In discussing the legend of Hollywood’s most notorious director, Ed Wood, his “Film Noir” Jailbait usually fails to be even mentioned.
It was produced for the Howco Company which ran a chain of Drive-In Theatres and were also responsible for such memorable fare as Mesa of Lost Women, The Brain from Planet Arous and the immortal Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman.
As bad movies go, it’s pretty tame. It’s arguably Ed’s least inept work and , therefore, the least entertaining. There’s not much to guffaw in and most of the Painjoyment™ seems to be derived from the maddeningly repeating music score by Hoyt Curtin (who composed The Flintstones and The Jetsons themes as well as all of the memorable Hanna-Barbera riffs of the 60s).
We are treated to regular Wood stock company players Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell and Lyle Talbot but denied the presence of its most notorious alumni like Bela Lugosi, Criswell or Thor Johnson. It’s good for an extra few chuckles as Steve Reeves‘ first movie- a few years and many trips to the gym before finding his immortal fame as Hercules.
But other than that, Ed had a better budget than usual so Jailbait (which streams below in its entirety) is a bit of a letdown. It’s not a good film by any stretch but it’s no more painful than, say, any Richard Cunha offering. One might even question why I’ve chosen to feature this one , given the entire canon of Wood’s oeuvre.
Because, frankly, this piece is not another piece about Ed. It’s about the truly malodorous stock footage that appears at the 16 minutes and 30 seconds point. It’s about the crap within the crap.
That’s when, in Jailbait, they stage a heist in a vaudeville theatre. This necessitated a crowd and a show which means extras. So, to avoid the expense, Ed (or more likely his producers) dusted off another piece of stock footage they owned as substitute for the act that would’ve been onstage at that moment.
The clip came from the Ron Ormond film Yes sir, Mr. Bones, a 1951 film about Minstrel Shows. It showed a routine between Cotton Watts and Chick, one of the most notorious acts in the Blackface Universe.
To me it just hurts to see these clips. My motivation in featuring them is that , seen today, they are demeaning to the performer: I don’t look at minstrels and think “Man, them black folks sure is…(whatever)”, I look at them and feel pity for the sad sad clown who went that route and feel a real sense of Shadenfreude as their career descend from Palaces to sleazy roadside venues- a fate worse than death to most performers.
Now the subject of minstrel shows gets kind of touchy as some (apologists)will debate that some performers, like Al Jolson, were preforming in blackface did so out of reverence to black musicians and served as some sort of ambassadors yada yada yada… Frankly, I don’t care. It’s all apology for what was a great social wrong. Besides, even fans of Al Jolson can’t defend this notorious number from legendary Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkeley from the film Wonder Bar. A clip so bad, Turner did not include it in their compilation DVD of Berkeley dance numbers.
This jaw-dropping musical number, entitled “Going to Heaven on a Mule”, was included in the 1982 compilation of celluloid atrocities It Came from Hollywood, but that film has yet to see the day on DVD (it’s planned release was halted abruptly) and cable TV airings of the film now ommit this offending part. Possibly due to programmers afraid of “sending the wrong message”.
[UPDATE: The film Wonder Bar is finally available but only as part of the Warner Archives: a special DVD-R series you have to order directly from Warner Home Video or amazon. The number seen here has a prologue which only makes it all worse.]
You might consider biting down on something hard when watching this.
Personally, I deplore this self-censorship. I think we should be reminded of how we have progressed as a society (especially in cases where we have). If anything, being in denial that it ever happened is an even greater disservice. Making sure you play the clip in a derisive context (like this utterly contemptuous blog) ensures it’s sending the right message.
Pain Level: 6/10
Quality of Pain: Bah! I can take it.
Cotton Watts in Yes sir, Mr. Bones
Pain Level: 8/10
Quality of Pain: “I’m Alabami bound!”
Al Jolson in “Going to Heaven on a Mule”
Pain Level: 10/10
Quality of pain: “Here we is in Heavenly Land!”
AN UNFORTUNATE UPDATE: (Sept 19)
Mere days after posting this condemnation of blackface, the students at Montreal’s HEC demonstrated that IGNORANCE (they pleaded not to understand what what wrong a they were honoring Hussain Bolt) is still very much alive – even in institutes of “higher learning”.
That is even more inexcusable than Cotton Watts or the whole “Heaven on a Mule” clip. At least those clips didn’t equate blacks with monkeys!
And frankly, the “apologies” heard so far are even more inexcusable.
Here’s a link to begin your education:
[Updated again- November 12, 2013]
Sad to report things haven’t changed much following the debate from the last incident. It has now become a common occurrence to see this at a Montreal Canadiens hockey game.
Will they ever ****ing learn?
This photo, taken just last weekend, says “No!”.