NEEDLE DROP NOTES
March 26, 2017 posted by James Parten

Popeye Dances Again in “Morning Noon and Night Club” (1937)

popeye-bluto-noon-nightclub

Back in 1934, Popeye and Olive Oyl took to the dance floor in The Dance Contest.

So, it’s interesting that they took to the floor again in 1937’s Morning Noon and Night Club. However, the inspiration for this cartoon was rather different.

veloz-yolandaAs far back as the 1910’s, there had been a place in entertainment for exhibition or “specialty” dancers. Vernon and Irene Castle had been superstars in the years just before we got into the First World War. And Joan Sawyer was also a recognized name in popular terpsichore.

By the middle 1930’s, the best-known team of specialty dancers was Veloz and Yolanda. This pair had come up the hard way, through various Broadway shows. They were major names by 1932, appearing in revues on the Great White Way, and in top supper club spots as well.

They were so big that they could afford to carry a full orchestra–first led by Shep Fields, then by George Hamilton. (Both artists recorded–Fields after he’d left the employ of the married dance team, Hamilton while still employed by them. Fields also has another animation connection: a Harman-Ising sequence in The Big Broadcast of 1938, built around the song “This Little Ripple Had Rhythm”.)

Veloz and Yolanda specialized in Latin dances–notably the tango and the rhumba.

So, it made sense that, when it came time to do a takeoff on them, that you’d have your characters dancing to something that sounded at least vaguely Latin.

Morning Noon and Night Club opens with a sign advertising te appearance of Popito and Olivita at Wimpy’s Cafe. Then a fist comes in from off screen, and socks a hole in the sign, obliterating “Popito’s” face. It’s Bluto, (voiced by Gus Wicke), and he’s not so hapy about the prominence the pair is getting. Bluto does this to every sign he sees, including one erected high up near an apartment building.

Parkng himself near the stage door, he tries to make an advance on “Olivita”–but is rejected completely–which causes him to swear revenge.

Popito_y_OlivitaInside the cafe, Wimpy is acting as emcee–a Wimpy complete with a spirit lamp mounted on his head, to keep his hamburgers hot. (Later, we see it used to keep his coffee hot–complete with a basin of water in his vest, so he can wash the cup after he has used it. (Quite fastidious, this Wimpy!)

“Olivita” is brought on to sing “a brand-new song”, “Why Am I So Beautiful” (words & music by Bob Rothberg & Sammy Timberg). Mae Questel sings it badly–a deliberate effect on her par. That can’t be easy, but when it’s done right (hear the sides of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards), the effect can be truly comic. You have to know how far to carry it, and then carry it that far and no farther.

The song gets almost universal cheers–except for Bluto, who is a real boo-bird here. (He even uses a nearby radiator to hiss “MIss Olivita”.)

Then, after an introduction by Wimpy, the pair comes out to dance. The song they’re using is “Night In Manhattan”, a piece originally wrtten by Paramount house-composers Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger for The Big Broadcast of 1937. It was to have been introduced in the film by Benny Fields. It even shows up on a transcribed radio show that Paramount used to promote the film. But, for some reason, it wound up on the cutting-room floor.

Paramount then built a live-action short around the song. This short (which introduced actor Glenn Ford) has not shown up on You Tube or any of the other sites — but that doesn’t mean it’s lost. It just hasn’t been found yet!

Anyway, to crush the rest of this down to a bite size, Bluto does ruin their act, Poeye eats his spinish, becomes strong to the finish, and finds himself doing a Russian “kozak” dance–a fact that it takes him a moment or to to realize. Once he does, he proceeds to beat up on Bluto, leavng the muscular sailor to drag a boat to the tune of “Song of the Volga Boatman”, while “Olivita” scattters stage snow around the flloor–all of which leads to the anchor and “The End”.

The music is played by a small dance band, and sounds very much of its time. During Bluto’s orgy of vandalism, the orchestra is playing “Moonlight and Shadows“, a Famous Music copyright which had been introduced shorty before this cartoon was released. It had been featured in The Jungle Princess (1936), the film that introduced Dorothy Lamour to movie audiences–and showed why, to quote a later Popeye short, she “. . . {looked} so right in a sarong.

“Night In Manhattan” is a minor-key song with a vague rhymba rhythm. It’s a haunting tune, and at least one of the comments made abut this cartoon confirms that. I am not sure that there were commercial recordings made of this tune.

Within a few years, Popeye would try his feet at other Latin dances, as they became popular. But that’s something for another column.

4 Comments

  • Head animator/director Willard Bowsky was credited by Shamus Culhane (who otherwise hated him) as the expert in jazz when he was at the studio, but Bowsky overall seemed to be the Fleischer director most in touch with current musical trends, Along with the first Betty Boop cartoon with Cab Calloway, Bowsky also helmed both “Morning, Noon and Nightclub” and “The Dance Contest” and would come back to the Boop series in 1938 to do “Sally Swing” with Rose Marie providing the vocals.

  • Loved “Jonathan and Darlene Edwards” – actually Paul Weston and his wife Jo Stafford, in their alter egos of a bad lounge act. Pau/Jonathanl’s piano playing was deliberately off key and overwrought, and Jo/Darlene sounded like she took singing lessons from Florence Foster Jenkins.
    Of course, Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger would compose most of the songs for Fleischer’s “Gulliver’s Travels.”

  • It’s funny how you can always tell when it’s a “Miami” one…

  • Here’s the Harman-Ising segment from Big Broadcast of 1938
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=6T2r2hd1USs

    Why did they have to borrow Harman and Ising from MGM and not use the Fleischers? Paramount did the same thing when H&I were at Warners and borrowed them for Alice in Wonderland (’33)

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