Hellzapoppin’ (1941)

Directed by H. C. Potter
This movie, based on a hit Broadway play, showcases Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dancing the most famous and most spectacular Lindy Hop scene ever preserved on film. The dancing was choreographed by Frankie Manning.

 This scene featuring Black dancers has only a superficial connection to the rest of the film, by design.  Their costumes suggest that they were workers employed by the white people that are the focus of the story. When this movie travelled to the South, with its Jim Crow segregation laws, this scene could be removed from the film and the story line was unaffected.

The scene starts when Slim Galliard and Slam Stewart, in workmen’s garb, discover some musical instruments while supposedly delivering a package backstage. They play a few tentative notes, and a spontaneous, swinging jam starts cooking . More backstage “workers” join the jam, including Rex Stuart on trumpet and C.C. Johnson on the ”Bongo drums”. The music builds in excitement until, as if out of nowhere, four Lindy Hopping couples, dressed in overalls and uniforms, swing out into the cameras at a frenetic tempo. Each couple executes amazing acrobatic shines. Then the group unites for precision ensemble work filmed at an angle that emphasizes legwork and speed.

The choreography and the dancing are as near to perfect Lindy Hop as you can see anywhere! The scene will take your breath away no matter how many times you see it. It is no wonder that this film was responsible for the simultaneous resurgence of interest in Lindy Hop in Sweden and Britain in the 1980’s.

There is also a short scene with Dean Collins and Martha Raye dancing Lindy Hop to the tune Watch The Birdie.

An interesting sidenote: Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers’ routine in Hellzapoppin’ was originally danced and choreographed to different music, namely “Jumping at the Woodside”. Universal Studios had a composer who was on staff write new music for the routine. One can see a 2007 reconstruction of the routine with the original music by Dmitry Smolin at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdWgHtTau48. More recently, Andy Lewis rephrased the audio synchronization in the video and Atilio Menéndez discovered a remarkable HD version of the video. And now colorization. Wow!


Harlem Congaroo Dancers ( aka Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers)
In Hellzapoppin (in order of appearance):
William Downes (uniform) and Frances “Mickey” Jones (maid).
Norma Miller and Billy Ricker (chef’s hat).
Al Minns (white coat, black pants) and Willa Mae Ricker.
Ann Johnson (maid) and Frankie Manning (overalls).


This content was originally written by Judy Pritchett with Frank Manning. Copyright, 1995, 1996, 1997 for savoystyle.com. It may not be reproduced without written permission. Please use the contact form on this website to get in touch.  Originally part of the World Lindy Hop Federation Archives created by Keith Hughes.

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