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Another gem found by TCM, this pre-Code (1931) short has to be seen to be
believed. "Hades" (the word "hell" is not used until the punchline) is
of new recruits, or so says "Mr. Satan" to his VP, Howie Burns (cute
The first clue that we are in the pre-Code era is the skimpy outfit worn
Mary Carlisle as Satan's secretary--hot hot hot. Burns and Satan have a
brief exchange loaded with topical references of the day: when the
announces a call from Chicago, machine gun fire is heard in the
and there is some banter about Scarface as well. Also, Satan reacts with
disgust when the possibility of a stockbroker coming their way is raised
Burns (remember, this is not long after the stock market
Eventually Burns heads to Earth (and a speakeasy) for more recruits. Those induced to go to Hades to keep the good times rolling arrive via slide, where they are treated to most jaw-dropping scene of all: a fairly lavish (for a short) music and dance number, where the dancers rip off their modest, fit-for-a-Quaker outfits to reveal their "satanic" (and scanty) outfits (complete with little horns), and surround a giant, illuminated devil's head that rises out of the center stage. Along with the "Marijuana" musical number in Murder at the Vanities, this is one of the pre-Code musical bits most likely to surprise modern audiences; I'm sure some religious types would take offense even now. One can only imagine what they thought back in 1931 (I guess the movement to enforce the Production Code, which achieved success in 1934, might offer a clue!)
This film is also a very good example of the two-strip technicolor technique used sporadically before the full, three-strip process was introduced in Becky Sharp (1935). The two-strip process doesn't really render hues of blue, but that flaw is not overwhelming in a short largely set in the reddish confines of "Hades".
You may need the luck of the Devil to catch this treat on TCM, so keep watching!
once again the remarkable TCM (the only network consistently worth watching- if i only had one station, this would be it) has discovered a remarkable little gem. this is a very early 1930s color short - real color, not tint, and it's very well done. the music (by dmitri tiomkin) is quite good and the dancing, especially the strip is very lively and fun to watch. Charles Middleton (better known as Ming the Merciless) shows up as Satan. hope you come across this some night on TCM!!!
I am so glad a fine copy of this Technicolor Jazz age gem survives today! Using the vernacular of its era, "Its a Wow"! In one scene, a crowd of naysayers and religious Puritans are gathered at the Cabaret entrance. Satan's slick salesman Eddie Buzzell tempts them all by singing a hot jazz tune,"Take off your Sunday Best Dress, cut out the I-C-E, put on your best asbestos, and come Hot It Up with me!" Soon the protest becomes a burlesque strip-tease as the puritans fling off their religious uniforms, respectability and moral restraints as well! The puritan women now stripped to their little french teddies and looking very much like the lust craving MGM chorus girls, engage in a sinful jazz dancing frenzy as they all mob the door to get in and Go To The Devil! Of course there is a clever twist at the end that rectifies its antics. Loaded with vaudeville style one-liners and cleverly mounted with some astonishing sets, this risque short has captured the "Devil May Care" spirit of its decadent Jazz age. I feel so guilty after watching this short I think I will have to put another $20 dollar bill in the church plate next Sunday!
I think some of the best things on TCM are the vitaphone shorts. I try
to catch them whenever I am watching a movie, especially the musicals.
I have seen some great ones--this one is near the top. The short is
shot in 2 strip Technicolor and comes off pretty well. The dance
sequences must be from another film that perhaps was not released. The
March of Time (1930) comes to mind. I have seen dance sequences from
that unreleased film interpolated into others.
The jazzy title music is great---very typical for the period. All in all, very good little film.
TCM is the best thing going now---one can only hope it never goes the way of AMC, who once was just like TCM, but now has gobs of commercials which render watching AMC nearly impossible.
I caught this totally by surprise on TCM. I was really surprised this came
out in 1931--they didn't make many shorts in color back then. I guess the
2-strip Technicolor should have tipped me off.
The comedy was pretty lame and at times pretty cruel (there are one too many jabs taken at an unattractive heavy woman) but I kept watching. The color itself looks faded (2-strip color never looked too good) and the print is in bad shape but still this was quite interesting.
Some of the sets are pretty elaborate, some of the costumes are VERY skimpy (no way they would have gotten past after the Code was established), the dancing and music isn't bad at all and the acting is so overenthusiastic that it's quite amusing.
A very interesting little short and a fascinating look at pre-Code shorts. Worth seeing--I just wish TCM would tell us when they're showing shorts like this (hint hint)!
I've watched this several times, and although the comedy is often just bad,
it's pretty interesting because of the way hell's minions are portrayed as
the protagonists, and because there's just something very odd about watching
dozens of pretty girls in very skimpy outfits dancing around a giant devil
head. It was filmed in color, which looks very poor.
The acting is of a vaudeville quality, and not exactly of the highest. I can't say a lot of invention went into this peice, but it is pretty fun to watch, and something that would never have been allowed just a few short years later. A novelty, not worth the price of admission, but worth five minutes of anyone's time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is an absolutely amazing short film and perhaps the best example
of what a "Pre-Code Film" was. Up until 1934, the studios pretty much
made whatever they wanted despite the Hays Office being there to
ostensibly oversee the industry to make sure the films were acceptable
for families. Not until the new Production Code came into effect in '34
did things change. The nudity, drugs, violence, sexual innuendos and
rough language all were pretty much eliminated from films for decades
and films became family friendly, though a tad sanitized as well. Here
in this 1930 short from MGM, tons of material that the Production Code
would have eliminated is present--and reveling in it!!
The film is set mostly in Hell and takes great advantage of the Two-color Technicolor process. Instead of full color, the film consisted of a black & white image, a green-blue image and a red-orange image all superimposed on each other. It was not true color but in a few films it looked really good (such as in the 1929 re-release of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and in this film)--because of the subject and setting of the film. Often, however, over time the colors have either completely disappeared (resulting in a black & white movie) or the colors bleed so badly that the film is almost 100% orange--and an ugly mess.
It begins with one of the demons (in a nice suit) talking with a similarly dressed Lucifer. They are both upset because too many souls are going to Heaven and they are apparently losing the contest. So, it's up to Satan's #1 demon to go up to Earth and do some recruiting. With promises of a "heck" of a good time, tons of incredibly stupid young people come pouring into Netherworld for a huge party--complete with lots of dancing and an absolutely amazing set that you just have to see to believe.
So what's to like and what's to hate? Well, I must admit that some of the jokes are very, very corny and some of the dancing isn't very good compared to what was being made just a year or two later. In addition, some religious people will find the whole thing rather distasteful. However, on the plus side, this is the most astoundingly strange and original short I have ever seen from Hollywood, a great example of early color, is very entertaining and is historically significant in so many ways. While some might see these early shorts as old fashioned or expendable, they are a hugely important part of our cinematic history and what better way to illustrate how incredibly uninhibited and free people actually thought and acted during the supposedly conservative 1930s?! An absolute must for film historians, lovers of the strange and early film buffs.
In this early MGM color short Satan as played by Charles Middleton is
concerned about the fact that fewer and fewer folks are booking his
place for an eternal vacation. He consults his assistant How E. Burns
played by Edward Buzzell who decides to recruit from a gang of likely
sinners at a New York speakeasy.
After that it's the entertainment with a few dance numbers by some scantily clad women, the better to sell the devil's product.
The main thing that The Devil's Cabaret has going for it is that we get to see the genesis of Ming the Merciless. After seeing this film, it's no wonder Charles Middleton was cast as Flash Gordon's outer space nemesis. Although there's a bit more twinkle in Satan's eye here than there ever was with Ming.
This astonishing musical short was created around a shelved musical number from THE MARCH OF TIME a 1929 musical extravaganza that had all the dance numbers filmed but not the story. In mid 1930 the uncompleted film was scrapped and its massive and spectacular musical sequences then used in other films, some features and some as here in a 15 minute mini musical. To say this must have offended any religious person or organization is an understatement: THE DEVIL'S CABARET (like WONDERBAR a few years later) seems created to defy all morality and offer the viewer a 'fun look' at the enjoyment to be had in Hell, as run by Mr Satan in his snazzy nightclub. Very effectively filmed in red/brown 2 color Technicolor by MGM and utilizing the Satan Chrous from TIME, the deco splendor of the office and the fun-park of the cabaret still shock today: you enter by sliding down the Devil's tongue into the pit of the dance floor where Chorus girls clad in Puritan outfits then wildly rip them off and jiggle about in their skimpy underwear. Our maitre'd crooner hands out cards dominoes and any sinful gambling device to have all the wicked fun you could desire, then the floor show commences of the edited TIME sequence: this consists of a jaw-dropping scene of ballet chorus girls wearing reddish sheer/lace outfits who dance around this gigantic Devil's head. Other shockers are: the rude jokes to a fat woman which are are just cruel, Satan's desk has a massive fat phallus near the edge behind which stands an assistant in a black suit... the whole thing positioned exactly in front of his pants.... all in hilariously vulgar offensive fun. THE DEVIL'S CABARET is a censorship-free time capsule of exactly why the Hays code was firmly enforce from may 1934. See it and show it to your friends so they scream and look shocked.
I was very fortunate to obtain a copy of "The Devil's Cabaret. A
fantastic gem of a movie that ever film fan should have..
It used Technicolor 2 strip which was vastly superior to any competitors for years to come. Later the superior 3 strip Technicolor came out which is what most of us are familiar with.
The star Eddie Buzzell is a fabulous song & dance man with the confidence of an Al Jolson. He was a fantastically gifted person. He was a Broadway & Hollywood song & dance stage performer, a film actor, he was a songwriter, actor, director & producer. He even directed a Thin Man film. What a tragedy that I & countless more never heard of him until now. If he were still alive he would certainly be honored for his work by organizations such as the Cinecon.
The female lead was Mary Carlisle who later starred with Bing Crosby & many others. She was always a Hollywood Dream Girl & when I last chatted with her, just a few years ago, she was still a thrilling beauty. It is also interesting that as the secretary she uses a word that no film even today uses. Perhaps she is a profanity pioneer without, probably, knowing it. Importantly there is no violence in the film. The film shows that violence isn't needed to be a good film.
The dialog of the film is priceless. The use of standard phrases throughout the film is very clever right to the last words when we find out about Hell & Buzzell says "That's the Hell of it.".
Imagine what a thrill it must have been for audiences to watch this song & dance film complete with chorus girls & in color yet back in 1931.
john woodruff 16 December 2005
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