International House (1933)
Comedy, black and white, 70 minutes
Released by Paramount Pictures
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Produced by Emanuel Cohen
Screenplay by Neil Brant, Walter DeLeon, Louis E. Heifetz, and Francis Martin
Peggy Hopkins Joyce . . . . . . herself
W. C. Fields . . . . . . . . . . Professor Henry R. Quail
George Burns . . . . . . . . . . Doctor Burns
Gracie Allen . . . . . . . . . . Nurse Allen
Bela Lugosi . . . . . . . . . . General Nikolas Petronovich
Rudy Vallee . . . . . . . . . . himself
Cab Calloway . . . . . . . . . . himself
Rose Marie . . . . . . . . . . . Baby Rose Marie
Stuart Erwin . . . . . . . . . . Tommy Nash
Sari Maritza . . . . . . . . . . Carol Fortescue
Lumsden Hare . . . . . . . . . . Sir Mortimer Fortescue
Franklin Pangborn . . . . . . . Hotel Manager
F. Chase Taylor . . . . . . . . Colonel Stoopnagle
Budd Hulick . . . . . . . . . . Budd
Edmund Breese . . . . . . . . . Dr. Wong
Sterling Holloway . . . . . . . Coffee Mug
Lona Andre . . . . . . . . . . . China Teapot
Harrison Greene . . . . . . . . Herr Von Baden
PLOT SYNOPSIS (warning: spoilers!)
If you’re looking for one of those wacky screwball comedies of the Thirties, International House fits that bill quite nicely. Not only does it have a load of comedy, but there’s some drama and science fiction thrown in as well, and plenty of snappy Thirties dialogue.
It all begins when a famous scientist, Dr. Wong, announces he will be demonstrating his latest super secret invention, and invites interested parties to attend and submit bids for the rights. The demonstration is to be held in the city of Wu Hu, China, at the fabulous International House hotel.
Soon, various “interested parties” converge on Wu Hu. Tommy Nash, the American representative, arrives in Shanghai and finds the only way he can get to Wu Hu is by automobile – a long, arduous journey of some few days (and nights!). Before he can leave, he’s set upon by a famous adventuress (Peggy Hopkins Joyce, apparently a minor celebrity at the time) who convinces him to let her share the trip. From that point on, Tommy’s major worry is that his fiancée Carol Fortescue will find out he’s been traveling with another woman.
Back in Wu Hu, the other representatives are introduced by means of a radio broadcast. First on the scene is the aristocratic General Nikolas Petronovich, of the Moscow Power Company, then Herr Von Baden of Berlin (who nearly smashes the radio equipment), and Sir Mortimer Fortescue with his daughter Carol. Sir Mortimer is in a state of perpetual confusion and never seems to know where he is or if he does, why he’s there.
The scene shifts to the International House, where Dr. Burns is preparing for his morning rounds. The hotel manager stops by, and both men attempt to have a conversation with Nurse Allen. This turns out to be a lost cause as Nurse Allen completely confuses both men with her “logic”.
Tommy finally arrives and the source of his problems with his fiancée isn’t Miss Joyce -- it’s the fact that every time he thinks about marriage, he gets sick! This time he’s actually ill, though, and the authorities place the hotel under quarantine. General Petronovich gets locked out of the hotel, and his dignity is severely wounded when he’s forced to stay in a flophouse.
Back in the United States, Professor Henry R. Quail climbs in his autogyro and takes off with great fanfare. Following a convoluted flight path, which the newspapers track by the location of beer mugs falling from the aircraft, the Professor arrives in Wu Hu, quite by accident. He crashes through the roof of the hotel in the middle of a musical performance!
At last the demonstration is ready to commence. Dr. Wong’s invention, the Radioscope, is revealed to be a primitive form of television, able to tune in on any event going on in the world. The Doctor attempts to look in on the Six-Day Bicycle Race, but instead picks up various entertainment personalities. Among them are a comedy routine by Stoopnagle and Budd; a musical number by Baby Rose Marie (yes, that Rose Marie!); Cab Calloway performing “Reefer Man”; and crooner Rudy Vallee. Professor Quail arrives as Vallee is performing, leading to this exchange:
QUAIL: What’s that caterwauling?
VALLEE: Don’t interrupt my number . . . hold your tongue and sit down!
QUAIL: Oh yeah . . . hold your breath and lie down!
The demonstration ends when Professor Quail, deciding he’s had enough of Vallee’s crooning, short-circuits the Radioscope and it goes wildly out of sync. The guests then retire to their rooms to await Dr. Wong’s decision.
Professor Quail continues to make an absolute nuisance of himself, managing to destroy the hotel’s front desk and winding up in the same room with Miss Joyce. Finally, he’s discovered to be somewhat of a fraud, leading to a hilarious chase scene through the hotel.
Meanwhile, Tommy has somehow managed to secure the rights to Dr. Wong’s invention and, through the intervention of Dr. Burns and Nurse Allen, patched up his quarrel with Carol. Along with Miss Joyce, they join the Professor in his autogyro just as he makes a timely escape from the hotel crowd.
Obviously, this is not one of the great films of the 1930s. It’s a lot of fun, though. W. C. Fields is at his prime, and the scene with George Burns and Gracie Allen is, I suspect, one of their old vaudeville routines. Even Bela Lugosi, fresh from Dracula, turns in a reasonable comedic performance. Most of the actors speak in that “stage English” so beloved in those days and which helps give the movie its “antique” feel.
The movie is interesting also in that it uses the plot to feature musical and comedy performances that really have little to do with the story. Not only are there those cited above, but also the hotel guests are treated to a number starring Lona Andre and Sterling Holloway (later the voice of Disney cartoon characters).
This is an excellent movie for those times when you need a little nonsense to give your mind a short vacation.
The Internet Movie Database
.<http://www.imdb.com>. (10 August 2003).
repeated viewing of the film