Hellzapoppin' is a classic 1941 American musical comedy film based on the popular musical stage revue of the same name. The very loose plot revolves around the comedic duo Olsen & 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 wasn't that succesful, despite the appearance of popular actors and comedians like Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Mischa Auer, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert and Shemp Howard from The Three Stooges. 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 "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:
- 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.
- Butter Face: Happens several times, mostly to Martha Raye's character.
- Camera Screw: At a certain point the film projectionist and his girlfriend start fighting. This causes the frame of the film to shift, leaving the top half of one character on the bottom and the bottom half on the top of the screen. So he starts Talking to Himself.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Kitchen Sink Included: Yes, this classical gag is also present here.
- 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.
- Non-Fatal Explosions: Several explosions take place without dire consequences.
- Our Demons Are Different: Apparently people arrive in Hell in limousines.
- Rapid-Fire Comedy: The pace of this comedy is very high.
- Random Events Plot: Every possible comedic idea is used.
- Running Gag: The guy running around with his plant.
- Olsen and Johnson at one point notice a sled with the word "Rosebud" on it and say: "I thought they burned that?"
- Near the end Frankenstein's Monster throws Martha Raye's character back on stage.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Olsen and Johnson