Saturday, April 13, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Hula-balloo

"We are better able to enjoy a fantasy as fantasy when it is not our own."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

In this case, the fantasy appears to be Robert Young's, a few decades before his immortalization as Dr. Marcus Welby.  That it features perhaps the least Polynesian person ever to live, Miss Eleanor Powell, is one of the elements that elevates this particular number to the Camp pantheon.  That and her costume, which bears about as much resemblance to a grass skirt as it does to a lamé piano shawl.

This clip, from Honolulu (which also featured Burns and Allen for comic relief), is neither the most riotous nor the most ridiculous SSCE one could imagine, but it's nonetheless a genuine insight into Hollywood's ideas of the "exotic," circa 1939.  Powell's home studio, MGM, was less a center for these kinds of tropical fantasies than, say, Fox (with its South-of-the-Border spectacles anchored by Carmen Miranda and her Banda da Lua).  Nonetheless, Metro applied its usual level of polish to this little gem, for at this time Powell was one of its prestige stars.  I've always found her oddly weightless somehow, a star without consequence.  She gamely did her job, but had she never existed, I don't think she'd be much missed.  Still, here, in her rigorously affixed lei and equally fixed smile, she's pretty swell.  Who else could carry off a tap hula?


  1. I miss Eleanor Powell!

    She provided one of my "most extravagantly camp moments in cinema history", after all...


  2. Wow. It may not be Marlene in Hot Voodoo, but it's close. I especially love Miss Powell's Polynesian Salute being staged in the Fiesta Room.