In the Chicago Reader, J.R. jones reports on Robert Altman’s “Corn’s-A-Poppin’ (1955),” the long-lost popcorn-themed musical from Robert Altman. (You heard that right.) As Jones explains:
“Corn’s-A-Poppin'” originated with Elmer Rhoden Jr., an old school pal of Altman’s in Kansas City. Rhoden’s father co-owned Commonwealth Theatres, a regional chain of movie houses, and his brother was chairman of the Popcorn Institute, a trade association; together they came up with the idea of a locally shot, popcorn-related feature that could play the circuit. To direct the movie, Rhoden turned to Robert Woodburn of the local Calvin Company, which cranked out 16-millimeter industrial films, and Woodburn brought along his colleague Bob Altman to help on the script.
Given Jones’ description of “rinky-dink sets, hambone acting, and convoluted story logic,” “Corn’s-A-Poppin'” sounds as if it might have best stayed lost, but it does have a song called “On Our Way to Mars” (shades of “Waiting for Guffman”). And besides, Jones says, “for Altman aficionados, it’s essential viewing: his sarcasm and jaundiced view of the business world are already much in evidence, and the live country-western show at the center of the story makes the movie a fascinating precursor to two of his most beloved films, ‘Nashville’ and ‘A Prairie Home Companion.'” (In a review, critic Kyle Westphal goes further, calling it” just about the most free-wheeling and sing-able hour of cinema we’ve ever seen.”)
“Corn’s-A-Poppin'” might not be the long-lost film Altman aficionados truly dream of seeing: I’d sooner lay eyes on the Harold Pinter adaptations he directed for TV in the 1980s, which are devilishly hard to find in better-than-atrocious quality. But if I were anywhere near Chicago, I know where I’d be Monday night.
Update: Thanks to reader Eli Sentman for pointing out that the above-mentioned “On Our Way to Mars” is on YouTube.