Archive for March 9, 2023

The Big, Broad Cast

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2023 by dcairns

Paramount’s THE BIG BROADCAST inspired a series of follow-ups with years appended, just like GOLD DIGGERS OF BROADWAY, but this series does not live in the memory the way the immortal Busby Berkeley romps do. Maybe it’s the lack of an auteur like BB behind the camera, more likely it’s the lack of narrative cohesion — not only do a bunch of musical numbers have to be shoehorned in, but so do a bunch of comedians — these tend to be allowed to run off with their own mini-narratives, unlike Ned Sparks or Allen Jenkins at Warners, who have to grab their laughs from the main storyline as it whizzes past them, like diners at one of those sushi bars with the conveyor belts, after a freak lightning bolt has caused the thing to run haywire at 100mph.

Mitchell Leisen, something of an auteur in my book, did a couple of BIG BROADCASTS but couldn’t impose any kind of order on them, so they’re enjoyable for Jack Benny, WC Fields and some decent songs, but they’re not, you know, filling. They’re also the kind of thing being satirised as Sullivan’s output in SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS — “Ants in Your Plants of 1942.”

The original TBB, which I hadn’t seen before, has some interesting oddities and is an icky pre-code, plus there’s a lot of flamboyant dutch-tilting and cartoonish gags in the opening scenes. SEE! A black cat get a fright and slide under a door! This is directed by the occasionally quite stylish Frank Tuttle, who seems to be having fun during the first act, then gives up on that idea.

Our stars are Stuart Erwin, Bing Crosby and, most excitingly, Leila Hyams from FREAKS but also from playing the drums with Roland Young in RUGGLES OF RED GAP. And she gets a fairly pre-code shower scene.

But we have that old problem, the Divided Hero, with Erwin expected to handle the comedy while Bing sings. There’s a long wordless sequence with Erwin trying to obtain a phonograph of Bing so he can fake a live radio appearance (shades of the Russ Columbo melo!) which could have served a physical comedian well (you can imagine Buster Keaton in the role and it might at least have been better than his MGM material). Erwin, a good man for dialogue and lachrymose expressions, blunders through it without grace or timing.

Musical treats include the Mills Bros. singing Hold That Tiger and Cab Calloway singing (and gesturing) about cocaine. Burns & Allen appear early, have some decent cross-talk, but then disappear. Bing, who has been jilted early on, turns up to save the day, reunited with his ex, who sports a black eye. Patriarchal order has been restored, which is the very thing I don’t go to musicals for.

THE BIG BROADCAST stars Merton Gill; Father Chuck O’Malley; Venus; God; Nurse Allen; Guest Performer; Medicine Show Singers; Vocalists (uncredited); The Street Singer; Koko the Clown (voice, uncredited); Lola Marcel; King Achmed II; Beany; Poole; 18 Wheel Eddie; Snug – The Joiner; and Sylvanian Agitator.