This crazy little short looks for all the world like a Max Fleischer cartoon populated with people, singing and mugging and bobbing up and down to the rhythm. As it happens this mini-musical was made by Paramount, the studio that distributed the Fleischer output and also supplied Max and his animators with musical stars. And to enhance the family resemblance THE MUSICAL DOCTOR features the one and only Rudy Vallee, who lent his talents to several bouncing ball singalongs produced by the Fleischer crew, alongside the semi-legendary Mae Questel, the lady who provided the voice for Betty Boop and Olive Oyl in hundreds of cartoons. (She also appeared as "Aunt Bluebelle" in some really irritating TV commercials for Scott tissues in the '70s, but perhaps she can be forgiven for that. The gig probably paid well.) This short has the anything-can-happen atmosphere of the weirder Betty Boop efforts, beginning with the opening credits: the words jump out of a doctor's satchel, as we notice a decorative border that consists of a few medicine bottles and a human skull with a cigarette clamped in its jaws at a jaunty angle.
The setting is Dr. Vallee's Musical Hospital, where patients with music-related maladies are treated with therapeutic melodies. Nurse Clef (that's our Mae) is introduced sitting at a bizarre-looking telephone switchboard that features elements of a pipe organ. She's chatting with Nurse Octave and taking a call from Dr. Sharp about Miss Barcelona, who needs a dose of Spanish music. Dr. Vallee is introduced teaching a roomful of medical students. He expresses himself in song, of course, in a cheery number called "Keep a Little Song Handy." Later, the good doctor visits a patient and prescribes a strict diet of music: a fox trot, a waltz, some blues, "a salad made of a light ballad," etc. Nurse Clef tosses in a few boop-oop-a-doops, just for good measure. It's that kind of movie.
As with many of the Flesicher cartoons this short includes an element of questionable racial humor: one of Dr. Vallee's patients is an African-American gent who describes his malady as homesickness, explaining that he's got the "Missin' all the kissin' from my Alabammy mammy pains." Dr. Vallee, sympathetic to the man's plight, promptly anesthetizes him with a phonograph horn, and then uses his favorite instrument (a megaphone, naturally) to sing a few strains of Al Jolson's "Mammy." Some viewers may squirm during this sequence, but personally I found it essentially good-natured and so thoroughly silly it's hard to take offense. The whole film has a benign atmosphere of wackiness, and must have cheered audiences at a time when the Depression was taking a toll on morale.
THE MUSICAL DOCTOR ends on an interesting note (so to speak), as Dr. Vallee visits his patients via "Televisor," a fanciful version of closed-circuit T.V. that enables him to sing a final refrain of his theme song to every patient in the hospital. This finale looks toward Vallee's 1933 Paramount project INTERNATIONAL HOUSE, a feature-length musical comedy in which he would once again experiment with that futuristic device.
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