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Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: March 20th, 2009, 11:22 am
by srowley75
From my vantage point, 2009 so far appears to grow exponentially crappier with each passing week. And as this week has been no exception, I finally decided to dig into my movie collection for some (preferably screwball) comedies that I hadn't yet gotten around to viewing.

Whether or not you think of H. C. Potter's long-overdue-on-R1-DVD Hellzapoppin' as a comic gem, anyone who dares to view it would certainly have to agree it's one of the more outrageous comedy spectacles ever to be made in Hollywood. Just how zany is it? By comparison, Preston Sturges plays like Lubitsch.

From the outset, the viewer's warned that "Any resemblance between Hellzapoppin' and a motion picture is purely coincidental." From there it's a roller coaster ride through rapid fire, fourth-wall-shattering, censor-antagonizing musical numbers and comedy routines featuring the duo of Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, along with a generous helping of Hugh Herbert (more than enough, in my opinion), Martha Raye (at her most raucous), Mischa Auer, Elisha Cook Jr., and Shemp Howard (possibly my favorite performance in the film, as a movie projectionist trying to keep the whole film on track for us while fending off the advances of an ample usherette). The film has no discernible plot - in fact, the opening sequence features the stars arguing with a scriptwriter who insists there be a story for the movie - though a love triangle surfaces from time to time in a fruitless attempt to provide a little unity.

Just how much you enjoy all of it will depend upon how long you can tolerate the frenetic pace and the anything-for-laughs stunts and jokes that zip by in quick succession. As a fan of Looney Tunes, the Marx Bros., and virtually all things wild and crazy, I found myself laughing heartily at several sequences, especially the sabotaged musical finale. As far as musical numbers go, the "Lindy Hop" sequence must be seen to be believed. Several people had told me about this sequence in the film, but nothing compares to actually watching these dancers in action.

I'm not exactly sure why this comedy hasn't been made available on DVD or hasn't played on TCM, though it's certainly been requested often enough by fans (and TCM has scheduled other Olsen and Johnson films in the past). If you can find a copy and aren't afraid to venture into wild territory, I heartily recommend this one. Even if you're a stuffed shirt, you're bound to let fly with at least one belly laugh or two.

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: April 7th, 2009, 5:24 am
by phil noir
I've now had a chance to see Hellzapoppin', and I laughed a fair bit, although my main reaction was wonderment at how radically popular tastes shift over the decades. I really liked the surrealist genre-busting tone of the piece - in a way, it anticipates Charlie Kaufmann's Adaptation, which is another film about the difficulties of adapting an unusual work from another discipline (a non-fiction book for Adaptation, a long-running stage review for Hellzapoppin').

I agree, the Lindy Hop sequence is absolutely astonishing.

What interested me as well was the chance to see what the second-rate songwriting of the '40s sounded like. Of course we're all familiar with the great standards by Gershwin, Berlin, Porter, etc., but the songs on show here were from the great morass of imitation, also ran, here-today-forgotten-tomorrow hit parade fillers. Lyrics about heaven and telling things to bluebirds and so on - awful, but enjoyable at the same time.

I liked Hugh Herbert - his nervous laugh always makes me laugh, but I can understand that it wouldn't amuse everyone - and Martha Raye and Mischa Auer, and it was nice to see Lewis Howard getting some laughs as the third point of the romantic triangle - he is very funny as Deanna Durbin's drunken, layabout cousin in First Love (1939), but never seemed to get much of a career going in Hollywood.

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 8:45 am
by ChiO
Finally got around to watching this. Now I know from where Ernie Kovac's TV show came.

Marx Brothers + Luis Bunuel + Busby Berkeley = A new entry for my Top 10 Musicals.

And, how can one not love the clever poke at CITIZEN KANE a mere three months after its release.


Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 11:11 am
by RedRiver
I gather this was a popular stage show as well. I've heard references to it all my life, the suggestion being it's the ultimate in way out, high energy, unpredictable comedy. At one point there was a revival that featured (who else?) Jerry Lewis!

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 11:49 am
by ChiO
It ran for over three years (September 1938 - December 1941) on Broadway. The movie was released on December 26, 1941.

The movie is vaudeville, sketch comedy and contrivances that reminded me of Ernie Kovacs -- walking from one room and appearing in the next room in different clothes, writing on the screen, breaking the fourth wall. Manic and wacky, clever and groan-inducing -- all things that I love.

One of the co-writers, Nat Perrin, also wrote for the Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello. You get the drift.

Re: CITIZEN KANE -- There is an early shot of a sled with "Rosebud" painted on it. One says to the other: "I thought they burned that." Now that's comedy!

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 12:50 pm
by JackFavell
Thanks for posting it, ChiO! I can't wait to see this one, for better or for worse.

My dad got to see Hellzapoppin' the play when it was running.... I'm not sure where, whether it was a road show in his home town of St. Louis or if he actually saw it in New York. He always talks fondly of it's zaniness, which he said the movies couldn't really capture. One of those shows where you wish you'd been there, just to see what it was like.

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 1:07 pm
by ChiO
He always talks fondly of it's zaniness, which he said the movies couldn't really capture.

I'm sure that's true. On the other hand (there always is an "other hand"), there are gags and bits in the movie that couldn't have been done on the stage.

So it goes.

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 1:16 pm
by RedRiver
On the other hand, there's a wart!

Re: Hellzapoppin' (1941, H. C. Potter)

Posted: July 2nd, 2013, 3:49 pm
by JackFavell
Red I swear you are channeling my dad! He always says, "On the other hand, there are four fingers and thumb."