Max and Dave: Talkartoons 1930-31 – Still Popular
Talkartoons were proving to be popular with exhibitors and audiences alike. Had they not been so, there would not have been so many of them made. During this season, the character of Bimbo was being refined into its most usual form. And the little dog chanteuse was also being tinkered with, eventually developing into the beloved Betty Boop. Even Ko Ko would make a reappearance in at least one cartoon (to be discussed later). Subject matter was also becoming more exotic, developing a house style weirdness that didn’t at all cater to being ootsy-cutesy – and would earn some opprobrium from people who wanted to clean up the movies. There were those who complained that the cartoons were the big draw for kids and that some of Fleischer’s content was not suitable for children. This attitude wouldn’t really make itself heard for a few years yet, but its genesis was likely already beginning.
Grand Uproar (10/12/30) – A performance at a great opera house. A large hippo keeps imposing on his seatmates in trying to get out to the aisle repeatedly for unspecified reasons. (It may be the first film to use William Pennell, as voice of the hippo.) The performance finally raises the roof, with the entire cast’s necks extending through the ceiling for the final cadenzas. Songs include “Light Cavalry Overture” from the classics by Franz Von Suppe. Also, comically contrasted from its usual medium as if a part of grand opera, “A Gay Caballero”, written and performed by Frank Crumit on Victor, and covered by Billy Jones and Ernest Hare on Columbia, and Frank Luther on Brunswick. Crumit would also write sequels, including “The Return of the Gay Caballero”, also on Victor. The song would be a favorite among animation studios, also prominently featured in Harman-Ising’s first Merrie Melodie, “Lady Play Your Mandolin” the following year. The film also climaxes with the Sextet from Lucia di Lammermoor, also a perennial favorite for many studios for years to come (providing action, for example, for Donald Duck and Clara Cluck in Mickey’s Grand Opera (1936), and for the backyard singing cat (once divided into 9 life-ghosts) in Porky Pig’s Notes To You (1941).
Sky Scraping (11/1/30) – Bimbo is a hapless, slow moving hod carrier at the consteruction site of a skyscraper. This must surely have been around the time the Empire State Building was being contructed, and likely inspired by same. Bimbo is taking his own sweet time getting to work, and not only repeatedly trips over bricks on the sidewalk, but is “lapped” by a snail. The construction scenes feature one of the earliest uses of the “walking on the girders” gag where a character with timed precision repeatedly passes from one suspended girder to another (which gag would become a Popeye trademark in the later A Dream Walking and many others). When the five o clock whistle sounds, it is the reverse situation of the morning, with Bimbo beating everyone else home, to jump right into bed. Songs: “Give Yourself a Pat on the Back”, a British number which also made its way to the states – one of the first of the “Cheer Up” style numbers such as those Tin Pan Alley woild churn out during the Great Depression. Jack Hylton recorded it on HMV, later imported here by Victor. Broadcast (an 8 inch English label), had a version by vocalist Bobby Comber. Here, Hit of the Week records from Durium issued a cover version on 15 cent cardboard by Phil Spitalny and his orchestra. Billy Murray and Waler Scanlon also covered it on the dime store labels, using the pseudonym. “Saunders and White”. Hal Kemp also performed it for Brunswick.
Up To Mars (11/22/30) – Bimbo and a friend are trying to set up a pyrotechnic display. Something goes wrong, and Bimbo winds up blasted to the red planet. Surrealism abounds. The film makes good use out of “The Toymaker’s Dream”, accompanying military marching of the martians. The piece was recorded bt Ernie Golden (its composer), who performed it with his orchestra for Columbia, and in a better-selling vocal version by Vaughn De Leath on Victor. Many other house bands also covered it on the minor labels. The piece became something of a musical template for every “midnight in a toy shop” cartoon ever made.
Accordion Joe (12/12/30) – Only a few frames snippet from this film has to date publicly surfaced, although negative material is supposed to exist in UCLA Film Archives. It appears to feature a prototypical Bimbo and pre-Betty. The title song was recorded by Duke Ellington for Brunswick. It was also recorded by Joe Cornell Smelser and his orchestra on Oheh, featuring Jack Teagarden on trombone and Adrian Rollini on bass sax. Curiously, Smelser is also the featured accordionist on the competing Ellington recording as well!
Mysterious Mose (12/13/30) – Proto Betty-Boop is having a rough night, with all the spooking shadows and whistling winds intruding into her bedroom. This would mark what may be Betty’s first “wardrobe malfunction, as her nightgown reacts in fright by flying completely off her body, while she remains partially hidden behind her bedsheet, long enough to grab the nightie back out of mid-air. The character of Mose is played by Bimbo, who morphs out of the shadows, surrealistically shape shifts, and plays transformational musical instruments, all to final explode and reveal that he is in fact mechanical. Songs include “St. James Infirmary”, (which will be met again a few years later thanks to an energetic Cab Calloway performance in Boop’s “Snow White”). There are claims that the text of “Infirmary” has been traced to 18th century England, but the piece is known as a blues number from the dawn of blues, credited to a “Joe Primrose”, though many belive it may have been Irving Mills under a pen name. Louis Armstrong recorded it for Okeh in 1928, King Oliver for Victor in 1930, Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys for Columbia, Cab Calloway in 1930 for Brunswick, Duke Ellington (as “Harlem Hot Chocolates”) for Hit of the Week, and as “Gambler’s Blues” by Jimmie Rogers on Victor. Perfect issued a version by the Ten Black Berries (possibly an Ellington unit). Jack Teagarden released it on Decca. Artie Shaw also recorded it for Victor. A late revival was released by Phil Harris on RCA Victor circa 1950, and by Tony Bennett on Columbia. It would remain a perennial of dixieland groups, such as the Firehouse Five Plus Two and Kid Ory on Good Time Jazzz, and the Dukes of Dixieland on Audio Fidelity. The title song “Mysterious Mose” was from 1930. Ted Weems recorded it for Victor. Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys recorded it for Columbia, with Benny Goodman and Adrian Rollini. The Radio All Star Orchestra (a Harry Reser group) recorded it on Brunswick. Bernie Cummins recorded it under the name of his piano player (Karl Radlach) for Perfect et al. A Hit of the Week was issued by the Bobby Dixon Broadcasters. A territory band version was issued by Cliff Perrine on Gennett (reissued on Champion under the psudonym “Brody Hunt”). The rare American Parlophone label issued a version by “Earl Marlow’s Orchestra” (probably a Ben Selvin group). The song notably makes uses of a recurring motif from “Pizzicato Mysteriouso”, written by J. Bodewall Lampe, a composer who also composed several rags. The title would also see life at Warner Bothers, with use as the musical setting for the “Little Boys Shouldn’t Smoke” production number of Frank Tashlin’s “Wholly Smoke”, and underscoring the titles of Daffy Duck’s “The Great Piggy Bank Robbery”.
Teacher’s Pest (2/7/31) – Gags set around a country school, Bimbo being the truant. He does, however, prove himself by becoming something of a musical whiz kid by the end of the episode. Songs include “School Days’, a Gus Edwards hit, which would later be milked again by Paramount for the Bing Crosby bio picture, “The Star Maker”. Crosby would issue a recorded version as part of a “Medley of Gus Edwards Hits” on Decca. Original issues of the song would include Albert Campbell on Columbia, and Byron G. Harlan for Victor. In the late 30’s, Frank Novak ad his Rootin’ Tootin’ Boys would provide a revival on Vocalion. A strange issue appeared by Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five on Decca, which mixed the lyrics of the song together with several well-known nursery rhymes, all set to jump rhythm and jazz riffs, and threw the entire original melody out the window! Also included, “Good Morning To You”, “Ruben and Cynthia”, and “Baby’s Birthday Party”, a 1930 pop song, recorded by Guy Lombardo for Columbia, and Nat Shilkret for Victor.
The Cow’s Husband (3/14/31) – A collection of bullfight gags, including many verbal takeoffs on the various participants in such events whose titles end with “-dor”, allowing for the inclusion of “cuspador”, accompanied by a spitting sound. William Pennell is again present on vocal for the bull. The bull kisses his family goodbye, and one of the calves promises to cash in on dad’s insurance. Upon his winning the match instead, the victorious bull is paraded wearing laurel wreaths. on the shoulders of the fans, straight into the doors of the local Kosher slaughterhouse. The title of the cartoon is an expression which seems to have originated in use with a 1922 song called “Cow Bells”, though the song is not used in the film. Instead, we get “Barcelona”, a 1926 song, imported into this country with a lyric superimposed upon a 6/8 march, as something of a response to the hit song “Valencia”. Nat Shilkret recorded it for Victor, Ben Selvin for Brunswick, and Fred Rich for Columbia. Also included is “Oh Ya Ya”, recorded by Max Fisher on Columia, and about a year later by Paul Whiteman on Victor.
The Bum Bandit (4/6/31) – A train ride out west, with Bimbo as a hold-up bandit. The film presents a landmark, being the first film in which Betty Boop appears in nearly fully polished shapely final form,- although with a completely different, deeper voice in more realistic pitch, suggesting none of her “boop oop a doop” image. In another surprise for the series, sge turns out to be the wife of the long-errant Bimbo, who ran out on her and dozens of kids years ago. Boop drags him home, with the suggestion of an amorous reconcile inside the train’s engine cab, as various articles of personal attire are hung out on a clothesline for the return trip. It centers around a ditty entitled “The Hold-Up Rag”, composed by Efbert Van Alstyne, which seems to have had no commercial recordings, but was published as sheet music, and another number about “Dangerous Nan McGrew” which is not the song given to Helen Kane in her feature of the same title, and may possibly be a studio original with no recorded history. “Pizzicato Mysterioso” also appears again as Bimbo makes his first appearance.
Next Time: Takartoons 1931 – Do It or Die.