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The Big Broadcast  /  The Milky Way

The Big Broadcast (1932)
March 16, 2015 - 7:30 pm
Jillian Borders, film preservationist, UCLA Film & Television Archive.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by The Packard Humanities Institute and Universal Pictures

The Big Broadcast  (1932)

In the late 1920s, the talkies introduced a wave of all-star revues, such as MGM’s The Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Warner Bros.’s The Show of Shows (1929), which were inspired by the boisterous spirit of vaudeville.  Paramount used this variety format as a vehicle to showcase a dazzling array of radio personalities—15 total—whose stardom was built on coast-to-coast radio programs, record sales and nightclub shows.  Radio was in its golden age, and Hollywood had found ways to capitalize on its popularity.

The Big Broadcast stars Bing Crosby in his first major role in a feature.  The crooner had made his screen debut in Universal’s King of Jazz (1930) as part of The Rhythm Boys trio.  Crosby later signed with Mack Sennett, starring in a string of successful musical comedy shorts.  In The Big Broadcast, Crosby portrays a radio heartthrob whose perennial tardiness—caused by Sharon Lynn’s vampy Mona Lowe (a play on the tune “Moanin’ Low”)—leads a sponsor to pull the plug on the WADX station.  When Mona jilts him for another man, the inconsolable (and inebriated) Bing enters a suicide pact with newfound friend Leslie (Stuart Erwin), an equally lovelorn Texas oilman.  In the sober light of day, Leslie resolves to set things right by buying the radio station and preparing the next big broadcast.

The loose narrative interweaves performances by each of the radio talents, among them the Boswell Sisters, Cab Calloway (who steals the show with “Kickin’ the Gong Around”) and the Mills Brothers.  Burns and Allen make their feature film debut as the distressed station manager and his birdbrained stenographer.  Director Frank Tuttle, who had been making comedies since the early 1920s, further animates the film by employing a number of delightful camera tricks that harken back to slapstick two-reelers.  The film proved to be a hit, prompting Paramount to revisit the variety format with International House (1933) and three more Big Broadcast pictures in the 1930s.  —Jennifer Rhee

Director: Frank Tuttle.  Production: Paramount Publix Corp.  Distribution: Paramount Publix Corp.  Screenwriter: George Marion Jr.  Based on the play Wild Waves by William Ford.  Cinematographer: George Folsey.  Cast: Stuart Erwin, Bing Crosby, Leila Hyams, Sharon Lynn, Gracie Allen.  35mm, b/w, 80 min.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive and Universal Pictures from a 35mm acetate composite fine grain master positive and a 35mm nitrate composite print.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, BluWave Audio.  Special thanks to: Bob O’Neil, Michael Feinberg.

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Sony Pictures Corporation and The Packard Humanities Institute

The Milky Way  (1936)

Although The Milky Way, adapted from the successful 1934 Broadway play of the same name, was originally intended as a Jack Oakie vehicle, the role of timid, bespectacled Burliegh Sullivan ended up being a pitch-perfect character for Harold Lloyd, who had already successfully transitioned to sound films.  Utilizing all of Lloyd’s silent era strengths for madcap physical comedy and pratfalls, this very funny and breezy screwball comedy shines with the star’s performance as a mild-mannered milkman who is mistakenly identified as a boxing champion.

When it debuted in 1936, The New York Times stated, “We expected a one-man show; The Milky Way is nearer a three-ring circus.”  Helmed by the talented Leo McCarey, this film is a fine example of the director’s tremendous winning streak of critically acclaimed and financially successful features throughout the 1930s, each noted for their outstanding ensemble work.  In the end, it is ringmaster McCarey and his fine supporting cast that elevate this gem to comedic perfection.  Wisecracking, gum-smacking Adolphe Menjou as the insomniac fight manager, Helen Mack as the feisty sister, the delightful Verree Teasdale who teaches our hero to box in waltz-time, and sparring partner Lionel Stander are just several of the supporting players that easily contribute to the film’s unwavering amusement.  Lionel Stander got to reprise his role in the 1946 Samuel Goldwyn remake of this film titled The Kid From Brooklyn, starring Danny Kaye.

Hollywood anecdotes have long indicated that producer Goldwyn had the original negative and almost all existing prints of The Milky Way destroyed when he bought the rights to remake the film.  Thankfully, Harold Lloyd’s 35mm safety dupe negative made from his original nitrate print was vaulted at the Archive many decades ago and was the source of this photochemical preservation.  —Todd Wiener

Director: Leo McCarey.  Production: Paramount Productions, Inc.  Distribution: Paramount Productions, Inc.  Producer: E. Lloyd Sheldon.  Screenwriters: Grover Jones, Richard Connell, Frank Butler.  Based on the play The Milky Way by Lynn Root and Harry Clork.  Cinematographer: Alfred Gilks.  Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Bernard Herzbrun. Editor: LeRoy Stone.  Cast: Harold Lloyd, Adolphe Menjou, Verree Teasdale, Helen Mack, William Gargan.  35mm, b/w, 85 min.

Restored from a 35mm acetate composite dupe negative and a 35mm acetate rerecorded track negative.  Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, DJ Audio.  Special thanks to: Suzanne Lloyd—Harold Lloyd Entertainment, Inc.

Preceded by

Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding provided by Dudley Heer, Frank Buxton and Cynthia Sears, Hugh Hefner and Mark Cantor

Me and the Boys  (1929)

British-born Victor Saville—a contemporary of Alfred Hitchcock at Gaumont—directed this early “soundie” which features an American cast.  Actress Estelle Brody croons “Mean to Me” and “My Suppressed Desire” with alluring panache.  Though uncredited, viewers will delight in the “hot” jazz sound of Chicago’s Ben Pollack Band, whose members include a 20-year-old Benny Goodman on clarinet.  —Timoleon Wilkins

Director: Victor Saville.  Production: British International Pictures.  Distribution: Wardour Films.  Cast: Estelle Brody, Ray Bauduc, Vic Breidis, Benny Goodman, Jimmy McPartland.  35mm, b/w, 7 min.

Laboratory services by Fotokem, Audio Mechanics, Simon Daniel Sound, DJ Audio.  Special thanks to: National Film and Sound Archive of Australia; Ron Hutchinson—The Vitaphone Project.