INTERNATIONAL HOUSE —and you thought the Marx Brothers were zany. Totally off-any-wall 1933 romp mixes loony, often risqué (pre-Code) comedy—suggestive one-liner asides, wild set pieces and fun props—with a few musical numbers from popular stars of the day thrown in for the heck of it.
Wuhu, China. The title lodging is a fancy gathering roost for travelers from abroad, gathered to bid on the futuristic “radioscope“, a sees-all-anywhere semi-television gizmo invented by ‘Dr. Wong’ (Edmund Breese, fortunately not doing a Charlie Chan spin). Crashing the festivities in his autogyro (snazz equipped with an American Austin roadster) is brassy buffoon ‘Prof. Henry R. Quail’ (W.C. Fields, 53), who proceeds to make a shambles of decorum, propriety and property.
PEGGY: “I’m sitting on something!” QUAIL: “I lost mine in the stock market.”
In Quail’s wake are gold-digger Peggy Hopkins Joyce (39, scandalous real-life serial whoopee cushion playing herself); a doctor & his ditzy nurse (George Burns, 37, and wife Gracie Allen, 38), a sappy rep from an electric company (Stuart Irwin, 30) and a imperious White Russian ‘General Petronovich’ with a violent temper (Bela Lugosi, 52). The hotel manager is a textbook perturbed priss (Franklin Pangborn, 44, as one of his dozens of coded fussbudgets: he played frazzled hotel managers or clerks at least 11 times).
Rudy Vallee, 32, appears as himself (crooning), as do child singing star Baby Rose Marie, 10 (to grow up, drop the Baby and become just Rose Marie) and a maniacally jazzed-up Cab Calloway, 25, leading his band in “Reefer Man”—do we need explain what that refers to?
Also in view are Sterling Holloway, the deadpan radio comedy team of Stoopnagle and Budd (F. Chase Taylor and Budd Hulick, sort of paving the way for ‘Bob and Ray’), Lumsden Hare and Lona Andre.
Other compositions inserted: “She Was a China Tea-cup and He Was Just a Mug” (warbled by someone unknown) and “Look What I’ve Got”, supposedly done by ‘Ah Phooey and His Manly Mandarins’.
Fast-paced scattershot stuff; some of the joking still quite funny (Fields, Stoopnagle and Budd), some too dated to hold up (George & Gracie, Irwin); the tunes a mix, with Rudy V a snooze, little Rose Marie looking less like a kid than a 30-year-old midget, Calloway going happily berserk in his dance moves. Good sight gags.
Edward Sutherland directed (‘orchestrating the chaos’ more apt), the script scaffold for the assorted jokesters worked up by Francis Martin, Walter DeLeon and Neil Brant. Anarchy grossed $1,800,000, 42nd place way back in 1933. 70 minutes.