Comedy Oddities: Crazy House

crazy house index

Hellzapoppin’ is one of the best films ever made, a groundbreaking, insanely inventive comedy that’s gloriously funny and deserves to be loved by all. So the fact that the follow up the stars Ole Olson and Chic Johnson is rarely spoken about didn’t bode well, but given my love for their other work I had high hopes that it would be a hidden gem, a film that wasn’t quite so well praised and yet still bloody good fun.

And it is too, for about thirty minutes during the running time, but this is a film which is eighty minutes long and so that’s clearly all a bit of a problem. It’s not that the other fifty minutes are bad exactly either, there’s just a lot of songs in the movie that are played straight and so while amiable enough to listen to just not that exciting, and whose presence would not be missed if they had been cut from the movie.

Like Hellzapoppin’ there’s not much of a plot here, and there’s possibly even less of one as the duo arrive in Hollywood high on the success of their previous film, expecting to make another movie straight away. Their film studio Universal aren’t so keen though, and neither are the rest of the movie business, Olson and Johnson might have made a lot of money but everyone dreads working with them as they’re such screwballs (their words, not mine) and so flee from them upon sight.

Eventually they do manage to persuade some producers to get behind them and  embark on making another movie, except scandalously the man with the money is a crazy old fool without a penny to his name, and the other producers plan to rip them off and take the film away from them the minute it’s finished. All of which might sound fun and intriguing, but really the story line is a minor aspect and is really just an excuse to hang together a bunch of sketches and songs.

While not as beautifully deranged as Hellzapoppin’ many of the sketches are very funny indeed (with one involving a host of animals inside a piano making me laugh hard), and the film has a great selection of cameos including Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson, and a number of slightly forgotten stars like Alan Curtis, Robert Paige, Leo Carrillo and Johnny Mack Brown. Meanwhile comedian Cass Daley has a pretty decent part as herself and her own stunt double, and is a delight in every scene she appears in.

Unfortunately Olson and Johnson aren’t in their own movie enough, often failing to appear on screen for large chunks of time, and as mentioned previously the songs really do drag the piece down, with one by film star Allan Jones of Show Boat fame being thrown in at the end and ruining the flow of the denouement completely. It’s frustrating as there is a lot to like about the film, but it’s too uneven to really recommend, and will only be of interest to die hard fans of Hellzapoppin’.

★★ 3/4

Alex Finch.
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Related Link:
Our review of Hellzapoppin’.

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