Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Blues Spaaaaace!

No, you haven't ended up at the wrong site. While there's a case to be made that John Belushi's character in "The Blues Brothers" is a chosen favorite of Nyarlathotep, the film isn't something that falls within the normal purview of Propnomicon. Except in this case, it does.

Two years ago I stumbled across an interesting "Italian wooden space helmet prop" being offered by the Blackman Cruz design and decorating firm. It allegedly dated back to the 1930s, but bore a striking resemblance to some of Ralph McQuarrie's concept designs for the stormtrooper helmets in "Star Wars". Given the rabid community of fans that microscopically study every detail of those helmets I thought it was amazing that no one had ever remarked on the similarity.

Last night "TK826" left a comment on the original post about the helmet that points to this still from the making of "The Blues Brothers". It's filled with vacuum formed casts from the "1930s Italian space helmet prop" master, presumably from a toy store in the mall rampage sequence from the film.

The picture doesn't prove the Blackman Cruz helmet isn't from the 1930s, but I think it's pretty strong evidence in that direction. To date no one has ever identified an Italian film from any era featuring that particular helmet design. It seems far more believable that the master was produced in the late 1970s by the prop house providing set decoration for "The Blues Brothers" and was intentionally patterned after the McQuarrie designs. An intriguing alternative is that it's an actual master from the pre-production period of "Star Wars". If that's true there's someone out there who thinks they have a pricy objet d'art sitting on their tabletop, when in actuality it's a prop master a "Star Wars" collector would die for.


Scarecrow said...

I don't think they're connected. Looking at both, they are undeniably similar but they're not the same. The shape of the eye is different, the neck ridges are different and the shape of the 'forehead' is different aswell.

George said...

Very cool! It's like you're solving a historical puzzle. By the way, Blues Brothers came on TV the other day. I hadn't seen it for 20+ years and it still rocks.

CoastConFan said...

Stylistically the helmet has no elements from the 1930s, i.e. Art Deco. A study of SF magazines of the era along with the highly popular Buck Rogers comic serial and films shows no connections at all with this mask and 1930s futuristic art in graphics, films or props of the era. Generally, in objects of this period you will see streamlining and a lack of detail in most items along with standard Art Deco geometric forms as decoration elements. Oh yes, fins, they just loved fins on everything such as on guns, helmets and of course space ships. It could be an utterly anomalous piece of work from the 30s, utterly disconnected with contemporary and futuristic works of the period. But if that were so, the designer would have also produced other works of the type. This helmet is too organic, flowing in form and lacking in period trim detail in general. I strongly believe that it is late, very late 20th century. The “decorative arts” people are the bane of antique dealers and appraisers with their attributions that are given to sell the piece, not to accurately describe or attribute. There is no provenance, no origin or chain of custody from the 1930s on his piece. I say it is middle 70s at the very earliest and possibly as late as mid 80s in style.

Propnomicon said...

@ Scarecrow

I claim no particular expertise, but I think the differences can be explained by distortions introduced during the vacuum forming process.

@ George

It's the kind of puzzle I love. If it's *not* a 70s era master I'd find it just as interesting to discover where it did come from.


And interior design houses love, and by "love" I mean "charge an arm and a leg" for, things that are old and Italian. Heh.

One thing I thought was odd about the helmet in the first place was the coloration. I would have thought a prop from the 30s would have a colorful lacquer finish and not the brownish red of Bondo.

Anonymous said...

It's definitely a vacuum forming blank in my opinion.

Notice how all the details point towards the sides without overhangs and it splits down the middle. You'd slap the two halves on your table, form plastic over it, and them assemble the halves into a complete helmet.

Anonymous said...

It a forming tool for a Toy Box (brand) space helmetsold in the states around the late 7s early 80s , look up stormtrooper helmets on ebay these tend to pop up there very often , suprissed no one else has said that

Anonymous said...

I have the black helmet "shadow storm troopers helmet" sitting on my kitchen counter. Its made by a company called "toy box inc" which I'm almost positive was made in the 1970's. The helmet is made of a thick hard black plastic. I was on this site trying to figure out the value of the helmet but I can not find anything about it on the internet. If anyone does want pictures or has any information please email me at thank you