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Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

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Vintage: Ballyhoo, Part 3

It's time for another ballyhoo post, about advertising stunts actually used in the late 1920s and collected and published and distributed to exhibitors so that other theater owners could make use of the ideas. Advertising used to be a whole lot more fun and insane (funny how often those two words go together). If you're new to this series of posts, you can plunge right in here, or go back to part 1 and part 2.

As always, click to enlarge. In some browsers, click a second time. I've marked in red the stunts most interesting to me personally, but if an unmarked stunt catches your eye, please post a comment about it! I miss things sometimes.

There's just one page today, because it's so heavy with stunts to comment on.

This page continues the section on advertising comedies, begun on the previous page, which was featured in the previous ballyhoo post. The comedy section is, not surprisingly, perhaps the funniest, because it's absolutely laden with stunts designed to earnestly convince you that you will actually die from laughing at whatever movie is being advertised. I mean, just read that First Aid Stretcher stunt.

The Comedy Props stunt is more cryptic. I think people today aren't so taken with fun house mirrors, and I'm not sure what "hidden wind blowers" have to do with it. And I don't know what a "laugh card" is. But from the sounds of it, it sounds like they're trying to make the lobby experience so hilarious that there's no need to see the movie.

The Special Bobs For Girls stunt sheds some light on how both vocabulary and gender roles have evolved over time. That extra little bit of cultural distance we have from the late 1920s today exposes just how silly the idea is. So does The Lobby Shadow Box stunt, although it makes me nostalgic for the days when something as simple as that would catch people's attention.

Of the Laugh-O-Meter, I can only speculate if the staff of the popcorn counter measured their shifts by that clock. "Where's Fred at!? He was supposed to relieve me at guffaw thirty!"

The Broadcast Laughs stunt probably annoyed the neighboring shopkeepers, but otherwise I think it's absolutely brilliant. Why? It's 100% honest. It's not the seller of a service telling you you want it. It's the seller channelling other people's satisfaction directly to you. It's corny, but quite a refreshing approach to marketing, when you think about it.

I don't think I can possibly say anything about the Deaf Man-Street Car Stunt that is funnier than what it already is. Ditto the Balky Donkey, which is funny enough if just a local theater is advertising to the locals, but can you imagine a modern day 20th Century Fox conducting a nationwide Balky Donkey ad campaign? I wonder what hiring the services of a 5000 balky donkeys and 5000 balky donkey handlers costs. But hey, you gotta spend money to make money.

The Antiquated Auto Parade actually sounds like a better idea now than then. Just how antiquated could a car be in 1928? I suppose more than you might think. Cars were surely changing a lot more from year to year way back then than now, when cars were a lot newer and less optimized. Nevertheless, I'm sure there is a whole lot more nostalgia and inherent comedy in 80 year old cars today than there was in 15 year old cars then. But never mind all that. Let's get to the root question here, which is, what's the chronicle of the development of the automobile got to do with selling a comedy?

The chuckle I get out of the Cross-Country Auto stunt comes primarily from just a single word: "supposed."

The Ambulance Stunt gets this week's My Favorite Stunt Award. What a great, great idea. I can only wish I had been around to see somebody pull this one off. Somebody makes a scene, and everybody around gets all concerned and watches to see what's going on, and suddenly, TAH-DAHHHH!!! It's a crummy commercial! So go see such-and-such movie, because you too, could be carried off in an ambulance? I dunno exactly what the logic is, but I suspect two things have changed in the cultural climate that would make this marketing stunt a flop today. One, people are a lot crankier about stuff like that and throw hissy fits. "I thought someone was hurt!" would probably get you money in a civil lawsuit, for some inexplicable reason. Two, can you imagine visiting the local hospital and trying to hire an ambulance for that kind of a job? Oh yeah, they'd be all over that.

The Blind Man stunt is pretty different, but might get a similar sort of reaction. You're not supposed to exploit disabilities. (What if a real blind man saw it!?) But I gotta give it one thing, and that goes for most of these advertising stunts. It must have been sort of nice to live in a world where even the advertising had a bit of a personal touch to it. Seeing a visual gag on the street by a live performer just seems so much nicer than getting blared at by billboards and CGI-intensive television commercials. Then again, nothing's more annoying than people shouting at passing cars from street corners, so maybe my sense of nostalgia is misplaced.

Well we've had ukulele contests and tracing contests and aeroplane contests. Add a dancing contest to that. The great thing about that dancing contest stunt is that you spend all that money to put it on, in the hopes of making it up in ticket sales, and then you go and give away a whole bunch of free tickets anyway. You'd better have a pretty huge turnout to make the affair worthwhile, which makes me wonder what kind of wacky advertising stunts they used to get people to the advertising stunt.

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