Monday, June 25, 2018

Sorry, no pancakes

One of the DVDs I picked up in my most recent set of DVD purchases was a 10-film W.C. Fields box set. Among the movies on it was the completely new-to-me International House.

In the Chinese city of Wuhu, Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese) has invented a "radioscope", a new type of television, or something to compete with the other television-like devices that were in their infancy at the time the movie was released in 1933. Wong wants to sell the rights to the device for western markets, so people from around the world are coming to visit. There's a Russian general (Bela Lugosi), and representing America is Tommy Nash (Stewart Erwin). Except that he's having trouble getting to Wuhu, having to carpool with Peggy Hopkins Joyce (playing herself more or less; the real Joyce was a chorus girl known for marrying rich men).

Into all of this comes the noted adventurer Quail (W.C. Fields). Quail is flying his autogyro somewhere, although where he's supposed to be flying it is part of the joke, as the map shows him going literally all over the place. Quail lands on top of the international hotel in Wuhu, and proceeds to make life difficult for people as he tries to get a room.

That's the plot, more or less. There's not much plot here, and that's part of the point of the movie. Instead, there are a series of sketches, most notably involving George Burns and Gracie Allen, whom I most recently mentioned in the Carole Lombard comedy We're Not Dressing. Allen was noted for playing the ditz and driving Burns nuts, something she does as well here as in everything else I've ever seen her in. The hotel also puts on a musical number involving among others, Sterling Holloway. The television serves a useful purpose here, as every time Dr. Wong tries to tune into the six-day bicycle race, he winds up tuning into another musical act. There's Baby Rose Marie, who by this time was nine years old, so not much of a baby any more. Rudy Vallee does a number, but for me, the highlight was Cab Calloway.

The result is a movie that really has no rights being very good. And yet despite the relative lack of a plot, I found myself laughing quite a bit, which I suppose is a sign that the movie was successful in entertaining. The box set is cheap, so even if you don't like International House, there's likely to be some other movie on the set you'll enjoy. Amazon also lists International House as being available on a standalone DVD as part of Universal's MOD scheme. I have no idea if the print is better; I didn't notice a particularly bad print on the box set.

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