Readers of this blog are by now aware of my unfortunate fascination with the mundane. Today the topic is sidewalk elevators. Never have I stepped over an iron plate embedded in a sidewalk without anxiously anticipating the moment it would spring up with something or someone on it, yet I confess this has never happened. It happens constantly in old movies.
One example would be during the song “I’m Just Fella with an Umbrella” in “Easter Parade” (1948). After Peter Lawford leads us into the song, Judy Garland takes a verse as they stroll along the city street. They nearly fall into an open sidewalk elevator, which closes a split second before they walk over it. They turn and look incredulously back at it, never missing a beat, and continue with the verse. There was nothing on the elevator, so there is no explanation as to who was using it or why.
In “Date to Skate” (1938), one of the funniest Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons, Popeye takes Olive Oyl roller-skating. The gags fly fast and furious as Olive loses control and speeds out of the roller skating rink and onto the street. For once our hero must save her not from Bluto, but from herself. At one point she flies over a sidewalk elevator that is just beginning to open. There are sacks of flour and boxes on the elevator platform, so at least this one is being used for some purpose.
In “Mutts to You” (1938) The Three Stooges operate a dog washing business, and when they come across a baby they believe has been abandoned, a chase scene involves several innocent bystanders on a city street. The boys run from a stereotyped Irish cop by dressing as stereotyped Chinese laundrymen, (except for Curly, who pretends to be a buxom Yiddish-speaking Irish lass) and emerge from a street elevator in costume with a laundry cart. For them the mysterious sidewalk elevator is not a nuisance or a waiting trap, but a necessary part of their escape.
I have never seen any carts or boxes or sacks of flower, or escaping people emerge from the iron plates in the sidewalk that I may happen to see downtown in cities. But I’m not taking my eye off them. You never know.
Any other films you can think of with sidewalk elevators?