Can anyone identify this movie? It traumatized me in my youth...
November 20, 2008 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Sometime in the mid-fifties, I was sitting innocently in front of the TV when the regularly scheduled afternoon movie came on. A few minutes later, I was running from the room crying, too much the wimp to sit through the conclusion of an absolutely agonizing sequence. (...more)

Here's the set-up, as remembered through the fog of 50+ years: Some guy at a desk is yelling into his phone, "Yeah, but what about the man in the boiler room?!"; we then cut to a scene, obviously from a silent movie, of the man in the boiler room, tied to some pipes, frantically trying to escape while the pressure builds ominously in the boilers around him. Another cut, and the Keystone Kops are racing to the "rescue", but of course, since it's the Kops, they're forever racing in the wrong direction, getting stuck in a huge mud puddle, or some other damned thing. As I recall, the whole sequence repeats two or three times: man yelling more and more frantically into the phone, boilers beginning to burst at the seams, steam blasting from pipe joints, etc. -- and the goddamned Keystone Kops racing ever farther and farther away from the poor bastard.

What made it particularly agonizing was how amazingly effective the special effects were in the boiler room as it got closer to the brink of explosion -- I had no difficulty at all in believing the poor sap was about to die a horrible death; so soon, in fact, that there was absolutely no chance of rescue even if the Kops had been two feet outside the door, never mind in another county! Then, for icing on the cake, the guy screaming into the phone, nearly as agitated as I was.

Gah. Still gives me the willies.

But here's the thing -- obviously, the movie was a comedy, so there's no doubt whatsoever the man in the boiler room was rescued, no matter how impossible it may have seemed to the pants-wetting little fancy-boy sitting on his living room rug six thousand years ago. If only I'd had the guts to see it through, who knows? -- it might be me taking the oath of office in a couple of months rather than Obama. Given the slight chance of anybody out there identifying it, plus the absurdly long odds against it being on dvd, there's probably next to zero chance I'll ever see it again -- but if I could...maybe there's still time to make something of this wretched existence!!!

Since the movies shown on TV in the fifties were nearly always at least 10 or 20 years old, this thing was probably from the late 30's, but incorporating silent footage from the Mack Sennett days (I have an idea the movie had something to do with movie-making -- that the man on the phone was a producer of silent films, maybe, and the cutting back and forth was to a screening room, where, through some mix-up, the last reel of the "man in boiler room" serial had gone missing...?)

Ring a bell with anyone?
posted by Olden_Bittermann to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't want to link directly to them but if you were to search on google with a phrase like "public domain torrents keystone cops", you might find something. Also in the modern remake of Dick Tracy there was an exploding boiler scene. Perhaps they got the idea from the old TV show. You might want to try a similar search for the old Dick Tracy TV show.
posted by 517 at 1:55 PM on November 20, 2008

I remember that scene or at least one just like (from a program the BBC made when I was a kid that was all clips from the old silent movies)

I've done some googling and I think it might be Charles Murray, though he made 100s of shorts- it's featured in a compilation movie called Down Memory Lane. 'Charlie Murray, tied to a boiler that is about to explode' - it says here

There's also this:
"Certain effects are possible only with the collaboration of the cam- era: Charlie Murray is tied to a boiler which begins to expand, then an exterior shot ..." from here... but you have pay up to get the whole article.

That's all I can come up with
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:50 PM on November 20, 2008

That's it! Or at least, I'm 99% sure that's it, after reading imdb's synopsis -- I can easily see Steve Allen, sans glasses, as the man on the phone. Many, many thanks. Now to begin the search for a dvd or tape...
posted by Olden_Bittermann at 3:16 PM on November 20, 2008

Yep, the actor was definitely Charlie Murray. I seem to remember he made several shorts (for Mack Sennett) where he played a plumber, so it was probably one of those.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:28 PM on November 20, 2008

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