Educational Pictures two-reel comedy short, released 26 March 1935
directed by Leigh Jason, starring Billy Gilbert
off-the-wall musical-comedy parody of modern art and communism!!
HAIL BROTHER is certainly one of the strangest comedy shorts of the 1930s, a musical-comedy parody of both modern art and communism! Billy Gilbert stars as a rich businessman who gets hit on the head and suddenly becomes a convert to the cause of modern, abstract art and the cause of collectivism, which causes a bunch of cagey “artists” of all types to move in with him and turn his mansion into an art colony and a commune where everything is shared. There are parodies of Gertrude Stein’s writings and of pretentious literary criticism, as well as a lot of interpretive dance (with hobos mixed in with dancers in flowing abstract gowns) and musical sequences, including a romantic theme called “You Inspire Me!” which is played in different forms THREE times, as if they were trying to break it as a hit! I can’t get it out of my head since hearing it yesterday. Of course, there is a lot of well-executed slapstick comedy here too, so those not into music or dance or social criticism could still enjoy HAIL BROTHER solely as a comedy short. I remember hearing many years ago that in some un-named city members of the Communist Party actually disrupted showings of this film, based on advance rumor that it was anti-communist. They shouldn’t have bothered, as this is a broad burlesque that no one would have taken as serious social commentary, but anyone who has read Richard Wright’s AMERICAN HUNGER knows that during the Stalinist era members of the Communist Party were not known for having a sense of humor or irony! In any event, this is an off-the-wall curio that should interest any lover of the weird. I can’t imagine any other comedy short company making this–RKO was too staid; Columbia was too focused on physical comedy and would have found the other elements to be getting in the way;Hal Roach’s musical shorts were not this “hip”. Say what you will about Educational Pictures, the company produced some strange product (the shorts of Joe Cook and Jefferson Machamer being good examples!). Checking director Leigh Jason’s filmography, I notice that he also directed an old favorite of mine, the German made 1961 cheesecake-comedy FESTIVAL GIRLS, starring Alex D’Arcy in a hilarious role as a starving con-artist filmmaker who is a fast talker and bluffs his way through life. You may not like HAIL BROTHER, but I don’t think you will be bored while watching it! (review originally published in 2005)