Saturday, April 14, 2007

Madcap Musicals

There's a moment in The Purple Rose of Cairo where the characters in the movie-within-the movie realize they are no longer bound by the "rules" of the story. Anything can happen. With this in mind, the Maitre D' at a swank Manhattan night spot declares "hit it" to the band and starts to tap dance.

Hips, Hips, Hooray! and Crazy House, two of the 45 plus films featured in Film Forum's B Movie Musicals series, offer that kind of unpredictable zaniness at a breakneck pace.

The former follows the exploits of a posh, but struggling makeup company and a couple of street peddlers, (the Vaudeville duo Wheeler & Woolsey) who hawk flavored lipstick. Really. Made before the Hays Code could crack down on the randiness, it features a silly mishmash of scantily clad babes, suggestive kissing (gotta test those flavors), auto racing, one sublimely ridiculous office-based musical number, and an extremely clever car-as-coffee machine gag.

Crazy House, (apparently a Quentin Tarantino favorite) with comedians Olsen & Johnson, comes off as calm and predictable in comparison-though it's anything but. The Hollywood-terrorizing comic duo have come to town to make a movie, and they're willing to steal their cast--right off the lot--to get it done. Musical performances from marquee players like Count Basie and the Glenn Miller Singers are interspersed among the mayhem.

Both films have a blatant disregard for logic, and the plots are little more than a way to show off the talent.

This clip offers a peak at the gag-a-second philosophy in Crazy House. Bonus points for spotting Shemp.

One can argue the modern versions of this kind of rapid-fire comedy are films like Blades of Glory--star comedian vehicles where they pile on the jokes. Like these old musicals, the degree of interest and enjoyment is directly related to how one feels about the stars. Since I wasn't familiar with either comic pair, I just enjoyed the breezy, come-hither innocence.

For those of you who are in or near NYC, the B Musical series continues through April 19. For a rundown on how the films ranked by users on IMDB, my friend David offers some calculations at the NYC-centric Blog About Town.


David Marc Fischer said...

Thanks for the nod, Susan!

After seeing Crazy House I looked into its backstory. Olsen and Johnson were famous for their chaotic, long-running Broadway show Hellzapoppin, which was brimming over with gags. The 1941 film version didn't go over as well, which "explains" the running gag about everyone in Hollywood fleeing them in Crazy House--a movie that also didn't go over very well despite its multitude of mirthful merits.

Here's a tribute to Olsen and Johnson.

SusanP said...

Thanks, David - I'll check out the tribute.