May 15, 2011 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Produced by a pair of Vaudeville comedians just as the Vaudville era was era was coming to a close, the musical revue Hellzapoppin' became a runaway smash hit, and for a time, was the longest running show on Broadway. It was a crazy quilt of frequently updated comedy and musical bits stitched together, featuring risque humor, fourth-wall breaking audience participation, skits abandoned halfway through, dwarfs, pigeons, clowns and Adolph Hitler with a Yiddish accent.

Hollywood attempted to adopt it into a movie, and while it may not have captured the free-wheeling anarchy of the stage show, it featured at least one jaw dropping dance number and pioneered the kind of rapid-fire self-referential comedy techniques that would later be used in films like Airplane!

Here's the movie-within-a-movie opening sequence with Shemp Howard.

Here's a great bit of physical comedy centered around an archery range.

An extended version of the dance number.

A Martha Raye musical number.

The surreal ending sequence.
posted by empath (20 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Holy smokes, that dance number is incredible.
posted by saladin at 4:47 PM on May 15, 2011

great movie. surprising how few people these days have even heard about it. a dada masterpiece made in the studio system.
posted by oog at 4:50 PM on May 15, 2011

So, basically it was a precursor to Monty Python?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:04 PM on May 15, 2011

Also adopt --> adapt.

posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:05 PM on May 15, 2011

Louis Armstrong's version
posted by spasm at 5:26 PM on May 15, 2011

Looks like a lot of fun. I feel ashamed at myself for never having heard of it, and angry at Netflix for not having it!
posted by jsturgill at 5:29 PM on May 15, 2011

Great post!

By the way, the piano player / singer / guitarist in that dance number is Slim Gaillard, the clown prince of jazz. Here he is in later years - "Cement Mixer."
posted by waitingtoderail at 5:30 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

There was an attempt to recreate it in the mid70s with Jerry Lewis as the headliner and a similar cast of comics and chorus girls. Only the title and the idea were the same - the songs and the sketches were new. All kinds of famous "show doctors" are said to have worked on it, but it played Boston and one other place (Philadelphia?) and closed without coming to Broadway.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 6:07 PM on May 15, 2011

Oh, random thing I found while I was looking for links for this: Martha Raye and Red Skelton working a little blue during rehearsals.
posted by empath at 6:16 PM on May 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much for posting! I looked at archive.org for a copy, but to no avail. Posted a link to facebook for my choreographer and she promptly replied, "I own that flick. Wanna borrow it?" Cannot wait...
posted by artof.mulata at 6:22 PM on May 15, 2011

I've been teaching a 1930s US unit in an undergrad drama class, and I think Imma gonna wedge this show in. The way it fits with the "death" of variety entertainments is great.
posted by Mngo at 6:24 PM on May 15, 2011

Thanks, I had been familiar with the dance sequence because of Frankie Manning, but not the rest of the movie. (For more on Manning, check out this PBS documentary).
posted by fings at 6:32 PM on May 15, 2011

Does this remind anyone else of Forbidden Zone?
posted by aloiv2 at 6:48 PM on May 15, 2011

There's a British DVD of Hellzapoppin' that appears to be the only DVD version available. Yet another reason to get a region-free DVD player or to "hack" your regular DVD player so that it plays region-free.
posted by jonp72 at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2011

Holy smokes, that dance number is incredible.

They probably did a lot of it in CGI.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:35 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Little Johnny met Olson and Johnson, the Hellzapoppin' Guys, at the Canadian National Exhibition!
posted by Oriole Adams at 8:27 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a great bit of physical comedy centered around an archery range.

How on earth did they do that?
posted by Deathalicious at 9:32 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for posting this - I watched the film sometime last year and loved it. Truly great stuff.
posted by owtytrof at 11:19 AM on May 16, 2011

missing tags: hellza, hella
posted by finite at 2:36 PM on May 16, 2011

How on earth did they do that?

Very carefully.
posted by snottydick at 9:47 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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