Cab Calloway appears with Betty Boop
in the Talkartoon Minnie the Moocher, Betty's 17th cartoon appearance.
This is justifiably one of the most famous cartoons ever made.
The cartoon begins with actual film footage of Cab Calloway dancing a slow and sensuous dance in front of his orchestra, the former Missourians, while they perform the Prohibition Blues. This is the oldest known film footage of Cab. His attire is uncharacteristically casual, and we never get a good look at his face. We suspect that Cab wasn't aware that the Fleischers were going to use the actual footage. Cab was well-known for his love of good clothes and his high standards for professional dress. Certainly in his next appearance in a Betty Boop cartoon (Old Man of the Mountain), he is dressed in his more usual immaculate formal attire, and we get to see his face very well!
The haunting and beautiful instrumental, Prohibition Blues, is an old Missourians piece that was recorded by them in early 1930, right before Cab took over as leader of their band. This cartoon has the only recording of the piece with Cab Calloway. By early 1932, when this cartoon was produced, the group had been renamed "Cab Calloway and His Orchestra," but in this film, they are still wearing their old Missourians uniforms. We can see the drummer, Leroy Maxey, playing with his drumsticks in the background.
The cartoon commences in Betty Boop's home, where we find her weeping bitterly at the kitchen table while her father berates her for not eating. Her mother stands by, glowering at both of them with her arms folded across her chest. Betty is perhaps plumper than usual in this cartoon, and her eyes are somewhat smaller. Her parents are German Jews; the father's name is Otto, but the mother's name is never mentioned. This would have been a familiar sort of family for a great many viewers of the early 1930s due to the massive influx of poor European immigrants into New York City at the turn of the century. The Fleischer brothers themselves were the children of Austrian Jewish immigrants. To our knowledge, this is the only cartoon in which we see Betty Boop's parents.
As Otto rants at Betty, his upper body morphs into a victrola, implying that his tirade was all too familiar and often repeated. "Oh, papa!" cries Betty, and we hear Otto reply, "Don't 'papa' me!" Finally Betty runs off, and Betty's mother replaces Otto's rant recording with some German oom-pah music and grimly dances to it.
Betty runs to the stairs, where she sits and weeps, then sings. Her voice is done by Mae Questal.
They always, always pick on me;
They never, never let me be;
I'm so very lonely, awfully sad;
It's a long time since you've been glad. [This line is sung by the imprint of her lips on her hankerchief.]
But, I know what I'll do, bye 'n' bye,
I'll eat some worms and then I'll die,
When I'm gone, you wait and see,
They'll all be sorry that they picked on me!
She then runs up to her bedroom to
make preparations for running away. This takes place to the melody of "Mean
to Me." She rolls her toothbrush up in a towel and writes a farewell note
to her parents, in the process pulling Koko the Clown out of the inkwell
for a brief cameo. Then she calls Bimbo on the telephone in her room, inviting
him to run away with her. When he arrives, she tosses away her bundle and
jumps out of her window, holding on to the blind.
The instant her feet hit the ground, the whole atmosphere of the cartoon changes. Cab's orchestra cuts in with the menacing and ominous sounds of Minnie the Moocher. Even Betty's appearance changes; apparently the second animator took over at this point. Betty in this part of the cartoon is more streamlined and looks more like her usual self. Betty and Bimbo quickly leave the residential area behind and soon are running through a haunted forest with bubbly-looking trees and weird shapes bouncing around. They end up at a cave -- of course. All of Cab Calloway's cartoons take place in caves.
A spectral walrus appears and begins to sing Minnie the Moocher. The walrus's voice is Cab's. The walrus's dancing figure was rotoscoped over film footage of Cab Calloway. The rotoscoping process, in which animated figures are drawn directly over actual filmed images, was invented by the Fleischer brothers. The cave is filled with shifting, ghostly, malevolent imagery. This is what the walrus sang:
Folks, now here's the story 'bout Minnie the Moocher,
She was a red-hot hootchie-cootcher,
She was the roughest, toughest frail,
But Minnie had a heart as big as a whale.
[Cab's band echoes him in the form
of skeletons sitting at a bar:]
[The skeletons drink booze which turns them black and then runs out of them, causing them to collapse as they echo Cab in the next line:]
[Ghosts emerge from the collapsed skeletons and echo Cab in the next part:]
[Bimbo looks in a well, and his reflections (three of them) echo the last part:]
She messed around with a bloke named Smoky,
She loved him though he was cokie,
He took her down to Chinatown,
He showed her how to kick the gong around. Showed her how to kick the gong around!
[The band members are ghosts in a jail
cell; Cab, as a ghost warden, unlocks the door and they walk out through
[Cab straps the ghosts into electric chairs.]
[Cab throws the switch, and the ghosts holler their response as they fry.]
[The ghosts look up weakly, and respond as Cab mournfully sings:]
Now, she had a dream about the king of Sweden,
He gave her things that she was needin',
He gave her a home built of gold and steel,
A diamond car with a platinum wheel.
[Cab sings the following in the form of a recumbent ghost mama cat with her back to the audience; his band members respond as ghost kittens who pop up from behind the mother's body. As the chorus progresses, the kittens drink from and drain their mother; they get larger while she deflates to a lifeless husk. This has got to be some of the eeriest animation in all of cartoon history!]
Oh, skip-bop-doop-bop-lay-de-doo! Oh, skip-bop-doop-bop-lay-de-doo!
Now, he gave her his townhouse and his racing horses,
Each meal she ate was a dozen courses;
She had a million dollars worth of nickels and dimes,
And she sat around and counted them all a billion times.
[As Cab sings the last chorus, the
walrus figure is no longer rotoscoped, but is confronting Betty and Bimbo
while the other ghosts close in and gather around.]
The last wail is sung by a witch ghost
whose mouth opens up so wide that you can see the face on her uvala. At
this point, Betty and Bimbo flee the cave, chased by a pack of ghosts,
witches, devils, moons and the walrus to the tune of the Vine Street Drag.
This instrumental piece is another relict of the pre-Cab Missourians, and
this is the only recording of it with Cab Calloway. We can hear him shouting
in the background.
Betty and Bimbo run to her house, where Betty dashes in the front door and Bimbo dives into a doghouse. The dog runs out and carries off the doghouse attached to its chain, leaving Bimbo huddled exposed on the ground. We then see Betty in her bedroom, where she leaps under the covers, beneath the note she had left for her parents. The note tears into a neat fragment bearing the words "Home, Sweet, Home," an unusually moralistic ending for a pre-Hays Act Betty Boop cartoon.
We consider this cartoon to be one
of the two best Betty Boop cartoons made, along with the other Cab Calloway
feature, Snow White. Not only do we see precious footage of Cab,
but the animation is excellent, and we think that this is one of the best
of all of Cab's performances of Minnie the Moocher.
This cartoon is available in the following collections: