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  Big Broadcast of 1938, The Atlantic Crossing
Year: 1938
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Stars: W.C. Fields, Martha Raye, Dorothy Lamour, Shirley Ross, Lynne Overman, Bob Hope, Ben Blue, Leif Erickson, Grace Bradley, Rufe Davis, Tito Guízar, Lionel Pape, Virginia Vale, Russell Hicks, Leonid Kinskey, Patricia Wilder, Shep Fields, Kirsten Flagstad
Genre: Musical, ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Today marks the beginning of the transatlantic race between two ships, the S.S. Colossal, a traditional ocean liner, and the S.S. Gigantic, a newly built, futuristic vessel that has a newfangled electric engine as its main advantage. To celebrate the trip from New York to Cherbourg, there will be a non-stop broadcast from the Gigantic to keep the American public abreast of the state of play, but there will be unforseen problems for the modern ship which nobody could have anticipated. Nobody except the owner of the company staging the competition, who invites his twin brother T. Frothingill Bellows (W.C. Fields) onto the Gigantic to unwittingly sabotage it...

And that's about your lot for the plot to this, the last of the Big Broadcast films which had begun in 1932, a four film series which did its best to showcase the talent Paramount had gathered at the time in a series of setpieces. With that in mind, it's probably better to forget you're watching a story and settle back with the musical numbers and comedy skits, notable for starring one comedian - Fields - whose career was winding down due to ill health, and another, Bob Hope, making his mark in effectively his screen debut as a leading man, although his particular style wasn't quite in place.

That's not to say he didn't carry himself well, and his star potential was well to the fore, yet curiously what fans these days would have liked to have seen - Hope and Fields sparring with each other - never occured as they are in one scene together and don't interact. Obviously the filmmakers did not have the gift of foresight, so they were not to know they had not one but two comedy legends in their cast, but at least we got to see Fields with Martha Raye, whose caricature as a huge mouth with a small body attached in the opening credits should tell you all you needed to know about her. She plays Bellows' daughter, saved from the sea about halfway through the movie, making her appearance look almost an afterthought.

Until she makes her presence felt, that is, and has a song to blare out before getting into an alarmingly physical dance routine with a bunch of sailors where she is flung about in a hair raising fashion. But this film is full of such spectacle for the sake of it, ranging from some nice examples of model work where the competing ships are concerned, to a grand finale which celebrates that most 1938 of dances, er, the waltz, in a five minute showstopper with the camera panning over about a hundred dancers all doing separate performances. In between that there's a lot of stuff that only makes sense, and then barely, in the context of a revue and the anything goes for entertainment business that goes on in its name.

The most laughs stem from Fields, playing two roles although one of those is just at the beginning. At first we think he's literally missed the boat as the ships race off without him while he causes havoc on a golf course, a far less refined version of his Golf Specialist routine with the emphasis on the slapstick and bizarre humour, what with Bellows charging everywhere on his golf cart and people diving to get out of his way. But he has an ace up his sleeve, or in his buggy, as it doubles as a light aircraft which he takes to the skies in after his game, catches up with the Gigantic and lands on its upper deck. From then on he is nothing but trouble, blundering around and refusing to allow the ship to use its secret weapon, bad news for Hope's M.C. who has a bet riding on the outcome to pay off his alimony to three ex-wives. This was the film that introduced his theme song, Thanks for the Memory, here a duet with Shirley Ross so if nothing else we have that to thank this for. Overall, it is diverting in a cheerfully ridiculous way.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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