Yesterday I reviewed the fantastic pre-code crime drama I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932). Included as a special feature on the DVD edition that I own of the film is a musical short titled 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang, which was released in 1933.
Running at about twenty minutes in length, 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang is a fun and fast watch. The song and dance numbers are a bit silly (there’s a whole song dedicated to soda pop), but still very enjoyable.
More than the musical numbers, what makes this musical short enjoyable is its context in relation to the feature-length film it’s paired with on DVD. It’s unclear to me whether this short aims to spoof the film itself or spoof the “Everything’s bright and cheery in the chain gang!” ideal that’s pushed by the law enforcement officers in the film. It would be wonderful if this spoof was aligning itself with the message of the feature film, but I have a feeling that isn’t the case, and that the sole intention was to make a mockery of a popular film that audiences would recognize. Either way, the short is very successful in bringing the laughs and putting a comedic twist on what was previously a very dramatic storyline.
Some scenes are directly copied from the feature film, tweaked for hilarious effect. When our dear ol’ convict in the musical short decides he wants to turn himself in and re-join the chain gang, it’s for the promise of wonderful, USO-style musical performances by pretty trios of singing sisters rather than for the promise of a pardon. Members of the chain gang benefit from new guidelines put in place after the great escape, which makes the escapees want to return all the more. The criminals greet their warden with song in the morning and spend the rest of the day reading magazines, drinking alcohol, watching ladies sing and dance… all while wearing fancy striped suits with bow ties.
If you’re a fan of the 1932 film, this 1933 short is a must-watch. The comedy it relies on can be a bit absurd at times, but what fun would these musical spoofs be without that element of absurdity? It’s certainly not a short that should be taken seriously by any means, but when paired with its source material, 20,000 Cheers for the Chain Gang is an interesting little watch.