A scientist named Hunter Hawk invents a device that can turn flesh to stone. While celebrating his discovery he becomes involved with a half naked leprechaun. On a trip to New York, Hunter a... Read allA scientist named Hunter Hawk invents a device that can turn flesh to stone. While celebrating his discovery he becomes involved with a half naked leprechaun. On a trip to New York, Hunter and Meg (the leprechaun) decide to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and turn all of the... Read allA scientist named Hunter Hawk invents a device that can turn flesh to stone. While celebrating his discovery he becomes involved with a half naked leprechaun. On a trip to New York, Hunter and Meg (the leprechaun) decide to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and turn all of the Statues of Greek Gods into people. What follows in a drunken romp around New York with Me... Read all
Night Life of the Gods was based on a novel by Thorne Smith, the novelist best known for his comic fantasies "Topper" and "I Married a Witch." Smith specialized in imaginative tales of the supernatural with decidedly risqué elements. This one tells the story of eccentric inventor Hunter Hawk (Alan Mowbray) who concocts a ring that can turn people to stone, and can also bring statues to life. He promptly turns his annoying family to stone -- except for his pretty niece -- and goes on a drunken stroll through the woods. There he meets Meg, daughter of a leprechaun, who promptly falls in love with him. They go to a roadhouse to dance, but when an argument breaks out Hawk turns several people to stone and flees. The next day he and Meg go to New York and visit the Metropolitan Museum. They remain after closing time and then bring several classical statues to life, including Apollo, Diana, Bacchus, Neptune, and Venus. They escort the gods and goddesses out of the museum, and take them to a department store to buy them clothes. The humor is supposed to derive from the incongruous behavior of these mythological deities in modern Manhattan, but this is where the script falls short: these gods aren't crazy, they're just plain silly. The actors seem desperate to work up a "screwball" atmosphere, but the material leaves them stranded.
Anyhow, once they're properly attired Hunter installs his charges in a fancy hotel. They invade the hotel swimming pool but Neptune can't resist poking people with his trident. Venus is given new arms but no one will accept a hug from her. (Why not?) Later, in a monomaniacal quest for fish, Neptune invades a fish market and gets into a Monty Python-style fish-slapping fight with merchant Henry Armetta. Unfairly, the merchant is turned to stone. By this point, word has reached the police and they close in on Hawk and the naughty gods. Hunter & Meg return the deities to the museum, transform them back into statues, and then turn themselves to stone. That's where the movie was supposed to end, but preview audiences rejected this finale, so director Lowell Sherman was forced to add a dream framework he disliked, one which wraps up the story on a resoundingly flat note.
One of the key problems with this movie is our protagonist, Hunter Hawk. Alan Mowbray was a gifted character actor, but he wasn't really leading man material, and it's difficult to like the guy he's playing: Hawk has a mean streak, and once he has the power to turn people to stone he uses it with reckless abandon. I'm not sure any other actor could have made this man more likable -- Roland Young, perhaps? In any case, the script is full of stupefyingly bad jokes. (Example: when Mercury is brought to life he says: "Thanks, I was bored stiff." Groan.) Gilbert Emery manages to earn some laughs as the unflappable butler, but there are too many quips that bomb, too many sour notes and too many loose plot threads for this movie to be a satisfying experience. Even so, watching Night Life of the Gods is certainly memorable, and never predictable except for that hokey, tacked-on ending. Even film buffs who think they've seen the weirdest stuff out there may watch this one in astonishment.
P.S. Since writing this piece I've learned a few more things about the movie. For starters, it seems the project itself was plagued by bad luck. Author Thorne Smith died suddenly of a heart attack during the summer of 1934, just as the film was going into production, and then director Lowell Sherman caught pneumonia as it was wrapping up. He lived long enough to complete a final edit but died before the film's release. There are some odd stories in circulation about what caused Sherman's illness; supposedly, he found the sound stage uncomfortably warm and took to directing the film in his underclothes! For what it's worth, I've examined a file of material concerning this film at NYC's Performing Arts Library, and found a photo of Sherman on the set: he's wearing shorts and a sports shirt, certainly casual attire for a director at the time, but not what anyone would call alarmingly under-dressed.
The film itself is lucky to have survived. Apparently the only known print was held by a collector who turned it over to the UCLA Film Archive in the 1980s, where it remains. A video copy was made before the print was locked away, and all copies now in circulation derive from that 20 year-old dub, which is why the image quality is so poor. As noted above I feel the movie is something of a misfire, yet it still deserves a decent restoration and a chance to find a new audience. Movies as strange as this one don't come along every day!
- May 24, 2006