>> Wednesday, January 17, 2007
As Professor Henry R. Quail, Fields drunkenly pilots his Auto-Gyro (half airplane/half helicopter) thousands of miles off-course. He’s headed for Kansas City, but he lands in Wuhu, China, just as his supply of beer runs out. Luckily, there’s plenty of booze to be had at Wuhu’s International House Hotel; and with a full tank of giggle juice, Fields is at his belligerent best. The film tends to sag when the Great Man is off screen, but it’s worth riding out for Fields’ 100 proof hijinks.
USA/B&W-70 m./Dir: Edward Sutherland/Wr: Francis Martin & Walter DeLeon/Cast: Peggy Hopkins Joyce (Herself), W.C. Fields (Professor Quail), Edmund Breese (Dr. Wong), George Burns (Dr. Burns), Gracie Allen (Nurse Allen), Franklin Pangborn (Hotel Manager)
Despite W.C. Fields’ tremendous success as an eccentric juggler on the Vaudeville circuit, as a sketch comedian in the Ziegfeld Follies, and as a Broadway thespian in Poppy, film stardom was more elusive. The bigwigs at Paramount Studios doubted the Great Man’s ability to carry a feature on his own, so they stacked the deck by forcing W.C. into multi-star vehicles that ensured boffo box office. In International House, for example, Fields was required to share screen-time with Peggy Hopkins Joyce (an untalented but notorious divorcée), Burns and Allen, Rudy Vallee, Cab Calloway (performing “Reefer Man”), and even Bela Lugosi. Still, International House is the best of Fields’ early all-star movies, because the director, Eddie Sutherland, allowed Fields free reign to improvise and embellish his scenes.
Incidentally, Fields often succeeded in slipping dirty lines past the censors. In International House, when Peggy Hopkins Joyce asks what she’s sitting on, Fields picks up a cat and replies, “Ah, it’s a pussy.”
Drinks Consumed-- Beer, champagne, whiskey, and a variety of other hard liquors (based on the scattered empties)
Intoxicating Effects-- Drunk flying, destruction of property, public disturbance, hiccups
Potent Quotables--QUAIL (to a valet): Hey, “garcon.” Bring me a drink.
VALET: Water, sir?
QUAIL: A little on the side… very little.
Video Availability--DVD, as part of the W.C. Fields Comedy Collection Vol. 1 (Universal)
Similarly Sauced Cinema--Other multi-star movies featuring Fields include If I Had a Million (1932), Six Of A Kind (1934), and the wonderfully loony Million Dollar Legs (1932).
W.C. Fields Comedy Collection, Vol. 2 (The Man on the Flying Trapeze / Never Give A Sucker An Even Break / You're Telling Me! / The Old Fashioned Way / Poppy)