Thursday, 24 October 2013

Zombies (Loonies) on Broadway - review

1945 (USA)

Contains mild spoilers.

For a low budget 1945 horror comedy b-movie with sets, actors and characters aped directly from I Walked With a Zombie and Revenge of the Zombies, a puerile derivative mad scientist story and the poor man's Albert and Costello (Brown and Carney) Zombies on Broadway is surprisingly charming, funny and hard not to like. The key to this success I feel is the fact at no time while watching did I remotely come close to taking any of it seriously, and I think that's exactly what directors Gordon Dines and Gordon M. Douglas wanted.

Zombies on Broadway or Loonies on Broadway as it was called in the UK, if anything is a light hearted slapstick parody of the aforementioned more serious attempts at rehashing the colonial mad scientist / Haitian voodoo story. Comedy wasn't necessarily new; King of the Zombies and Revenge of the Zombies had Mantan Moreland to provide comic relief but the story and characters were still played straight. Zombies on Broadway is full on unabashed farce from beginning to end.

Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard), nightclub owner and ex-gangster has hired Jerry Miles (Wally Brown) and Mike Strager (Alan Carney), two bumbling press agents to promote the opening of his new club The Zombie Hut. The problem for Ace is the two idiots have gone ahead publicising tat there will be a real live zombie (a contradiction in terms?) present and the talcum powdered actor they've hired won't cut it. Cue, Jerry and Mike taking a trip to a museum where they're told about Professor Paul Renault (Béla Lugosi), a prominent zombie expert now living on St. Sebastian in the Canary Islands, Ace putting them at gun point on the first banana boat and the two guys having quite the madcap escapade.

The story is nothing we've not already seen. Professor Renault is of course the evil mad scientist working on perfecting the zombie formula, the two oafs stumble around upsetting the islanders asking too many questions and somewhere along the way they get a dame, a broad, a canary, I mean a girl (Anne Jeffreys as Jean La Danse) to help. There's a naivety and innocence in Seventy year old b-movie films you just don't see any more. Wrong hands are held, people black-up and pretend they're voodoo dancers, monkeys slam drawers into peoples knees, and a minute doesn't go by without a joke that relies on one person (Mike) seeing something (a zombie) only for it to be gone before someone else (Jerry) can corroborate. Yes I did say people black-up; naive innocence remember. It's light heated, fun and hard not to laugh along with Brown and Carney's silliness. Even Béla Lugosi can't resist getting in on the action with a slapstick fights and some quite daft dialogue.

Darby Jones reprises his role as head zombie (Calaga) from I Walked With a Zombie. Professor Renault explains how he took him from the locals not long after arriving on the island, some twenty years ago and how in all that time his deceased body hasn't deteriorated one bit. Calaga was a product of local Voodoo and magic and an island native and Renault's aim is to reproduce this island's zombification but with science and western methodology. It's never explained why he wants to learn the secret of zombies; there's no girl to be saved or world to be conquered; he's an evil scientist parody and it doesn't really matter. What we do know, is he's close to perfecting his formula and all he needs if a few more specimens to test on; which is fortunate as two guys are about to come knocking.

Reanult's zombification comes in a syringe in liquid form. Once injected, the heart stops, and a person is put in a state of suspended animation unable  to feel pain and under the total control of another's thoughts and suggestions. Unlike Calaga, who seems to share some psychic bond with his master (although this doesn't appear to be absolute), the zombies made with Reanult's formula seem to be controllable by the person making the most noise. Oh, and like he said, it's also not perfect and only lasts a few days; after which, one can be revived, by say, seeing a pretty dancer in a revealing costume and everything's back to normal, pulse and all.

Brown and Carney are no Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy but they play their exaggerated silly charters well and the banter is always perfectly timed and natural. Béla Lugosi steals every scene he's in, though this isn't as many as would normally justify top billing (though after his eyes alone getting a cover mention on Revolt of the Zombies, I don't know why I'm so surprised), and he's ever so nearly beaten by quite the comedy monkey that takes over half way through. Over-all it's hard not really like this silly little film; it's inoffensive, innocent and good natured, and well shot, well-paced and never dull; 7/10.


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