• Fleischer cartoon buffs who enjoy the surreal adventures of Betty Boop as well as those Bouncing Ball mini-musicals will find much to savor in Time on My Hands. This memorable "Song Car-Tune" features both a live action Ethel Merman crooning the title number and a Betty Boop-like mermaid in an underwater sequence that is positively hallucinatory. All the studio hallmarks are here: bouncy music, deeply weird gags, and strictly non-linear storytelling. Plus, you know it's Pre-Code because Betty the mermaid is topless. What's not to like?

    The short begins with a black cat sitting on the bank of a pond with his rod and reel, singing into a megaphone about how fishing is the gentlest of arts. (Naturally the fish feel otherwise about that, as we shall see.) Sensitive viewers may squirm a bit as the cat selects a worm to bait his hook, but you'll be relieved to find that he takes the humane approach: instead of spearing the worm, the cat lowers him into the pond on a small chair and even hands him a tiny ukulele he can use to attract music-loving sea creatures. Underwater we meet a diver and observe as he encounters the Betty Boop-like mermaid (voiced by Mae Questel, of course). He asks her out on a date and when she accepts, three turtles with clock faces on their tummies pop up to offer a celebratory dance. Unfortunately all this jubilation is disrupted when the worm discreetly manages to connect a hook to the mermaid's fin; the black cat reels her in, pulling her out of the water so violently that she flies across the sky and lands at the top of a tower on the face of a clock. And this is where the mermaid turns into La Merman, who proceeds to sing the title tune.

    After all that craziness Ethel's performance seems rather subdued, especially compared to the brassy show biz anthems we associate with her later career, but her rendition of this bluesy song is pleasant. After the number we're returned to the world of underwater animation for a finale packed with rapidly paced gags that are even wackier than the earlier stuff: an old fish loses his dentures, an alligator emerges from a small satchel, an octopus is mistaken for a set of bagpipes, etc., and it all happens so fast it's hard to absorb on the first viewing. (I've seen this one three times and look forward to watching it again.) The music is terrific, and buffs familiar with Paramount features from the era will recognize themes from concurrent releases starring Maurice Chevalier, the Marx Brothers, and others. Time on My Hands is pure Fleischer, which means it's the cinematic equivalent of a bowl of mint chocolate-chip ice cream.