Directed by H.C. Potter
1941, 84 minutes, 16mm, b&w. With Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Mischa Auer, Shemp Howard, and Elisha Cook Jr.
Any resemblance in the following to an actual movie review is purely coincidental.
The same sort of line as the above is what we see on screen at the beginning of Hellzapoppin' except it says "motion picture" rather than "movie review".
But don't believe it. Well, you can believe it with regard to this typed text (I'm not a REAL MOVIE REVIEWER. I just play at being one on the internet.), but don't believe it with regard to the movie. IT IS A LIE!
In actual fact this is more like a motion picture than most movies one is likely to see which are more like photographed plays, well, now maybe puppet shows, or animated cartoons. Hellzapoppin' is more like an actual motion picture than most others. It takes great joy in playing with the technology of filmmaking. It's takes us into the land of cine-surrealism, at least for some of the time.
Who it to blame? Who is to honor? Who do we shoot, shun, or shout the praises of, for, at? Well, who wrote the thing, came up with the idea and did they ever do anything like that before or after? Olson and Johnson and very good, charming, funny, and we know that this is from a long running Broadway show of the same name. So we can definitely honor them, or rather laugh at them which is the best way to honor these guys. There were a lot of people laughing at them in the packed downstairs theatre at Anthology Film Archives last night. We should all be so lucky to be laughed at 66 years from now, or 666 years which takes us backed to the opening of the movie where Olson and Johnson arrive in hell in a NYC taxi cab and one of them says that it was the first cabby who took them exactly where they told him to go. But then hell turns into to movie studio which is probably not a coincidence. Anyway we soon see these two being forced to have, like, a plot to their movie and a love story because all movies need a plot and a love story, but that's alright in this case since it's barely a plot or a love story but an excuse for more silly and clever one-liners and sight gags.
The stuff that goes on is not unrelated to the more chaotic Marx Brothers movies which brings me to Nat Perrin who wrote the play and the movie and was a very good friend of Groucho Marx. He also wrote some of the Marx Brothers stuff. So there, we can blame Olson and Johnson and Nat Perrin for the delightful madness that is Hellzapoppin'.
Not to forget Martha Raye, or maybe I should say "The great Martha Raye." Alright I will. The great Martha Raye. She is in the movie too. And, I swear that this is true. True that she is in the movie and that she was great. I saw her perform LIVE in the late 1970s in a traveling show of mostly singers called "4 Girls 4", She was hardly a "girl" then but neither were the others, but I have never seen a funnier person perform live. I have never seen such a pro and she did very funny physical sight comedy things I was quite amazed and have been a huge fan since. Watch her steal scenes from Charlie Chaplin in his great dark comedy talkie Monsieur Verdoux.
So Hellzapoppin' is available in bootleg form somewhere. It's a great movie. Let's hope it is preserved and not left to rot too soon.