Three Cartoons from the Swing Era

Bingo Crosbyana and his fan club.

Bingo Crosbyana and his fan club.

Warner Bros. always made the most reliably entertaining cartoons, thanks in great part to Mel Blanc and all the wonderful characters he performed. But Warners also made a lot of first rate cartoons that had nothing to do with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig or any of their other popular characters. In the 1930s, Warners came out with several excellent cartoons that relied more on music and atmosphere than on funny dialogue or amusing plotlines. Here are three of my favorites.

Bingo Crosbyana

“Bingo Crosbyana,” a weird and wonderful cartoon, was released in 1936. If you want to own it, it’s a special feature on the DVD of “Swing Time.” The story is about a heart-throb crooner, Bingo Crosbyana. He’s a housefly in a sombrero with dainty pom-poms dangling from its wide, flat brim; his mellow baritone and languid cool make all the lady houseflies swoon, much to the consternation of their proletarian housefly swains, who cannot compete with his talent and preening self-possession. I particularly like these aggrieved menfolk in their battered, Depression Era hats: they look like the cast from “Waiting for Lefty.” When they see the erotic effect the crooner has on their women, they huddle together and murmur irritably. The ladies are so enraptured by Bingo’s melting voice that they fail to recognize that he’s vain, feckless and sick with self-love. He’s also an incorrigible show-off: he executes spectacular aerial tricks and sky-writes “How’m I doin” with a match; he pantses the gawking men as he zips past, taking their fly-buttons with him as he goes; everything he does delights the ladies and enrages the men. After his air show hi-jinx, he and a lady fly go into a spirited dance routine with fancy footwork that Fred and Ginger wouldn’t be ashamed to perform. But everything changes when a large spider suddenly drops into their midst. One look at the hairy creature and Bingo’s whole person turns bright yellow — the badge of pusillanimity. And as he runs from the marauder in an ecstasy of terror, he literally turns into a yellow streak. When the picture was first released, Bing Crosby sued — and who can blame him? The cartoon attacks Der Bingle’s manhood savagely. That’s reason enough for me to love it. But as cruel as the parody of Crosby is, it is nothing compared to the method used by the beleaguered flies to rid themselves of their arachnid intruder. The closing episode of this cartoon is bracingly, even amazingly, violent.

(The video quality of these next two clips is high, but the streaming site isn’t always reliable, so I have included their respective URLs in case they don’t load properly.)

Katnip Kollege

“Katnip Kollege,” released in 1938, is a special feature on the DVD and Blu-ray of “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” Johnnie Davis, who starred that same year in “Hollywood Hotel” (in which he sang “Hooray for Hollywood”), is the voice of Johnny Cat, whose lack of rhythm and cool makes him the butt of his classmates’ derision. Mabel Todd, who played Davis’ girlfriend in “Hollywood Hotel,” is the voice of Kitty Bright. Much of the underscoring is also from “Hollywood Hotel,” but “Katnip Kollege” is by far the more interesting picture of the two. It’s also a whole lot shorter.

If “Katnip Kollege” doesn’t load properly, try using the following link:

The Coo-Coo Nut Grove

This last one, “The Coo-Coo Nut Grove” is from 1936. There’s no story at all, but the animation is beautiful and the caricatures are very clever. A partial list of the celebrities includes: bandleader Ben (“Yowza, yowza”) Bernie (Ben Birdie in the cartoon), who is interrupted by columnist Walter Winchell (as Walter Windpipe); Katharine Hepburn (as a horse named Miss Heartburn); Fred Astaire; Lionel and John Barrymore; Wallace Beery; Joe E. Brown; Bette Davis; W.C. Fields; Clark Gable; Greta Garbo; Laurel and Hardy; Jean Harlow; Hugh Herbert; Charles Laughton; Groucho and Harpo Marx; Maureen O’Sullivan; George Raft; Edward G. Robinson; Ned Sparks; Johnny Weissmuller; and Mae West, who dances with George Arliss (as a turtle). Musical numbers are performed by Edna May Oliver as “The Lady in Red,” the Dionne quintuplets, and Helen Morgan, who drowns the stage — and the entire club — with tears.

If “The Coo-Coo Nut Grove” doesn’t load properly, try using this link:

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