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You'll Find Out

Monday March, 18 2019 at 06:00 AM
Wednesday March, 27 2019 at 12:45 PM

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It's hard to imagine what moviegoers today would make of Kay Kyser and his Kollege of Musical Knowledge, but during the late thirties and early forties the big band conductor was one of the most popular entertainers in America. Thanks to the medium of radio (which was at the height of its popularity during the WWII era), Kyser built up a huge fan base through his novelty act, a winning combination of music, humor and "kollege brainbuster questions" with a cash prize for the winner. Sporting wire-rim glasses, mortarboard and academic gown, Kyser created an eccentric bookworm persona for himself and surrounded himself with equally outlandish "colleagues," one of the more famous being Ish Kabibble. It was only a matter of time before Kyser took his act to Hollywood and, in 1939, RKO produced his first film, That's Right, You're Wrong. Its success led to a more ambitious second feature, You'll Find Out (1940), which paired the bandleader with the triple threat team of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre.

At the time, self-parody was not a quality associated with the horror genre - that would occur later with the arrival of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948 - so it was rather unusual to see Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre spoofing their on-screen personas in You'll Find Out. The film's model was The Old Dark House (1932), James Whale's archetypal haunted house film, but this time all of the cliches (secret passageways, seances, thunderstorms) were played for laughs, and the film's success obviously inspired numerous imitations over the coming years such as the Bob Hope vehicle, The Ghost Breakers (1940) and Scared Stiff (1953) starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In You'll Find Out, Kyser and company find themselves menaced by Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre when they agree to perform at the 21st birthday party of heiress Janis Bellacrest (Helen Parrish) at spooky old Bellacrest Manor. Karloff, who plays Judge Mainwaring, the family lawyer, enlists Prince Saliano (Bela Lugosi), a phony psychic, and Professor Fenninger (Peter Lorre), a so-called expert on supernatural phenomenon, as accomplices in his plot to kill Janis and take control of her inheritance. Interspersed amidst the skullduggery are the requisite musical numbers such as Harry Babbitt singing "You've Got Me This Way," "I'd Know You Anyway" (featuring vocalist Ginny Simms) and "The Bad-Humor Man," an over-the-top novelty song spotlighting Ish Kabibble; originally, this number was conceived as a musical trio act for Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre with the title, "We're the Bad-Humored Man," but was dropped. A pity.

Granted, Kyser's brand of humor and big band sound are an acquired taste but You'll Find Out is much more intriguing for its supernatural sequences, particularly the elaborate seance where the disembodied head of the late Elmer Bellacrest appears, accompanied by an eerie, high pitched voice. The result of one of Prince Saliano's inventions, the "voice" is later appropriated by Kay Kyser's orchestra for a musical number in the film's comic finale.

At the time of You'll Find Out, Peter Lorre was not yet typecast as a horror actor. Other than Mad Love (1935), most of his film appearances had been in melodramas and mysteries. And ironically enough, he was paid more than Karloff and Lugosi for his participation in this film. From all reports, he got along splendidly with his co-stars, particularly Karloff; the two became lifelong friends. Louise Currie, who plays one of the socialites in You'll Find Out, recalled working with the horror actors in Karloff and Lugosi by Gregory William Mank: "Boris Karloff, interestingly enough, was very quiet. He didn't participate on the set too much - he was, I'd almost say, rather a recluse. I distinctly felt you just didn't run up and start chatting with him! Nor do I remember having too much contact with Peter Lorre, who, as I recall, was a strange little fellow - much the sort he portrayed on the screen! But Bela Lugosi was different. I remember long chats with Lugosi: he was a very educated, polished, interesting man. It was amazing, to me, that he got into the horror end of Hollywood; he could easily have been a serious actor, and have gone in another direction. We had long conversations, which continued on the other films I did with him, The Ape Man [1943] and Voodoo Man [1944]."

For director David Butler, who helmed the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby comedy, Road to Morocco (1942) and several Shirley Temple films, You'll Find Out "was one of the happiest I ever did. Everybody simply had fun making it." Audiences must have had fun watching it too as it proved to be another big hit for RKO who would produce three more movies with Kay Kyser, making him a millionaire by 1951. Critics weren't as enamored though, with Bosley Crowther of the New York Times calling it "one of those silly shudder-comedies" and remarking, "Apparently the script writers were scared out of their wits by their own ideas, for the dialogue and plot developments indicate that little was devoted to them." But horror fans will find You'll Find Out worth checking out if only for the curiosity value of seeing Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre poking fun at themselves in an oddball mixture of musical revue and haunted house shenanigans. The trio were almost reunited again in 1943 for a horror project that never materialized called Chamber of Horrors; it was also supposed to star Lon Chaney, Jr. and George Zucco and include a nightmare sequence featuring the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, the Invisible Man and the Mad Ghoul.

Director/Producer: David Butler
Screenplay: Andrew Bennison, Monte Brice, David Butler (story), James V. Kern, R.T.M. Scott
Cinematography: Frank Redman
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Music: Jimmy McHugh
Cast: Kay Kyser (Kay Kyser), Peter Lorre (Prof. Karl Fenninger), Boris Karloff (Judge Spencer Mainwaring), Bela Lugosi (Prince Saliano), Helen Parrish (Janis Bellacrest), Dennis O'Keefe (Chuck Deems).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford



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