A British-Jewish Film Genre?: Consider Gasbags (1941)
Abstract

There is sparse comment on the feature-length movie Gasbags (Marcel Varnel, Walter Forde, UK, 1941), which starred Bud Flanagan (1896–1968, born Chaim Weintrop), the leader of the “Crazy Gang” comedy troupe and a performer clearly marked as a Jew. Gasbags is in many respects comparable to Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (USA, 1940) and, similarly, includes a schlemiel posing as Hitler. Jewish elements are prominent in other Crazy Gang films, especially A Fire Has Been Arranged (Leslie S. Hiscott, UK, 1935) and O-Kay for Sound (Marcel Varnel, UK, 1937). What differentiates Gasbags from other expressions of wartime humor is the extent to which it confronts social-class divisions. It also reflects the degree to which the British film business was comfortable with Jewish approaches, which would change in the 1950s. The British Film Institute hails Gasbags as one of two 1940 films “so outrageously disrespectful of the Nazi menace” that it retains “a surreal effectiveness”—yet it is not often shown or studied.


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