|Page 1 of 4:||   |
|Index||37 reviews in total|
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
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. (***)
International House is the cinematic equivalent of a root beer float:
not exactly nutritious, but it sure makes you feel good. This is the
kind of movie that somehow creates an atmosphere of great comedy, even
when the comedy isn't so great. Of course, it helps if you enjoy flicks
of the Pre-Code era, the jazz and pop of the early '30s, and performers
such as W.C. Fields, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Cab Calloway, etc.
(Personally I love these folks, and relish seeing them in practically
anything.) Even so, you may find that some of the punch-lines fall
flat, either because they're based on obscure topical references or
because they weren't all that funny in the first place, or maybe
because the jokes are supposed to be dumb and the dumbness itself is
the joke. In the end I have to conclude that whatever success this film
achieves is due almost entirely to the charisma of the larger-than-life
personalities of stage, screen, and radio assembled to put the material
across. I can't think of another comedy with so many dead spots and
missed opportunities that is so defiantly enjoyable anyhow.
Our story concerns the demonstration of a new invention, television, in a luxury hotel in Wu Hu, China. Dr. Wong, the inventor of this device (quaintly termed a "radio-scope" here) is entertaining bids from various international companies for the rights to his invention, and the competition for this prize forms what little plot there is. Clearly, the premise is just a flimsy excuse to throw together a batch of comic skits, songs, and star turns of one sort or another. Some of the stars have lost their luster with the passage of time; the male lead is a rather unappealing comic named Stuart Erwin who was mysteriously featured in several Paramount films of the period, while the leading lady is a once-famous celebrity named Peggy Hopkins Joyce who plays herself. Joyce was a former showgirl who was better known for marrying and divorcing millionaires than for her acting skill: the Zsa Zsa Gabor of her time. Happily, however, Erwin and Joyce quickly fade into the woodwork while we enjoy the antics of the more appealing players.
There's a lot to enjoy here: Gracie Allen as the ditsy dame, hotel manager Franklin Pangborn in full fuss-budget mode, a strangely out-of-place Bela Lugosi as one of Miss Joyce's jealous ex-husbands, and of course W.C. Fields as the drunken lecher Professor Quail. I've always enjoyed Fields a great deal but must confess I have mixed feelings about his work here. Quail isn't the long-suffering Dad of It's a Gift or the lovable rogue of The Old Fashioned Way, he's sour and generally obnoxious. For me this characterization plays better in some scenes (i.e. his confrontation with Gracie) than in others (his destruction of the telephone switchboard). Fields' funniest sequence is one in which he and Miss Joyce temporarily share a bedroom suite, while each is unaware of the other's presence. I also have mixed feelings about Burns & Allen's routines on this occasion, but even when their jokes are lousy they punch 'em across with sheer panache.
Who else is at the party? Well, Cab Calloway's music is great, and his number in the uncensored version of this movie, an up-tempo tribute to marijuana called "Reefer Man," is a real jaw-dropper -- no wonder it was cut from the T.V. prints! Baby Rose Marie, already a seasoned trouper at age 10, is downright eerie belting out her torch ballad like a low-down, red hot mama. Rudy Vallee's number has always been my cue to head for the john. And then, there are a couple of lingering mysteries: why is Dr. Wong is so doggedly determined to tune-in the six-day bicycle race at Madison Square Garden? And how did the two guys who call themselves Colonel Stoopnagle & Budd get into this movie? Their brief scene is a total dud, and their appeal escapes me completely. On the other hand, that musical number with the giant teacups, Sterling Holloway, and dancers with spoons in their hair makes me feel like I've suddenly ingested hallucinogenic mushrooms. In a nice way, I mean.
If nothing else this movie has given the world a notable punch-line, the one found in my subject heading above. This, of course, is Professor Quail's immortal retort to the fussy little hotel manager when he assumes the fellow is making a pass at him. I went to a public screening of International House recently and overheard two different people quoting the line in the lobby beforehand. If you find that line funny -- and I certainly do -- then this oddball comedy may suit your palate. After all, a root beer float now and again never killed anybody.
Early form of television that doesn't need a broadcast station brings
people from all over the world to Wu Hu China with the hopes of buying
it. Among those at the hotel guests are George Burns and Gracie Allen
(as the hotel doctor and nurse), Bela Lugosi as a Russian General, WC
Fields as a mad Professor, Frank Pangborn as the Hotel manager, and
Sterling Halloway. While through the magic of TV we see Rudy Vallee,
Rose Marie and Cab Calloway (who performs Reefer Man).
Wild comedy that is the sort of big budget multi star film that could only have been made in the studio system. Tighter story wise than many of the films of this sort its really more an excuse to have Burns and Allen and WC Fields be very funny for just over an hour. The jokes come along at a good clip, and since this is really pre-code they are often shaded slightly blue. To be certain the Burns and Allen stuff is close to being a cliché form of their routine, but its still funny. Fields arrival by auto-gyro heralds the arrival of Fields as a comic force to be reckoned with, as the film ceases to be about nothing so much much as Fields running over everyone and everything.He's a hysterical. Also amazing is Bela Lugosi in a rare comic turn. Bela plays it straight and his slow burn is funny enough that he clearly in the running with Edgar Kennedy as the man with the best one in Hollywood. He's so good at being silly one can't help but wish he had never made Dracula and been typecast as such.
This is a real gem.
International House is an entirely insane and hilarious romp. A bunch of wacky characters travel to Wu Hu, China in order to bid for the rights to manufacture the new invention of television. W.C. Fields is the standout here, giving perhaps the funniest performance of his early career, rivaling such other classics as The Old-Fashioned Way, You're Telling Me, and It's a Gift. But there are others in this film who are just as good. Franklin Pangborn is as easily upset as ever. Bela Lugosi turns in a wonderfully hammy performance as a Russian General. George Burns and Gracie Allen deliver one corny joke after another (most people will find them annoying in any of their films, but I find that they begin to grow on you; those jokes, I contend, are supposed to be groaners). Perhaps the only character to get lost in the proceedings is Tommy Nash (Stuart Erwin), a representative of an American company who is the front runner in the race to win television. The movie tries to make him the main character at the beginning, but, with all the other zaniness, Erwin, a straight man, is understandably left out of most of the picture. Also in this film are some amazing musical numbers, including a song entitled "Reefer Man," sung by a black jazz group. Because of the marijuana references, this segment was long thought lost. Whenever they show this film on TCM, they include that scene. Marvelous stuff, all of it. 9/10
This film has something for everyone: George Burns & Gracie Allen in top
form, a bumbling Stu Erwin, a harrased hotel manager (Franklin Pangborn),
and a new invention: Television!
Even WC Fields (whom I've never much cared for) is excellent in this film! It also contains Bela Lugosi in a rare, comedic role!
It also contains musical production numbers by Rudy Valle, Sterling Holloway (his parts were edited in after the film was made), and try to get the complete version of this film, so you can see Cab Calloway's classic rendition of "Reefer Man"!
There is something for everyone in this highly entertaining film! (Trivia: There is a film clip that shows an earthquake occuring on the set of this film, taken during a scene with WC Fields; this has recently been exposed as a hoax).
W. C. Fields and an all-star cast triumph (albeit barely) over a dated
attempt at kitchen-sink comedy that might be described as "Grand Hotel"
meets "Saturday Night Live" if the latter went to air in the early days
of the Roosevelt Administration.
I enjoyed it, anyway.
In Wuhu, China, an inventor of something called radioscope, not exactly television but rather a video medium that "needs no broadcast station, and no carrier waves" puts his device up for auction. His desired buyer is something called the American Electric Company, but alas, the American agent for same, Tommy Nash (nominal lead actor Stuart Erwin) struggles to get his would-be wife to accept the fact he's not really there to win the hand of celebrated man-killer Peggy Hopkins Joyce, playing herself.
All this of course falls by the boards when Professor Quail (W. C. Fields) arrives via an autogyro dubbed "The Spirit Of Brooklyn."
"What is Wuhu doing where Kansas City ought to be?" Quail demands.
"Maybe you're lost," somebody suggests.
"Kansas City is lost!" the professor replies. "I am here!"
And so he is. Fields' arrival kick-starts the anarchic film into a more enjoyable gear.
Not a great film. But at times a good one, funny if dated. The cast includes Franklin Pangborn as the frustrated hotel manager, George Burns as the hotel doctor, and Gracie Allen as his dopey nurse, whose brother fell off an ironing board because he forgot to take his pants off before pressing them.
"I've got a good mind to get a different nurse," Burns exclaims.
"Oh, no, no," Pangborn replies. "This one is different enough."
Joyce, a real-life gossip-page celebrity starring here in her only movie, is often mentioned as the big detraction in this movie. But she's actually pretty good, whether flirting with Erwin or discovering herself accidentally in bed with a bumptious Fields. She shows more comedy chops in her reaction shots then you expect from a novice.
Also fun in an unconventional role is the one and only Bela Lugosi, here Joyce's ex-husband who wants both the woman and the invention, and pledges vengeance against "that loose-living American jackal" she seems to fancy. Lugosi knows how to deliver menace, but here he does with some surprisingly enjoyable comedic turns, like struggling to open a window so he can shoot Fields with his mangled revolver.
The radioscope is used here as a device to introduce some musical variety bits that bkoganbing says in another review here was based on the Big Broadcast films that Paramount Studios was producing at the time. I think it was also inspired by "Elstree Calling," a British film for which Alfred Hitchcock directed interstitial segments that also used the invention of television as an excuse for serving up a variety- show type film.
Director A. Edmund Sutherland and his team of writers find room for songs by Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, and kiddie singer Rose Marie (later of "The Dick Van Dyke Show"), all of which add something to the general merriment even as they also water down the weak plot. Nothing in this film lasts more than a few minutes, because nothing can sustain our interest longer.
Ultimately, what you get here, after a half-hour intro, is one of Fields' better comedy showcases before he got too drunk for Paramount and moved on to Universal to make his finest comedies. If the test of a great comic is getting solid laughs with second-rate material, Fields nails it here.
Paramount had the brilliant idea of featuring radio in the movies the
previous year with The Big Broadcast. That film featured all kinds of
radio stars the public only imagined and had an anarchic plot similar
to International House.
I've often wondered if Paramount didn't mean to have this be The Big Broadcast of 1933 originally. Repeating from the cast of The Big Broadcast are Stu Erwin and Burns & Allen and Cab Calloway. Adding to the general hilarity are W.C. Fields, Franklin Pangborn, Rudy Vallee, Bela Lugosi, and the Paris Hilton of her day, Peggy Hopkins Joyce.
The slender thread of a plot this movie hangs on involves a Chinese inventor Edmund Breon who invents the seeing eye, radio you can see as well as listen to. Everyone wants to get their hands on this valuable patent. A lot of the musical guest stars get hooked into the film via the inventor testing out the device.
Bing Crosby made his feature film starring debut in The Big Broadcast and I wonder why his crooning rival Rudy Vallee was hired for this film. Rudy has a nice, but unmemorable number.
Of course what makes the film really go are Burns and Allen and W.C. Fields. They uplift any film they are in. George and Gracie's montypythonesque type dialog is timeless and priceless.
So is Fields of course, the eternal misanthrope. There was one bit of humor I caught in International House though that is rather dated. During that final chase scene through the International House lobby with Fields in an automobile, he pokes his head through the car roof and puts his top hat on. He then remarks something about this car used to belong to the Postmaster General.
As it turns out Herbert Hoover's Postmaster General was a rather fatuous gentlemen named Walter Brown. He liked to wear high silk hats and had a limousine designed with an extra tall roof so he could ride with his topper on. At government expense of course in the middle of the Depression. He was forever derided as High Hat Brown after that and even a year later after Hoover was out of office, W.C. Fields could wring a laugh or two with that crack from the Depression audience.
Still though, this should really be called The Big Broadcast of 1933.
A lot of commotion falls upon the International House hotel in Wu Hu China. Doctor Wong is planning to demonstrate a new television device and sell it to Tommy Nash, representative of the American Electric Company. Nash escorts Peggy Hopkins Joyce to the hotel as well, which makes his fiancé jealous. Also jealous is Joyce's ex-husband, Gen. Nicholas Petronovich, who is also trying to buy the invention. Gen. Petronovich tries to have Nash quarantined, but only succeeds in quarantining the hotel, with him outside the hotel. The arrival of Prof. Quail, millionaire and drunkard, creates more chaos in the hotel with his crude manners, and enrages Gen. Petronovich when he mistakenly believes Quail is sleeping with Peggy. The International House turns into madness as everyone tries to return the hotel to normal. The movie is entirely plot less, but relies on its silliness to move along, and it works. Fields is a riot drunkenly stumbling around delivering his trademark one liners. Many of the other big stars make appearances via Wong's television (Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, Stoopnagle and Budd). Gracie Allen's hair-brained lines have a slight logic behind them to make them funny. The movie seemed to be a bit too chaotic at times, but the chaos works in certain scenes. Rating, 7
I'm just impressed that anybody could write as *much* about a trifle
like this movie, and do it so well.
The movie certainly gives you a sense of how fleeting fame can be. I got the impression that Peggy Hopkins Joyce and Sari Maritza were household words at the time, and that "Stoopnocracy is Peachy" was the catchphrase on everybody's lips. (Who the hell WERE those guys?!)
Baby Rose Marie of course grew up to be Rose Marie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and every TV game show in the 70s. I didn't know she'd been a child star, & despite the obvious singing talent, I just found the whole thing a little creepy. It reminded me of Thomas Pynchon's Baby Igor in "The Crying of Lot 49."
I kept waiting for Franklin Pangborn to go "Yeeee-eeee-sssss?....Ooooh!"
Fields steals every scene, of course, but if you want him, I wouldn't start here. Go to the Criterion "Six Short Films" DVD, for Godfrey Daniels' sake!
With this kind of lineup, maybe I expected too much. It just wasn't as
funny and good as I had anticipated, but still had some good moments.
Some notes from the film:
Stu Erwin's role as the sappy American who gets sick every time he nearly gets married isn't that funny and goes on too long compared to the rest of the "skits." Gracie Allen was humorous with her normal dumb-woman role. W.C. Fields livens up the film whenever he's on screen.
Music-wise, there is an interesting Busby Berkeley-type dance number with pretty women in risqué outfits. Cab Calloway and his band to "Reefer Man," which is pretty good. Young Rose Marie shocked me with her mature-woman, throaty-voice song. I actually liked Rudy Valley's voice in here in the short song he performs.
There really isn't much of a story in here as this movie is mainly a showcase for some comedians and singers.
|Page 1 of 4:||   |
|Plot summary||Ratings||External reviews|
|Parents Guide||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|