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Don't let the posy fool ya!
wmorrow5911 August 2005
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.
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Madness of the funny sort.
dbborroughs6 January 2008
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.
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The China Syndrome
lugonian8 June 2001
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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"Careless, My Little Love Cake, Careless"
Bill Slocum12 October 2012
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.
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One of the funniest comedies of the 30s
zetes10 August 2001
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
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W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, and Cab Calloway are highlights of the uneven International House
tavm27 January 2012
While I remember watching this on VHS in the '90s, the only parts that I had total recall were the exchanges between Gracie Allen, her husband George Burns, Franklin Pangborn, and the one and only W.C. Fields. Well, I also remember the musical performances of Baby Rose Marie and especially Cab Calloway with that "Reefer Man" number. The other parts I forgot and when watching it again just now on YouTube, I can see why-there wasn't much that was very funny other than what I cited in the first sentence. I mean, the story concerning Stuart Erwin, a lady named Peggy Hopkins Joyce who was obviously somebody famous then but is just obscure now, and his fiancée often stopped the movie dead in the tracks whenever they were on. At least Ms. Joyce got some good scenes with Fields especially when a cat was used near the end resulting in the kind of risqué joke that would have been verboten a year later when the Hays Code went into full effect. Of course, the same could be said of that Calloway number that I just mentioned so I'm not surprised that that quite wonderfully weird number would be censored when the movie appeared on actual TV as opposed to the "radioscope" depicted here. Not a classic but International House is very much worth a look for many of the now-iconic stars that were just trying to entertain to the best of their ability. Oh, and that teacup number with future Winnie the Pooh voice actor Sterling Holloway as a dancing sailor has to be seen to be believed...
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A cinematic time capsule
dimplet1 January 2012
I was wondering if there was anyone still alive from this wonderful old film. And there is at least one: Rose Marie. You know, Sally Rogers from the Dick Van Dyke Show. Someone should interview her about this.

I love to watch International House around New Years because it provides a gauge of the passage of time. It's been 78 years now since it was made. It all looks so old, but so will we in the year 2090.

I saw this in college and it was the first time I saw Cab Calloway do Refer Man. You remember him from The Blues Brothers. And Rose Marie was a regular on the Dick Van Dyke Show. George Burns went on to play the Big Guy in Oh, God.

To fully appreciate this, you need to watch some Busby Berkeley musicals from the period, as the tea cup number, in particular, uses some of the same devices. See 42nd Street, and the way the dancers use cutouts of the Manhattan skyline, for instance. It's hard to say who was copying whom, as they were both made about the same time. Perhaps they both got the idea from earlier Broadway numbers by Ziegfeld.

This is a wonderful film. If you haven't seen it, you are in for a treat. Just don't view it with 21st century eyes. Try to put yourself back in 1933 sitting in a movie theater with some hot buttered popcorn watching one of those new talking pictures. With singing and dancing by lots of beautiful dames, too!
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A "must see" film!
Norm-3023 June 1999
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).
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Funny snapshot of 1933
MikeMagi13 July 2011
Why did Gracie Allen's sister learn French? Because she inadvertently took home a French baby, rather than her own, and wanted to be able to talk to him when he grew up. And why does cheerfully soused W.C. Fields have a roadster in his auto-gyro? For side-trips, of course -- like the one that takes him careening through the corridors, lounges and lobbies of the grandest hotel in Wu Hu China. It's right across the street from the flophouse where Bela Lugosi as gold digger Peggy Ann Joyce's insanely jealous ex-husband has been forced to reside. As for how Cab Calloway, singing a tribute to the heady pleasures of pot, and Rudy Vallee, serenading his megaphone, wander into the movie, they're among the images scanned up by a Chinese inventor who's attempting to televise a six-day bike race before television (as we know it today) was invented. Other pleasures in "International House" range from ten-year-old baby RoseMarie (who would eventually be the adult RoseMarie of the "Dick Van Dyke Show") doing a Sophie Tucker low blues and some surprisingly agile hoofing by Sterling Halloway. Fields' mumbling, bumbling, boozy millionaire staggers off with the comedy honors. But you don't even have to be Wiliam Claude Dukenfeld fan to find a lot to enjoy.
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The Big Broadcast of 1933
bkoganbing17 July 2006
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.
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Want to see a 6 Day Bicycle Race?
Mike-76418 December 2004
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
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So-So Vehicle For Comics & Singers
ccthemovieman-19 October 2006
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.
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For old time movie fans, there's a lot to please in this strange melange
MartinHafer9 December 2008
I've always wanted to use the word 'melange' in a review and here I finally have done it. That word is appropriate because this film is jam-packed with a wide variety of items--like a chef salad of films! There's a lot of comedy with W.C. Fields as well as Burns and Allen, romance with Stu Erwin and his sweetie, a jealous ex-husband (Bela Lugosi) and a lot of special appearances by radio stars (such as Baby Rose Marie--the same lady who later starred on "The Dick Van Dyke Show") and Cab Calloway--singing the ultra-bizarre "Reefer Man"--a film that makes fun of pot smoking! Yes, I did mean marijuana! This Pre-Code film has a lot of racy material other than the film--such as plenty of double-entendres by Fields, cohabitation and a song and dance number with surprisingly scantily clad ladies. Only a year later, after a tougher Production Code was enacted, much of this film simply wouldn't have been allowed--it just wasn't "proper family entertainment" according to the Hays Office (which is lampooned in a comment by Fields late in the film).

In many ways, the film is like a variety show and the plot really is rather irrelevant, though it is interesting to see such an early film talk about and supposedly demonstrate television. With so much variety in the film, many of the segments fall a bit short, but since they come and go so quickly, you're bound to be entertained only a moment later. Not great entertainment, but clearly an important film for lovers of classic cinema.
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Michael_Elliott2 March 2008
International House (1933)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

An all-star cast is the highlight of this comedy about a wacky group of characters who go to a Chinese hotel to bid on a new invention (the television). With a cast that includes W.C. Fields, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Stewart Erwin, George Burns, Gracie Allen and Bela Lugosi, there's really something here for everyone. The film is certainly uneven but that's not really a problem since the movie is just set up to gets laughs at any way possible. I'm really not that big of a fan of Fields but I enjoyed his performance here. Burns and Allen certainly steal the show but I felt Lugosi gave one of his best performances here as well.
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Kudos to wmorrow59 and lugonian
tomaq8 August 2009
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!
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All-Star Mayhem!
mark.waltz15 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
There's fun to be had by all in this glamorous musical comedy with tons of Paramount contract stars (and some musical guests) from 1933. There's George Burns as a befuddled doctor, Gracie Allen as his bird-brained nurse (with LOTS of stories involving her wacky family), W.C. Fields as a helicopter flying adventurer, Peggy Hopkins Joyce as a social climber named Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Bela Lugosi as a Russian General, and Franklin Pangborn as the delightful sissy hotel manager, flustered by everything and anything. It all involves a hotel in Wu Hu China under quarantine and an inventor showing off his television like contraption, a similar plot devise later utilized in "The Big Broadcast of 1936".

There are lots of great scenes of pre-code innuendo between practically all of the cast, mostly Fields and Allen (writing his signature on her nurse's uniform collar after she asks for his autograph, he responds, "I'd like to write your epitaph!"), Fields and Pangborn ("Don't Let the Posy Fool You!"), and Fields and Joyce (particularly a scene of discovering some newly born kittens on the helicopter they are making an escape on). Some of them are downright dirty. Then, there are the musical numbers, which include songs by Baby Rose Marie and Cab Colloway, and a wacky production number featuring Sterling Holloway called "She Was a Chinese Teacup, But He Was Just a Mug!" that features giant puzzle pieces. Short and sweet, "International House" is the epitome of what makes great musical comedy-girls, gags and gowns.
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Great Fields and Gracie Allan
Tashtago24 July 2011
Although he's on the screen for only half the time this is classic early Fields. Before he became the put upon family man he was this obnoxious but nevertheless hilarious blustering boasting egomaniac. Perfect scene with him and Gracie Allan. Fields is at his nastiest best here- "what is the penalty for murder in China?" Gracie Allan is equally funny with George Burns impeccable as her comedy foil. I loved the line about not telling where she went to school.. There are other highlights as well.Skip the stupid romance and most of the Peggy Hopkins Joyce scenes but enjoy the pre-code sexiness, particularly in the Tea-Cup number and Fields comment after looking in a key hole at the hotel. A fast wild ride a'la 30's comedy and not to be missed by fans of the genre.
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Pretty funny mish mash.....
gazzo-230 March 2005
Warning: Spoilers
.....very typical of the time and place-mixture of disparate comedians from film, stage and radio, pseudo-unplotted plot about a TV and some bidding, rambunctious action and a sense of overall farce.

I liked it of course. You have some rather raunchy pre-Code dialogue-esp the 'Wu-hu!'/'Don't let the posie fool ya...' routine. (I found out after some little digging who the mysterious Phyllis Joyce etc person was--think Paris Hilton mixed w/ Liz Taylor's marital career. A big time passing celeb of the day, like Paris to be forgotten completely after the era passes.) No one seems to take it all that seriously--WC kinda walks scornfully thru his role, Pangborn plays the gay official for the 34th time to a tee, George and Gracie are George and Gracie, plus the usual mix of musical numbers are kinda fun. There you have Rose Marie from Dick Van Dyke singing--I take it she was a combo of Shirley Temple and Brenda Lee but way back? Cab Calloway, the guy who did Winnie the Pooh's voice as a singing sailor(!) and of course Bela Lugosi chewing the scenery as only Bela could.

I did find Gracie to be grating after a time, and as for Stu Erwin...Egads. Turns out he was a familiar face in many a flick and TV show, but here--lights out.

A good bad mixed bag, but hey-a Confucian Mandarin Inventor sharing space w. a passel of radio comics and an early Coptor? Works for me.

*** outta ****.
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ajdagreat2 October 2001
This very funny movie has a little something for everyone, comedy-wise. Don't like W.C. Fields's one-liners? Well, just sample some of George Burns's and Gracie Allen's witty dialogue. Don't like the musical numbers from Cab Calloway, Rudy Vallee, etc.? Well, maybe you'll like Franklin Pangborn's physical humor better. Me, I loved it all. I especially liked this line, which must have been risque in 1933 (I'm sure I misquoted this line, but you get the general idea):

(W.C. Fields crashes into the city of Wuhu.)

Fields: Where am I?

Woman: Wuhu!

Fields: Woo hoo yourself, sweetheart. Now where am I?

Man: Wuhu!

Fields: (noticing a flower in his shirt pocket) Don't let the posie fool ya. (he throws the flower on the ground)

Be sure to catch this one on TCM!
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A time capsule of humor
typonaut3 November 2000
The first time i saw this i thought it was hilarious. It does not work so well now - for me - 20 years later, but perhaps it will for you on your first viewing. And it is a movie I keep thinking about, now and then. Keep in mind that in 1933 there were rival systems for television being developed, so the public was no doubt enthralled by the idea, just as the movie conveys. But by the early 1930s the BBC was already broadcasting a couple of hours of television nightly, a weird mechanical contraption of spinning disks transmitting on regular radio frequencies, not unlike the this movie. This despite the fact that Philo Farnsworth had already demonstrated our current electronic television system in 1927. Now the weirdest part is that the first city to city long distance television transmission was from Madison Square Garden to Philadelphia in 1936 of the six day bicycle race -- evidently life imitating art! In sum, International House is one of the weirdest movies ever made. Don't miss the chance to see it. It's like time tripping.
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What is the Penalty For Murder in China?
theowinthrop3 October 2005
Warning: Spoilers
In the lyrics of one of their myriad show tunes, Richard Rogers put these words by Lorenz Hart poking fun at two prominent "golddiggers" of the 1920s - 1930s;

"Peggy Joyce has a hobby.

All her husbands have gold.

Lilyan Tashman won't go out with the ash man...."

Both Joyce and Tashman were Broadway personalities, Joyce a pretty face in choruses (in the Ziegfeld Follies, for example) and Tashman in actually important acting parts. Joyce made several silent films, and this talkie (her only talkie). Tashman was in several talkies, but died prematurely - she actually had it in her to make a good career in film.

If you look at Peggy Hopkins Joyce's biographic thread on this web site you will see the five wealthy men she married and divorced in her career. The lady had one great asset - her body. In the age of ballyhoo of the 1920s and even in the early days of Depression people were really impressed by her, and she was even listed once among the most admired women in the world (with Amelia Earhart and Madame Curie, who actually did things). But her heyday faded as she entered middle age, and younger ladies took over her audience. By the time she died in the 1950s, she was a has-been.

The real stars of this film are the following: W.C.Fields, Burns and Allan, Franklin Pangborn, Bela Lugosi, Cab Callaway, Rudy Vallee, and the then "Baby" Rose Marie. The last three do musical numbers of interest (Callaway's being about a musician who is high on reefers, of all things!). The real humor is done by Fields, Burns and Allan, and Pangborn, including an immortal moment when the fey Franklin is momentarily unsettling to Fields who thinks Pangborn is trying to signal that he is interested in him. There is also some assists from Stu Erwin, but although a better performer than some of the reviewers here think he is not in the same class as "Uncle Claude", George and Gracie, and Franklin. As for the comics and entertainers outside of Callaway, Vallee, and Rose Marie, Stulpnagel and Budd is a real let-down. The pair had a crazily popular radio show at the time, but it has faded from memory (as did their idiot contemporary Joe Penner).

Fields' Professor Henry R. Quail is trying to reach Kansas City in his auto-gyro THE SPIRIT OF SOUTH BROOKLYN, but gets lost and ends in Wu-Hu China, at the famous International House hotel (run by Pangborn, where the resident doctor and nurse are Burns and Alice). A Chinese inventor has designed a prototype of television, and various bidders from around the world are at the hotel (Lugosi as General Petronovich is apparently trying to get the rights for himself, and then sell it to the highest bidder; Lumsdale Hare represents Britain; Erwin is from the U.S.). Joyce has gone there because she is looking for another rich husband, first glancing at Erwin, then trying to avoid jealous, ex-husband Lugosi, and then ending up with Fields. The musical acts are mostly shown on the television. Fields is unimpressed by the invention - he fires a gun at the screen at one point when the U.S. fleet is shown, and one of the battleships sinks.

This is one of those films (there were plenty of them among Depression comedies) where the plot line was so weak that barely anything funny is connected to it. The best plot line running joke is how the Chinese inventor is looking forward to catching the six day bicycle race in New York, and while it is mildly amusing it is really dull. But Burns and Allan do several of their classic routines, one of which is even funnier when Pangborn joins them, and breaks character by taking turns with George Burns in trying to handle Gracie Allan's twisted, marvelous ill-logic. Fields is more straightforward with Gracie. After hearing her comments for a few moments, he turns to another party and asks about the death penalty in China.

Lugosi is really something else. A capable actor - even (in the right hands) a strong and vibrant one - he never played comedy well. His funniest line of dialog in film is in the 1934 BLACK CAT, when he overly pronounces the word "baloney" in all seriousness. Yet here and in NINOTCHKA he appeared in popular comedies. Both times his humor is basically reaction humor. Bad tempered and jealous here, and a serious commissar in NINOTCHKA, his reaction to the antics of others becomes funny (going insane watching Fields and Joyce supposedly having a tryst across the street, and being unable to open the window of his room to get out and climb into their room - his highpoint here). He also has a nice moment having lost his nice rooms at International House by a trick that backfired, and being stuck in a dive of a hotel across the street. So he is a plus here among the humorists.

The film is not great Fields, but it is popular Fields. I give it an 8 for the better humorists in the film, despite being stuck with Stulpnagel and Budd and Ms Joyce.
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Delightful comments about International House
Randy Rodman30 April 2001
This film should be remembered not as an early experiment in comedy but as the world's first psychodelic movie. I'm certain the person who thought up the dancing teacup number was floating a few feet off the ground at the time. (By the way, the reefer man wasn't playing bass; it was whoever put Baby Rose Marie and Cab Calloway on the same bill.) How else do you explain a movie that stars an actress playing herself, then her identity is never mentioned again? Come to think of it, why does a man fly to China and drive halfway across the desert to meet his fiancee? What was his fiancee doing in China? Why does Baby Rose Marie look like a twelve year-old and dress like a two year-old? What's with Bela Lugosi? Can a person sit on a batch of kittens for five full minutes without killing them? What's wrong with Gracie's brother? Is he the one who thought up the teacup number?

Now that I think of it, this film should be remembered as an early experiment in comedy. It's fast pace and complete disregard for plot would become standard for the great slob comedies of the 1970's, especially Caddyshack. The scenes of W.C. Fields tearing through International House spewing insults and sex jokes would be revived almost 50 years later by Rodney Dangerfield (even their names are alike.) Just substitute a midwestern country club for a Chinese hotel, a dim-witted caddy trying for a scholarship for a dim-witted groom trying to get married and Bill Murray for Gracie Allen and the two movies become indistinguishable. Of course Caddyshack doesn't have Bela Lugosi, but Ted Knight will do in a pinch.
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What a Mess
JasonLeeSmith27 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This was a common theme in Hollywood in the 30s: cram as many vaudeville and radio stars as you can into a movie, give it a tissue-paper thin plot and see what happens. I've seen and enjoyed several of the "Big Broadcast" films of this genre, so I know that it can work, however it doesn't in this case.

The big names for the film were W.C. Fields and Burns & Allen, along with a woman named Peggy Hopkins Joyce (who must have been something of a celebrity at the time, but I've never heard of her). Bela Lugosi (of all people) also stars as the bad-guy.

The premise is that a Chinese inventor had created a television that allows you to view anything in the world, and all the countries come to the remote town of Wu Hu to try and purchase it. Much mileage is gotten out of the fact that Wu Hu is a funny name and sounds like "woo-hoo!" Those jokes have a desperate, pleading quality about them like they were added by the script-writer after the fact, when he'd begun to worry about his job security with the production company.

George Burns is the doctor at the International House hotel where all the action takes place, Gracie Allen is his nurse. Its true that their moments on screen (mostly their Vaudeville and radio shtick about Gracie's family) are funny, but then, they were always funny. W.C. Fields plays a drunken inventor who flies an auto-gyro to Wu Hu by accident while trying to get to Kansas City. Its a particularly petty role for him which mainly involved him crashing into things, and he plays it with contempt. Even a few brief examples of his skill at juggling (which we don't see very often in his movies) can't revive his lifeless role.

There are lots of opportunities for musical interludes and these range from the lame (a song and dance number about a mug who falls in love with a china cup) to the creepy (Rose Marie as a ten year old singing a sexy jazz song while standing on a piano). They even managed to get Cab Calloway to put in an appearance, and his song "Reefer Man" ("He smokes that reefer / and gets high / then goes out and argues with the sky") just makes you sit back and think, "Wow, our culture sure has changed a lot since the thirties."

Among its many fault, the movie also has just about the most idiotic attempts at creating dramatic tension ever: the leading man (a chinless wonder who is attempting to get the invention for the American Electric company) is in danger of losing his beloved because every time they are about to get married, he comes down with a different children's disease (mumps, chicken pox, then measles) and can't go through with the wedding. He spends most of the movie in quarantine with the measles. Everything turns out alright in the end though, because when he finally gets to see the Chinese inventor, his bid is accepted instantly and he can now marry his beloved with no fear of illness.

If you want to see an actually funny movie where Fields stars with other radio comedians, watch "You Can't Cheat An Honest Man."
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International House (1933) ***
JoeKarlosi12 July 2011
Singled out these days mainly for the appearance of classic funnyman W.C. Fields, this is a delightful comedy featuring a fun cast of performers. The loose story concerns a Chinese inventor who creates a radio device with pictures (basically Television). This results in different people riding along to try and buy the new sensation (among them is horror icon Bela Lugosi, who is most enjoyable having a good time as a jealous Russian husband). Also participating with W.C. Fields are husband and wife comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen, who are quite funny in their scenes, and also crooner Rudy Vallee and Cab Calloway. One of the younger performers named Baby Rose Marie would grow up to be none other than the Rose Marie of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. *** out of ****
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giving credit where credit due.
bcurran0523 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Gracie Allen was the comedy innovator of the couple, she was an extremely intelligent and talented actress. playing the type of hare brained female parts that definitely would not have gone over today worked just fine back in those days. George Burns was a great comedian in his own right but Gracie was definitely his driving force and the light of his life for many decades.

Most of the other players in this little gem were also veteran comedy stars and performers and each added their important bits, w.c. fields definitely had his moments with his quips(some actually pretty funny). Some of the french bedroom farce was also pretty risqué for back then if you listen real carefully and remember when this movie was made-1933.

All in all a very enjoyable journey back to a simpler time, real good escapism.
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