At some time or another, most of the studios that produced animated shorts during the golden age of animation produced at least one film the used caricatures of various celebrities. These films are unique ones to look at today. Much of their humor is lost on today’s audiences…’cause if you don’t recognize who the animators are poking fun at, you’re not going to get the jokes. “I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song” is one of those films from the Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies series.
The film begins with various characters doing their morning calisthenics along with a radio broadcast. One guy appears to be using some sort of weight lifting pulley system, but when the camera pulls out we see that he’s really trying to tighten his large wife’s girdle. As the short moves on, we end up at the radio station doing the broadcast. We see Cros Bingsby (a Bing Crosby caricature) singing his part of the broadcast from his bathtub, complete with a floating microphone. Several other celebrity cameos follow, including: James Cagney, Mae West, Ed Wynn, Guy Kibbee, Zasu Pitts, and Greta Garbo…among others. And believe, me though I love classic movies, I had to look a bunch of those up. The Garbo character is especially funny as she sings the title song (which, by the way, is from “Gold Diggers of 1933”).
A few sequence show scenes of the radio broadcast being listened to in other parts of the world. These scenes have often been trimmed from TV broadcasts as they depict some negative Asian and African stereotypes. It’s also interesting to note a few images that are definitely more adult in nature than what you may expect in a cartoon. When Cros Bingsby sings his number, we see a dormitory full of co-eds swooning over the radio, many of whom are dressed just in their underwear and stockings. Likewise, a belly dancer is also somewhat scantily clad in another scene, and to say the caricature of Mae West is “top-heavy” is an understatement.
Shorts like this often require multiple viewing for me, I was just born at the wrong time to get all the references, and I’m OK with that. This short is a fun look at the fascination with radio and movie celebrities that many had in 1933. Plus, this short is worth watching just to see the Garbo caricature gasp “Dat’s Awl Folks” at the end. Very funny, but Porky Pig need not worry…his job is safe.