Camp & Cult Blogathon: You’ll Find Out (1940)

This is Day Six of the Camp & Cult Blogathon, and boy are my arms tired. Don’t forget to check out all the submissions on the main page, found at the top of this blog! They’re all terrific, and the turnout has been positively amazing. Thank you all.

Now, if you will indulge me here at the halfway point of the ‘thon, a short post for Day Six because kids, I have been watching — enduring, really — Lace for three days now, and I am verklempt.

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Today’s cinematic curiosity is the 1940s never-heard-of-it flick entitled You’ll Find Out. Filmed as a vehicle for the Kay Kyser Band — yes, that’s right, it was a vehicle for an entire band — this comedic riff on the old dark house theme is surprisingly less irritating than one would believe.

And I say that despite the fact that a major player in the film is Ish Kabibble.

Ish Kabibble in You'll Find OutIsh as “The Bad Humor Man.”

 

Ish was born Merwyn Bogue and took the name “Ish Kabibble” from an early 1900s novelty song, where the Yiddish phrase “nisht gefidlt” (roughly, “I don’t care”) was bowdlerized into “ish kabibble.” Now, one would think that it was nearly impossible for someone as young as me — 39 and holding for as long as I can pull it off — to have heard of Ish before watching this film. Yet one would be forgetting that Ish was mentioned many times on “M*A*S*H,” the television show that raised me when my parents couldn’t be arsed to do so. My dad, a happenin’ hepcat of the 1940s, knew who Ish was and happily explained the joke to me. For years I wondered what kind of strange, strange person would willingly take the name Ish Kabibble… and now I know.

Even if you’re not familiar with old-time radio, you’ve probably heard Ish singing the (extremely irritating) child-like lyrics to “Three Little Fishies” which, if you will pardon the sacrilege, was done much better by The Muppets.

Kay Kyser and his band were ridiculously popular from 1939 to about 1950, primarily for their radio show “Kay Kyser’s Kollege of Musical Knowledge.” Even if you don’t think you know any of Kay Kyser’s songs, you do: “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “On a Slow Boat to China,” “Woody Wood-Pecker” (fnarr), “Hello Mr. Kringle,” and probably even “Like the Fellow Once Said,” performed in You’ll Find Out:


 

Now children, what you need to remember is that this shit was the epitome of cool in 1940. We white people just weren’t (publicly) listening to “Papa’s in Bed With His Britches On” or “The Java Jive” so we had to make do with Glen Gray and Kay Kyser and the ultra hep… uh… Sonovox.


Kay gets kollegiate in You’ll Find Out, explaining the wild new invention: The Sonovox. Yeah, that’s real solid, Jackson.

 

Kyser and his band became popular thanks to the gimmick of combining a quiz show with swingin’ tunes, and in 1939 signed with NBC radio for a show that remained popular for a decade, moving to NBC television in 1949. During his heyday in the wartime years, Kyser, often with his band, starred in seven films.You’ll Find Out wasn’t the first Kay Kyser film, unsurprisingly. That honor goes to That’s Right – You’re Wrong from the previous year. The quality of this video isn’t the greatest, but this clip from the film showing Kyser and his band performing their Kollege of Musical Knowledge radio show is still worth watching:

 

Now, despite the fact that I’m teaching this crash course in Kyserology 101, Kay Kyser wasn’t the first reason I wanted to see You’ll Find Out. Honey, he wasn’t even in the top five reasons. You’ll Find Out is most notable nowadays for being the only film where Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff starred together. Billed as “The Three Horror Men” on the poster, they spend their time lurking about, doing sinister things and being possibly involved in bad doin’s at the house of an heiress. They also get to lay some serious “Are you shitting me?” looks on Kay when he gets silly-stupid.

You'll Find Out

I could watch an entire movie of nothing but Karloff and Lorre droppin’ the “you are a damn idiot” look on people.

Kyser and his band were hired by an heiress to play for a party, but a storm wipes out the only bridge back to the mainland, and soon the band and a few dozen co-eds uncover a sinister plot involving murder and intrigue and weird songs about evil ice cream men. You’d think a few dozen co-eds would have better things to do, especially since their only chaperone is a dotty aunt fond of the occult, but the scriptwriters begged to differ. If you want to know more about the plot, you can’t go wrong with my BBFF Ivan’s post on the flick.  You may also want to check out the Rich-Dimick Horror Project, which accurately summarizes You’ll Find Out: “Musical horror is a hard thing to do right.”

Boy, is it ever.

Still, I enjoyed the fact that Bela, Boris and Peter all seemed to be having a good time, as you can tell in this screen capture where they are playing the weirdest version of Duck Duck Goose I’ve ever seen and trying not to laugh:

You'll Find Out

This isn’t a great film, but if it shows up on TCM again, watch it. It’s a little lengthy at 97 minutes, but we live in the super futuristic year of 2012. We have Sonovoxes and fast forward remote controls. The world is ours.

13 Comments

  1. “Yeah, that’s real solid, Jackson.” Incidentally, this line from Road to Rio is where the Browne family got the inspiration to name their son (the singer-songwriter of Doctor My Eyes, Running on Empty, etc.). That’s our trivia lesson for today.

    You were much kinder to this movie than I was. Seeing Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre together is truly the movie’s saving grace; the trouble with Kay Kyser is that he technically only had one movie in him, and that was released a year earlier (as you mention, That’s Right, You’re Wrong). Oddly enough, I like the radio stuff in the beginning — I think a better film would have resulted if they kept everything in that setting and then added the Karloff-Lugosi-Lorre menace, along the lines of Abbott & Costello’s Who Done It?. That haunted house schtick just doesn’t work for me, I guess.

    I don’t know how much into Kyser’s oeuvre you’ve delved, but this movie is a masterpiece compared to some of his other vehicles like My Favorite Spy and the execrable Playmates, which an anonymous commenter is always e-mailing me to defend whenever I start slagging the film (it’s not at all good, with John Barrymore in the final phases of “Goodbye, Dignity!”).

    Oh, and this movie also has one of my all time favorite Lorre lines: “Why do I have to waste my time outwitting morons?”

    1. stacia says:

      I almost emailed you to ask if you were the one who wrote a post about this all those years ago (and by “all those” I mean “three”) because I couldn’t find it in Google, but then I saw how much you went through with “Don’t Go Into the Basement, It’s Kinda Damp Down There” and didn’t want to add more to your burden.

      But yeah, Lorre is so completely unimpressed throughout this movie that it makes his character hilarious. Karloff seems to be having fun which really reduces his menace (go fig) and I imagine Bela behind the scenes, playing with the props and telling them constantly, “Seriously, you guys, this is your future. I’ve been there and I know.”

    2. stacia says:

      Oh, and I forgot to mention that I LOVE the name Jackson. Bandleader Jack Teagarden referred to himself as Jackson a few times in the 40s when it was super hep, and it delights me every time. I’m not a huge Jackson Browne fan, but I’m more of a fan now that I know from whence his name derived. (Dig me with the five dollar words.)

  2. I thought poor Boris, Bela, and Peter were wasted in this film – so much time is given over to Kay Kyser, who even gets to perform the heroics, instead of Dennis O’Keefe, the nominal romantic interest. Kyser and Kabibble (sounds like the name of a deli) play like opposites; the former seems to projecting to the top balcony, the latter seems never to have quite woken up. This is actually on DVD; and it’s a real oddity.

    1. stacia says:

      This has been released on DVD and we couldn’t get Johnny Guitar on DVD until last month. Sigh.

      Dennis O’Keefe was almost a non-entity in this film, but I kind of feel that way about him in every film. Well, maybe not Doll Face.

      1. Dennis O’Keefe did some good work in a handful of noirs – T-Men, Raw Deal, Woman on the Run. Other than that, I have no use for him.

  3. Mike Doran says:

    Got this one on DVD …

    But I first saw it (and most of Kay Kyser’s other pix) on Channel 7’s late-and-early movies throughout the late ’50s and most of the ’60s

    Ch7, an ABC O&O in Chicago, had acquired the entire RKO library in ’57 in an outrageous deal that gave them the broadcast rights in perpetuity. To this day, ch7 fills the few non-network hours on weekend overnights with ancient RKOs, the more obscure the better.

    My brother and I were little kids (under 10), which made us an ideal demographic for Kay Kyser’s Kollege, since we weren’t even in grade skool yet.

    As it happens, I looked at You’ll Find Out not long ago, and suddenly – belatedly, I’ll admit – I noticed something early in the picture that I’m surprised no one’s mentioned up til now.
    Some one, actually.
    Look again at the quiz scene at the start of the picture (“Students!”).
    Take a good look at the male contestant – the poor schlub who has to stuff the cake in his mouth.
    Look familiar?
    Students?

    A No-Prize to whoever else gets this.

    1. stacia says:

      Man, to live in the days when movies like this were just on late-night TV for no reason at all. Not that I don’t appreciate TCM, but there was a lot of fun in turning on the TV and seeing “Joanna” on Encore or Gance’s “Napoleon” on A&E.

      It took me forever to figure out who that guy was when I first saw the movie! He’s one of the many, many, manymany character actors I recognize yet never remember the name of.

  4. Mike Doran says:

    Silly me: I didn’t read closely enough to see your link to Ivan Shreve’s review of this deathless classic.
    Anyone who either has been there already or goes now will, of course, get the answer to my “mystery question”.
    Oh well … this is a fave of mine, and it was fun to mention ch7’s RKO deal.

  5. James Vance says:

    I’ve been laughing over the “Are you shitting me?” moment for two days now. Great post.

    1. stacia says:

      Thanks James! It is a highlight of the movie, especially Lorre’s looks. I don’t know how he was in real life, but in films he seemed like a pretty humorless sort of dude.

  6. Mike Doran says:

    Peter Lorre’s sense of humor is documented in many places: it was European, very dry, sometimes going over the heads of his targets.
    Two examples I can think of:
    – It was Lorre who said this at Bela Lugosi’s funeral, as he observed Bela laying in state in full Dracula gear:
    “You’re not just putting us all on, are you, Bela?”
    – In the mid-60s, a man named Eugene Weingand tried to legally change his name to Peter Lorie,so he could cash in on his resemblance to the real guy.
    The real Lorre went to court to stop this, taking the stand:
    “State your name for the record, please.”
    “My name is Peter Lorre. I hope you believe me …”
    Those are the two I can recall right now.
    Other Lorre fans in the crowd can probably come up with many more.

    1. stacia says:

      I can totally see Peter with a killer deadpan. What he said at Bela’s funeral was actually kind of sweet, in a twisted way.

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