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  International House Radio With Pictures
Year: 1933
Director: Edward Sutherland
Stars: Peggy Hopkins Joyce, W.C. Fields, Stuart Erwin, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Bela Lugosi, Franklin Pangborn, Sari Maritza, Edmund Breese, Lumsden Hare, Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway, Sterling Holloway, F. Chase Taylor, Budd Hulick, Rose Marie, Harrison Greene
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Many organisations have sent their representatives to China to bid for the rights to a new invention. Dr Wong (Edmund Breese) has created the radioscope, a new-fangled television set, and the competition to seize hold of the potentially lucrative device is hotting up, but first they must get to the international hotel in the city of Wu Hu. The American representative is Nash (Stuart Erwin), who can't catch a train because there has been an accident on the line - fortunately his on again, off again fiancée Carol (Sari Maritza) was on the train preceeding it with her father, who also wants the invention. This means Nash must drive to Wu Hu, and along for the ride comes socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce (as herself). Meanwhile, the rest of the guests assemble at the hotel for a demonstration...

Of course, the convoluted plot isn't really important because the gags are all this film cares about. Written by Walter DeLeon and Francis Martin, from a story by Neil Brant and Louis E. Heifetz, International House is an opportunity to pack in as many stars as possible, some from radio and others from the silver screen, and have them trade quips and indulge in slapstick. It resembles either an elaborate vaudeville revue, complete with the odd song and dance number for light relief (one a bizarre teacup and teapot based production), or a radio show filmed for the cinema, which is what the Doctor's transmissions look like when we get to see them. Some of the comedy hasn't aged well, i.e. the stuff involving Erwin, but when W.C. Fields appears, things improve.

However, you'll have to wait over half an hour (which is almost half the running time) for Fields to turn up, as he plays the hard-drinking Professor Quail, who is flying his gyrocopter from America, ostensibly to Kansas City, but actually to Wu Hu, and dropping his empty bottles from the skies as he goes. He lands in the middle of the hotel, and in the middle of a performance, and asks where he is. Joyce replies, "Wu Hu", which he takes a compliment, then asks the manager, Franklin Pangborn being as prissy as ever, who says the same, whereupon Fields throws away the flower in his buttonhole, muttering, "Don't let the posy fool you!" It's when the legendary comedian arrives that the action really picks up, and makes this worthwhile.

But there are complications to be experienced before that. Nash has a tendency to fall ill whenever he is going to get married to Carol, and when he finally checks in, he meets her, dispelling her doubts about him spending an innocent night with Joyce, and proposes marriage once more. This has the effect of him contracting measles, and a quarantine is thrown over the hotel, allowing nobody in or out. This incenses General Petronovich (Bela Lugosi), who used to be married to Joyce (and he believes he still is), as he has been locked out of the building, just as he spies Quail sharing a bedroom with her - leading to the one-time-only sight of horror icon Lugosi trying to murder comedy icon Fields.

Then there's the doctor and his nurse, played by husband and wife double act George Burns (gravel voiced and long suffering) and Gracie Allen (squeaky voiced and possibly insane). "Have you seen my stethoscope?" he asks, "No, no, I'll look at it later," she giggles. And that's not all, as the Doctor's invention (which would have trouble fitting in the average living room) treats us to performers of the day, such as Rudy Vallee and Cab Calloway, who sings "Reefer Man" - something that he would never get away with in a couple of years' time. All in all, International House is a valuable record of popular acts of the day (and a few less popular ones - who would Baby Rose Marie appeal to other than her mother?), and has enough moments of inspired lunacy to entertain, climaxing as it does with the inimitable Fields driving more people up the wall by zooming his car around inside the hotel at high speeds. Music by Ralph Rainger.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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