Halloween approaches so here’s a frivolous piece of Hollywood Diablerie. The Devil’s Cabaret (1930) was one of several short films made to showcase dance sequences shot for The March of Time, an MGM musical abandoned by the studio halfway through production. The footage from the earlier film is a short ballet sequence featuring a company of horned ballerinas dancing around an enormous, leering Devil’s head. Dimitri Tiomkin composed the music. All the footage was shot using an early Technicolor process so the film is subtitled “A Colortone Novelty”.
The framing narrative is a sequence of short sketches that offend many of the principles the Hays Code was brought in to protect a few years later. An uncredited Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless in the Flash Gordon films) is a CEO-like Satan urging his Vice President Howie Burns (geddit?) to counter Heaven’s successes by bringing more souls to Hades (the word “Hell” only gets used at the end but after 1934 it was banned from use altogether). Burns does this by interrupting a religious meeting on Earth with a jazzy dance sequence that turns into a strip show; everyone in the audience rushes to join the damned. Once in Hades the newcomers are treated to the March of Time ballet. Elsewhere there’s some laboured humour, references to the Wall Street Crash and Prohibition, and a fair amount of salacious dialogue. Films such as these are always a good reminder of how risqué Hollywood could be before everyone adopted the production code. (Thanks to Gabe for the tip!)