Leslie Halliwell was an inveterate curmudgeon, but he certainly had a sense of humor. A great many - perhaps a majority - of the entries in his 1981 collection "Halliwell's Hundred" are comedies. The British programmer and film critic, who was quite pointed in his dismissal of virtually everything that followed the 1950s, cherished memories of afternoons spent in the local cinemas or at student theaters or even in a cozy den at home (or, for that matter, a barely-sheltering hotel room, surrounded by a hostile American city just out his window). In these spots he would reel in the dreamlike atmosphere and lighter-than-air concoctions of Hollywood or British classics.
Classic comedies were, in a sense, perfect for his purposes: escapist without succumbing to sentimentality, subtly subversive yet essentially safe, entertainment with intelligence which was neither glum nor superficially glamorous. Halliwell had a soft spot for ramshackle constructions barely held together by the slick mechanics and studio system of the Golden Age film industry: he's at pains to emphasize that his book is not canonical, but rather a warm favorites list (if that; some go beyond even guilty pleasures and are classified as fascinating failures). They are cherished memories of a movie past. The enthusiasm shows in the writer's loving language - this volume is stuffed with plot summaries (spoilers everywhere), a potentially hit-and-miss methodology but Halliwell is skilled at evoking a film through quotations and descriptions.
It was through this approach that I was turned onto Hellzapoppin, a rollicking burlesque sampled heavily by Halliwell's celebratory prose. Perhaps too heavily; when I finally found the film on You Tube I hardly laughed at all - in this case, Halliwell hadn't just spoiled the plot (which he astutely notes is impossible to describe, and besides what would be the point in trying?), but the gags! The only moment that made me laugh as hard onscreen as on page occurred when Hugh Hubert wears a frightening mask which fails to scare fellow audience members. Shrugging, the defeated would-be prankster sits back in his chair and removes the mask. The lady sitting next to him turns, stares at his real-life bulbous mug...and screams hysterically. Dumb, but hilariously timed.
Tell me what you think - the film is on You Tube (the wretched quality of the print, especially since so many gags are visual as well as verbal, probably helped decrease the ticklishness of my funny bone). Since I've mostly refrained from giving away the jokes or the film's general approach, does the film make you laugh? Who's to blame for my lack of mirth: Halliwell or Hellzapoppin or You Tube or me?