|Released by Paramount | Directed By Dave Fleischer
I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead: Et Al
The Betty Boop cartoons that Dave Fleischer put out are kind of a weird rarity. Besides the occasional Jewish in-joke originating from its director, they often showcased African-American singers and acts who were rarely given the star treatment opportunities that their white counterparts were. Big acts like Cab Calloway put his music into the Boop shorts, giving them a Jazz Age afterglow that’s hard to resist. Another popular black artist of the 1930s was Louis Armstrong, and he gets his chance to shine in “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”
The short opens with a shot of Armstrong and his orchestra, and he really does have that charisma that he’s known so well for. So much so that Fleischer can’t help but insert Armstrong into the short at several other points, including one briefly surreal bit where Louis Armstrong’s disembodied head chases Bimbo and Koko around, singing and laughing maniacally.
It’s an impressive animation trick to be sure, and puts Fleischer’s loopy animation sensibilities to the test. (To wit, Armstrong’s head first scares Koko out of his clothes and, just for effect, out of his underwear as well. You don’t get much implied clown nudity in pre-Code Hollywood, but, by god, we get it here.)
Speaking of pre-Code, the song that Armstrong sings is about a man chasing down another man who cheated on him with his wife. Koko also lets out a string of mumbled curses so powerful that it instantly fades him and Bimbo into a cauldron being prepared by this cartoon’s adversarial native caricatures.
As you can imagine from 1930s Hollywood, this is not the most racially sensitive portrait of African tribesman. In fact, in an effort not to mince words, it’s embarrassing and ugly. Several cutaways between band members and the natives themselves are notably painful, as it seeks to make the line between the band’s obvious civilized manner fuzzy between them and a bunch of minstrel cannibals.
The plot involves Betty getting captured by those cannibals– spending most of the short tied up or running away– while Koko and Bimbo barely get more screen time, most of it spent running. Besides the elaborate work with Armstrong’s portentous floating head and the number itself (which is great, no lies), there’s not much here besides some residual embarrassing racism that is stuck firmly in the Trader Horn era.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is available in the third Betty Boop DVD set from Olive Films. It is also available on YouTube:
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