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Big Broadcast of 1938, The, DVD
Written by A.J. Hakari   

big-broadcast-1938-lobby-card_200.jpgIf The Big Broadcast of 1938 doesn't epitomize Old Hollywood at its "kitchen sink"-iest, I don't know what does. You'd have to hit up Bollywood cinema to find another film that strives to give viewers surplus bang for their buck the way that this medley of song, dance, and romance does. Backed by a galaxy of stars (including W.C. Fields, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour, to name a few), The Big Broadcast of 1938 packs in physical comedy, elaborate musical numbers, and even an animated interlude. But while it hits the ground running, it soon exhausts itself trying to come up with enough stuff to do while leaning on the flimsiest of plots.

 

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Shirley Ross & Bob Hope
A race for the ages is on between two massive ocean liners. The S.S. Gigantic and the S.S. Colossal are gunning to see who makes the journey from the States to France first. There's a lot riding on the victor, including the $50,000 that radio emcee Buzz Fielding (Hope) put on the Gigantic to pull through. But even with a spiffy new power source backing it, there's still the matter of one-man disaster factory S.B. Bellows (Fields) crashing onboard and inadvertently putting the ship dreadfully behind schedule. Still, the passengers and crew find little time to worry about a silly little competition, what with plenty of romantic entanglements and toe-tapping acts to keep the
whole boatload occupied. 
 
big_broadcast_1938_ship-200.jpg

big_broadcast_1938_scene.jpgThe Big Broadcast of 1938 is the closest we'll get to seeing a Gold Diggers movie as directed by Tex Avery. The trappings of the era's standard musical formula are there - lovelorn leads, unimportant main story, dance routines that defy space and time - along with an incredibly manic energy pushing them your way. Shades of Hellzapoppin' can be seen here, the film stopping just short of directly addressing the audience while liberally partaking in cartoon logic in the meantime. I can't overstate how crazy The Big Broadcast of 1938 gets (how does W.C. Fields yelling at a goose on a flying golf cart sound?) - nor can I say too much about how boring it all can be.

big_broadcast_-_fields_ross_hope_260.jpgThere's an abrupt, stop-and-go rhythm to The Big Broadcast of 1938's flow that it never fixes. Sprinkled in with the mellow melodies (marking the debut of Bob Hope's signature jingle, "Thanks for the Memory") are truckloads of slapstick antics courtesy of Fields, whose unlucky character evolves from a clumsy innocent to an outright jerk. It gets so old watching Fields barking out malaprops and wreaking havoc, you don't even really care when the love stories emerge to provide a breather. Either way, the film really isn't that invested in itself anyway, with the outcome of both the big race and the multiple romantic subplots given from the get-go. This is par for the course with musicals (where plot is usually secondary), but it would've been nice to end the movie with being able to discern exactly who ended up in whose arms.

The Big Broadcast of 1938 has a few moments where its inherent kookiness becomes charming. Fields lands some good zingers, and Martha Raye has a standout number in which she gets chucked around by a troupe of deckhands. The Big Broadcast of 1938 wears its goofy nature on its sleeve, though for the sake of the audience's collective sanity, covering it up from time to time would've definitely helped.

Director: Mitchell Leisen

Writers: Walter DeLeon,
Francis Martin, and Ken Englund (based on an adaptation by Howard Lindsay and
Russel Crouse)

Cast: W.C. Fields,
Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Martha Raye, Shirley Ross, Leif Erikson

Rating: No MPAA Rating
(nothing offensive)

Classic Movie Guide Rating:
2.5 stars out of 5

Run Time: 90 minutes

Studio: Paramount Pictures

Format: Black-and-white, full screen

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

 

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