When, as a publicity stunt, Jerry Miles and Mike Streger (Wally Brown & Alan Carney) advertise they will have a real zombie at the opening of the new club, The Zombie Hut, their boss, an ex-gangster (Sheldon Leonard), makes them travel to the island of St. Sebastian to find one. There, they encounter mad scientist Dr. Paul Renault (Bela Lugosi) who is trying to replicate the native’s ability to create zombies, and our boys are the perfect subjects for his experiments.
While only the comedy duos of Abbott & Costello and Laurel & Hardy have remained part of pop culture (Hope & Crosby as well, but they are better known for their solo efforts), ’30s and ’40s cinema was filled with such teams. Some, like the embarrassing Wheeler and Woolsey (Mummy’s Boys), have been forgotten as their over-the-top, annoying personas didn’t translate well from their vaudevillian roots. Brown & Carney have slipped away for the opposite reason—they weren’t distinct or extreme enough. While their calmer take on common material does make it hard to recall even what they looked like, it makes them more acceptable in film, where a little overacting goes a long way. It helps that I haven’t seen all of the ten films they did together from 1943-1946, as it makes their routines seem fresher to me than those of comics I’ve seen over and over.
Whatever the case, Zombies on Broadway is a clever, little, “meets a monster” movie, only beaten in this specialized sub-sub-genre by Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. The team do the standard routine of picking on each other, running, never believing when the other has seen a monster, but generally working together. This film’s monster comes from RKO’s I Walked With a Zombie, which was released two years earlier. Darby Jones repeats his role as the iconic voodoo zombie, and Sir Lancelot reappears to sing a calypso song about our heroes’ doom. Joining them is the man who started zombie movies (with White Zombie in 1932), Bela Lugosi, demonstrating a talent for comedy. The greatest flaw of the film is in under-utilizing Lugosi.
I have little drive to locate all of the Brown & Carney pictures, but for this one, with a fine supporting cast, they beat the big teams.