No 178 - Hellzapoppin'
Director - H.C Potter
The Universal Studios introduction revolves and we fade to a chorus line singing elegantly as they move down the stairs. The stairs end, turning into a slide, the chorus line go tumbling and the set explodes.
Then everything explodes.
This film is pure bonkers anarchy. After those few minutes I was left in a position where I had no idea what to expect. But, I think that that is the best way to watch such a film.
Hellzapoppin' began life as a vaudeville stage show in the 1930s. It was constantly updated to remain topical and was meant to be a sort of anarchic sketch show combining songs, skits and audience participation. It was not something that would translate well in a film structure... and yet, fair play to Olsen and Johnsen for attempting. The film may have a more standard 'story' structure than your average revue but it is still a hotch potch ensemble of strange sketches and throwaway jokes.
The film is decidedly postmodern and I'd be interested to know how many films had tried what it had tried before this one. But, made in 1941, I wouldn't be surprised if this was one of the first truly post modern self referential films.
The audience not only speak directly to the audience, they speak to the director, they speak to the camera crew, they even talk directly to the projectionist in the cinema.
At one point, the projection puts the wrong reel on and the film changes, transporting Olsen and Johnsen into the wild west. Eventually they get back to their own film but they are joined by a native American chief.... it is all quite odd.
Somehow, the film manages to have a plot and as well as the constant stream of gags from Olsen and Johnsen there is a love story. Why a love story? Because all films have a love story of course!
So we face the odd little love story of Kitty (who is a very pretty Jane Frazee) and her two men suitors. She is engaged to Woody, they are both rich, it is all good. Except.... Kitty loves Jeff, Woody's playwright friend who is putting on a revue with Kitty, and Kitty is secretly in love with Jeff too. Of course Jeff is too much of a gentleman to make a move.
Very convoluted... as one would expect, but luckily the plot isn't really crucial to the film... instead it simply acts as a catalyst for the pratfalls and insanity.
The jokes are somewhat hit and miss... I personally find the more surreal moments work better than the other gags. The most dated humour comes from Hugh Hubert's private detective, a master of disguise who has an annoying habit of punning and then doing a little squeaky giggle to the audience... however, comedy genius comes from Martha Raye playing Johnsen's sister Betty. Although most of her humour comes from her indecent and unstopping quest to bag her an eligible fella. She does however have excellent comic timing, superb facial expressions and she throws herself into prat falling with amazing gusto.
While she is the star when it comes to the humour, the film fills the whole 'variety show' structure with some amazing dance acts. Special mention must go to Whitey's Steppers who are truly phenomenal dancers.
And while the set up has terribly dated racism (or at least gross stereotyping) the end result is some amazing and nigh on jaw dropping lindy hopping.
It is difficult really to fully explain the atmosphere of the film without listing all the gags... and that would ruin it for you, the viewer. So all I can say is buy it... or rent it.
We in the UK are in the lucky position of there being a region 2 DVD available... and you need to experience the sheer madness of HELLZAPOPPIN'
My definite 'favourite find' of the challenge so far (sorry Into The Wild)