Hollywood responded to the exigencies of the Depression with such glorious nonsense as International House. The plot is motivated by a revolutionary television device called the Radioscope, which its Chinese inventor (Edmund Breese) is offering to the highest bidder. All interested parties are obliged to converge at International House, an ultra-modern hotel in the bustling Chinese community of Wu Hu. Among those parties is American envoy Stu Erwin, Russian general Bela Lugosi (a hilarious, pratfalling performance), the general's ex-wife Peggy Hopkins Joyce (a much-married showgirl of the era, who like Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous for being famous), and that celebrated aviator Professor Quail, better known as W.C. Fields. The lunacy begins even before Fields arrives, thanks to the antics of the hotel's doctor George Burns and nurse Gracie Allen. When Erwin comes down with the measles (he is always struck down by a childhood disease whenever he's about to marry his fiancee Sari Maritza), the hotel is quarantined. The guests make the most of their enforced stay by watching the many variety acts broadcast over the radioscope device: Rudy Vallee, singing a love song to his megaphone; Baby Rose Marie (the same), belying her 11 years by belting forth a hotcha jazz number; radio humorists Stoopnagle and Budd, showing off their own goofy inventions; and Cab Calloway, singing a paean to marijuana titled "Reefer Man" (only in recent years has this peppy number been seen with any regularity on television). There's also an elaborate production number on the dance floor of the hotel, featuring Sterling Holloway and a bevy of beauties dressed as cups and saucers. Once Fields drops in via his art-deco autogyro, the film is firmly in his pudgy hands. Erwin outbids the others for the radioscope, while Fields escapes in his aircraft with Peggy Hopkins Joyce in tow (she keeps insisting that she's sitting on something, whereupon Fields replies "I lost mine in the stock market"). A truly unique filmgoing experience, International House is a must-see for any aficionado of 1930s musical comedies. PS: The film's now-famous "outtake," showing Fields calmly advising the cast and crew not to panic while the set is rocked by a California earthquake, was actually staged several days after the genuine quake.
by Hal Erickson synopsis