When last we saw Adolf Hitler, he was being tortured by Satan's minions in the finale of The Devil with Hitler, Hal Roach's 45-minute "Streamliner" comedy. Either there was overwhelming demand for another Hitler farce or Roach's writers were unable to come up with anything new, because two years later came Nazty Nuisance, another slapstick epic featuring the axis punching bags getting their comeuppance, only this time by American soldiers and an orangutan. With a logline like that, you wouldn't expect it to be the 1943-model of Zero Dark Thirty, but that's exactly where it leads to. But more on that later.
Even though their characters were killed off in their previous appearance, Bobby Watson and Joe Devlin repeat their landmark roles as Hitler and Mussolini, making this perhaps Hollywood's first prequel. Johnny Arthur replaces George E. Stone as their Japanese counterpart Suki-Yaki. (What, two years since the first movie and the writers still hadn't heard of Hirohito?) Once again, Der Fuhrer is trying to double-cross his fascist friends, this time by signing a worthless peace treaty with Chief Paj Mab, the ruler of Norum (pronounced "No room"), an island in the Pacific. Mussolini and Suki-Yaki tag along to keep an eye on things. Only when a clever group of American seamen are washed-up on Norum are things set to right via a phony magic act.
Clearly, anyone expecting another The Devil with Hitler won't be getting their money's worth here. As movie follow-ups go, Nazty Nuisance isn't even The Godfather 3, and that featured Sofia Coppola in a major role. The problem, as usual in these kinds of situations, is the idea itself. Nazty Nuisance lacks not only the bizarre story of its predecessor, but an exact title as well. The posters say That Nazty Nuisance. The movie credits read simply Nazty Nuisance. Maybe somewhere there's a preview where it's called Nuisance.
|Ma, he's making eyes at me...|
|Almost the real things.|
|Frank Faylen (right) puts the double-whammy|
on Johnny Arthur.
Benson messes with the three despots by making them physically ill at dinner. I admit, without shame, to have found Hitler's reactions -- pop-eyed from eating a stew filled with hot pepper, pretending to enjoy a glass of kerosene substituted for wine -- hysterically funny. Having been laid low with an intestinal flu at the time, my only excuse is that my defenses were down. Yet that photo on the right still makes me laugh every time I look at it. So, yes, it is funny whether I'm sick or not.
|Three men and a monkey.|
|"Don't worry, Code Pink will bail us out."|
Once the Captain is out of earshot, though, Benson engages in psychological torture, making the prisoners believe that the sub is sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Frightened like little girls, the three quickly blame each other for their predicament, driving them to physically abuse each other without Americans getting involved. Memo to CIA: That's the way it's done.
|You'll believe a fascist really can fly.|
Admitting that The Devil with Hitler is better than Nazty Nuisance is like preferring ballpark franks to dirty water hot dogs. Really, what can one say about a movie where the comic highlight is Mussolini getting socked in the face with a pillow wielded by a drunken orangutan? And yet, overall the movie plays pretty well in my memory. Even the sets, no more believable than a grade-school play, provide a pleasant reverie. I'm a sucker for such things.
The cast went on to other, though not necessarily bigger and better, things. Joe Devlin put his Mussolini to use in two other comedies throughout his 30-year career. Johnny Arthur racked up over 100 roles but, like Devlin, his most familiar character was the reliable Uncredited.
Bobby Watson portrayed Hitler, sometimes in dramas, nine times. He made his final movie, Vincent Minnelli's The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, in 1962, playing -- well, whaddaya know -- Hitler. He was 74, almost 20 years older than Der Fuhrer at the time of his death. By then, the actor was billed as Robert Watson -- as if trying to escape a past that Hollywood would never let him forget.
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