Friday, August 20, 2010

Somewhat Surreal

Yesterday I was watching the movie International House on my Zune HD. This movie written as a vehicle for as many comedians and performers as possible. Ostensibly it stars W. C. Fields but he only has a cameo appearance until half-way through.

The plot revolves around various people coming to a Chinese hotel to bid on a new invention - the television (also called the radiovision a few times). The cast includes Burns and Allen as the hotel's doctor and nurse, noted character actor Franklin Pangborn as the hotel manager, notorious gold-digger Peggy Hopkins Joyce as herself and Bella Lugosi as one of her ex-husbands.

The Chinese inventor tries to demonstrate his television by showing the six-day bicycle races but keeps tuning in on musical numbers instead - things like Cab Calloway's band doing a number about the "Reefer Man" (yes, this is just what it sounds like) and Rudy Valley singing a slow love song to his megaphone (before electronic effects, singers used things like a megaphone to change their voice).

the movie came out the year before the Hays Code was created so many of the jokes and situations are fairly adult for the time.

The movie is a great way to see some of the best talent of the 1930s, even if tastes have changed considerably since then.

The surrealism came when I thought about the difference in technology. Here was a movie about television, a product which was still in its infancy, and I was watching it on a device that makes a television look like a tinker toy. I doubt that anyone who watched the movie when it came out in 1933 ever dreamed of a pocket-sized device that could store hours of movies and music and play it back.

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