International House (A. Edward Sutherland, 1933, USA)

International House is a zany and wild pre-code comedy in the vein of Grand Hotel. The film was directed by Universal Pictures stalwart A. Edward Sutherland, who got his start playing a Keystone Cop in Chaplin's Tillie's Punctured Romance (1914). Sutherland directed a number of comedies for Universal, notably their horror-comedy The Invisible Woman in 1940 - also covered on Cinephilic Musings. At a tight 70 minutes, there is not much plot to speak of in Sutherland's film. The film involves a group of people converging on a hotel in Wuhu, China, to look at an early version of the television invented by Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese). Things start to get crazy upon the arrival of Prof. Henry R. Quail, who interrupts a dinner party by landing his plane near the dinner tables. Quail is played by of course the great comedian W.C. Fields, who delivers some great one-liners here. 

Also featured in the cast is the great Bela Lugosi as General Nicholas Petronovich, the jealous ex-husband of an American celebrity Peggy Hopkins Joyce (played by herself). The film features a cabaret-style in the latter half, as we are treated to performances (often with quite scantily-clad women). Of particular note are famous bandleader-vocalist Cab Calloway performing his hit song "Reefer Man", a song about the behavior of a marijuana smoker. Such songs would not appear in films only a few years later. Child singer Baby Rose Marie also gives a great performance.

While International House is not a perfect film, it does not overstay its welcome and offers a lot of laughs along the way. Fields are of course the highlight, and he is at his hard-drinking, curmudgeonly best here. We here at Cinephilic Musings are eager to explore more of the great comedian's filmography. Hopefully, this film will end up in a better version soon.



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