International House (1933 film)

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International House
Directed by A. Edward Sutherland
Produced by Emanuel Cohen
Screenplay by Walter DeLeon
Francis Martin
Story by Neil Brant
Louis E. Heifetz
Starring W.C. Fields
Bela Lugosi
George Burns
Gracie Allen
Cab Calloway
Rose Marie
Peggy Hopkins Joyce
Music by Ralph Rainger
Howard Jackson
John Leipold
Al Morgan
Cab Calloway
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • May 27, 1933 (1933-05-27)
Running time
70 minutes
Country United States
Language English

International House is a 1933 American Pre-Code comedy film directed by A. Edward Sutherland and starring W.C. Fields. Released by Paramount Pictures, the film was based on a story by Neil Brant and Louis E. Heifetz and was adapted for the screen by Walter DeLeon and Francis Martin.


International House is a mix of standard and slapstick interlaced with numerous acts and bits, like a vaudeville variety show, in the style of the Big Broadcast pictures that were also released by Paramount during the 1930s. In addition to the typical lunacy by the comic players, it also provides a snapshot of some popular stage and radio acts of the era.

After a few brief scenes in the International Settlement in Shanghai, the setting moves over 200 miles away to the International House Hotel, a large metropolitan hotel in Wuhu, China ("Wuhu" also being a pun on the greeting "Yoo hoo").

The ostensible plot line concerns a Chinese inventor (Edmund Breese as "Dr. Wong") premiering a "radioscope", an early version of television. Unlike actual television, the mechanism does not need a camera, but its monitor can focus in and pick up on acts around the world, relaying sound and visuals as though it were a combination of a radio and telescope. Dr. Wong has brought his device to the hotel in an attempt to attract a commercial buyer to develop it.

Dr. Henry R. Quail (Fields) is one of many people from all over the world converging on the hotel, though he is the only one not hoping to buy (or steal) Dr. Wong's television invention, as he was intending to land in Kansas City but went off-course in his autogyro. Plotlines also involve four-times-divorced American celebrity Peggy Hopkins Joyce playing herself, avoiding one of her ex-husbands, the jealous Russian General Petronovich (Bela Lugosi); Tommy (Stuart Erwin) as a prospective buyer from an American electric company hoping to buy Wong's invention and finally wed his sweetheart Carol (Sari Maritza); resident physician Dr. Burns (George Burns) and his goofy aide Nurse Allen (Gracie Allen) dealing with a quarantine on the hotel; and the exasperation of the hotel's fussy and frustrated manager (Franklin Pangborn). All of this is broken up with transmissions Dr. Wong receives on his radioscope, as well as a short floor show featuring Lona Andre and Sterling Holloway in the hotel's rooftop garden restaurant.

The film ends with Prof. Quail being chased as he drives his American Austin automobile through several rooms of the hotel and up and down stairs before driving back into the hold of his autogyro and taking off.





Pre-Code elements[edit]

International House was produced before the Hollywood Production Code took effect in July 1934, and is notable for the kind of risqué subject matter, humor and costumes associated with Pre-Code Hollywood. For example, Peggy Hopkins Joyce appears as herself and makes several humorous references to her many divorces, a topic that would become almost completely off-limits with the enforcing of the Code. Cab Calloway sings his song "Reefer Man," which describes a man smoking marijuana and becoming high from it. Fields' Dr. Quayle responds to what he mistakes as homosexual flirting with "Don't let the posy fool you!" referring to his own boutonniere, which he tears off and tosses away. Several of the revealing costumes of the female dancers in the "She Was a China Teacup" song-and-dance routine show the bare outline of breasts, something that the Code would also virtually eliminate. In a gyrocopter scene, Fields sees a basket with a kitten under the seat of his female companion and exclaims, as he peers between the lady's legs

"My, what a cute little pussy!".

In the sequence with the Austin - the smallest car sold in America at that time - W.C. Fields remarks that it had "belonged to the Postmaster General." This was a potshot at Will H. Hays, the diminutive former Postmaster General who was then trying to enforce his Hollywood Production Code.


On March 10, 1933, a small tremor struck the set while cameras were rolling, and a Paramount News newsreel featured the story. A documentary featurette on W. C. Fields accompanying the film's DVD release, however, reveals that Fields and director Sutherland faked the footage from the set as a publicity stunt. The actual earthquake was centered in nearby Long Beach, California. About 120 people were killed and most of the downtown section was destroyed.


Lyricist Leo Robin and composer Ralph Rainger wrote three songs for the film, "She Was a China Tea-cup and He Was Just a Mug," performed offscreen by an unidentified male vocalist; "Thank Heaven For You," sung onscreen by Rudy Vallee; and "My Bluebird's Singing the Blues," sung onscreen by Baby Rose Marie. Cab Calloway and His Orchestra perform 1932's "Reefer Man," written by Andy Razaf (lyrics) and J. Russel Robinson (music).

Home media[edit]

In 1996, Universal Studios Home Video released the film to VHS. In 2004, the studio released the film on Region 1 DVD as part of the five-disc W.C. Fields Comedy Collection set.


  1. ^ Sicherman, Barbara; Green, Carol Hurd (1980). Notable American women: the modern period : a biographical dictionary. Harvard University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Aberjhani; Sandra L. West (September 2003). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Infobase Publishing. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-8160-4539-6. Retrieved 9 March 2011. 

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