Hellzapoppin'


1h 24m 1941

Brief Synopsis

Ole and Chick are making a movie, but th edirector is not satisfied. So he brings them to a young writer, who outlines them a absurd story They have to support Jeff and Kitty in setting up an musical revue in their garden and want to bring it up on Broadway. If Jeff is sucessful he can marry Kitty. But there is his rich friend Woody, who also loves Kitty, Chick's sister Betty, who's in love with a false Russian count, and Detective Quimby. They all make the thing very complicated for Ole and Chick. After some mistakes they think, that Kitty isn't the right girl for Jeff they start sabotating the show, but the Broadway producer is impressed and signs the contract. That's the story the writer tells them. For this he's soot by the director.

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 26, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: 25 Dec 1941
Production Company
Mayfair Productions, Inc.; Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the musical Hellzapoppin' , book by Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, music and lyrics by Sammy Fain and Charles Tobias (New York, 1938).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,531ft

Synopsis

At the Universal Studio Theater, Louis, the projectionist, begins a film: As beautiful women walk down a flight of stairs, the stairs collapse and the women fall into Hell. As new arrivals are being tortured, a taxi arrives with two "prized guests": vaudeville performers Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson. As it turns out, this is a set for the movie Hellzapoppin' . The film's director tells Ole and Chic that this film, unlike their stage play, must have a story, and a love story at that. Ole and Chic argue that the play was a hit on Broadway for three years, so why change it? The director informs them that in Hollywood, "they change everything." Selby, a screenwriter, then tells the group his story for the movie: Jeff, a playwright, is trying to stage his new play at the home of Kitty Rand. Kitty is in love with Jeff, but Woody Tyler, Jeff's best friend, is also in love with Kitty, so Jeff hides his true feelings. Ole and Chic are two prop men who work for Jeff and help not only in staging his play, but in breaking up Kitty and Woody. Pepi, a real prince who pretends to be a fake, seeks a beautiful, rich wife. Jeff points out Gloria Van Deerborn, but Pepi mistakes Betty, Ole and Chic's lovesick kid sister, for Gloria. Crazed detective Quimby is then hired by Kitty's father to watch over things. To help out with Jeff and Kitty's undeclared romance, Ole and Chic decide to make Kitty look like "a Bluebeard" to Woody. Meanwhile, Kitty is about to give up on Jeff and announce her engagement to Woody. Just as Ole and Chic are about to tell Woody about Kitty's "two-timing," the projectionist has a fight with his girl friend, an usher, and puts on the wrong reel. Suddenly, Ole and Chic are in the middle of a Western with an angry Indian chasing them. Back in their own picture, Ole and Chic tell Woody that Kitty is having an affair with Pepi. Woody goes to Pepi, begging him to stay away from Kitty, so Pepi, now believing that the wealthy Kitty is interested in him, proceeds to chase after her. Pepi believes that he has Kitty trapped in her bedroom, but is shocked to discover that he has instead been cornered by Betty. Woody listens outside their door and assumes it is Kitty who is ravishing Pepi. The next day, Woody leaves to "reconstruct his life," but before he can go, he tells Ole and Chic that Pepi was in Kitty's room until four o'clock in the morning. They try to tell Jeff about Kitty's romance, but Jeff, knowing the truth, brushes their concerns aside. Ole and Chic, aware that Jeff will not marry Kitty until he makes good on his own, decide to sabotage his play. That night, Max Kane, a Broadway producer, arrives to see the show. Ole and Chic try to destroy the show in every conceivable way, from sneezing powder to skating bears to a guest appearance by "Frankenstein's monster." Rather than ruining the show, however, the additions make the production a hit, especially with Kane. Backstage, the performers assume the show is a flop, and when Betty tells Ole and Chic the truth about Kitty, Pepi and herself, the two, thinking they have ruined their friend's life, want to disappear. Quimby, a one-time magician, helps them out, but is unable to make them re-appear when they learn that the show is really a hit. Finally, they re-appear, along with all the other things Quimby has made disappear over the years. Back on the film soundstage, the film director announces that he cannot take any more. When Selby tells him that he perfers the original Hellzapoppin' , the director shoots him, but Selby is wearing his bulletproof vest, which protects him, even though it leaks a bit when he drinks.

Film Details

Release Date
Dec 26, 1941
Premiere Information
New York opening: 25 Dec 1941
Production Company
Mayfair Productions, Inc.; Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Distribution Company
Universal Pictures Company, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Suggested by the musical Hellzapoppin' , book by Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, music and lyrics by Sammy Fain and Charles Tobias (New York, 1938).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 24m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,531ft

Award Nominations

Best Song

1941

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The opening credits for this film contain the disclaimer "... any similarity between Hellzapoppin' and a motion picture is purely coincidental." On August 2, 1940, Los Angeles Times announced that Mayfair Productions had purchased the screen rights to the play Hellzapoppin' for $200,000. Although Mayfair intended to use the entire original Broadway cast in the film production, only stars Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson and supporting player Katherine Johnson appeared in the final film. In addition to replacing most of the cast, Universal used an entirely different story and score.
       Universal press materials claim that the film was budgeted at $1,000,000. In late October 1940, Hollywood Reporter reported that Mayfair was putting the project "on hold" in order to produce two Damon Runyon projects: Butch Minds the Baby (see entry above) and Tight Shoes . In January 1941, the project was announced as a spring 1941 production, and in April 1941, director H. C. Potter was assigned to the film. Olsen and Johnson then left the Broadway production of Hellzapoppin' on April 21, 1941, and planned a six-week vacation prior to the commencement of filming.
       According to information found in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the film suffered from numerous early censorship problems. In May 1940, the PCA informed Universal that it could not use the title Hellzapoppin', as it contained the profanity "hell." On June 11, 1941, the script was criticized for its continuous use of sexual humor, including numerous scenes of women in their underwear, and for its attack on censorship, as exemplified in a scene in which a character swears and has a "CENSORED" sign appear over his mouth and a sound effect delete his words. Most of these complaints were addressed by the June 17, 1941 draft, but censors were still concerned about some elements of sexual humor, such as Chic "goosing" young ladies. Despite these initial problems, the script was quickly altered by Universal to meet PCA standards.
       On June 21, 1941, Hollywood Reporter reported that Robert Stack had been cast in the film for the role of "Jeff," but that character was actually played by actor Robert Paige. In August 1941, during the production of the film, actress Martha Raye was injured in an automobile accident, which required that the filming of some of her scenes be delayed for one week. While initial filming was completed in mid-August 1941, it was decided in early October 1941 to shoot additional comedy and musical sequences. On October 16, 1941, Hollywood Reporter reported that actors Hugh Herbert, Shemp Howard and Gus Schilling had been added to the cast for the additional comedy sequences, and that Edward Prinz would be designing the new dance routines for the additional music sequences. These additional sequences were written and produced by Alex Gottlieb under the direction of Edward Cline, and took ten days to shoot, ending on November 3, 1941. Olsen and Johnson returned to Los Angeles from New York, where they were preparing their new stage show, to participate in four days of this additional shooting. Hollywood Reporter also included Jody Gilbert in the cast for the additional comedy sequences, but her appearance in the released film has not been determined. Because of this supplementary shooting, the film's original release date was delayed from October 10, 1941 to mid-November 1941, then was finally set at December 26, 1941. Early Hollywood Reporter production charts list Ted Kent in the position of film editor. Milton Carruth, who is credited onscreen as editor, was quoted by Universal sources as saying that he had "never [worked on anything] like [Hellzapoppin'] in twenty years...Give me a complicated mystery...Give me a ride 'em cowboy Western, give me a sophisticated Noël Coward drawing room drama...Give 'em to me one at a time, or all at once. After Hellzapoppin', anything is simple."
       An example of the unusual nature of the film was given by the Universal publicity department, which stated that the call sheet for the "Hell" scene at the beginning of the film included "Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, one goat, one sheep, eight devils, four midgets, twelve pigeons, five pigs, one skunk, three rabbits and 100 atmosphere people." At the Christmas night premiere of the film at the Rivoli Theatre in New York City, Universal hired doubles to masquerade as New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, New York Governor Lehman, and actors Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Edna May Oliver and the Marx Brothers. As the film was opening in New York, Olsen and Johnson were on Broadway with their new show, Sons of Fun, and the original stage version of Hellzapoppin' was entering its fourth year in New York at its third venue. Hollywood Reporter new items and production charts include Clarence Muse, Marguerite Bacon, Sally Bond, Kathryn Adams and Katherine Wilson in the cast, but their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
       The stage play was adapted in 1972 as a television special for the ABC Comedy Hour under the same title, starring Jack Cassidy, Ronnie Schell and Lynn Redgrave, and directed by Clark Jones. In a 1973 New York Times article, noted European film director Constantin Costa-Gavras declared that Hellzapoppin' was one of his favorite films, and that he hoped to re-make it sometime in the future. Daily Variety reported in April 1985 that the film was more popular in Berlin as a "midnight movie" than the 1975 cult favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show.