Monday, June 10, 2013

Sh! The Octopus...Beware!

"Gripping!..Daring!....Too Too Touching"

So reads the advertisement. 
I thought I saw 'em all, but this film tops the Beyond Incredulous list.

Kelly and Dempsey, two befuddled detectives, are driving along a secluded road one dark and stormy night when they hear a scream and out from the woods dashes a young Joan Crawford look-alike. She promptly faints in front of them ( as any good Joan Crawford look-alike ought to do ) and then proceeds to tell them that she saw the body of her stepfather...muuuurdered.....hanging by his feet from the top of the lighthouse....dripping blood!

"What lighthouse?" 

"The lighthouse a few miles from shore." 


"My stepfather is the inventor of a radium ray powerful that whoever controls it controls the world. Every nation is searching for it!"

The super-duper high-power radium ray gun is gone?? Stolen by the arch-villain The Octopus??!! ( Shhh.. )

Holy tentacles, Batman! 

Our intrepid heroes - not ones to leave a lady in distress ( even though Kelly's wife is having a baby and he is leaving her in her distress ) - decide to pop on over to the lighthouse to investigate. After all, it's only a few miles across the ocean via a thunderstorm...with seven foot waves. What's a little water? 


And so begins one of the wackiest films to ever be churned out of Warner Brothers studio. 

"Sh! The Octopus" ( 1937 ) has rather a cult reputation of being a wild parody of old-dark-house parodies themselves. When you find a film with supporting actors such as Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins playing the leads, you know you are in for watching a B movie, but in this case the "B" should be for "bewaaare". It truly is surreal, folks. 

A remote lighthouse, octopi, stolen plans, secret panels, an old sea captain, a hag with a witch's cackle...all prime ingredients for a thrilling mystery are thrown in this soup and then heaped on with a goodly dollop of unabashed burlesque. 

You can tell this was originally a stage play. For a lighthouse that is miles out at sea, it can get awfully crowded and the cast members are continually disappearing into rooms we never see. There is the so-called artist who purchased the lighthouse, then a retired seaman comes into the picture, Captain Hook ( don't ask ), the damsel's nanny ( she was out for a stroll and stumbled upon the lighthouse ), and a wise-cracking dame who happened to come ashore after her ship went down. Margaret Irving plays this role and she really is the highlight of the film. Although, if this was an Abbott and Costello picture and she was Joan Davis this would be a six star picture. Casting can make all the difference. 

"Sh! The Octopus" was the concoction of Donald Gallagher and Ralph Murphy, who wrote the original stage play. Donald Gallagher had scored a success with The Gorilla on stage ( later made into a film ) and so in 1928 he teamed up with Murphy to bring this play to the Royale Theatre in New York, where it continued on for 47 performances. Harry Kelly and Clifford Dempsey starred as Kelly and Dempsey ( who else? ). 

In the film version, Allen Jenkins, the Irish Brooklynite, is excellent in his role as straight-man Dempsey, while Hugh Herbert performs his routine flibberity-jibbit quite flibberly. 

My sister and I watch movies in parts just before we head off to slumberland, usually 20 minutes per night, and we laughed ourselves silly with this film. The old witch's unmasking at the end is truly harrowing too. It has amazing special effects for its time ( if you don't look at the strings on the octopus ). 

" Quiet, while I do a little deducting...I'm just commencing to add two and two"

" Next week you'll be working on the alphabet"

There were a number of good one-liners and alot of "woo-woo"s but the funniest aspect of the picture is the film itself. "Sh! The Octopus" has a hypnotic attraction that makes you want to continue watching it even though it is woefully incoherent and just plain rotten. That's the beauty of it. The playwrights either thought their audience were complete idiots or just assumed that they can feed the public any mumbo-jumbo and get away with it so long as they take on the "Surprise! it's all a dream" ending. It didn't work this time, Mr. Gallagher.

Actually, I enjoyed the exploding lighthouse end much better. They should of cut the umbilical cord right there and left the audience walking out of the theater wondering "did we really just watch that??"...something we are left wondering anyway. 

You need to see it to believe it. 

Rating:  - for it's excellent cheese factor. 


  1. Sh! the Octopus, comes on TCM July 5th. I can not wait to see it for the first time.

  2. Oh it's a doozy! It'll leave you wondering what you just watched...and why you just watched it! But I do love cheap horror films and somehow the worse they are, the better. Share your views on the Octopus after you watch it. We'd like to know what you thought, Dawn.