Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA, 1933. Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Francis Martin, Walter DeLeon, from a story by Neil Brant, Louis E. Heifetz. Cinematography by Ernest Haller. Produced by Emanuel Cohen. Music by Howard Jackson, John Leipold, Ralph Rainger. Costume Design by Travis Banton.
Stuart Erwin can’t get a train out of Shanghai to his destination of Wu Hu, China because the rains have flooded the tracks (the town’s name is the kind of pun that star W.C. Fields was fond of in his comedies). He decides to drive instead, and is pressed by a beautiful blond heiress (socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce playing a good-natured parody of herself) to take her along. When he arrives at his destination of the International Hotel, his girlfriend Sari Maritza is unimpressed by his traveling companion, but things get dicier when the hotel doctor (George Burns) and his daffy nurse assistant (Gracie Allen, who, of course, steals the show) mistake the rash on Erwin’s face for contagious measles and the hotel is placed under quarantine. Erwin is actually there to meet Dr. Wong (Edmund Breese in yellowface), who has created the invention of a “radioscope”, an early television prototype that allows the viewer to snoop on anything happening around the world, which he plans to buy for his company.
Among the sights that he catches on the radioscope are a series of delightful musical numbers featuring the talents of Rudy Vallee (making love to a megaphone), “Baby” Rose Marie and Cab Calloway, as well as the sight of an eccentric drunken millionaire (Fields, of course) who takes off from Juarez in his flying gyroscope; it’s not long before Fields arrives in Wu Hu despite meaning to go to Kansas. Meanwhile, Russian diplomat Bela Lugosi is there to buy the radioscope for his own country, and hotel concierge Franklin Pangborn is being driven crazy by the amount of people who keep knocking his shelves over. Slapstick comedy, action sequences enlivened by some pretty impressive special effects (both photographic as well as some cool models), witty verbal humour and clever misdirects are all thrown into the pot and what comes out is a zippy, hilarious comedy bursting with peppy, delightful performances.