Monday, June 12, 2006

BETTY BOOP'S CRAZY INVENTIONS (1932)

Everyone now and then I come up with an invention that I feel would surely improve my life immeasurably if I only had the scientific and engineering know-how to bring the idea to fruition. Monetarily, the idea usually would not have a practical application and thus would be unlikely to bring great fortune into my life. This is probably because my inventions spring forth from a purely selfish foundation. Currently, I am devising a machine that will make Scarlet Johansson magically appear any time that I need her (which, not coincidentally, would be any time at all). Since this device is only meant for my use, securing a patent for commercial use seems to be of little use to me. Plus, I have already run into failures with my similar inventions to do the same with Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman.

As a creator, I am obviously light-years behind the efforts of the real offspring of the Mother of Invention (and I am not talking Jimmy Carl Black, though I eagerly would given a more musical subject). Of course, I am referring to none other than Miss Betty Boop herself. In addition to being the sweetest boop-boop-be-dooper around, the divine Miss Boop also has a sideline as a closet inventor herself. Only, she doesn't seem to get much respect for her wacky machines. Even the men in control of her animated destiny, the Fleischer Brothers, see fit to paint her creations with a pejorative in the 1933 display of her engineering wares, Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions. The film starts out with three rockets bound skyward that burst open and reveal three cats, who then drift towards earth with parachutes tied to their tails that read, in order, "BIG INVENTION SHOW". Indeed, on the ground below, we see a circus tent where a vanload of patrons is being unloaded. Outside the tent, Betty has her alluring back to us as her feet pump the pedals of a pipe organ as she plays Keep A Little Song Handy. A handy pipe takes time out of its tooting to reach down and turn the music for the busy Betty. Inside the organ, each pedal squeezes one of the stomachs of three large pigs, each of which in turn blows out the tune through the pipes. Bimbo handles the ticket duties, scissoring off a stub for each patron as they pass; KoKo finishes their entrance by using a large rubber stamp to mark "PAID" on each of their behinds.

"Your attention please!" pours out of the mouth of one sound speaker situated high above the tent floor. The other speaker draws the attention of the crowd to the left of the floor; the first speaker draws them back to the right. On the floor itself, a huge crowd of people jumps back and forth as the two speakers compete for their undivided attention. Betty stands next to a machine labeled "SPOT REMOVER" and begs a handkerchief from the audience. Receiving one, she puts an ink stain on the item and then places it in the machine. After much gear-grinding and shifting, the handkerchief emerges with the stained spot completely punched out of it, which Betty looks through at the crowd and announces, "Always works!" Bimbo operates a machine called the "CIGARETTE SNUFFER", and after he cranks the rig up, he lights a cigarette and places it on a small staging platform on the machine's base. A shoe pops out of a doorway and gingerly rubs the cigarette into the platform. Then, a small broom and a dustpan take care of the mess. Another machine has a chicken laying one egg after another. A second hen operates a lever which causes each egg to crack, drop into a cup, and then get sent through the machine until each emerges cooked on a plate.

Betty invites an audience member up to try out her "SOUP SILENCER", which consists of a music box that plays Yankee Doodle Dandy, the noise of which eventually starts to drown out the loud slurping of the test subject. As stray drops of the soup hit his tuxedo, a windshield wiper blade pops out of his tie and swipes away the sloppy remains. KoKo demonstrates something called a "SWEET CORN REGULATOR", which consists of a typewriter with the platen removed, and instead an ear of corn is stuck in it. As KoKo types on the keys, the corn moves across his mouth, and when the return shift is sprung, the corn switches to the next row. Betty moves the crowd to a "VOICE RECORDER", where she starts to sing the lyrics to Keep A Little Song Handy in that unmistakable Betty style:

"Keep a little song handy
Wherever you go
And nothing can ever go wrong!
Boop-boop-be-do!
Keep a little song handy
And sure as you know
Sunshine will follow along!

Any little single jingle
That set's the toes-a-tingle
Is welcome when you mingle
In any single song! Oh!

Keep a little song handy
Wherever you go
And nothing can ever go --
Boopie-boopie-doopie-doop Boop-boopie-doo!"

Near the beginning of the song, two bees do some quick hairdressing on Betty's locks, and as the song progresses, we see the inside of the recording cabinet, where a mouse listens intently as his tail records the song onto a turntable that is cranked by a beetle. When the song is complete, Betty turns a crank, and a voice that is clearly much lower than hers comes out of the box. We see a cutaway where the mouse happily sings the song back as the beetle cranks the handle the opposite way. As Betty thanks the adoring crowd, so does the mouthpiece of the machine.

KoKo next shows the audience a "SELF-THREADER SEWING MACHINE" where a hand on the device attempts to stuff the thread through the needle's eye, and there also happens to be an eyeball hanging down on the outside of the device that moves about, causing the thread to keep missing. Finally, the hand gets it through, and the machine starts to sew like mad. It rips KoKo's costume off so that he is standing in his socks and underwear, and then it leaps off the table and onto the stage, where it sews the floorboards together. It does the same thing to the ground as it moves behind the audience, and then runs up over the shoulders of two show patrons, leaving their clothes stitched together. A laughing hippo gets his mouth sewn shut, and then it sews a ladder together as it climbs up the tent pole, shutting the entire crowd inside as it zips down the outside of the tent. Two Italian men digging a trench get trapped inside the ground, with their heads left above, where they curse out the machine as it passes. Sleeping fisherman along a river bank get a rude awakening when the charging machine closes the river up around their lines, and then it runs over the back of a stork and into the river itself. The stork attempts to fly, and it drags several pairs of fish and a turtle behind it into the air. The flying group zooms over the circus tent, where the turtle grabs the top and pulls the entire structure up into the air with them. Bimbo cuts a hole in the side of the tent, and then leaps out with Betty while holding an umbrella. Naturally, the umbrella gives way to the pressure, and Betty screams, "Oh, Bimbo! We're falling!" Bimbo is prepared for this, and calmly says "Oh, yeah?" as he pushes a button on the side of the handle. The ribs of the umbrella turn into helicopter blades. They eye each other adoringly as we reach iris out.

OK, so maybe most of the inventions veer more to the dopey side than the crazy. They still provide a lot of fun to the viewer, especially when the sewing machine gets out of hand and runs rampant over the countryside. It's too bad that it doesn't take that next Avery-type step and involve the entire world, possibly sewing the continents together. The film also has a subtle reminder in how these cartoons were never meant simply for children with the scene of Bimbo smoking (if the ample charms of Betty on display already weren't enough evidence). As for Betty's inventions, well, like in any Boop cartoon with a crowd, the audience is really there to see Betty, not some half-assed inventions. You come for the hot doll; you get a lame soup-slurping nullifier (which really doesn't work very well anyway) as a bonus.

My Scarlet Johansson-Transporter is similarly coming up lame. A combination of DVD and computer components, all I keep coming up with are video and pictures of the girl. Somehow, just like with Charlize and Natalie, the thing can't seem to produce the temptress in the flesh. I should probably go back to the drawing board and reconfigure everything, but then I am struck by a notion that just has to work!!

It's not the design; it's the focus of intent
that is at fault.

Maybe it'll work on Kristen Bell...

Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions (Max Fleischer Studios, 1932) [Released January 27, 1933]
Director: Dave Fleischer
Animators: Willard Bowsky and Ugo D'Orsi
Cel Bloc Rating: 7

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