Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Big Broadcast (1932) at the UCLA Festival of Preservation

A very nice-sized crowd came out to the Billy Wilder Theater Monday evening for another very enjoyable night at the UCLA Festival of Preservation.

The double bill consisted of Bing Crosby's first starring lead in a feature film, THE BIG BROADCAST (1932), followed by a Harold Lloyd "talkie," THE MILKY WAY (1936).

The evening started off with ME AND THE BOYS (1929), a two-song musical short directed by Victor Saville (TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT). While some of the very '20s dancing and behavior of singer Estelle Brody hasn't aged well, what a treat to see a very young Benny Goodman, not to mention Jack Teagarden. (Brody and some of the band are seen at the right.) Some of the restored short still has significant flaws, which makes the viewer realize just how close this slice of musical history might have come to being lost forever. It was a nice way to begin the evening.

THE BIG BROADCAST was of interest to me as I'm not yet very familiar with Bing Crosby's '30s films. He stars in this Paramount film as radio star Bing Crosby, whose professionalism has taken a slide since he's begun romancing glamorous Mona (Sharon Lynn). Bing meets Leslie (Stuart Erwin), whose hometown love Anita (Leila Hyams) is a secretary at the radio station and thinks she loves Bing, whose fiancee Mona elopes with someone else... Well, the course of true love never did run smooth!

Meanwhile things aren't running smoothly at Bing's radio station, either. His show's sponsor (George Barbier) wants him fired because of his unreliable appearances, and station head George (George Burns) is barely keeping the lights on. George also attempts to keep his sanity while dealing with zany receptionist Gracie (Gracie Allen).

The plot of this 80-minute movie is fairly loose, but the film has some unexpectedly creative visual bits of comedy as well as fantastic music. The craziness which pops onscreen every now and then reminded me a bit of the much later JOHNNY DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1944). I wouldn't want to try watching the zany scene where Bing and Leslie attempt to commit suicide without being stone cold sober, as it was bizarre enough seeing it with all my wits about me.

At the outset of his film career Bing is a polished, charismatic, and funny performer. I couldn't help marveling over just how young he was! I've got a couple of DVD sets with more of his '30s films which I picked up on sale and need to start delving into. Bing was still making films for Paramount over two decades later, including WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954).

The most thrilling aspect of the movie was seeing and hearing some truly great music in such pristine condition, starting with Bing's own "Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)." I couldn't help marveling over the gorgeous sequences with the Mills Brothers, the Boswell Sisters, and Cab Calloway. The UCLA audience was appreciative, and some of the musical sequences received enthused audience applause.

Stuart Erwin is someone who's grown on me, while the leading ladies were fine but not particular standouts. I enjoyed watching Burns and Allen interact, especially as they were restricted to a couple of scenes together so their routines didn't wear out their welcome. I liked that his warm appreciation for her came over in a very nice way, when he could have been nastily exasperated. They would go on to appear in two of the three additional BIG BROADCAST films released by Paramount in the '30s.

THE BIG BROADCAST was directed by Frank Tuttle, whose many Paramount films included Alan Ladd's star-making THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1942) a decade later.

All in all, THE BIG BROADCAST was a very different and enjoyable film which was well worth making the drive to L.A. to see.

A review of THE MILKY WAY will be coming soon! (Update: Here it is!)


Blogger Kevin Deany said...

This sounds great. Hopefully it will show up on TCM or be released on DVD.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Lee R. said...

Happy to see you enjoyed one of Bing's earliest full-length movies. He made some very funny Mack Sennett shorts before and after this.

I've been a big Bing fan since the early 1970's when I discovered his humor from listening to tapes of his Philco Radio Time radio shows of the '40's. Since then I've collected all his music, radio shows and movies. To this day I still listen to at least 2 radio shows a week.

Just a warning though from a long time super fan, some of Bing's '30's movies can seem like they were filmed in the land of Bizarro. Weird and downright other-worldly, as in not related to life on earth. But films from 1938 on are terrific. Specially recommend "Sing You Sinners" & "Welcome Stranger" as 2 of my all time favorites.

Enjoy discovering the Bing delights ahead.

5:10 PM  

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