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


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.

Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in: Coney Island


So, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The quickest refutation of the saying there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Remembered as he is as some silent-movie-era guy who was in a scandal, it’s easy to forget he was prominent enough to produce a scandal because he was a really skilled physical comedian, someone who could just move with that dizzying flow which humanity seems to have lost since talkies came in. He was also a director, of both silent and talking pictures. My little video for today is 1917’s Coney Island, in which he stars and directs, as a man trying to get away from his wife and make time with another man’s girlfriend, though since he stole the woman away from Buster Keaton’s character. (Arbuckle and Keaton were in, if I’ve not overlooked something, eleven films together, and they just fit together so very well.) So to get the crossfire of chases straight: Arbuckle’s wife is chasing him; Arbuckle is avoiding his wife; Buster Keaton is chasing the man who stole his girl; and the man who stole his girl is chasing Arbuckle. I may have missed some chases.

Like many silent movies it’s a bit hard to just see the movie, because it serves as an accidental documentary of where the thing was filmed. Since this was filmed in and around Coney Island’s Luna Park there’s something really worth documenting in the background. Before the movie gets to the bathhouse you get good views of the Witching Waves — one of those Old Coney Island rides you never hear anyone imagining making these days, the one where cars drift along a surface that’s rolling up and down — and the Shoot The Chute, the latter including a shot that makes me wonder how they could have taken it safely. (I see a lot of references claiming it also shows the Whip — TCM’s page about the movie even includes a still of it — although in the versions I found uploaded to archive.org or YouTube I don’t see a Whip scene. It’s plausible, mind you, I just don’t see it.) I admit, given my interest in amusement parks, the movie loses something when it does get away from showing Luna Park and focuses more on the bathhouse, but it picks up with some nice raucous fighting and, ultimately, the Keystone Cops getting into the action.

The other male lead in the film, the one that isn’t Roscoe Arbuckle or Buster Keaton, is Al St John, who might have gotten his start in movies by being Arbuckle’s nephew, but who earned his career on his own merit. He’s credited with being one of the type definers for the comic sidekick character actor and made, if I’m not misreading his filmography, about three billion westerns, many of them alongside Buster Crabbe and then Lash La Rue, or for Sam Newfield (a director many Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans will remember).

I’m sorry to give short shrift to the female leads, but the movie does that too. Arbuckle’s wife is played by Agnes Neilson, who has about a dozen IMDB credits, most of them in 1917 and 1918; and the woman he pursues by Alice Mann, who has about two and a half dozen, most from 1916 to 1921. I’m afraid I can’t say much more about them.