Friday, January 25, 2013

Sh! The Octopus

Warners comedy from 1937. Story: 2 policemen (Allen Jenkins and Hugh Herbert) spend a stormy night with a group of red herrings in the lighthouse headquarters of a criminal mastermind known as the Octopus.

-Viewing date: 1/3/2013 (return engagement to the Sovereign)
-Until recently, this was rarely seen.  Turner Classic Movies has aired it a few times over the years (which is where I first saw it) and Warner Archives has finally released it on DVD, so it's picking up a small cult following.
-Jenkins and Herbert aren't as funny here as I would expect them to be, based on their work in several pre-code movies I've seen recently. More reliance on physical humor at this point in their career. Not their strength, unfortunately. Still, not a total loss. Both are professionals and do their best with what they have to work with.
-The revelation of the Octopus is the highlight of the movie.  Startling, but simply executed.  Even though the same type of effect had been used in other films (notably the 1932 version of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde), its effectiveness here should have made it more known than it is.  Guaranteed to make you jump.
-For a B picture, the production values are generally high.
-The key to watching this film is to keep in mind that nothing is what it seems.  That theme is consistant throughout, but it's not quite over-the-top enough to make it as obvious as it probably needs to be.
-And then there's the ending.  It makes no sense, but it's not supposed to make sense.  So, it does make sense. 
-This was my third viewing of the movie.  The first time I saw it, I found it interesting, but unfunny.  The second viewing was with my wife.  She came away totally confused, but I liked it a bit better than before.  I tried to ignore the comedy and just concentrate on the plot.  I was still a bit lost, but at least I enjoyed it.  This third go came at the suggestion of my wife.  We've been watching nothing but 1930s Warner films, and she wanted to give this one another shot.  This time, for both of us, everything clicked.  It helped to put it in a context with the other movies we have been watching, several of which had either Jenkins or Herbert in the cast.  Context is extremely important when watching older films; without it you're left with a shell that seem foreign and distant.  As for the plot making more sense, I wonder if that might be due to exposure to other Warner comedies and now being familiar with the house style and rhythms.  Again, context. 

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