International House, a Paramount comedy, was directed by Edward Sutherland and filled to bursting with the companies stars. The film was set to be such a fun time that it’s tagline was, “The Grand Hotel of Comedy”. In a hilarious scenario, the film bundles together diverse comedians like W.C. Fields, Stuart Erwin, and George Burns in slapstick comedy as well as numerous acts, much like a Vaudeville Variety Show. The hodgepodge of mixed talents works to create a most entertaining film, and helped it to be successful upon it’s release.
The film is set in the International House Hotel in Wuhu, China. The characters are brought together in the grand, metropolitan hotel by a Chinese inventor, Dr. Wong, who is premiering his new invention, the radioscope. The radioscope is able to pick up on acts being preformed around the world, and in doing so seems to take the best features of the radio and television, by relaying sound and visuals as though it were a combination of a radio and telescope. Dr. Wong is hoping to attract a commercial buyer with his presentation at the hotel.
Among the guests, prospective buyers, and thieves, Professor Henry Quail, played by W.C. Fields finds himself at the hotel after losing course in his autogyro on the way to Kansas City. Professor Quail’s quirky character with his cigar, silk top hat, and stoic face keeps the audience in fits of laughter, especially the scene where he gets in an argument with the hotel clerk.
Bela Lugosi plays a sinister looking Russian, on hand for the demonstration. Similarly, Stuart Erwin plays an American buyer, working for an electrical company, but soon catches the measles causing the entire hotel to be quarantined. George Burns and Gracie Allen continuously pop-up and deliver their witty bits of humor as the in house doctor and nurse. Dr. Wong’s invention allows for multiple performances from radio stars, as well a short floor show that takes place on the rooftop of the hotel.
The International House was released after the Motion Picture Production was adopted, however the code was often not fully enforced until 1934. The producers of the film were actual able to sidestep the Production Code as they made two copies of the film: one with appropriate material, and one with Pre-Code material, and then showed the appropriate copy upon review. Some of the pre-code material included use of explicit words, dialogue by Peggy Hopkins Joyce about her multiple divorces, and the song titled “Reefer Man” sung by Cab Calloway.
See the “Reefer Man” performance here.