The Big Broadcast of 1938

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The Big Broadcast of 1938 was the last of an all-star series of revue films Paramount had been producing since 1932, usually with thin skeins of plots revolving around radio stations, allowing the film to double as showcases for variety acts and some of the studio’s own stars. The film was something of a step backward for W.C. Fields. His first few years at Paramount during the talkie era had been ensemble pictures very similar to this one. But since You’re Telling Me (1934), Fields had been a star in his own right, allowed to carry pictures on his own. But by the time of his participation in this film, his health had been seriously ailing for months (exacerbated by his alcoholism). His few scenes in The Big Broadcast of 1938 were about all he could manage. Many people thought it would be his last film.

This one takes place on a pair racing of, futuristic ocean liners The Colossal and The Gigantic. W.C. Fields plays a pair of wealthy twins, one of whom owns one of the lines and wants to win, so he hires his brother (a trouble maker and ne’er-do-well) to pilot the rival boat. Unfortunately for him, the brother wastes too much time at the golf links, making him late. He has himself flown to the vessel which is already steaming across the Atlantic — and lands on the wrong ship. Fields is funny and, as far as the audience can tell, in fine form, but one wants more of him.

The film also features Bob Hope in one of his first roles, and he sings for the first time the song with which he would there ever after be identified: “Thanks for the Memory”. Martha Raye returns as an unlucky gal (she and Hope were always very funny together), and the movie also stars Dorothy Lamour (previous to any of the Road pictures), and Ben Blue.

Paramount let Fields go after this, but it worked out for the best. His health rebounded and, thanks to a burst of fame on radio, he managed to secure a new contract at Universal, where he was to turn out some of the most beloved films of his career.

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