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Film / Hellzapoppin'

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Olsen: Rewind this film, will ya?
Louie: What's the matter with you guys? Don't you know you can't talk to me AND the audience?
Olsen: Well, we're doing it, aren't we?

Hellzapoppin' is a classic 1941 American musical comedy film based on the popular musical stage revue of the same name (though the stage version had no apostrophe in its title). The very loose plot revolves around the comedy team of Ole Olsen & Chic Johnson, who plan to star in a film. The film director suggests a story which they participate in, only to bothered throughout the whole picture by several absurd gags and jokes that make clear that there is No Fourth Wall.

However, as the tagline says: "Any resemblance between Hellzapoppin' and a motion picture is entirely coincidental." This is part of the reason why the film was only modestly successful at the time, despite Olsen & Johnson being at the height of their popularity, plus well-liked performers like Mischa Auer, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert and Shemp Howard from The Three Stooges being in the cast. However as Time Marches On the film has been Vindicated by History as a surrealistic comedy constantly Breaking the Fourth Wall that was far ahead of its time. Certain jokes are almost predecessors of later types of absurd comedy. It was also very influential on later generations of comedy films (the films of Mel Brooks and Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker being the most obvious successors). The "Lindy hop" dance sequences made it also very popular with musical fans. In other words, it's a true Cult Classic.

This film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Title Change: Probably the most downplayed instance of this possible; the film adds an apostrophe to the original stage show's title.
  • Agony of the Feet: While sabotaging the ballet section of the revue, Olsen and Johnson scatter a box fullof carpet tacks on the stage, which Pepi promptly steps on.
  • Balloonacy: A diminutive footman is handed a bunch of balloons and starts floating off before being brought back to earth by a well-aimed shotgun blast from Chic Johnson.
  • Black Comedy: A lot of people are shot off screen.
  • Brick Joke: A man carrying a plant in a pot is seen throughout the picture. Near the end his plant has grown into a tree.
  • Bound and Gagged: Louie winds up binding and gagging his girlfriend in the projection booth with the unspooled film.
  • Butter Face: Happens several times, mostly to Martha Raye's character.
  • Changing Clothes Is a Free Action: In an early scene, Olsen and Johnson walk through a series of rooms, and through each door are in different outlandish costumes.
  • Funny Foreigner: Mischa Auer's character.
  • The Door Slams You: Pepi tries to escape Betty by dashing into a change room and slams the door in her face as she pursues. The stunned Betty immediately turns around and walks into the swimming pool.
  • Had the Silly Thing in Reverse: While trying to move the prop truck off the lawn, Chic Johnson backs it into the statue they had just unlaoded, demolishing it.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Olsen and Johnson each lose the upper and/or lower part of their body through a magical trick. To make sure that nobody notices Johnson poses the upper half of his body above Olsen's lower half of his body. The plan doesn't work well...
  • Hurricane of Puns: A lot of puns are told.
  • Hyperspace Wardrobe: In an early scene, Olsen and Johnson walk through a series of rooms, and through each door are in different outlandish costumes.
  • In-Universe Camera: The protagonists address the cameraman throughout the picture. They shout at him to turn on the sound, to fix the broken reel, to rewind the previous footage or to follow them rather than focus on an attractive girl in a swimsuit.
  • Invisible Holes: At the end of the movie, the screenwriter Selby finishes narrating his script, and Olsen and Johnson take their leave of the studio. The director, frustrated, shoots the screenwriter — who is uninjured and pays scant attention, but leaks like a sieve when he drinks a glass of water.
  • Kitchen Sink Included: When Jeff is reviewing the props for the revue, he comments that they have everything but the kitchen sink. Johnson then walks in carrying a sink.
  • Live Mink Coat: During the chaotic performance of Jeff's revue, Mrs. Rand notices her fur stole has fallen to the floor and asks her husband to pick it up for. He reaches down and picks a Pekingese that escaped from the stage and places it around her neck. She wears it for several seconds before noticing.
  • Master of Disguise: Hugh Herbert's character, Detective Quimby.
  • Medium Awareness: The film takes advantage of the fact that the characters are aware that it's a film. For instance: at one point the film gets stuck in the projector.
  • MST: At a certain point the protagonists watch the film they are about to star in themselves and give funny commentary on the events they seen. An early example of riffing, although not the first.
  • No Fourth Wall: Absolutely obliterates the fourth wall: the characters comment on other plots, they talk to the audience, they talk to the projectionist (and in fact, when the shot goes out of frame, they confront the projectionist, who it turned out was getting a little action in his booth), they deconstruct myths, they talk to still photographs (which come alive), they pause the phrase, mock the movie they're watching and the movie they're in (including muting the soundtrack and making jokes over it MST3K-style), criticize the writing, talk about their roles, use double-exposures deliberately, control the direction, and have a running joke with overlaid wording that "Stinky Miller" needs to go to the lobby because his mother is looking for him, and the characters stop in the middle of a musical number to yell at Stinky, who eventually (in silhouette), gets up and leaves. Whew.
  • Visual Pun: A photographer asks Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson if he can take their picture. They agree and pose. the photographer walks past them and takes a picture off the wall and walks off with it.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Olsen and Johnson
  • Water Wake Up: After knocking out the magician who turned them invisible, Olsen and Johnson wake him up by tossing a bucket of water in his face.