We open at the end -- of the show, that is, as bandleader Kay Kyser wraps up the latest edition of his weekly radio program, whose grand finale allows the spotlight to fall on all of his featured performers: Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the dower-faced comedy relief of trumpeter, Ish Kabibble (-- a/k/a Merwyn Bogue).
Meanwhile, watching all of this from the sponsor's booth, the band's manager, Chuck Deems (O'Keefe), hashes out their next gig with his girl, Janis Bellacrest (Parrish). Seems being Chuck's girlfriend has its perks and advantages; namely having Kyser and the whole gang perform a private show for your 21st birthday party at stately Bellacrest Manor.
But after the show ends and the theater empties, a sense of foreboding looms and shadowy figures lurk about; and then Janis almost gets flattened by a runaway car! And while Chuck assumes the near hit-and-run driver was drunk, Janis feels something far more sinister is at work as this was her fourth brush with a fatal catastrophe in just as many days.
Now, her growing suspicions of foul play all lead back to one Prince Saliano; a mystical medium, who Janis feels has bamboozled her aunt Margo, to whom Janis' late father -- the renowned explorer Elmer Bellacrest, put in charge of the family fortune until his daughter comes of age. Having convinced her aunt that only he can channel the spirits of the dead, meaning they can communicate with her father, Janis isn't so easily swayed and believes Saliano is nothing but a fake, who is just leeching money from her family -- and part of Janis' plan during the big birthday celebration this weekend is to expose these shenanigans and send the charlatan packing.
And to those ends, she's also contacted Dr. Karl Fenninger, a famous skeptic and spiritualist debunker, who’s agreed to attend her party as well. So, we got some big band swing, seances, and murder on the playlist. Man ‘o’ man, but if this ain’t shaping up to be one helluva birthday party weekend...
Okay, enough of these Abbott and Costello shenanigans, we're talking about David Butler’s You'll Find Out (1940), which was the second movie vehicle for bandleader Kay Kyser and his swinging big band. Here, the Ol' Professor and the collective head of knuckle known as The Kollege of Musical Knowledge goes toe to toe with a trio of super-cool ghouls while trying to survive a dark and stormy night in a secluded haunted mansion, that's honeycombed with death-traps and a ton of secret passages, and put the kibosh on a nefarious murder plot and inheritance grab!
Apparently, James King Kern Kyser couldn't read music, couldn't sing, and couldn't play an instrument (-- and to some he couldn't act, either), but he had such charisma and popularity while attending the University of North Carolina that several friends asked him to be the conductor and front-man for their fledgling musical combo. When Kyser accepted, he adopted his middle initial and Kay Kyser was born. And since the band kinda stunk, they had to overcompensate with the wild antics and stunts from their bandleader to land any gigs.
But over time they got better, adding more experienced musicians, singers, and arrangers -- but kept the stunts and antics in anyway. Blessed with some good vocal talent with Simms, Babbit and Mason, Kyser was also provided a solid comedic foil for his hyperactivity in the form of Merwyn's Ish Kabibble -- which is Yiddish for "What, me worry?"
And now that I think about it, there is more than a passing resemblance between Merwyn and Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neumann.
Anyway, as the band improved and started getting steady playdates, it became pretty popular regionally in the 1930s. And one of those steady gigs was at the Blackhawk Club in Chicago, Illinois; and it was there, on amateur night, that Kay's Klass was born, where he would good-naturedly rib and quiz the locals. This would eventually morph into the full-blown and out of control chaos of the Kollege of Musical Knowledge, where contestants competed with each other and the audience for cash prizes. Soon after, the show was picked up nationally and exploded, resulting in eleven number one records and 35 more in the Billboard's Top Ten.
Naturally, Hollywood soon came calling, seven times in total, as Kyser and his band first answered the bell with That's Right -- You're Wrong (1939), which proved to be a big enough hit but was more of a traditional Hollywood musical. But their second feature, You'll Find Out, was going to be a little different.
Remember, at the time of the production, another phenomenon was taking place in the movies. Comedian and radio personality Bob Hope had just zinged his way through two very successful murder in the haunted mansion mysteries with Paulette Goddard: The Cat and the Canary (1939) and The Ghost Breakers (1940). And Red Skelton would go on to star in similar vehicles as The Fox, starting with the hilarious Whistling in the Dark. (1941); as would Milton Berle in Whispering Ghost (1942).
Deciding this formula would also provide a good framework for Kyser and his antics, RKO arranged to throw a trio of Boogie-Woogie-Bogeymen at him -- stress on the BOO, who were all waiting, blades sharpened, nooses knotted, and poisons percolating as Kyser’s tour bus bounces toward the secluded Bellacrest mansion.
Seems the only way to reach it is by a single solitary road that’s bottle-necked by a narrow wooden bridge over an insurmountable chasm, which they cross just as the prerequisite thunderstorm breaks wide open!
Thus and so, as lightning flashes and thunder booms (-- but oddly enough, it never starts raining), while the rest of the band unloads the equipment and sets up, Kay and Chuck take a tour of their kooky venue. And, well, turns out Bellacrest Manor is basically Robert Ripley's wet dream, teeming with exotic and oddball artifacts that were collected by Elmer Bellacrest during his world travels. And some of this collection would prove deadly, as we get some plot specific details about a blow-gun and some poison darts adorning the wall, which will most likely come into play later.
We're then introduced to daffy Aunt Margo (Kruger), who immediately latches on to Kyser, who in turn has a hard time prying her loose. Somehow, Aunt Margo has gotten it into her head that Kyser believes in all this supernatural goobledy-gook, too, and is anxious to "pierce the veil" and talk to the dead with him.
Also lurking about is Elmer's old partner, Spencer Mainwaring (Karloff). Apparently, Mainwaring was present while Elmer was looting -- sorry, “collecting” artifacts from an African temple when the natives caught him and cashed in his chips.
Later, after finally detaching Margo from his hip, Kyser finds his assigned bedroom; and while changing for the show, he's spooked by a reflection of someone standing behind him. Meet Prince Saliano (Lugosi), who warns Kyser this house is full of spirits -- and those spirits don't like the skeptical.
Meanwhile, this creepy evening wouldn't be complete without a shadowy, cloaked figure lurking about the house and grounds. And as Janis and Ginny dress for the party, Janis suddenly spots just such a figure lingering outside her window and screams.
But when Ginny checks outside, whoever it was has disappeared. Here, when Ginny's dress gets caught in the door and is ruined, Janis insists she wear one of her gowns to the party.
Meantime, in the hallway, through a secret panel hidden behind a mask hanging on the opposite wall, sinister eyes watch their door; and then that plot-specific blowgun slides out of the mask's mouth. When the door opens, the killer, mistaking Ginny for Janis due to that wardrobe malfunction, takes deadly aim! But suddenly, lightning crashes, thunder booms, and the house is plunged into darkness, causing Janis to scream again. This time, her cries bring the whole band a-running.
Luckily, when the lights come on, no one is hurt but Kyser does notice one of those deadly darts sticking in the wall near Ginny's ear. After everyone clears off, Kyser corrals Chuck to show him the dart but, during the confusion, it has mysteriously disappeared. (For the record: the last to leave the scene was Mainwaring.)
Convinced there’s a killer running loose in this nuthouse, Kyser wants to call off the concert until Chuck reveals Janis' dire situation. No problem, says the cowardly Kyser, who offers they'll just take her with them when they vamoose post-haste.
But as they start to round everyone up to go, the house is abruptly rocked by an explosion! And when the din dies down, Mainwaring announces that a lightning strike has detonated the bridge(!), meaning everyone there is indefinitely stuck. Coincidentally, the phone-lines have conked out as well, he typed ominously.
Now, before the bridge went boom, half of the birthday party guests had already arrived: about a dozen debutantes; and with their beaus all stuck on the other side of the gorge, Harry, Sully, and Ish try to substitute themselves to no avail. And since they're stuck here anyway, Janis talks Kyser into going ahead with the show. He agrees, and several catchy musical numbers later, the whole company adjourns to another room for cocktails.
Here, Janis and Chuck let Kyser in on their plan to expose Saliano. The only problem is their ace, Dr. Fenninger, is probably stuck on the other side of the demolished bridge. But just as they write him off, Mainwaring has a surprise for everyone and introduces Fenninger (Lorre). Fenninger also apologizes to Janis; seems he was the one outside her window earlier, having arrived early, unannounced, to snoop the place out.
After dinner is announced, as Mainwaring and Fenninger linger behind while the others file into the dining room, their duplicitous nature is exposed when Fenninger angrily asks why the girl is still alive? But Mainwaring says not to worry; he has another scheme for yet another untimely accident for poor Janis. They just need to get Saliano to hold another séance -- and an opportunity presents itself when Kyser stumbles back in, looking for a misplaced cigarette case, allowing Fenninger to trick him into challenging Saliano to prove he isn't a faker. Saliano accepts this challenge, but warns, "To those who scoff, the spirits consider no punishment too drastic."
Setting up in the main ballroom, Saliano's meditation tent is pitched in the center and by each entrance he places a deadly electronic flytrap, meaning anyone trying to enter or leave during the séance will be flash-fried to a crisp. Then, when the lights go down and the festivities commence, as Fenninger and Mainwaring lurk about, Saliano asks for volunteers to sit in a semi-circle and manages to herd Janis into the chair directly underneath the chandelier -- so I'm guessing Saliano must be in on this conspiracy, too.
After the Mystic enters his tent so he can go into his trance in private(!), what follows, actually, is a fairly effective and creepy sequence as the summoned poltergeist activity turns from playful to sinister before a strange voice sounds-off, announcing it's ethereal presence.
Then, a ghostly dismembered head of some tribesman appears in the darkness, chanting "I killed Bellacrest" over and over; and when this apparition disappears, it's replaced by the glowing head of Elmer Bellacrest himself!
And as his spirit implores Janis to believe in Saliano, totally entranced, the girl swoons and slips off the chair -- mere seconds before the chandelier falls and crushes it!
Well, having had enough excitement for one night, everyone decides to turn in, revealing Chuck and Kyser have to bunk together. Not taking any chances, they’ve sealed the room before climbing into bed. But when they turn out the lights, a ghostly flame appears -- closer, closer, and closer it comes until it leaps into bed with them, triggering pure pandemonium. But once they get the lights back on, the two men discover it was just Ish Kabbible's dog, Prince, whose tail is covered in a phosphorus paint.
Sussing out the secret passage the dog used to get in their locked bedroom, the duo investigates and manage to get attacked by a stuffed gorilla, stumble into even more secret passages, and then promptly get separated.
Alone, Kyser finds a hidden control room; and even without the glowing masks of the native and Bellacrest sitting on a shelf it doesn't take a rocket-scientist to figure out that this is the equipment Saliano uses to pull off his trickery. But, you gotta remember who we're dealing with here.
However, sharper eyes will be rewarded with all kinds of secret toy surprises with this discovery if you look really close at the menagerie of props on Saliano's shelves, where you can spot several stop-motion models left over from King Kong (1933), including several creatures from the notoriously lost Spider-Pit sequence!
Despite all these distractions, Kyser proves up to the task as he tinkers with the controls and realizes everything they saw earlier in the ballroom was remote controlled. He also finds some vital papers; but as he reads, Kyser hears someone coming, stuffs those papers into his pajamas, and hides just as Saliano enters the room.
But he isn’t there long when an intercom buzzes and he’s ordered to come to somebody's room. When he leaves, Kyser sneaks out behind him. And with this mystery plot almost resolved, all our hero has to do now is discover who that was Saliano talked to.
Well, since we already know, we watch as our three conspirators meet. Realizing their time is running out, Mainwaring has one last ditch idea to bump off Janis and still make it look like an accident. But to do this, Saliano will have to hold yet another séance. The other two are doubtful they can do this without raising suspicions, but Mainwaring says not to worry because Aunt Margo will be the one demanding it. With that, Saliano knows what to do and leaves. Tired of being outwitted by morons, Fenninger warns if this latest plan doesn't work, he'll just use his gun and get it over with.
Entering his secret lair, Saliano flips a few switches and places two microphones near his throat that distorts his voice. Pumping this ghostly Sonovox sound into Aunt Margo's bedroom, while pretending to be Elmer, he demands that Margo gather everyone together because her late brother has something important to reveal to Janis.
Soon after, everyone else is woken up and herded into the ballroom -- except for Janis and Ginny, whom Chuck and Kyser want safely locked-up in their room with Ish and Sully on guard. Relatively certain Saliano and Mainwaring are behind these attacks, Kyser then makes the mistake of taking Fenninger into his confidence and reveals their plan to take the two bad guys down.
Thus, using another secret passage to gain entrance into their locked bedroom, a tipped-off Mainwaring attempts to chop Janis' head off with a large scimitar while she sleeps. But Ish wakes up in time to foil this. However, the attack wasn’t a total loss as Janis is now out of the bedroom and will be present for the deadly, and final, séance.
Thus and so, when everyone is present and accounted for, Kyser kicks up some spooky mood music as Saliano enters his tent. In the dark, the bandleader manages to hand off the glowing baton to a decoy and sneaks off to that secret passage he used early to enter Saliano's lair.
And as the séance proper commences, while everyone is transfixed on the ghostly head of Elmer Bellacrest, Fenninger quietly positions one of Saliano's deadly electronic devices behind Janis' chair -- and when he plugs the contraption back in, it will arc across to the one near the tent, frying poor Janis to a cinder.
But down below, Kyser manages to knock out Saliano and takes over the broadcast, warning everyone to get moving 'cuz there's a murderer in their midst. Pandemonium ensues, and Janis bails before the machine can spark off. And when Chuck hits the lights, revealing that Mainwaring was wearing the glowing mask all along, the dastardly villain pulls a gun and manages to duck away into yet another secret passage.
Entering the control room, Mainwaring starts duking it out with Kyser; and while the men fight below, they trigger all of the equipment, causing all kinds of hell to break loose in the ballroom up above them. Landing a lucky punch, Kyser then escapes up through a trapdoor and into Saliano's tent. Unfortunately, everyone mistakes him for the killer and tackles the tent en masse.
Waving his trademark glasses as a white flag, after they all untangle themselves, Kyser reveals who the killers were and the motive behind it all by showing Janis the papers he found: a codicil to her father's will that states when she turns 21, she becomes the sole executor of her father's fortune. Seems Mainwaring, through Saliano, had been bilking money from Aunt Margo for a long time and knew Janis would put a stop to this; and so, the girl had to go.
Meantime, Fenninger, whose treachery still hasn't been discovered, offers to go and hold the criminals with his pistol until the authorities arrive. But after he's gone, there's a knock on the window, which leads them to a battered and bruised figure, who claims to be the real Fenninger!
Realizing they've been duped too late, the fake Fenninger, Mainwaring and Saliano return with pistols drawn. Saliano also holds a bundle of dynamite (-- a similar batch took out the bridge, I’d wager). Here, Fenninger announces these daffy interlopers may have spoiled their plans but the crooks will have the last laugh, and get away with it all, by blowing up the house. And once the police get done sifting for bodies, they'll be long gone.
With that, the fuse is lit, the dynamite is tossed, and the criminals escape -- locking everyone else inside the ballroom. (Did I mention the windows were all barred?) Wanting to play fetch, a confused Prince grabs the dynamite but Kay wrestles it out of the dog’s jaws and tosses it out the window. Still confused, the dog bounds after the bundle, retrieves it, and starts to bring it back -- until spotting the fleeing criminals and chases after them instead.
As Ish calls for his pup to drop the dynamite before it's too late, Prince disappears into the bushes. And after the inevitable explosion, Ish is inconsolable. But as Kay promises to build a shrine for the dog, they hear Prince happily barking and look outside to see he's alive and kicking, and chewing on what's left of Saliano's turban.
And that about wraps up the movie except for one final closing number, where Kyser incorporates Saliano's Sonovox equipment to "Give voice to the instruments." And then one more curtain call by Kyser, but he's quickly disintegrated by Saliano's death-spheres before he can finish.
You know, this movie has taken way too much grief over forcing three horror icons into all that corniness. And You’ll Find Out is one big can of corn -- straight off the cob. But as Kyser would say, "Pop that corn, baby!" And if you give the film a chance, Kyser and the gang visibly improve as things progress; and by the start of the third act he had successfully ingratiated himself to me, which was a nice reward for sticking through that spastic opening act. Of course, I'm a sucker for any kind of big old haunted house movies -- and the more secret passages the better -- no matter who’s involved.
And no doubt about it, RKO Pictures scored themselves a helluva coup by landing Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre in the same picture -- especially when you consider Universal hadn’t really started there Monster Rallies of the 1940s yet, starting with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Karloff was pretty much done playing Frankenstein and Universal at this point but is rock solid, as always, if not underused. At the same time, Lorre's stock was on the rise. Mr. Moto was behind him, and a career of getting pushed around by Humphrey Bogart was right around the corner.
And as I mentioned in my review of One Body Too Many (1945), it does the heart good to see Lugosi at least a little healthier and not embarrass himself. There's a great scene where he gets really excited during one of Ginny Simm's numbers, where he's smitten with the girl and really gets into the beat.
After this, Lugosi had a few more supporting bits for the majors but was already on a slippery slope to Poverty Row, where Sam Katzman and Ed Wood were waiting. But of the three, Lorre was the one who steals the show as he constantly gets the upper hand and the last word with our bumbling hero.
And would you believe -- according to a growing legend, at least, that these three were supposed to have their own musical number together? Allegedly, it was supposed to be a derivative of Ish Kabbible's "The Bad Humor Man" twisted into something along the lines of "We're the Three Bad Humored Men." Truth or bull-twaddle? Who knows, but when the legend is more entertaining than the truth, print the legend, Boils and Ghouls.
A survivor of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, David Butler, the film's producer, writer and director broke into show business in the silents around 1910 as a bit player and extra, appearing in films by D.W. Griffith -- Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916), Tod Browning -- The Unpainted Woman (1919), The Wise Kid (1922), and John Ford -- The Village Blacksmith (1922), Hoodman Blind (1923) before moving to directing in 1927 with High School Hero (1927).
Showing a knack for light comedies and musicals, Butler developed a solid reputation and would work with the likes of Will Rogers -- A Connecticut Yankee (1931), Business and Pleasure (1932), and Shirley Temple -- Bright Eyes (1934), The Little Colonel (1935), as well as the barn-burning pre-code musical, Sunny Side Up (1929).
When the 1940s rolled around, Butler split time between directing for Kyser and Bob Hope -- Caught in the Draft (1941), They Got Me Covered (1942), which is one of my favorite Hope movies, as well as tackling Hope and Bing Crosby’s third Road Picture, The Road to Morocco (1942). And later in the 1950s, he took up with Doris Day for another string of successful musicals -- Tea for Two (1950), Lullaby of Broadway (1951), Calamity Jane (1953).
Here, for You'll Find Out, the musical numbers were handled well enough but with everything else Butler seemed content to just set back and not get in anybody’s way when it came to the mystery and mayhem.
Also of note, contributing screenwriter James Kern would go on to work for another radio star, Jack Benny, and wrote the oddity to end all oddities for his new boss, The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), where Benny was an Archangel sent down from heaven to blow his horn -- sounding the beginning of Armageddon! Jack, of course, loses the trumpet. Mayhem ensues.
Circling back to Kyser, it's kind of amazing that -- for as popular as he was during his reign, Kyser and his band is all but forgotten today. He made four more follow-up features -- the best being My Favorite Spy (1942), and his film career officially ended with Carolina Blues (1945). When the United States entered World War II, while Kyser lost several band members to the draft, he was also one of the first entertainers to perform for the troops and was instrumental in setting up the Hollywood Canteen. He also scored one of his biggest hits with a cover of Frank Loesser’s "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”
And it was while performing a tour in the Pacific Theater that Kyser made the conscious decision that he would no longer play for money. He was financially set anyway, but seeing the sacrifice the soldiers were making tempered Kyser and his patented style changed drastically, almost overnight. And on top of that, crippling arthritis, personnel changes, and a tragic bus fire that consumed most of their arrangements all contributed to Kyser's abrupt retirement from the public-eye in 1950. And with his wife, singer Georgia Carroll, Kyser retired back to North Carolina and devoted all of his energies toward his faith as a Christian Scientist. He would pass away in relative anonymity in 1985 at the age of 80.
Thus, on top of the three bogeymen, You'll Find Out also serves as a nice time capsule for Kyser, his band, and his style of music, which is pretty damned catchy. It was a different era and a different kind of sound, sure. I get that. But some people just can't get past this fact. Whatever. I just don't think the movie is all that bad. In fact, the more I find out about You'll Find Out, the more and more I dig it.
Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's 25 films down with only one, ONE, more left to go. Up next, Ah, shit. We're back in Zombie sequel territory again. AGAIN!
You’ll Find Out (1940) RKO-Radio Pictures / P: David Butler / D: David Butler / W: James V. Kern, David Butler / C: Frank Redman / E: Irene Morra / M: Roy Webb, George Dunning, Johnny Mercer, / S: Kay Kyser, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Helen Parrish, Dennis O’Keefe, Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, Ish Kabibble