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Movie poster for the Brown and Carney compedy duo film Zombies on Broadway.

Zombies on Broadway Nearly Kills a Career

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The only thing scary about the 1945 film Zombies on Broadway was what it almost did to the career of Wally Brown, a Malden, Mass., native.

Movie poster for the Brown and Carney compedy duo film Zombies on Broadway.

Movie poster for the Brown and Carney comedy duo film Zombies on Broadway.

Zombies on Broadway was supposed to be so bad it was good, but it was just … bad. (Unless you like that kind of thing.) The plot involved a comedy team looking for a real zombie to promote a Broadway nightclub called “The Zombie Hut.” With Bela Lugosi trying to turn a beautiful nightclub singer (of course) into a zombie.  In the Caribbean.

“No laughing matter,” wrote one critic. “Any film in which a monkey gets the best jokes is in serious trouble indeed,” wrote another. He described the comedy team as “a subpar Abbott and Costello.

Brown was actually a very funny stand-up comedian. Audiences loved his routine.  He’d launch breathlessly into a sentence on one subject and then suddenly change subjects, mid-word, never finishing a thought.

Post-Zombies on Broadway

RKO had actually signed Brown and former vaudevillian Alan Carney to emulate the wildly popular Abbott and Costello. RKO had decided Brown looked like Lou Costello and Carney like Bud Abbott, so they signed them to a contract. Their first effort together was a moneymaker. Though they weren’t very funny together, audiences also liked Zombies on Broadway well enough for it to turn a profit.

It was the sequel that caused RKO to drop Brown and Carney’s contract. Called Genius at Work, it also featured Lugosi, it was awful and it bombed.

Brown and Carney went their separate ways, Brown picking up supporting roles in film and television. They were reunited in Walt Disney’s Absent-Minded Professor. They were to appear together again in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but Wally Brown died suddenly before the movie was made.

We are indebted to Comedy-horror Films: A Chronological History, 1914-2008 by Bruce G. Hallenbeck and Military Comedy Films: A Critical Survey and Filmography of Hollywood Releases Since 1918 by Hal Erickson for information in this post. 

This story updated in 2022.

Image: By The poster art can or could be obtained from RKO Radio Pictures., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9757318

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