This musical short begins with an introductory title that may seem odd to viewers unfamiliar with the career of its stars, The Mills Brothers. It reads: "Note! The music throughout this cartoon is furnished by the Mills Brothers Quartette. They employ no musical instruments of any kind-- except the guitar. There is no tuba, no trumpet, and no saxophone." This phrase was used by announcers on the brothers' radio broadcasts, and it appeared on the sleeves of their early records and in their publicity material, simply because the guys were so good at imitating the sounds of these instruments vocally it was felt that listeners should be reassured no cheating was involved. (Of course, the statement also made a nice little gimmick.) Since we can plainly see the brothers perform in this short there would seem to be no reason to repeat the line, but I guess it was something of a trademark.
Dinah was the second of the Mills Brothers' three appearances in Fleischer Studio cartoons. Their debut short, I Ain't Got Nobody, was an inspired, high-energy exercise in Fleischer-style craziness. This follow-up, set on a ship at sea, is a little more subdued in tone and relaxed in tempo, at least until the stormy climax. By the standards of the studio the gags in this outing are almost conventional, and they never reach that peak of insanity we find in the best entries in the Out of the Inkwell series or the early Betty Boop classics. The short begins with a dockside sequence as sailors -- played by various animals -- load the ship: a giraffe is used as a crane, a dog loads boxes onto a pulley that happens to be an alligator, etc. There's a brief moment of naughtiness as three women, presumably prostitutes, hop out of portholes just before the ship sails, followed by three sailors sticking their heads out after them and waving 'Goodbye,' or perhaps 'Thank you, Ma'am!' Once the voyage is underway there's a gag that's reminiscent of something Chaplin did in The Immigrant back in 1917: three sailors are seen from behind, leaning over the railing as their shoulders heave . . . but they're not seasick, they're just lowering three other guys down the side to paint the hull. (Everything seems to happen in threes, by the way.)
The nautical gags are moderately amusing, but the real highlight here is the Mills Brother's performance of the title tune, one of their great signature numbers. That's the main reason to track down this short, and the only reason to see it more than once. And once you've seen Dinah, I suggest you track down I Ain't Got Nobody. That one is a genuine treat, a gem of animated surrealism. Dinah is pleasant, but no match for its predecessor.
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