For the last few weeks we have looked at musical versions of Little Red Riding Hood as well as versions from musicals. For the next few weeks, I want to look at versions of our tale on film.
I am starting today with the earliest version I could find starring Betty Boop. Betty Boop made her first animated appearance in August of 1930. She was created to be the quintessential flapper of the Jazz Age and is often revered as a sex symbol. Boop was drawn to have short dresses, high heels and a garter belt. She had big breasts as well as a tiny waist. Male characters in many of the early videos were always trying to sneak a peak at her cleavage or up her dress, but Boop had a sort of innocent sexuality about her (she was meant to be around 15-16 years old) and she fought hard against their lecherous advances. In 1932, there were two films which showed male characters trying to compromise her virginity. These portrayals of her fighting sexual harassment made her a sort of feminist icon. She appeared in this over-sexualised format until 1934 when the Hays Code placed restrictions on sexual innuendo in film. After that, Betty appeared in films dressed as more of a spinster housewife.
This film Dizzy Red Riding Hood is from 1931 and is full of sexual innuendo. Bimbo who is a dog follows her around like a love-sick puppy (no pun intended.) At first I was like "Why is a dog in love with and indeed allowed to get the girl at the end?" Isn't that weird? Well, as it turns out, the character of Betty Boop was originally an anthropomorphic French poodle. She features as a background character in several short films where Bimbo the dog was her sweetheart. A year later she lost the puppy ears (they became hoop earrings) and the black dog nose (it became a button nose) and she became fully human but kept her canine sweetheart. That explains it but doesn't excuse it, in my opinion.
In this film, Betty is on her way to go and see Grandma and is warned repeatedly about wolves in the woods by Bimbo but also by a frightening forest of sentient trees which reminded me of The Wizard of Oz. Betty does not listen to these pronouncements. Bimbo continually pops up like an annoying stalker and she repeatedly rebuffs him. Later in the film, a wolf does find her and follows her (Bimbo knows this because he too is following her) and she seems unafraid. The wolf salaciously offers her some flower seeds to plant which she innocently does, bending over and wiggling her bottom in the air unintentionally provocatively. The wolf ogles her rear while scraping a knife and fork together and singing about his plans to consume her. This harks back to those original stories where a wolf (meaning a male predator) was hungry to consume the innocent female and take her innocence. Betty Boop fits right in to those morality tales as her early career was also spent fighting off predators trying to compromise her virginity.
Bimbo sees the wolf and realises his intent so he kills it . In an effort to make himself into a more attractive bad boy. he covers himself in the skin of the wolf and declares "She loves wolves." So this begs the question-- Does she ignore Bimbo because he is a sex pest or because he is "too nice"? Does she subscribe to the stereotype that "good girls love a bad boy"? It's not clear, but what is clear is when she sees the wolf (actually Bimbo in wolf's clothing) she doesn't rebuff him like she did in his true form. We watch as her garters keep slipping off and she keeps bending down to slide them back up her shapely legs while Bimbo watches all the while making appreciative noises. Eventually in Grandma's bed (Grandma's absence is excused by saying she is at the Fireman's Ball) Betty confronts the wolf and sings, "Where'd ya get those eyes? Where'd ya get those lips?" and declares that his "big ears make him look so manly." In the song she claims to be afraid but also says how "big and strong" his arms are. Then Wolf-Bimbo scoops her up in his manly arms (and plainly holds her by the breasts) and sings "the better to eat you with!"
It ends with Bimbo kissing Betty and then being swung on a hammock made out of the crescent moon between two trees. Clearly, she has chosen Bimbo who has proved he can be a predator and devour her just as a wolf would have.
I can't help feeling like her protestations were very weak and contribute to that "no really means yes" mentality.
Also, there is a weird section where Betty Boop is picking flowers. She sings:
A violet for Grandma,
A Violet for grandma
and maybe a rose or two.
And here's a little tulip,
Here's a little tulip
kissed by the morning dew.
(At this point the tulip flower gets a sneaky kiss in on an unsuspecting Betty.)
I think she'd like a pansy,
a pansy, a pansy.
I think she'd like a pansy
Other voice: the fairies like them too.
My first thought was "Was that some sort of jab at homosexuals?" So I had to go away and research when did words like pansy and fairy become words that were used to describe gays. I came across this really interesting piece of history about the Pansy Craze. From 1930 to 1933, drag queen known as Pansy Performers experienced a surge in underground popularity. Gay subculture became mainstream during prohibition, but quickly waned when alcohol became legal again. Who knew?
I feel this film fits in with many of the themes we have looked at with Little Red Riding Hood namely wolf as (sexual) predator and good girls get what's coming to them.
Watch it yourself and see what you think:
Next week we will look at more over-sexualised versions of our heroine in animated film.