Zombies on Broadway
Continuing our series of horror posts for the Halloween season, and seeing as how it is Wally Brown’s birthday, if you’ll excuse my using this expression in a zombie context, posting about RKO’s 1945 spook comedy Zombies on Broadway is a no-brainer.
As you saw in our earlier post, Brown formed a sort of loose comedy team with Alan Carney. They are often referred to as “RKO’s answer to Abbott and Costello“, through to me the combination is closer in spirit to Wheeler and Woolsey or Martin and Lewis (though the latter two came after). And further, the movie in question is often referred to as RKO’s answer to Abbott and Costello’s Universal Monster spook comedy team-ups. BUT for the inconvenient fact that those started coming out a few years AFTER Zombies on Broadway. Likewise it’s often assumed that Zombies on Broadway was a spin-off of or sequel to Val Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie, which was released two years earlier. But apart from the word “zombie”, a Caribbean setting and that it’s the same studio, I’d say the connection is overstated.
The plot of this movie is pretty funny (i.e. enjoyably far fetched). Sheldon Leonard is a gangster who is opening a voodoo themed nightclub in Times Square. But he needs to have a REAL zombie on hand for the launch event or a Walter Winchell-esque radio columnist will trash the place. Carney and Brown are the publicists who caused this whole mishigas by promising an actual zombie in their press release. The gangster is not amused. He send them on a tramp steamer to Haiti, to bring back a real zombie — or else. After many spooky encounters, they actually manage to bring one back — It’s Carney, who has been zombified by a witch doctor back on the island. (Bela Lugosi plays the mad scientist who makes zombies. Thus, if anything it’s more of a sequel to White Zombie). Anyway, ironically Carney reverts to himself just before the gangster sees him, causing yet another crisis. But the boys manage to fake it and it all turns out alright.
Despite the fact that this is a comedy, the zombie effect they use (prosthetic bugged-out eyes) is plenty disturbing. Want to see it? It’s embedded in my Wally Brown post here.
To learn more about comedy film history please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc. To learn about the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.