A little historyI love Pre-Code films, that rare period in American Cinema between the start of Talkies and the middle of 1934. The Hays Office was in place and guidelines for what was acceptable to show had been written, but the Hays Office had no teeth. The major studios had just invested in talkie motion pictures right when the Great Depression hit. For the first time, movie studios were losing money as Americans tightened their belts and cut back on going to the movies. The Movie Moguls knew that sex sells and pushed the envelope in terms of sex and violence, ignoring requests from the Hays Office for changes. The year 1932 falls right in the middle the Pre-Code Era and films from 1932 dealt with taboo subjects such as illicit drug use, rape, and homosexuality.
When we think of classic film, we tend to focus on feature films and forget that this was only part of the film-going experience, albeit a large part. In addition to feature films, audiences enjoyed live-action short subjects often featuring top vaudeville acts, newsreels covering the top news stories of the day, and of course animated cartoons. One of the top studios of the era was Fliescher Studios, rivaling Disney in terms of quality. In the early 1930s, the big stars at Fleischer Studios were Koko the Clown and an animated dog named Bimbo, but by the beginning of 1932, a minor character from the earlier films was about to become Fleischer Studios biggest star, a Jazz Age flapper named Betty Boop.
Betty Boop was a caricature of singer, Helen Kane. She first appeared as an anthropomorphic dog in the 1930 cartoon, "Dizzy Dishes," but morphed into a human character by 1932, where she became the star of Talkartoons as well as getting her own series of Betty Boop cartoons that year. Unlike Disney's Minnie Mouse, Betty was a sexual being, and the Pre-Code cartoons were about as racy as anything her her live-action counterparts, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Norma Shearer were doing. These early Betty Boop cartoons often combined live-action footage with cartoon animation. In the early 1930s, Fleischer Studios was based out of New York, giving them easy access to the Harlem Jazz scene. In 1932, Betty costarred with both Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.
Selected Betty Boop CartoonsWhat follows are plot summaries of all of the 1932 cartoons from the Betty Boop: The Essential Collection, Vols. 1-3, Blu-Rays, a great collection I heartily endorse. Yes, there are spoilers, but like most cartoons, the plot is usually just an excuse to do a bunch of gags centered around a certain situation. I also include for each cartoon, Pre-Code Shenanigans, something that would likely not get past the censors a couple of years later. I limit it to one thing per cartoon, but usually there are others.
"Chess Nuts" – Starts with a live-action chess game between two older gentlemen. When one of the men drops a cigar ash on the black queen, Betty Boop's head pops out of the chess piece. She calls out to Bimbo whose head pops out of the white king piece. Another character Betty later calls Kingy appears out of a black rook. Kingy carries off Betty and ties her up. Betty calls for Bimbo to help but she's seems to be doing pretty well on her own. Ultimately, Bimbo beats up Kingy, and there is much rejoicing.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – In trying to defend herself, Betty throws a vase and her dress rises up above waist. A table leg pulls it down for her. The vase hits the wall, breaking the plaster to reveal a mouse sleeping in a double bed with another mouse. The mouse gets out of bed, goes through the wall to another bed and climbs into bed with a different mouse. I swear the mouse almost winks at the audience.
"Betty Boop, M.D." – Betty Boop. Koko the Clown, and Bimbo are snake oil salesmen, ummm, and woman, selling bottles of medicine called Jippo. No one wants to buy it until Betty sings a song and does a few demos of the medicine. Soon everyone is buying it and singing and dancing.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – Betty also pulls a stethoscope out of her bra.
"Betty Boop's Bamboo Island" – Starts with live-action Hula dancing from a Polynesian group, The Royal Samoans. Bimbo is in a boat and way lost. Eventually he lands on a desert island and meets a dark skinned native-girl Betty Boop. Bimbo sings to her, and they see a group of natives. Bimbo puts a bone through his hair and applies black face to blend in. Betty Boop hula dances for Bimbo and the natives. It starts to rain, washing off Bimbo's black face, and Bimbo and Betty have to escape in Bimbo's boat.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – When Betty is Hula dancing it is real apparent that she is not wearing a bra, only a lei to avoid showing her breasts. Still, you're seeing lots of cleavage and the outline of side boob. The dancing itself is every bit as racy the live action Hula dancing at the beginning.
"Betty Boop for President" – Betty Boop is running for president. She sings a song about all of the great things she will do as president. Her opponent, Mr. Nobody, sings too. They go back to Betty singing and there are numerous gags about what she will do as president. Betty wins the election.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – In one of the gags, a prisoner is stripes is being led to the electric chair. He is mean and tough looking. When they turn on the juice, instead of electrocuting him, a bunch of gadgets pop out, combing his hair, brushing his teeth, shining his shoes, etc. When done, he looks like a complete dandy. He gets out of the chair and prances away like the most flamboyant gay man you have ever seen.
"Boo-Oop-A-Doop" – Betty and Koko the Clown are performing in the circus with Bimbo selling peanuts in the audience. There are various circus gags. Betty performs as a lion tamer with a whip. She also walks the tightrope and sings Boop-Oop-A-Doop, wearing what looks like a strapless bra and panties. When she finishes, she goes to her dressing room, and the ringmaster comes in and harasses her, whispering what will happen if she doesn't succumb to his advances. She tries to get away, singing that she is not going to let him take her Boop-Oop-A-Doop away. Koko saves her and eventually beats up the ringmaster, ending with Koko kissing Betty.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – When Betty and the ringmaster are in her dressing room, the ringmaster paws at her rubbing her bare lega from thigh to the end of her toes, several times. When she tries to run away, he pulls he back by grabbing her butt.
"The Betty Boop Limited" – Betty has a train carry her vaudeville troupe from town to town. On the train, Betty says they have time to rehearse one more time before the next show. She sings a song. Bimbo juggles, and Koko the Clown does a dance. There a bunch of train gags, including they station master tying all of the switch levers in knots. This twists the train track into knots. Instead of crashing, the train follows the route of the twisted tracks and ends up going back the direction it came from.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – While Betty is singing, her trademark garter slides down her leg. A bug comes out and pushes it back up to her thigh, where it belongs. The bug's battle-ax wife comes out and hits him with a rolling pin and drags him off.
"Betty Boop's Bizzy Bee" – Betty runs a lunchwagon where the specialty is wheat cakes (pancakes). Bimbo comes in and looks at the menu. The only thing listed is wheat cakes over and over again. After a long deliberation, Bimbo decides to have, you guessed it, wheat cakes. Koko the Clown orders soup, but it is cold, so Betty heats it by setting the soup on fire. Eventually a hippo comes in and orders wheat cakes and starts eating them as fast as Betty can make them. Wheat cakes are flying everywhere, and everybody is eating them. They fly out the kitchen vent, so the moon can eat them as well. Ultimately, everybody gets sick from eating too much, the hippo, all other customers, even the moon and the lunchwagon itself get sick.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – This was probably the tamest of the bunch. When Bimbo shows up, Betty is distracted and lets her wheat cakes burn. The wheat cakes stand up on the grill and their backsides are burned. Their backsides are not backsides, but butts. They rub them so that they won't be burned anymore. If you ask me they're getting into the whole butt rubbing thing a little too much.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – While Betty is wandering around in mid-air, there is no gravity to keep her skirt from floating above her waist, so she has to keep pulling it down. Eventually, she solves the problem by turning upside down and walking on her hands.
"Betty Boop's Museum" – Koko the Clown is running a tour bus to the museum. Betty takes the last seat, and they drive off. The bus gets four flat tires. Betty says she doesn't want to park. Koko puts four roller skates on the tires, and they skate off to the museum. At the museum, Bimbo is working as the caretaker. Betty get locked in after closing. Most of the exhibits are skeletons, and one of them demands that Betty sing a song. Betty sings, but eventually tries to run away. In chasing her, the skeleton knocks the discuss from an Olympian statue into a statue of Samson pushing two columns apart. The Samson statue gets mad and pushes down the columns completely, destroying the museum. Bimbo and Betty escape on a chariot sculpture.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – When Betty is singing, she gets emotional and has to wipe a tear from eye by wiping it away with tear with the hem of her skirt, pulling her dress all the way up.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – Not that much, this is more Cab Calloway's cartoon than Betty's. There is a nude statue on the baluster of the stairs in Betty's house. Betty is crying on the stairs because her parents were being mean. The statue has to clothe herself before she can comfort Betty.
I had seen Minnie the Moocher on YouTube and I found a link to it, way cool (I'm sure you could find others if you looked):
"I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You" – Opens with live-action of (a very young) Louis Armstrong and Orchestra. Betty is in the jungle wearing a pith helmet and sexy explorers outfit. She is being carried on a litter by Bimbo and Koko the Clown. Natives capture and carry off Betty. Bimbo and Koko have to rescue her, but end up in the native's cooking pot instead. They escape but are chased by a native singing, the song, "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You." The native morphs into a giant floating cartoon head which morphs into Louis Armstrong's live-action head, superimposed on the animated Bimbo and Koko running away. Most of the rest of the cartoon alternates between the cartoon natives and live-action Louis Armstrong and Orchestra, singing and performing the song. Eventually, they find Betty tied to a tree and are able to free her by shooting porcupine needles at the natives. Betty, Bimbo, and Koko escape when a volcano blows the natives sky high. Cut to live-action Louis Armstrong Orchestra, performing the last part of the song.
Pre-Code Shenanigans – As Koko is running away from the natives, he runs so fast he runs out of his clown outfit. He continues to run even faster until he runs right out of his underwear.