September 14, 2021 posted by James Parten

Talkartoons 1931: Do It Or Die

As 1931 progressed, the staff at the Max Fleischer studio began to refine their lead characters. Bimbo eventially settled on the “little huy” characterization that would maintain him, while Betty Boop was becoming much less canine, and much more attractive. By the end of the season, both Bimbo and Betty were getting occasional screen credit, which indicates they were both becoming attractive to exhibitors. Additionally, the writing style was becoming more tight and refined, at times actually achieving the abiliity to develop a solid plot line which could carry an entire episode, as opposed to the earlier style of mere collections of gags without much thought to story.

The Male Man (4/26/31) – Letter carrier Bimbo receives a very strange assignment from a secret society of hooded specters – deliver a mystery letter to Davy Jones’s Locker, and the “dead letter” office. Things get quite surreal, including a letter envelope which grows to gigantic proportions, and spaws a flood of smaller envelopes from within (much like today’s junk mail!). Songs include “Around the Corner”, a 1930’s song with a flirtatious lyric set to a martial beat, recorded as a dance record by Leo Reisman on Victor, Ben Selvin on Columbia, and as a vocal record by Frank Crumit on Victor, and Eddie Walters (as “Milt Coleman”) on Harmony, as well as many miscellaneous versions on the smaller labels. In later days, Sigmund Spaedh, who billed himself as “Radio’s Tune Detective”, loved to deconstruct this song and show all the melodic borrowings from other compositions. Also included “(Step by Step, Mile by Mile) I’m Marching Home To You”, recorded as a vocal record by George Dewey Washington on Columbia (a black baritone who usually performed in a tramp outfit, and recorded six sides for the label), and the Carolina Club Orchestra on Harmony/Velvet Tone/Diva (actually Hal Kemp’ds orchestra, fudging from their Brunswick contract, and using the original name of the band when it first came out of the University of North Carolina).

Twenty Legs Under the Sea (5/5/31) – A collection of underwater gags involving Bimbo. Bimbo tries his hand at fishing, and winds up getting pulled in himself, with the rest of the action under the waves. Songs include “Anchors Aweigh”, “Asleep in the Deep.”, and “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, and what appear to be two original songs, “We’re the King’s Bodyguards”, and “We’re Going to Maggie’s”.

Silly Scandals (8/13/31) – Bimbo sneaks into a vaudeville theater without the funds for a ticket, and lives to regret it. He slips in posing as someone’s umbrella, and enjoys a performance by Betty Boop, followed by a magic/hypnotism act, in which Bimbo is drawn up to the stage by the magician’s hypnotic stare, then transformed into a surreal world of multiple images of himself, as he musically complains, “You’re Driving Me Crazy”. Said song serves as the centerpiec of the film for Boop’s performance, and was widely recorded. Rudy Vallee cut it as a dance record on Victor, and Guy Lombardo on Columbia. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers also performed a hot version for Victor. Louis Armstrong issued a version on Okeh. Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours got it on Brunswick. A Hit of the Week version went to the New York Twelve, possibly a Bert Hirsch house band. A vocal version was performed by Lee Morse on Columbia The Temperence 7 achieved a big hit in 1961 with a revival version in England on Parlophone. Also included, “It’s a Great Life (if You Don’t Weaken)”, Maurice Chevalier’s latest hit from the pucture “Playboy of Paris”, recorded by him on Victor, and also recorded by George Olsen on Victor, and Earl Johnston’s Saxophone Quartet for Columibia. Finally, “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo’”, introduced by Wendell Hall and recorded by him in multiple versions on several labels, including Victor, Gemnett, and Edison Hall would later be parodied in “The Woods are Full of Cuckoos” for his participation in the “Community Sing” radio series.

The Herring Murder Case (6/24/31) – Koko returns! He is looking for detective Bimbo, and running around like a beheaded chicken in the process. One of the earliest cartoons to feature the gag of an elevator door that opens to reveal a staircase. Koko is completely kerflummoxed in his attempts to tell Bimbo about the murder of a herring who has been shot. Bimbo goes to the scene of the crime (a spooky old house), and follows a trail of footprints leading to a mouse hole. Bimbo consults his notes, which state that a murderer always returns to the scene of the crime. The murderer turns out to be a gorilla, who approaches the herring, stating “Gefilte fish!”, and proceeds to salt him before consuming. Eventually, Bimbo believes he’s locked the gorilla up, but has only loked himself in a cage. The gorilla ends the episode with an effeminate “Whoops, my dear” to the camera. The title of the episode was meant to spoof the run of Philo Vance mystery films produced by Paramount, all with “The (fill in the blank) Mystery” titles. Mae Questal appears on the soundtrack, not as Boop, but as the widow of the herring, in a rendition of “I Lost My Gal Again” (avoiding use of the title as it does not fit the script). The song was a popular hit of 1931, recorded by Ted Weems on Victor (below), and also popular in England, where it was recorded by Percival Mackey on Columbia, Jack Hylton on HMV, Alan Breene on Picadilly, and the Regency Dance Orchestra on celluloid Filmaphone records. “Pizzicato Mysterioso” appears again, as does a snatch from Wagner’s “Lohengrin”. Also included are “Down South”, previously mentioned in these articles, and a newcomer, “Dizzy Fingers”, written by Zez Confrey, and a favorite vehicle for pianists and accordionists who wanted to show off. Zez recorded it for Victor. Stanley MacDonald also provided a version on British Regal. In the 30’s. a bravura accordion version was waxed by Charles Magnante on Perfect, Melotone, et al. The Three Suns recorded a post-war version for RCA Victor, and Gaylord Carter for Black & White. Benny Goodman performed a band version for Capitol. Bill Snyder performed a version on Tower, coupled with a similarly-titled original, “Flying Fingers”.

Bimbo’s Initiation (7/27/31 – A favorite with Fleischer fans, this episode may mark a milestone as one of the most well-developed and cohesive plots to be featured in a Fleischer cartoon, with a defined beginning, middle, and end. On a routine walk down a city street, Bimbo stumbles into a manhole, and slides down a chute into the underground lair of a secret society, the “members of Do It Or Die”, also referred to as the mystic order of the Boom-Boom-a-Hot -Cha” (or something like that) – a group that some equate with Freemasonry or the Illuminati. Their members are shouded in robes, and their grand chief wears a candle on his head and carries a chamber pot attached to a plumber’s helper. “Wanna Be a member?”, they repeat to Bimbo over and over. Bimbo repeatedly responds with a squeaky, “No.” On each refusal of membership, he is released into a new room – all of which seem to abound in diabolical traps and contraptions. Bimbo is faced with death trap after death trap, played up with considerable suspense, and upon each survival is put to the question again. “NO”, he again repeats at each invitation to join. In the wild finale, Bimbo runs a gamut of devices designed to behead, crush, or maim, with his heart literally leaping into his mouth, and in elaborate 3-D perspective, barely escapes with his life. In the final room stands the order’s chief again, and Bimbo responds with his usual “NO” without even waiting for the question. But the chief throws off the robe, to reveal Betty Boop inside, who performs a seductive shimmy dance before Bimbo, then, in ger real feminine voice, asks the question again. Bimbo is totally charmed, and finally says, “Yes.” With shouts of hooray from the membership, all throw off their robes, revealing an entire membership of look-alike Boops, who dance as a chorus line behind the happy Betty and Bimbo, for the iris out.

Songs include a rewritten lyric to the children’s spelling song “Bingo’, changed to “Bimbo” for the credits. The underscore of placing Bimbo to the question is “The Vamp”, written by Byron Gay in 1919, recorded by Joseph C. Smith for Victor, the Waldolf Astoria Singing Orchestra for Columbia, and the Rega Dance Orchestra on Okeh. “Tiger Rag” (avoiding the “Hold That Tiger” strains) provides the underscore for running the gamut. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band provided the original on Victor, and the song quickly became a mainstay of most dixieland groups. “Husk” o’Hare would record a 1922 version for Gennett. Louis Armstrong would record in on Okeh, then soup it up to high speed and many, many choruses for “New Tiger Rag.” on the same label. There would be yet a third version on Polydor by Armstrong, called “Super Tiger Rag”, and another for Decca that would return to the original title.. Paul Whiteman would cover it as “New Tiger Rag” on Columbia, and Billy Cotton would cover “Super Tiger Rag” for Regal Zonophone. We’ll encounter the song again in at least three later Fleischer cartoons to be discussed in this series, so more to follow.

Bimbo’s Express (8/12/31) – Don’t let the title fool you. This has nothing to do with trains. Bimbo operates a horse-drawn moving van, and has a horse he must have borrowed from Ragtime Cowboy Joe – syncopated gaited. He comes up to a two story apartment building at the top of a hill. It’s an old building, and on the upper floor lives miss Betty Boop, who called for the van. Bimbo is the same shy self we’ve seen in “Bimbo’s Initiation”. When he calls on Betty, she tells him she’s “still in her nightie”, to which Bimbo responds, “I’ll wait till you take it off” (a line which would not have made reissue of the film likely after code enforcement). Most of the moving is handled straightforwardly, without much gagging up as in parallel Popeye cartoons yet to come. At the end of all the effort, it turns out Betty is only moving around the corner. William Parnell is heard again, both as the horse, and providing a singing voie for Bimbo on “Hello, Beautiful”, a 1931 pop introduced by Maurice Chevalier, recorded for Victor (a song we’ll meet again in “Stopping the Show”). It was also recorded by Chick Bullock for Perfect and the dime store labels, with dance versions by Snooks and his Memphis Ramblers for Victor’s hot-dance series, by Ted Wallace and his Campus Boys (an Ed Kirkeby group) for Columbia, and Nick Lucas and his Crooning Troubadours on Brunswick, Wayne King in the pop series of Victor, and Sam Lanin on Hit of the Week.

“Moving Day” appears over the credits – a 1906 “coon song” reorded by Arthur Collins for Victor, revived as a hillbilly number in the late 1920’s by Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers for Columbia (such version has inspired some modern day folk performances on the web). “I Just Roll Along (Havng My Ups and Downs)” also appears, recorded bfor Victor as a dance record by the All Star Orchestra, for Brunswick by Ben Bernie and his Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra, and also as a vocal by Harru Richman on Brunswick, Annette Hanshaw and her Sizzling Syncopaters for Perfect, and Marge and Vaughn DeLeath on Edison. Also included is “Raggin’ the Scales”, written in 1914 by Edward Claypoole. There were two 1916 recordings, both for Victor – a fox trot by Conway’s Band, and a banjo solo bt Fred Van Eps. There was also a 1923 revival by the Broadway Dance Orchestra on Edison. It further became a favorite piece of jazz violinist Joe Venuti, who recorded it in 1930 for Okeh, and in 1933 for Columbia. This number was the favorite think-music for the pulp character G8, from G8 and his Battle Aces, a series of WWI adventure pulp novels issued between 1933 and 1943, where he would play a record of it while pacing the floor. Also appearing again is “Around the Corner”, plus a newcomer to Fleischer, “I Wanna Go Places and Do Things”, a Famous Music copyright from 1929, which seems to have been more popular abroad than in this country. Jesse Stafford recorded it for Brunswick here, and a version appeared on Perfect, Cameo and Romeo by Sam Lanin In England, Jack Hylton recorded it for HMV, and in Germany, Lud Gluskin for Deutsche Gramomophon and Polydor.

Minding the Baby (9/25/31) – Betty Boop is fully credited on the opening title card. Bimbo, we find out, is of courting age, but his mother insists that he mind his baby brother Aloysius, who is as mischievous as almost any cartoon baby, and is seen smoking a big cigar, and reading the stock market page, complaining about no dividends. (Who was paying dividends in 1931?) Betty lives in the neighboring building, in an apartment connected to Bimbo’s by a pulley clothesline. Bimbo forgets what he is supposed to be doing, and goes over to visit Betty, while Aloysius has other ideas (involving a piano roll which he uses to slide down several stories, until he gets yanked back by the roll). Some of the piano noodling suggests “The Peanut Vendor”. Bimbo’s mama comes back, and Bimbo and Boop cower in hiding begind the furniture. Aloysius almost gives them away by starting to cry, but Bimbo zippers his lips shit for the final gag. Songs: ”Rock a Bye Baby “ (with special lyrics), “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”, “Baby’s Birthday Party”, “The Man From the South” (originated by Joe Venuti’s Blue Four on Okeh, then covered by Ted Weems for Victor (below), Rube Bloom on Columbia, Six Jumping Jacks on Brunswick. Julie Wintz on Harmony et al., the Missouri Jazz Band on Perfect et al., and English recordings by Jack Payne on Columbia, and Harry Hudson’s Melody Men on Edison Bell Radio. In the later thirties there was a version by Alexaber Tsfafsman from the Soviet Union on the U.S.S.R. label), “Under Your Window To-Night” (recorded by Nat Shilkret for Victor, Ben Selvin studio band for Harmony et al., Snooks and His Memphis Ramblers for Harmony et al., Hal Kemp on Brunswick, and Russ Carlson on Crown with vocal by Les Rice and Artie Dunn (names who would become well associated with Fleischer cartoons in years to come), “How Dry I Am”, “By the Beautiful Sea”, and “Me-ow”.

In the Shade of the Old Apple Sauce (10/13/31) – a totally lost cartoon, about which no information has yet surfaced. If it used the obvious, “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree”, we have already discussed its recording history in connection with the previous Screen Song of the same name.

Next Time: Screen Songs 1931-32: Slight Changes.


  • Another wonderful selection of tunes this week. I just listened to the Rudy Vallee recording three times in a row! What a beautiful performance.

    The music accompanying the gorilla’s rampage in “The Herring Murder Case” is “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, which, like Disney’s “The Skeleton Dance”, depicts a celebration of the dead whooping it up in a graveyard after midnight.

    I’m familiar with “Moving Day”, which was in a consignment of early 20th-century music that I catalogued years ago, and you’re quite right that it is what was known at the time as a “coon song”. The verse tells of a landlord determined to evict a couple from their home for non-payment of rent, but the woman pleads with him to wait until her husband gets home with the money. When the man shows up, he doesn’t have a cent, but he offers the landlord two chickens instead. However, the landlord recognises the chickens as the two that were stolen from his henhouse the night before, so he throws the destitute couple and their belongings out into the street. There were hundreds of such songs, making the same jokes over and over again: stealing chickens, eating watermelon, shooting craps, fighting with razors. As unsavoury as these songs may be today, the history of American music is inseparable from its history of race relations, and any discussion of the popular entertainment of this era will inevitably expose its roots in the tradition of minstrelsy.

    Thanks for posting “The Vamp” from “Bimbo’s Initiation”. I had no idea that the “Wanna be a member?” chorus, and the finale of the cartoon where Bimbo and Betty spank each other, both came from the same song!

  • Could this be done with today’s music ? If it were done would it be at least half as much fun?

  • The National Board of Review magazine of October 1931 says:
    IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE SAUCE (Bimbo cartoon)—Paramount, 1 reel. Bimbo trying to learn to play the violin with funny results. Family audience. Junior matinee.

    • Interesting. In the 1932 Harman-Ising cartoon “Bosko and Honey”, a truculent Wilbur the kitten repeatedly attempts to play “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” on the violin, invariably hitting a sour note at the end of the phrase. After Wilbur pours a basin full of soapy water into the bell of Bosko’s saxophone, Bosko plays “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, which had been featured in a Fleischer Screen Song of 1930. So this cartoon might provide a hint to what that lost Talkartoon may have been like.

  • If only the Fleischers could have developed along their own surreal lines and been able to resist the constant pressure from Paramount (not to mention the ego blow to Max that someone had eclipsed him as king of cartoons) to emulate Disney. Talk about cartoons ahead of their time; if you didn’t know better, you’d; think they were made in the ’70s in a deliberately retro style (’30s nostalgia was all the rage in those days).

  • This is great research, especially on Bimbo’s initiation. I knew that song sounded familiar. My question is: in the song over the opening credits, what is the first part of the line that ends “…Bimbo as easy as pie.” The first line is: “We are the members of do it or die, D-I, D-I, D-I!” Then comes the line I can’t make out, that ends with “Bimbo as easy as pie.”

    • “Watch us make Bimbo as easy as pie!”

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