The Big Broadcast of 1938

Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Joined: September 1st, 2005, 4:44 am

May 6th, 2013, 4:36 am #1

Fourth and last of the Big Broadcast films; these all-star revues had run out of steam sometime before this one was made, but it's of interest for the cast and some high-energy hi-jinx.

Two giant steamships are racing across the Atlantic, but don't let that interest you. W.C. Fields and his twin brother (Fields again) own one of the ships, and the brother has sent Bill to sabotage the race. Or something like that. Fields (absent from the screen for two years due to illness) does his golf routine AND his pool routine in what was to be his last starring Paramount feature.

In his FIRST Paramount feature (and his feature debut, in fact) is Bob Hope, who got the part when Jack Benny turned it down. That gave Bob the chance to do the film's signature tune, Thanks for the Memory. Bob is trying to make up with his ex-wife Shirley Ross, but for heaven's sake, he should be chasing beautiful young Dorothy Lamour, it seems to me.

The film closes with a long musical number about a waltz that features dancers doing the Charleston. There's a cartoon musical sequence (thanks, Leon Schlesinger), a strange woman who wants to sing "Way Down South in Dixie" (Bob: "What time does your bus leave?"), a lady in a Viking get up singing opera, and Martha Raye doing her shtick. I kinda liked the Viking lady.

An okay movie, but not if you compare it with most other films Fields or Hope did.

"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Joined: September 1st, 2005, 4:44 am

October 9th, 2015, 7:35 pm #2



The Big Broadcast of 1938
(1938) Dir. Mitchell Leisen

I've been reading Richard Zoglin's much-lauded (and rightly so) warts-and-all bio of Bob Hope, and got to his first film, so thought, why the heck not?

Here's what's new I can bring to the table:
  • The "strange lady" who wanted to sing was Honey Chile, one of Bob's radio sidekicks.
  • Bob also performed on radio with Shep Fields and his Rippling Rhythm Orchestra, who appear in the cartoon segment here. Apparently, Paramount was trying to make Leslie T. Hope comfy in his first feature.
  • Mr. Fields was not interested in being directed by Mr. Leisen, nor in sticking to any script written by anybody. Leisen gave up, didn't direct the Fields sequences, and had a heart attack that he blamed on Bill shortly after filming.
  • The "Memory" song was performed live, with an orchestra off-camera, to make it warmer and more spontaneous, and is one of the great moments in movie romance, I should think.
  • It's a very good book.
  • Fields, off-screen for a long time, trotted out a golf routine and a pool scene, and who can blame him? And with his patter, both are hilarious.
  • 'Dead End' Kid alert: Dr. Bernard Punsly is one of the caddies.
  • Mr. Hope would, of course, go on to make one or two more films with Miss Lamour and Miss Raye. By the way, I like Martha, she's funny and pretty and brash. She plays Fields' daughter, and he mistakes a wide-mouth bass for her at one point in the proceedings.
Million-Dollar W.C. Fields Dialog:
Told that the first tee is 420 yards: "Hand me my putter."
After teeing off and then zipping down the fairway in his rocket-powered golf cart: "Where's the ball?"
Caddy: "It hasn't gotten here yet."

Fields, bragging of his prowess: "I can lick my weight in wildflowers."

Guess who: "Meet me down at the bar. We'll drink breakfast together."

Not a great movie (hardly) but the song (an Oscar winner) and Uncle Bill make it well worth watching.

"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Laughing Gravy
Balcony Gang, Foist Class
Joined: September 1st, 2005, 4:44 am

April 8th, 2018, 4:35 pm #3

The Big Broadcast of 1938 (Dir. Mitchell Leisen)
A Paramount Picture
91 min. / B&W / 1.37:1
DVD: Universal

According to James Curtis' wonderful Fields bio, the Chase & Sanborn Hour had become the #1 show in radio, almost entirely due to the Fields-Charlie McCarthy "feud", and Paramount was hot to co-star them in film, and when that couldn't be worked out, decided to jam Fields into whatever property they could fit him while he was healthy enough and still hot from the radio. That meant shoe-horning him into the fourth (and as it turns out, final) Big Broadcast film, hodgepodges of radio and vaudeville and would-be film stars. It tells you all you need to know that his co-stars in the film, Burns & Allen and Jack Benny, all dropped out before filming started. Fields hated the script, insisted on inserting some of his old standby routines, and then walked off the set - he said playing a rich man, the head of the steamship line, simply was not a funny idea - audiences didn't like rich funny characters. So, they rewrote the script to give Fields' character a twin brother who was poor (yes, that's how disasters get made) and in the end, they had a 2 hour movie nobody liked, cut it down to a very expensive 90 min. film nobody liked, and released it to tepid reviews (as usual, "Fields was the only good thing in the movie," per critics) and bad business.

Paramount's next project for him was Things Begin to Happen, which would co-star Fields and his buddy John Barrymore, but when Uncle Bill - as usual - started complaining about the script and demanding rewrites - the studio, smarting from the losses incurred by Big Broadcast, released him from his contract.

Fields returned to the Chase & Sanborn show, but when he adlibbed a remark about Edgar Bergen's toupee, suddenly Charlie McCarthy began adlibbing a series of remarks about Fields being fired by Paramount, and the routine was quickly halted when Fields walked away from the microphone, after which time C&S announced Bill was off THAT show (Fields claimed he wasn't fired from the show, he quit).

The Great Man was at large, but MGM, who appreciated the fine work he'd done on David Copperfield, thought he'd be perfect for the title role in a big-budget Technicolor musical based on a Frank L. Baum novel.
"I'm glad that this question came up, because there are so many ways to answer it that one of them is bound to be right." - Robert Benchley
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CliffClaven
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CliffClaven
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Joined: March 31st, 2009, 4:46 am

April 8th, 2018, 9:03 pm #4

In the early seventies old B&W Paramount comedies seemed to be a genre unto themselves, like the Universal horrors except with a lineup of comedians -- Fields, Bob Hope, Burns & Allen, the Marx Brothers, and early Crosby -- instead of monsters. And a local UHF station would treat them almost the same way, running them in a set time slot as "W.C. Fields and Friends" (but no themed host). Like the monster films they had a consistent feel, despite the stars' differing styles, that lasted almost through WWII.
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