkartoon, Noah’s Lark. I first published these thoughts back in October 2017. What’s changed in my evaluation of this short? Who knows?


I’m feeling in a talk-about-cartoons mood so why not look to the Fleischer Studios’ Talkartoons? These were a string of 42 sound cartoons that the Fleischer Brothers made from 1929 to 1932, and it’s where Betty Boop made her debut. She’s not in this cartoon. It’s easy to suppose the Talkartoons were made in response to Disney’s Silly Symphonies series. I’m not sure that’s the case, though. This installment, for example, doesn’t have any particularly strong song component. There’s music throughout, of course. It was 1929; if you weren’t putting sound into your cartoons you were hopelessly behind the times, or you were Charles Mintz and too cheap to do sound. And I’m not even sure that’s true.

In any case Leonard Maltin’s Of Mice And Magic cites a June 1929 trade advertisement for the series. The first Silly Symphony came out in August 1929, and while every animation studio tried to copy Disney, it’d be a bit ambitious to plan the copying of something that hadn’t come out yet. Here, originally released the 25th of October, 1929, is Noah’s Lark.

So, some thoughts. First is that I think this short predates the use of animation cels. For most of the 20s the Fleischer cartoons were illustrations done on sheets of bright white paper. The advantage of this is that if you only need to move a small part of the scene — like the monkey’s arms in that scene about 1:15 into the short, or the hippopotamus singing while his chest tattoo moves at about 1:35 — you just need to draw that fragment of art and put it over the base. On many silent cartoons you can even see the tear lines of the paper.

Second: the title actually parses. I was thinking through the first half that they’d done the most obvious humorous variant on the common phrase “Noah’s Ark”. But by bringing the action to Coney Island — Wikipedia says Luna Park, but I don’t know how they can pin it down to that, given that there’s no particularly iconic rides on display — they justify calling it a lark. Good, then.

That fun old-style stretchy-squashy-playing with geometry: I like the ship’s portholes bouncing around merging together to let the elephant out. Also the … magpies? Crows? Possibly penguins? … at about 2:22 in that need three of them with bicycle pumps to unflatten their comrade.

The Suspiciously Mickey Mouse-like character enters into this cartoon at about 5:00 in. The Blink-And-You’ll-Miss-It gag with the best laugh was on the carousel at about 4:50 for me.

There’s a recording of The Stars And Stripes Forever in here that I wonder if they didn’t use in the first couple Popeye cartoons as his post-Spinach action music.

Does this short have an ending? … I suppose so. The idea that the animals are out on Shore Leave does contain the implication that Shore Leave has to stop, so there’s a tolerably set-up conclusion to the short and a reason for the final scene to happen. I’ll allow it, but I’ll listen to contrary opinions.