Betty Boop: Mysterious Mose


Previously entered as the first Betty Boop cartoons:

So for this week’s entry in the list of First Betty Boop cartoons I wondered: what’s the first one in which she’s the protagonist? Betty Boop appeared in a good number of Talkartoons in 1930 and 1931, although initially just as an attractive female presence. It would take time for her to take over from Bimbo, Koko the Clown, and a host of nonentities. But what about the first one where she’s the protagonist?

Well, that’s hard to pin down, not least because Fleischer Studios cartoons of the era were not excessively burdened with plots. Boop-Oop-A-Doop seems like a strong candidate for the first cartoon in which she’s the protagonist, what with it being set at the Betty Boop Circus, but she’s really only important for a couple of scenes as a lion-tamer and performer, and then ends up in the damsel-in-distress role, waiting off-screen to be rescued by Koko this time.

But I’m drawn to an earlier cartoon, released the 27th of December, 1930 — Betty’s inaugural year — even though it’s mostly a showcase for what Wikipedia claims is Harry Reser and his orchestra of many names’s performance of the title song. It’s also a showcase for the famed Fleischer Studios surreal, dream-logic, borderline-nightmare world of mutation and transmogrification: after a charmingly spooky opening scene Mysterious Mose himself appears on screen, leaving Betty with not much to do but watch, baffled, as everything changes into everything else, and back again, at least until the music runs out. Admittedly, Betty doesn’t get much to do, but it’s all stuff she does because it makes sense for her at the time, and she doesn’t spend time sitting around waiting for someone else to rescue her. That’s something.

Betty Boop: Mask-A-Raid


Recently in Betty Boop cartoons:

Since last week I showcased another first Betty Boop cartoon, I thought to change things up a little bit by showing the first Betty Boop cartoon. That is, in this one — Mask-A-Raid, originally released the 7th of November, 1931 — Betty Boop basically achieves her final canonical, human, design. There’d still be another cartoon released with her having dog ears (Jack and the Beanstalk), and the character would be tinkered with a couple of times before her retirement in 1939, putting aside scenes that play pretty loose with her model sheets, but for the most part, this is finally unmistakably Betty Boop.

Betty still isn’t the star of the cartoon, really; to the extent any character is, it’s Bimbo again, although arguably the whole thing is a showcase for “Where Do You Work-A John?”, a 1926 song (music by Harry Warren, lyrics by Mortimer Weinberg and Charley Marks) sufficiently catchy it can take a moment to remember that oh yeah, Italian people were good for really heavy ethnic jokes back then. That’s all right; by the time that really sinks in, the story’s moved on to masquerade masks coming to life and reminding you that, oh yeah, Chinese people were good for really heavy ethnic jokes back then too.

The cartoon seems to be using the plot they use whenever the Fleischers couldn’t think of a plot to use — a couple minutes of unconnected jokes at a setting, then the Big Bad kidnaps Betty, and the male lead chases down the Big Bad and humiliates him — but diverts from that by having Betty declare she’ll go with either Bimbo or the King, based on who wins a sword fight. And that gives an excuse to have a bunch of pretty funny fight scenes before coming to a musical ending with a curious “That’s All” closing.

The Big Cartoon Databases suggests that the musicians may be Harry Reser’s Six Jumping Jacks, one of the names for prolific banjo-player and bandleader Harry Reser. I can’t find information on banjo/jazz web sites that would confirm this, and I haven’t got an ear discerning enough to be able to tell from YouTube videos of Harry Reser bands to say whether that’s credible. Reser’s band was apparently most often known as the Clicquot Club Eskimos, named for the mascot of the Clicquot Club ginger ale company, which reminds us that, oh yeah, that’s another group of people good for really heavy ethnic jokes back then.