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International House

International House(1933)

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Excerpts from this film were shot at Eastern Service Studios, formerly Paramount's Astoria Studio. Rudy Valee, Cab Calloway and his orchestra, Baby Rose Marie and Colonel Stoopnagle and Budd all actually performed in this film as shown on Wong's radioscope. Manhattan socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who appeared on Broadway in Earl Carroll's Vanities and the Ziegfeld Follies, was called, according to a modern source, "A Circe of the Cinema" when she arrived in Hollywood to star in the 1926 film Skyrocket. International House marked her return to the screen after seven years. According to files in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, on January 28, 1933, Dr. James Wingate, Director of the Studio Relations Office of the AMPP, wrote to Paramount executive Harold Hurley stating that this film was "satisfactory under the [Production] Code, providing the [scene] with Gracie Allen and the stethoscope is handled so as to avoid any possible offense under the Code against vulgarity." On February 18, 1933, Wingate wrote to Paramount producer A. M. Botsford advising "great care" in the filming of the stethoscope gag and the scene in which Professor Quail and Peggy Hopkins Joyce end up in the same bedroom by mistake, as well as the scene in which Peggy loses her skirt in the door of the Austin. Wingate further warned, "...this is a type of picture with which censor boards recently have been dealing severely, with particular reference to double-meaning lines and gags..."
       On May 8, 1933, after the Hays Office viewed the film, Wingate sent Botsford an official list of recommended deletions, which include: 1. Gracie seated on stethoscope in which she says she can hear her heart beat. 2. Fields' line, "Don't let a flower deceive you," "as an inference of sex perversion." 3. the dance girls bent over and the camera "focused on their posteriors." 4. Fields' peering into a keyhold and saying, "What won't they be trying next." 5. Fields' line, "What isn't crosswise in China." 6. Fields' line, "Careless," in reference to the parents of a litter of cats. [The line, which closes the film, read-PEGGY: "I wonder what their parents were?" FIELDS: "Careless, my little nut cake, careless."] On May 10, 1933, Botsford wrote to Wingate with the following protest: "1. We are very much perturbed by the suggested deletions which we feel eliminate considerably comedy, and comedy which is, we believe, entirely innocuous. The stethoscope gag by Gracie Allen has no element of offense of it. Gracie Allen is a dumb girl who makes all kinds of mistakes constantly and the very way the scene is played cannot, we believe, cause offense to the most squeamish person in the audience. It is merely funny. 2. Fields' line "Don't let the flower deceive you" indicates merely a "sissy" reaction. It would take an expert in abnormal psychology to wheedle out of that an inference of sex perversion. 3. The shot in the dance routine in question might be argued about, although there have been dance routines with exposures of this sort in films constantly. I know we are not supposed to hark back to what other people have done, however. 4. Fields' line into the keyhole, "What won't they think of next," is smutty only in the minds of persons who want to construct smut out of it. 5. The "crosswise in China" line will come out. 6. The "careless" line in reference to the parents of the cats is, we believe, merely innocuous in this day and age. Such references are constantly made in public and in print, and are not indicative of anything particularly obnoxious." The "crosswise" line was cut May 12, 1933, making the film satisfactory under the Code.
       On June 23, 1933, however, Hays Office representative James B. M. Fisher sent a memo to Wingate protesting the scene in which Peggy sits on a cat in Fields' Austin automobile. Fisher states: "It seems apparent from what a number of people have said to me that the studio "pulled a fast one" by changing the scene between W. C. Fields and Peggy Joyce in the Austin when Peggy keeps repeating, "I'm sitting on something" and Fields pays no attention, but eventually reaches down and produces a cat....In the version which we saw, it is my recollection that the scene went as follows: A shot of the car with a door open establishes unmistakably the presence of a cat lying on the seat. Peggy and Fields climb into the car and drive off, and then Peggy starts to wiggle around repeating, "I'm sitting on something." [Fields pulls out a flattened cat and says, "It's a cat."] "...and it is my impression that he used the word, "cat," rather than "pussy." ...From various comments, it appears we are taking a terrific beating in allowing something to pass which is unmistakably vulgar." Maryland censor boards eliminated Peggy's line, "I tell you I am sitting on something" and Fields answer, "It's a pussy," which Pennsylvania censors also eliminated. In the viewed print, the audience does not see the cat until after Fields has stopped the car to remove it, uttering "It's a pussy."
       These deletions caused Carl E. Milliken, Secretary of the MPPDA, to write to Joseph I. Breen, also of the Hays Office, following a conversation he had with Ed Kuykendall, president of the Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America. Milliken writes, "Among other things [Kuykendall] suggested that some time he ought to have an opportunity to tell the executives actually responsible for production in Hollywood what the average decent minded exhibitor thinks of some of their product and why." Milliken mentions the censored "pussy" line and went on to say, "...the whole picture is vulgar and borders constantly on the salacious according to the comments of the public groups. Originally our west coast office required six deletions under the Code. The studio gave them an argument on all of them and they finally insisted upon only one [presumably the "pussy" line] ...This deletion was not made, as evidenced by the report of the reviewer who saw the print in New York....the dirty minded lout who put it in the picture knew perfectly well, however, what he was doing and undoubtedly felt he had gained something by getting away with it. I wish that Kuykendall or somebody whose words would carry weight could manage to give him an impression of the opinion that is rapidly developing throughout this country regarding him and his kind." The last two reels of the film were reviewed by the Hays Office on June 26, 1933. The film was released with the line in question intact in 1933, but when Paramount requested a Code seal for a re-issue for the film in October 1935, the PCA suggested that Paramount withdraw its application. Breen wrote to Paramount executive John Hammell that the film "is filled with gross vulgarities in both action and dialogue." When Paramount again tried to re-issue the film in March 1950, Breen re-iterated for Paramount executive Luigi Luraschi the list of deletions recommended in 1933, as well as the song "Reefer Man," sung by Cab Calloway.
       According to a modern source, The Spirit of Brooklyn car, W. C. Fields' own baby Austin, was also used in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925 and later in Earl Carroll's Vanities. The Variety review called this film "just dull hoke," but, according to modern sources, it finally secured Fields' place in Hollywood. Following the success of International House, Paramount guaranteed Fields $100,000 a year and three pictures-a-year for three years; compared with the mere $15,000 he received for this film. According to Hollywood Reporter, Peggy Hopkins Joyce was guaranteed $1,250 per week and a four-week guarantee for appearing in this film.
       During the film's production, the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred. A now famous film clip taken on the set of the picture features Stuart Erwin saying "It's an earthquake," and a composed Fields calmly directing everyone to take it easy. Although the clip was purportedly taken during the actual quake, while a scene was being shot, director Edward Sutherland revealed in a modern interview what many film historians had suspected, that the footage was actually shot later, as a joke. Colonel Lemuel Q. Stoopnagle (actually Frederick Chase Taylor) and Budd Hulick were a popular radio team from 1933-1938. They were first heard on network radio on May 25, 1931 in a three-a-week, fifteen-minute trial run format called Gloom Chasers, on CBS. Modern sources credit Jerry Drew and Andr Cheron as bit players.