Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"The Devil with Bobby Watson"

Why screen "The Devil with Hitler" (1942)?

Well, there are a number of reasons, it is a comedy very much in the wartime vein of "The Three Stooges" and it stars Bobby Watson an actor whose resemblance to the late Reichs Chancellor is nothing short of uncanny. The photo herein does him no justice, and is posted mostly for comedic effect. When mocking the Fuhrer, Watson gets his essential parvenue essence, the cheap theatrics the cowardice and most of all, a bizarre uncalled for, undeniably funny, and slightly fey Brooklyn accent.
Let the record show that Moe Howard was the first Hitler impersonator to effect a Brooklyn patois, Watson knew a good thing when he heard it.
And let us not forget our supporting cast Joe Devlin as Mussolini a sadly forgotten character player from Hollywood's golden age with more than a touch of Oliver Hardy to him and Alan Mowbray a perpetually exasperated Brit considered good enough to do a few comedy relief turns for John Ford in his day.
Channel Zero screens films like "The Devil with Hitler" in part because they are loaded with a now forgotten Golden Age Tinseltown aristocracy of funny looking character players who one and all had acting chops. Joe Devlin, Bobby Watson, Skelton Knaggs, Rondo Hatton, Shemp Howard, Franklin Pangborn the list could go on for days. All actors heavily typecast but where nonetheless good at their typecasting, we have no comparable modern day phenomenon save SyFy's weekend movie schedule which largely the province of Dean Cain, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson and C. Thomas Howell.
There is a line thru modern history and it's called "The Holocaust", we are on the wrong side of it (although no one can claim to be on the right side of it). Prior to that great barbarous slaughter, it was still possible to see Hitler as "a cheap ham", a blusterly parvenue who had some luck at the outset of the war. Until 1945 or so, you could place Hitler in the same category as say, Louis Napoleon, an arrogant faker whose stupidity was destroying all Europe.
This is the comedic approach that everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Moe Howard and Bobby Watson would take to Hitler.
Then of course, the Final Solution's true nature was exposed to the world, and making Hitler out to be silly seemed naive at best and woefully crass in the worst degree.
In time some other comic versions of Der Fuhrer have come forward, John Cleese or Helge Schneider's neurotic bed wetter from 2007's "My Fuehrer...but its always done with a nervous laugh and a backward glance to 1945.
So it's useful to see how we saw the great enemy of civilization circa 1942, how we mocked him and his cause, what we got right, what we got wrong and what still makes us laugh.
So tell your friends, we are screening "The Devil with Hitler" this Friday, July 22nd at 8pm in the Somerville Theater's video screening room, 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma. 617) 625-5700 Admission $5

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