New ocean liner S.S. Gigantic is about to race its rival, the Colossal. Gigantic owner T.F. Bellows sends his brother S.B. on the Colossal, hoping he will cause trouble; delayed by a golf game, S.B. lands on Gigantic instead, and so does his unlucky daughter Martha. Meanwhile, radio emcee Buzz Fielding announces a series of musical acts and tries to juggle fiancée Dorothy and three ex-wives who've come for the ride. Can the Gigantic win against all handicaps? Will true love triumph? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 (Paramount, 1938), directed by Mitchell Leisen, is another one of those "plotless" musicals produced by Paramount in the 1930s, this being the most memorable mainly because it puts two comic legends on screen for the first and only time: W.C. Fields (in his final film for the studio) and Bob Hope as Buzz Fielding (in his feature film debut). Out with the old, in with the new. Yet Fields and Hope share no scenes together, with Hope getting more screen time than Fields (in a dual role playing twin brothers).
The radio broadcast, hosted by Hope himself, is set on an ocean liner during a transatlantic race with another. Memorable moments include W.C. Fields golf game routine, and Shirley Ross as one of Hope's ex-wives sharing her "Thanks for the Memory" with him. "Memory" would become Hope's theme song for the duration of his career, and the Academy Award winning tune of 1938. In spite of her name placed second in the cast, Martha Raye, as Fields' accident prone daughter, arrives late into the story, making the best of her "Oh, boys!" and hi-jinx antics, as well as her song number, "Mama, Oh, Mama." On the lighter side, Dorothy Lamour (who twice sings "You Took the Words Right Out of My Heart") is somewhat wasted with her limited footage as Hope's fiancé who may or may not become Mrs. Fielding No. 4.
Aside from Lynne Overman, Ben Blue, Grace Bradley and Leif Erickson participating in the storyline, the shipboard entertainment consists of special guest appearances from Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra (singing "This Little Ripple Has Rhythm"); Tito Guizar (singing "Zumi-Zumi" and "Don't Tell a Secret to a Rose") and Kirsten Flagstad (performing Richard Wagner's "Brunnilde's Battle Cry"). With the exception of "Thanks for the Memory," the score by Leo Robin and Ralph Rainger is forgettable. The big broadcast finale, "The Waltz Lives On" (sung by Hope and Ross) is passable, with Raye stepping into this number briefly with her hot jive "Truckin'". It's also interesting during that same number to see Hope dancing with Ross.
The final "Big Broadcast" musical consists of so much talent with little screen time, possibly victims of severe film editing. The theatrical trailer does include of Kirsten Flagstad performing in another opera segment not included in the final print. Although THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 can be a disappointment with too little Fields and too many song numbers unrelated to the plot, it somehow gets by.
The musical-comedy did have frequent revivals on the American Movie Classics cable channel from 1995 to 1998. The license to air this was later picked up by Turner Classic Movies where it premiered June 18, 2001, as part of its "Star of the Month" tribute, W.C. Fields. Prior to the start of the movie, host Robert Osborne talked a bit about the this Big Broadcast installment, and the annual musicals that preceded it, starting with the one that launched Bing Crosby in 1932, and the second in the series THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1936. Yet, there was no mention at all about the third, THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1937, as if it never existed, jumping immediately to 1938. While the three "Big Broadcast" musicals are close to being forgotten today, the 1938 edition happens to be the only one of the four available on video cassette and later on DVD, as part of the double feature package with 1938's COLLEGE SWING, also featuring Martha Raye and the legendary Bob Hope. Thanks for the Memories.(***)
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