Friday, August 31, 2007

International House

I've been watching W C Fields DVDs. Each succeeding DVD is in a stranger, more eccentric location than the last. In You Can't Cheat an Honest Man, they're in middle America, heading for Punxsutawney. In The Bank Dick, they're in Lompoc. In It's a Gift, things start in some town in New Jersey, and Fields drives with his family, to an orange grove in regional California.

International House has the strangest location of all, a Chinese town called Wu Hu. Despite this, two of the characters drive there, apparently from America(!), getting lost on the way, apparently in the Sahara desert. (Stop thinking about it so hard, it will get you nowhere.) W C Fields doesn't get there until almost halfway through the film (it's only an hour long, by the way). He spends a lot of the time flying in drunken circles around the world, inadvertently breaking several records. When he arrives in Wu Hu, he wonders aloud whether he's in Kansas, Pennsylvania, or Kansas City. "Where am I?" he asks people at the hotel (he lands right in the middle of the concert hall, don't you know.)

PEGGY: Wu hu

FIELDS: (Leers lecherously at Peggy)

GUY: Wu hu!

FIELDS: (Ripping flower from his vest) Say! Don't let this fool you!

After a bit more conversation, someone asks him if he's lost and wants to know how to get to Kansas. "I'm not lost," he replies, falling over the wing of his auto-gyro and onto the concert hall floor, "Kansas is lost!"

International House is one of the weirdest films hardly anyone has ever seen, but don't let that stop you. Wikipedia describes it as a series of vaudeville acts, which is technically true, but doesn't even begin to describe the way the individual acts go together to make a fascinating whole. (But then, maybe I've always liked films set in train stations and hotels.) The film actually feels like a weekend out at a jazz-age hotel; there is George Burns playing card games in the morning, there are theatrical shows in the evening, and late at night, there's Rudy Vallee singing a nocturne. On the second day at the hotel, there's a stand-out Cab Calloway song:

Oh, have you met that funny reefer man,
Have you ever met that funny reefer man;
If he said he swam to China, and he sell you South Carolina,
Then you know you're talking to that reefer man.

Fields is paired up in the movie with Peggy Hopkins Joyce (who is married in the movie to Bela Lugosi!), the cause for Fields to drawl, at various points:

I'll be right with you, my little Calliope.
... my fuzzy fuchsia

There are several other names as well. Once, Fields attempts to call her his little chrysanthemum and fails.

At the conclusion of the movie, with the entire staff of the hospital against them, Fields drives off with Peggy in his car through the halls of the hotel, down the stairs, into the lift in the hotel lobby, out into the concert hall, and back into his auto-gyro.

International House is a spiffing movie!


Jo said...

I never know when you're making things up or not.

Usually though, I err on the side of 'yes'.

TimT said...

I didn't really make anything up in this *particular* post. The quotes come from memory, but they're more or less accurate.

Come to think of it, the entire movie is probably set on the European/Asian continent, and so the opening train station scene is probably meant to be a large Chinese train station, or something.

Which explains perfectly why it's full of Americans...

There are several gay jokes, one sodomy joke, and a few other genitalia jokes on top of the Cab Calloway 'Reefer Man' song. It is pretty risque, overall - according to wikipedia it was filmed and run before the Hays Office, whoever they were, and so could pretty much run uncensored.

Mitzy G Burger said...

Wu Hu? Sounds like a film open to a lot of Chingrish. I passed a tabbaconist on the main street of Lijiang in Yunnan province called "Fine Fumes".

You sound like a candidate for my favourite film - though it's set in a brothel rather than a hotel - does that still count? It's called "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and there's jokes, Dolly Parton and Vaudeville a'plenty.

selva said...

All my dreams came true in Alpine Peaks restaurant i never enjoyed one like this restaurant in my life

Email: timhtrain - at -

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