Monday, April 14, 2008

Sidewalk Elevators

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?


J.C. Loophole said...

This is a toughie. I've actually been racking my brain for a couple of days since I first read your post. I've got several images of scenes in my head that I know had sidewalk elevators in them, but I can't pin down faces or titles.
The only one I can remember is Charlie Chaplin's City Lights where he almost falls into the sidewalk elevator hole.
I know there are a couple more and I'm thinking there is an Abbott and Costello flick where a sidewalk elevator figures in, but for the life of me I can't remember which. Any ideas?

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Hi, J.C. Thanks for contributing "City Lights." I know what you mean, it's difficult to recall exactly in which film you've seen them, but they were part of the background in so many films. I can't recall the Abbott and Costello one. I think I'll just post Sidewalk Elevator Alerts whenever I see one.

Anonymous said...

Hey, we love your "fascination with the mundane." No films with sidewalk elevators leapt out of my organic database, but they do seem to have great slapstick potential as your examples illustrate. The Marx Bros must have taken advantage of them somewhere. I'll keep my eyes peeled. You know, I've seen them all over town but I figured that's just how you get down to where the Morlocks live. :P

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

This is one of those things where you can't think of a film with sidewalk elevators, and then it seems every film you see has one in it. Let's all keep our eyeballs peeled. It's like birdwatching.

Anonymous said...

I'm dying to figure out the name of a classic movie I saw. I saw the last ten minutes of it on tv the other night. It is about a guy who is going to hell. There is an Angel there with him, who is taking him to hell. At the end the Angel is hurrying him to leave, but he waits to say goodbye to his lover before he goes. Then at the very end the guy and the Angel go down a sidewalk elevator to hell. It is a bit of a comedy. I have been trying to figure out this movie... if anyone knows please respond!!! It's a black and white film. A classic from the 40's or 50's.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Welcome, Friend. Thanks so much for contributing to our quest for sidewalk elevator films. I think this one you've mentioned sounds like "Angel on My Shoulder" (1946) with Claude Rains. Somebody please let us know if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

what about "All Through the Night" 1941 when bogie and buddies go after the Nazis?


Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Thanks for adding to our collection! I can't remember if I've seen that film because I don't remember the sidewalk elevator, but I'm going to look for it now.

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