The Fleischer brothers believed that
animation's great strength is that it frees filmmakers from the constraints
of reality. They put this philosophy to work in Mysterious Mose,
a funny, scary, spooky and absolutely surreal Betty Boop Talkartoon about
a supernatural character, produced in 1930. This is Betty Boop's third
One interesting feature of this cartoon is that it has two different Betty Boops in it, or, more properly, one Betty Boop drawn by two different animators who have rather different ideas about what she should look like. The first one we see, Betty Boop A, is tall and proportioned something like the very late Betty Boop from her last cartoons, with a relatively smaller head, smaller eyes, and a somewhat elongated face. The body is carefully rendered with a well-proportioned, seductive figure and attention is paid to detail. Betty Boop B is shorter, with an enormous, round head with big, round eyes that are far apart, a much smaller body, and is drawn with less attention to detail. Betty Boop B also has very long arms and is subject to fluctuations in her proportions.Both Betty Boops have their hair parted on the side rather than down the middle as is usual in other cartoons, and Betty Boop B's part migrates across her head as she moves so that the part is always on the side facing the viewer.
The cartoon starts out in Betty Boop's bedroom in the middle of the night, where Betty Boop is sitting bolt upright in bed, whimpering and terrified by ghostly noises. She is then beset by a series of truly scary poltergiest-like phenomena. Her nightie flies off several times, forcing her to cover her breasts with one arm while she yanks the nightie back down with the other. She then sees a huddled man-shape beneath her covers. Leaping out of bed, she yanks the covers back, but no one is there. When she puts the covers back, the figure can be seen again. Finally she pokes its belly. The figure grunts and slowly deflates.
When the scene changes to Betty Boop's living room, Betty Boop B enters with a candle and starts singing the title song. The voice is not Mae Questal's.
There's a man of mystery that's roaming through the land,
Far and near you hear of him; he's found on every hand;
Every city, town and village knows of him by now,
There's a way to recognize him; let me tell you how:
As Betty continues to sing, the view switches to outdoors, where we see the shadow of a figure (Bimbo) walking along by a fence, tossing his head around and tormenting cats.
When your path at midnight dark by a graveyard goes,
And someone whistles, "Whoooooo!"
That's Mysterious Mose!
On some dark and stormy night, while the tempest blows,
If someone whistles, "Whooooo!"
That's Mysterious Mose!
He sees all, he knows all; he's just been everywhere;
Some night, he might wait for you upon the stair!
So when you're going down the cellar, walk upon your toes,
And if someone whistles, "Whooooo!"
That's Mysterious Mose!
The Mose shadow seeps into Betty Boop's
house via the keyhole, reaching back with a pair of scissors to snip off
the shadow tail that had connected it to the ground. The shadow goes into
a closet and emerges as an invisible man in one of Betty's dresses. The
dress prances around to the tune of "St. James Infirmary," then metamorphoses
into Bimbo, who goes through a series of distortions accompanied by exclamations.
Bimbo is in an intermediate form here, shorter and rounder than the skinny and rather ugly dog that he was in Dizzy Dishes and Barnacle Bill, but not yet in the final cute form he assumed later.
Betty Boop observes Mose's contortions at first with fear and then with romantic interest; she begins to wiggle her hips and bat her eyelashes, and finally sends her heart sailing over to the ghost, who accepts it by sending his own heart out (wearing a bandit mask); his heart seizes hers and pulls it into Bimbo/Mose.
The animators then have a surrealist field day with the ghost for the rest of the cartoon. Mose enters Betty's stove and dances around inside that, assumes a variety of odd shapes, and then begins to sing:
Everybody's talking of me everywhere you go,
He then enters a moose head mounted on a wall plaque, and the moose sings the next line:
Who I am or what I am nobody seems to know;
In one of the most interesting scenes in the cartoon, the moose head retracts and is replaced by the moose's rear end, which swishes its tail to the rhythm of the beat. Mose then pops out from behind Betty's fish bowl in mountain-climbing gear, and continues, in an operatic style:
In the mountains, at the seashore, anywhere at all,
Anytime of day or night you'll have to hear me call.
For every phrase in the above two lines, Mose assumes a different guise.
For the rest of the cartoon, Mose and Betty sit on her couch and watch as a series of surreal animals appear and transform into the next animal, each playing a different musical instrument. The mouse has a flute, the monkey has a bugle from which fish emerge; the fish stack up and change into a saxophone-playing caterpillar. Each animal performs an instrumental solo, and then concludes by singing, "That's Mysterious Mose." After the last of the animals disappears, Mose produces a tuba and begins playing it, following it around as it contorts. In the end, the tuba contracts into Mose's mouth and the melody becomes increasingly frantic until Mose explodes into a mess of clockwork fragments, and a chorus sings "That's Mysterious Mose!"
In our opinion, this is one of the
ten best Betty Boop cartoons.
This cartoon is available in the following collections:
Drawing of Betty Boop and an old Mysterious Mose by Megaera Lorenz.