This 1933 cartoon
featuring Cab Calloway is Betty Boop's forty-third cartoon appearance.
It is remarkable for having been animated by a single individual, Roland
C. Crandall, and is considered one of the best cartoons ever made. (See
50 Greatest Cartoons, as Selected by 1,000 Animation Professionals,
edited by Jerry Beck, Turner Publishing, Inc., 1994.)
The cartoon starts with the standard Betty Boop introduction ("Made of pen and ink..." etc.), and then shows the wicked stepmother queen in her palace, singing to her magic mirror. The queen bears a slight resemblance to Olive Oyl. The mirror is extremely rubbery. The queen squeezes and pumps the handle while interacting with the mirror, and she sings:
in my hand
Who's the fairest in the land?
To which the mirror replies:
You're the fairest
in the land,
You're the fairest in the land!
Then Betty Boop arrives at the palace door (where Bimbo and Koko, in knight costumes, stand guard), stepping scantily clad out of the snow, and she sings to the tune of Mary Had a Little Lamb:
I want to see
my step-mama, step-mama, step-mama;
I want to see my step-mama,
Her step-mama, the queen! [This last line is sung by a pair of icicles.]
I've heard about
your looking-glass, looking-glass, looking-glass,
I've heard about your looking-glass,
And what it says is so! [This last line is shouted by the queen.]
During this song,
Betty is skipping down the aisle toward the throne, dropping lumps of snow
off her head, which Bimbo shovels up. The queen, seeing her approach, thrusts
her head through the mirror's frame and sticks out her tongue, in the process
pulling off her wig. Her head morphs into a frying pan with two sizzling
The queen queries the magic mirror again, and the answer is the same, only this time the mirror is pointing to Betty Boop. The queen squeezes the mirror hard, and the mirror's rubbery handle develops a pair of wiggling buttocks. The queen shouts, "Off with her head!" and illustrates this by chopping off the end of her own thumb between her two fingers, which had morphed into scissors.
Crying, Bimbo and Koko take Betty into the woods where they tie her to a tree and begin to prepare their cutting tools on a big grinding wheel. Betty sings:
Always in the
I can never play;
My own mama would never say,
I'm always in the way!
Bimbo and Koko destroy their tools and then toss the grinding wheel down a nearby hole, but when they attempt to throw down the stump that was to have been the chopping block, the stump fights back, dragging them down into the hole with it. They defeat the stump during their descent, but get knocked out when they land on the grinding wheel at the bottom. Betty Boop is released from her bonds by the tree to which she is tied, who leaves her garter on a pile of snow over the hole to simulate a grave. Betty skips happily off, but trips over a stump and gets rolled into a snowball. Her descent down the hill in the snowball is excruciating as she bangs into a stump every few meters. She passes through a wooden frame which shapes her snowball into a coffin form. At the bottom she falls into a pond, where her coffin is transformed into ice, and then the coffin slides into the the home of the Seven Dwarves, who carry it sadly into the "Mystery Cave."
The queen, meanwhile, finds the "grave" and asks the mirror, "Am I the fairest in the place?" and the mirror replies, "If I were you, I'd hide my face!" and points to the "grave." The queen uses the mirror to shovel the snow off the hole, and then passes the mirror frame over her body to turn herself into a hag. Using the handy mirror as a broomstick, she sails down the hole. At the bottom, she stamps on the armored heads of Bimbo and Koko, thus initiating the Cab Calloway sequence.
The queen's landing is marked by a drumbeat, and Cab's orchestra begins to play St. James Infirmary. Koko and Bimbo arise from their knight costumes; Koko steps forward and begins singing in Cab's voice. They advance toward the cave opening, in front of which the ground rolls over into the form of a stylized skull, engulfing the two. They hop out of the eye holes and enter the cave. From this point onward during the song, Koko is rotoscoped over film footage of Cab Calloway dancing.
Folks, I'm going
down to St. James Infirmary,
See my baby there,
She's stretched out on a long, white table,
She's so sweet, so cold, so fair.
We are shown Betty Boop in her glass coffin, carried on some undulating white mass which morphs into the white beards of the dwarves. Koko follows the coffin, within which Betty Boop can be seen blinking and moving around, while the witch-queen on her broomstick swims through the air in pursuit of Koko. The procession is on a cracked, icy conveyer belt that moves them through the cave. In the background, spooky, skeletal figures illustrate the song as Koko/ Cab sings it. We see a skeleton in a model-T, with a dead policeman directing traffic, dead gamblers, a cow-like dead chorus girl and so on, all drawn in meticulous detail. (You will notice something new in this background every time you watch the cartoon.) Meanwhile, fish skeletons and other eerie shapes are flying and swooping around as the figures advance through the cave. The song continues:
Let her go, let
her go, oh, bless her,
Wherever she may be;
She will search this wide world over,
But she'll never find another sweet man like me.
In the middle of the preceding verse, the witch passes the mirror over Koko, turning him into a long-legged white ghost, a figure that shows Cab's dancing to better advantage.
Now, when I die
bury me in my straight-leg britches,
Put on a box-back coat and a stetson hat,
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch-chain,
So you can let all the boys know I died standing pat.
The ghostly figure morphs to illustrate the twenty-dollar gold piece on a watch-chain.
Then give me
six crap-shootin' pall-bearers,
Let a chorus girl sing me a song;
Put a red-hot jazz band at the top of my head
So they can raise hallelujah as we go along.
Now, folks, that
you have heard my story...
Say, boy, hand me over another shot of that booze,
If anyone should ask you,
Tell 'em I got those St. James Infirmary Blues.
When Koko/ Cab
sings the booze part, the figure's head turns into a bottle of booze. The
ghost pours himself a drink and dumps it down his neck. His head returns,
and as he is singing the last word, with his lips extended in a long tube,
the witch approaches and places the magic mirror under his feet. When he
steps on it, pedestals shoot up under all the figures, raising them up
and freezing them. Bimbo is converted into an odd bust with big lower teeth
and a row of horns. The queen reverts to her original form, then asks the
mirror her question, getting the answer that she wants. But then the mirror
swells up and explodes, turning the queen into a dragon (still wearing
her crown), unfreezing the others and reverting them all to their original
The dragon queen pursues the others while in the background, we hear Cab Calloway's orchestra performing the old Missourians piece, Stoppin' the Traffic. At the end, Bimbo turns the dragon inside out in a very nicely animated sequence, and that is the end of the cartoon.
The animation in this cartoon is stunning and meticulously rendered. From the beginning, we see attention to detail, with interesting and unusual imagery. Cab Calloway's wailing rendition of St. James Infirmary adds a dark and sinister undercurrent to the old Snow White story, a juxtaposition especially of interest because the song is supposed to be about a girl who died of a cocaine overdose, and "snow" is another name for cocaine. Leslie Cabarga has suggested that the Fleischers were unaware of the significance of this and the other songs that Cab performed for Betty Boop cartoons, but the cave imagery suggests that the animator, at least, knew what was going on.
This version of St. James Infirmary is, in our opinion, the finest one Cab ever recorded. Also, to our knowledge, the cartoon contains the only recording of Cab Calloway and his Orchestra performing Stoppin' the Traffic, although his orchestra, the former Missourians, had recorded it earlier before he had joined their band.
We only wish that the studio had included live footage of Cab at the beginning of this film as they did in the other two Cab Calloway - Betty Boop cartoons. Then this cartoon would have been even better than perfect!