Shorts: Five Boops and a Dreyer

Chess Nuts (1932)

Where I last left off with Betty Boop cartoons: a less-than-thrilling circus romp with Koko the Clown from 1932, but previous to that was the insane and wonderful Bimbo’s Initiation. All three characters are back in this one. I think Bimbo is a dog, but he’s pretty uninteresting, like Mickey Mouse minus the voice and ears. Anyway this opens with a live-action chess game then turns into the animated world of the chess pieces. Queen Boop is kidnapped by a wicked king and Bimbo comes to the rescue. No lipsync on dialogue, Popeye-style, except during songs. These are the ideal cartoon shorts – fun and extremely inventive, never content to have a character walk from here to there without trying something new (“what if he’s high-stepping but his shoes glide forth independently of his feet?”)

The Betty Boop Limited (1932)

The crew travels by train to their next short-film adventure. Betty sings a song. Train hits a cow, which transforms into bottles of milk, in a scene I played over and over.

Betty Boop, M.D. (1932)

Betty and gang sell snake oil to townspeople, who experience psychosomatic symptoms.

Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932)

Okay I was surprised that Boop is blacked up until I realized it’s a damn cartoon and that she’s no more “white” than anything else, so I relaxed for a second then “white” Bimbo blacks up to escape capture by the earringed and bone-haired island natives, so I suppose that’s license to be offended but there’s too much else going on… like Betty doing a topless hula dance (apparently rotoscoped from the live-action dance that opens the short). Sure she’s got a lei covering her boops, but still. Took a wikipedia sidetrack and discovered that animator Shamus Culhane married Chico Marx’s daughter, so there’s your Boop/Marx connection.

Betty Boop’s Birthday Party (1933)

Watched one with Katy, who enjoyed it more than she expected to. Betty hangs out at home with all her sentient objects, like the Beauty and the Beast castle gone haywire, when her friends (Bimbo, Koko, a hundred others) show up to throw her a surprise birthday party ending in a huge food fight. Of course it ends with Betty hugging George Washington.

All these Boops were by Dave Fleischer, and I also managed to watch one other short…

Good Mothers (1942, Carl Theodor Dreyer)

Work-for-hire shorts made for government organizations by great filmmakers don’t tend to be essential. This one was pretty surprising, though – an ad for the Mother’s Aid group, which convinces young mothers not to have abortions (“Erna has listened to reason and has decided to give birth to her child”). They also convince Erna not to give up her kid for adoption by forcing a waiting period before she decides, during which she bonds with the kid. But Erna can’t afford a child… no worries, Mother’s Aid teaches her how to make her own clothes, and make baby toys out of paper. There’s no further mention of the job Erna was afraid of losing by having the baby, or where she finds time to work, raise the kid and make all these paper toys. Finally they teach Erna songs to sing her kid. I didn’t realize this was a primary problem for mothers, not knowing what songs to sing, but Mother’s Aid wants particular songs: “Poor little negro boy / he is black from tip to toe.”

Dreyer made this just before Day of Wrath, and given his own upbringing (unmarried mother, orphanages, adoption) and conservative leanings, I’m sure it’s of interest to biographers at least. More importantly, it was Dreyer’s re-entry into Danish cinema, proof that he could produce an appealing film inexpensively, after his reputation of excess in the silent era, and after the success of this short he worked on ten more government shorts over the next decade.

Baby power!

It’s stupid to chuckle at foreign words, but I can’t help it when the end title card for a short about pregnant unmarried women reads:

Premiered accompanying a feature by Christen Jul, the cowriter of Dreyer’s previous film Vampyr.

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