"Hellzapoppin"" is the signature film from the signature Broadway and stage show of the comedy team of John 'Ole' Olsen and Harold 'Chic' Johnson. Olsen and Johnson started on the vaudeville circuit, soon added radio, graduated to the big stage with a string of Broadway and other stage shows, and then had a run of movies on the silver screen. The shows were usually different versions of "Hellzapoppin," the stage revue that itself was never the same from one performance to the next. That's because each show had impromptu gags, songs, dance numbers, various interruptions and anything crazy anyone could think of to put on the stage, drop into the orchestra pit or toss into the audience.
The Broadway show set the record at the time with 1,404 performances from 1938 to its last show on Dec. 17, 1941. It was every bit as wacky as the film, but the movie provided more opportunities for goofy bits and pieces. The live stage shows had dupe members in the audience and performers going into the audience. The film shows that and adds more. It also allows the use of every film gimmick possible. Thus there are scenes of still scenes, split frames of film, and projection room viewing, Other things include writing over the film, erasing parts of Ole and Chic on the film, and film scenes within film scenes within the film, where characters talk from one medium to people in the others.
Olsen and Johnson were comedians and musicians, and they put on some zany performances. If one can imagine a vaudeville show, a musical revue, a sitcom, a circus with animal acts and acrobats, and a nightclub floor show all rolled into one - you would have the basic start. Then, throw in a fire alarm and air raid warning in the middle of a real show, and the release of a million ants in the audience with a brawl in the orchestra pit. All of that would then be "Hellzapoppin."
This is a frenzied conglomeration of gags, music, dance, animals running around, explosions, scenery splitting and people falling off stage. It's the craziest revue ever put on film with absolutely no plot, but numerous funny little stories within. The comedy was probably generally funny and enjoyed at the time, and some of it might still have received some laughs into the late 20th century. But most of the jokes are of the vaudeville type that were no longer funny to most people must past the mid-20th century.
The film doesn't have any leading stars of the day, but it has a few other well-known comedians and actors. Martha Raye is a lead singer and female comic. Hugh Herbert and Shemp Howard provide some comedy. The best individual role in this film is that of Mischa Auer. That consummate actor had some talent at dance and more comedy than he usually had in his supporting roles in most films.
While not so much entertaining in modern times for its music, story or acts, this film would probably be interesting to many movie buffs just to see the many deviations, gimmicks and oddities that aren't part of normal movies.
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