Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Elstree Calling


A rather odd movie, and certainly not a “Hitchcock” film, but it’s listed in his credits because he had a small hand in directing parts of it. It’s a revue film, different acts coming on rather like they would on stage. It’s all British music hall stuff, which is sort of like American Vaudeville, but in many ways even worse. I don’t think many Americans would get it. There are said to be 19 segments, and 13 of them are available on YouTube, which is where I saw them. Well, sampled them, actually. Very few of them are worth watching in their entirety, even at 4 to 5 minutes each. There is Teddy Brown, an immensely fat drummer and xylophone player who is quite good. There is Cecily Courtneidge, who has some weird dance moves all her own. There are mediocre to just plain bad chorus dances by a group called The Charlot Girls. Singers named Jack Hulbert and Helen Burnell. Some of these people might have been big stars in their day, known to Brits like we know Fanny Brice, but I have no way of knowing, nor interest in finding out. There is a Russian singing and dancing troupe, complete with balalaikas, doing the sort of dancing that must be hell on the knees. Some of the dance numbers were filmed in something called the Pathécolor stencil colour process. The print this was taken from is badly faded.

Then there is the humor. Stand-up Will Fyffe, in a kilt, delivers a dozen stale one-liners in a thick brogue, all having to do with Scottish stinginess. There is a male quartet where, when one of sings a sour note, they all march offstage. A gunshot is heard, the survivors march back. Monty Python might have made something of this, but not these idiots. There is a running gag concerning an actor, Donald Calthrop, who is determined to sneak some bad Shakespeare into the show, popping up here and there disguised as someone else. Not very funny. There is a very, very silly finale starring the only name I recognize, Anna Mae Wong, as the shrew in “The Taming of.” She screams a lot, and throws furniture and pies. Nyuk nyuk. The whole disaster reaches a nadir with a sketch where two guys are arguing. They eventually start slapping each other. That’s it! They stand there and slap each other. It’s embarrassing.

The one high point, the only people here who could have made it in American Vaudeville and in Hollywood, are The Three Eddies. These are black men (in blackface!) who are really amazing dancers. You think the moonwalk is weird? That’s where these guys start out, and go on from there. They are in the same league with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers. They’re even worth a link:

What’s really frustrating though is that what I was really looking for is not there. Hitchcock directed some short sketches to go between these mostly awful numbers, and only one is on YT. It’s not bad, and makes me wish I could see the others. A couple is necking on the couch. She won’t leave her husband. Behind them, a sinister hand comes from between the curtains. A scowling man comes out. He turns off the gramophone, produces a pistol, and shoots them both dead. Then he looks around, registers surprise, and says “My God, I’m in the wrong flat!” Okay, not brilliant, but believe me, better than what surrounds it.