Night Life of the Gods (1935) Poster

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Thorne Smith can do no wrong
simon eaton3 November 2006
Thorne Smith wrote some of the funniest and most risqué books of the era which my mother introduced her kids to in the 70's. We watched 'I married a Witch' (which is now available on DVD - although I got my copy in Spain several years ago) and my mum told me that she'd seen Topper, Turnabout and that she'd heard that they had may have made Night Life of the Gods. The book rocks which is why I wanted to see the film.

The DVD of this movie took me two years to find and was so appalling in quality that I couldn't finish it - and I really did try. even in postage stamp format the picture was bad. Alas, 70 years of culture and a really bad print really mucks things up. This movie had the opportunity to be THE screwball comedy of all time, it had great lines,sex and all in a time of innocence, I really wish I could have seen if the movie had lived up to it. I guess if it had it might not be in such a sorry state.........
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Dying is easy, comedy is hard -- and whimsical fantasy is practically impossible
wmorrow5924 May 2006
I've been interested in seeing this rare film for quite awhile, and after locating a poor quality DVD (a copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy) I sat down to watch in a state of keen anticipation. By the end, I was shaking my head in bewilderment, wondering how the project could have misfired so badly. This is a strange, disjointed attempt at freewheeling fantasy, though you have to give the filmmakers credit for sheer moxie. Night Life of the Gods is not good, but it's not a total dud, either; it's highly original, and there are scattered moments that work, but those bits are overwhelmed by strained efforts at whimsy, punchlines that fall flat, and embarrassing performances by supporting players who look like refugees from a small town community theater. I don't regret seeing it and wouldn't mind taking another look someday if a better print turns up, but let the viewer beware: this movie is strictly for connoisseurs of Le Cinema Bizarre.

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!
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Whimsy turned to stone
rfkeser11 November 2002
A one-of-a-kind comic fantasy from the pen of Thorne Smith, creator of "Topper", this strained whimsy has eccentric playboy Alan Mowbray invent a magic ring that turns people to stone. After rendering his annoying family into marble, he spends the night drinking with leprechauns, and then visits New York's Metropolitan museum, where he throws his ring into reverse and brings to life the statues of ancient Greek gods. Hectic shenanigans ensue when they all check into the Waldorf-Astoria hotel: Bacchus drinks rubbing alcohol, Venus de Milo acquires arms, Neptune starts a slapstick fight in a fish market, and so on. More witty than funny, the movie is afloat with Prohibition-era tipsy jokes, but manages to get an occasional naughty touch past the Hays Code restrictions. Mowbray captures the right energy and manic glint in his eye, and an imperturbable butler wins some laughs, but the others give overly broad performances that are comic, but in the wrong way. At this point in history, the curiosity value and Art Deco sets exceed the entertainment, or maybe they've now become the entertainment.
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Not the undiscovered classic you'd wish for
davepitts5 January 2010
Warning: Spoilers
First, the long post by wmorrow explains why everyone complains about the blurry print that's out there. (Great post, by the way.) It has the dark, smeary look of bad VCR work -- but it looks as if the print that was copied was pretty good. For one thing, the soundtrack is OK, and in brightly-lit closeups you can tell that a better transfer would reveal a decent image. I have longed to see this film since I saw it in the Henry Armetta entry of a clucky old film fan book called Immortals of the Screen. The film turns out to be oddball without being especially funny. Very broad acting, an attempt to portray a madcap family with a butler who blandly countenances every bizarre event, with elements of fantasy and science fiction. The gods don't appear until the final third of the picture -- and then they simply harass people in a swimming pool and at a fish market (instead of, say, changing the news or defying natural law...I don't know what I expected them to do, but they behave like the Ritz Brothers.) This film hasn't become a cult item because there wasn't enough comic inspiration in the first place. It also lacks a central charismatic star performance -- the cast of Night Life consists of some very skilled character actors and some "B leads." Who knows -- with a better print and a festival audience, this film might - MIGHT - have some impact.
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Among the strangest films of the 1930s...and that's reason enough to see it!
MartinHafer11 January 2017
"Night Life of the Gods" is an incredibly strange movie and one you won't forget. In fact, it's so strange that I am amazed it was made in the first place. And, that strangeness alone is clearly enough reason to see the film.

The story begins with a crazy rich inventor (Alan Mowbray) working on a very explosive project. In the process, he manages to nearly blow himself up and when he awakens he finds his invention is a rousing success. It seems he has created a magic ring that can turn people into statues as well as turn statues into living, sentient beings! The first thing he does is turn his god-awful and greedy extended family into statues. Then, with help from his lady friend, he goes about turning all the classical statues from a nearby museum into the gods and heroes they were supposed to be. Then, with these ancient weirdos in tow, the guy guys through town having a lot of incredibly strange adventures!!

As I said, this one is strange but also creative and enjoyable. While it doesn't always work (it does go on a bit long) the overall film is hard to hate. Worth seeing and 100% unique!
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They love the night life, they love to boogie....
mark.waltz14 March 2018
Warning: Spoilers
There's definitely a spark missing from this version of the Thornton Smith story of what happens when a simple mortal (Alan Mowbray) suddenly has the power to turn the human beings who annoy him into statues and bring Greek and Roman gods and goddesses to life. Reminding me of "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", this story shows how Mowbray takes it too far (although I agreed with his choices of whom he turned into marble) and how the Gods try but fail to fit into the modern world. Mowbray is the whole show, zapping people left and right at a society function, then heading off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he brings ancient statues back to life and finds that the Gods and Goddesses had their issues of getting along with each other as well. Florence McKinney plays the soft hearted young lady in love with the rambunctious Mowbray, following him like a love lorn unicorn all over Manhattan. The film has its creative moments, but unfortunately, never springs to the full life force it could have been, seemingly missing the zest from Smith's story. Of course, the finale seems inevitable and predictable, but there is some fun along the way. It's a missed opportunity that might have been made more potent by being done as a musical, a la "The Boys From Syracuse" or the Eddie Cantor musical farce "Roman Scandals".
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The Gods Must be Stupid
howardeisman3 July 2017
Thorne Smith was a writer whose stories reliably made good movies, even after the censors cut some of the juice out of them. I am also an Alan Mowbray fan. Thus, I expected a lot from Night Life of the Gods. The title itself suggested a witty parody

This film did not deliver A large amount of time was devoted to Mowbray using his magic ring to freeze annoying people and bring ancient statues of Greek gods to life. Zip! Zap! Huntz Hall could have done it much better. It takes forever to get to the part where the gods are brought to life. When this finally happens , the Gods turn out to be .morons. There are no comments from them about modern life nor any comparison with lifer on Mt. Olympus. They just act like bewildered children with an immense sense of entitlement. Unfortunately, there is very little humor in their romp through New York City.

Florine McKenny is the romantic interest She hams it up royally. Everyone else also does the same, but it is unusual to see this in the romantic lead. She screws her face into some awfully unattractive expressions which I can't remember ever seeing from a female romantic lead, at least not from one as attractive as she.

Too bad.
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