The Lord of the Rings Movie of 1940 [YouTube] has been online since 2007 but I just got the memo.
The coincidence was well-timed. Like many of you I have mentally played the game of casting this-or-that sf novel with the contract players from one of the Hollywood studios of the Forties. Only a few weeks ago I briefly thought of Lord of the Rings then quickly lost interest. After all, Warner Brothers really did produce a 1930s fantasy on that basis — A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935) — and it was going to be awfully difficult to distinguish any parody from a genuine movie featuring James Cagney as Bottom and Mickey Rooney as Puck.
The makers of The Lord of the Rings Movie of 1940 deserve applause for solving that problem. (They are O. Sharp and Karen Sharp according to the credits.) By turning Tolkien’s story into a film noir they exalt the game above merely plugging in the names of famous actors and create a vehicle that’s rich with opportunities for satirizing both the fantasy and detective formulas.
Casting Humphrey Bogart as Frodo, they use his movies as an artist’s palette, assembling their Lord of the Rings from moments in The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Casablanca and High Sierra, as well as non-Bogart pictures like The Thief of Bagdad and M.
They transform these movies’ iconic scenes into dramatic moments in Lord of the Rings, for example, making The Big Sleep’s meeting between Marlowe and General Sternwood amid the hothouse orchids into a summit between Frodo and Elrond at Rivendell.
The playful use of visual and musical elements is ultimately much funnier than the fake LOTR dialog. When a clip from Casablanca is introduced as Bilbo’s house in the Shire it’s remarkable how readily the powers of suggestion make a person believe the Middle Eastern-style ogee arches of Rick’s Cafe lead to the circular doorways of a hobbit’s home.
That doesn’t mean the game of casting the characters is any less fun. It all works together. The triumphant moment of this eight-minute epic is seeing Peter Lorre as Gollum. The perfect choice. How seamlessly “Joel Cairo’s” interest in The Maltese Falcon translates to the pursuit of another precious artifact.
[Thanks to Willard Stone for the link.]