Professor Wong has invented a television machine and invites everyone to see it at China's International House Hotel. Every time Tommy Nash attempts to wed his fiancée Carol Fortescue he comes down with an illness, and when he breaks out in a rash the hotel is quarantined. Into this hotel flies Professor Quail in his auto-gyro. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
INTERNATIONAL HOUSE (Paramount, 1933), directed by A. Edward Sutherland, is a minor comedy that has grown into a classic, thanks to its frequent television revivals over the last few decades, later distribution on video cassette and DVD, and classic movie cable channels, first on American Movie Classics in 1992, and then, nearly ten years later, its resurrection again, this time on Turner Classic Movies, in 2001. After all these years, this 1933 gem is still very funny.
Set in Wu-Wu, China, Doctor Wong (Edmund Breese), the inventor of the radio scope (now known as television), is staying at the International House, a luxurious hotel, where he plans to meet with representatives who want to submit bids to buy his invention. One of them is Tommy Nash (Stuart Erwin), an employer for the American Electric Company visiting China on behalf of his firm. Unable to get a train to Wu-Wu (the bridge is washed out), he decides to take his car and drive there. At the train station, he encounters Peggy Hopkins Joyce (Peggy Hopkins Joyce), who overhears his plans and talks herself into riding with Nash, in hope to also get to the International House and see this latest invention that has made news headlines. Reaching International House, Tommy locates his fiancée, Carol Fortescue (Sari Maritza), who is upset because she has learned about his lady passenger, causing friction in their relationship. Complications ensue when Tommy, who always acquires some childish diseases such as chicken pox or mumps, acquires the measles and is put in quarantine, although in reality he has only a harmless rash. But this is the way one of Nash's competitors, General Nick Petronovich (Bela Lugosi), also one of Peggy Joyce's ex-husbands, puts him away while he tries to submit a bid for the radio scope. His plan fails when the entire hotel is quarantined and Petronovich finds he is unable to return inside the hotel, forcing himself to obtain a room at a sleazy hotel across the street.
Also at the hotel are Doctor Burns and Nurse Allen (George Burns and Gracie Allen); Lumsden Hare as the confused Sir Mortimer Fortescue, Carol's father; and Franklin Pangborn as the harassed hotel manager. Nearly a half hour from the start of the story comes Professor Henry R. Quail (WC Fields), entering the hotel rooftop via his auto gyro (airplane) from Juarez, Mexico, looking for Kansas City. Since Kansas City is "lost", Quail is here to stay at International House, disrupting everything and everyone around, which leads to misunderstandings, such as Petronovich witnessing from the hotel room across the street Quail sleeping in the same room as his ex-wife, Peggy, to a wild and crazy chase that leads Quail to drive his little car around the hotel and down the fire escape. (For any Paramount movie of this sort, "Anything Goes," so don't explain logic). The Burns and Allen comedy exchanges, which are part of the storyline, succeeds in stirring up some chuckles today. And see who gets the last laugh when Fields encounters Gracie wanting his autograph.
Aside from 70 minutes of sheer comedy madness and very risqué dialog that somehow got past the censors, INTERNATIONAL HOUSE takes time for some forgettable tunes written by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger. The first, a production number that echoes a Busby Berkeley dance routine, is "The Chinese Teacup and the Coffee Mug" (performed on the rooftop by Sterling Holloway and Lona Andre, sung by an unidentified and unseen vocalist). As Doctor Wong demonstrates his invention by trying desperately to get the Six Day Bicycle Race, the radio scope picks up famous entertainers of the day, such as Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd demonstrating their numerous inventions such as a revolving gold fish, a one dimensional alarm clock, etc., which sounds all "too peachy"; to vocalists singing songs, including "Thank Heaven for You" (sung by Rudy Vallee); "My Blue Bird is Singing the Blues" (sung by Baby Rose Marie); and "The Reefer Man" (sung by Cab Calloway and his band). All these musical interludes are brief, usually under five minutes. "The Reefer Man" was one song that suffered the TV's ax from some commercial TV stations, along with what Fields says when he finds a cat in his car, but fortunately these scenes have been restored. An instrumental song, "Look What I've Got," (introduced in a Maurice Chevalier musical, A BEDTIME STORY, 1933) is played during a hilarious scene where Fields and Joyce are preparing to take their showers and go to bed, unaware of each other's presence in the bedroom. This segment alone must be seen to be believed.
In spite of former famous Ziegfeld showgirl Peggy Hopkins Joyce obtaining top-billing in the cast, it is today acclaimed a W.C. Fields comedy. He practically walked off with the movie. At the time of the film's release, Joyce was not only well-known world wide celebrity with numerous ex-husbands, but a headliner in many circulated newspapers. Today she is virtually forgotten and her name rests in the land of the obscure. To learn more about this once famous actress, here appearing in her only talkie and final film, read the 2000 biography by Constance Rosenblum titled "Gold Digger: The Outrageous Life of Peggy Hopkins Joyce," and then go see this movie. (***)
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