The good news: Betty Boop has never looked better, thanks to
Olive Films’ new DVD and Blu-ray releases Betty
Boop: The Essential Collection, Volumes 1 and 2, mastered in 4K from
original 35mm materials. The bad news is that it’s taken well over a decade for
someone to produce a legitimate DVD release of these cartoons, while bootlegs
of inferior quality have flooded the Internet. This has been the unhappy fate
of the Max Fleischer cartoon library for many years, sorry to say. Only the
now-defunct Republic Pictures Home Video company thought to release the
complete Betty Boop library on vhs and even on laserdisc.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are hundreds
of other short subjects from the Fleischer library that have yet to see the
light of day: the Talkartoons, which
gave Betty her first exposure (no pun intended)…the Screen Songs featuring the Bouncing Ball and such guest stars as
Ethel Merman, the Mills Brothers, and the Boswell Sisters…the Color Classics, Fleischer’s bid to
compete with Walt Disney’s Technicolor Silly
Symphonies…the studio’s two-reel color “specials” featuring such characters
as Raggedy Ann and Andy…and most important, the Out of the Inkwell shorts of the 1920s starring Koko the Clown and
Max Fleischer himself.
Fortunately, many Koko shorts are available, along with
Fleischer’s early sound experiments with Dr. Lee DeForest, from Ray Pointer’s
Inkwell Images (click HERE).
It has taken this dedicated entrepreneur to bring about what no archive or
mainstream distributor has been willing to do, since most of these films are
now in the public domain. The late-silent Inkwell shorts are still under
copyright and were released both on vhs and laserdisc by Republic—but there’s
been no sign of them on DVD.
Many years ago, the annual silent film festival in
Pordenone, Italy mounted a major Fleischer retrospective and persuaded archives
from around the globe to loan their 35mm prints of Out of the Inkwell shorts. I was lucky enough to attend that year,
as did Max Fleischer’s son, director Richard Fleischer, who reveled in the
opportunity to see some of his father’s rarest and most entertaining creations for
the first time, with an enthusiastic audience. Spread throughout the festival
fortnight as added attractions, these vintage cartoons were a complete
delight—not a lemon in the batch.
Following the festival, the prints were sent back to their
homes in storage vaults around the world. This is something of a cultural
crime, it seems to me. These are important milestones in the parade of American
animation, as well as great entertainment. It’s even more infuriating that
readily-available cartoons like all those talkies are so hard to find, legally
Perhaps if Olive enjoys healthy sales with its first two
Betty Boop releases, other Fleischer collections will follow. Wouldn’t that be