Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 18, 2021


Olsen and Johnson
HELLZAPOPPIN' (1941). Director: H. C. Potter 

Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, playing themselves, are told that in the film version of their (real life) Broadway hit "Olsen and Johnson's Hellzapoppin'" they have to add a little romance to the mix. The screenwriter (Elisha Cook Jr.) concocts a triangle in which aspiring producer Jeff Hunter (Robert Paige) wants to star Kitty (Jane Frazee), the women he loves, in a musical -- only his best friend, Woody (Lewis Howard), is in love with her too. Then there are complications in the form of man-hungry but homely Betty (Martha Raye) and a possible prince named Pepi (Mischa Auer). For reasons not worth recounting Olsen and Johnson want the show to fail and try to sabotage it a la Night at the Opera (a much, much better movie) to somewhat comical results in the last twenty minutes of the film. Meanwhile Olsen and Johnson have a running dialogue with the film's projectionist (Shemp Howard) who keeps screwing things up. 

Mismatch: Martha Raye and Mischa Auer
Hellzapoppin' has its share of laughs (and quite a few groaners) but despite its amiable nature it never quite bursts into full-blown hilarity. Olsen and Johnson are such a comparatively dull comedy team that for much of the film's length I confused one of them with the much more distinctive Hugh Herbert, who plays the giggling Quimby. As the lovers, Paige and Frazee are appealing, and get to sing two lovely numbers entitled "Heaven for Two" and "And You Were There." Martha Raye is wonderful as Betty whether she's running after an aghast Pepi with lust in her heart or warbling the snappy "Watch the Birdie" in a production number. Auer is her match in every way.

Robert Paige and Jane Frazee
Hellzapoppin' breaks through the fourth wall numerous times throughout the movie (this was done in many films afterwards including Gremlins 2) and has a lot of sight gags, some of which succeed (the "coat of arms") and some of which land with a thud. A highlight of the film is a performance by the sensational Harlem Congeroo Dancers and an all-black band that is equally spectacular. Olsen and John had teamed for at least one movie before this one, All Over Town, then got together again for Crazy House and Ghost Catchers, pretty much doing the same shtick that they do in Hellzapoppin'. A little of them goes a long way! To compare them in any way to the Marx Brothers is utterly ludicrous.

Verdict: Silly, frequently stupid, but it earns some genuine chuckles as well. **3/4. 


angelman66 said...

May have seen this years ago, at least parts of it, I know I remember enjoying Martha Raye. The Big Mouth!!!
- Chris

William said...

That she was! Funny woman. She was great with Bob Hope in a couple of vehicles.

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