Cast & Crew
After a triumphant assignment in war-torn Morocco, flamboyant, unethical Chicago-based newspaper reporter Buckley Joyce Thomas asks his publisher, J. H. Stevens, to send him to the Soviet Union. Anxious that Buckley be far away from his impressionable young mistress, gold digger Dolly Winslow, Stevens agrees to the assignment and reminds Buckley that the last reporter who became entangled with Dolly ended up with no job. Thus warned, Buckley, who is already involved with Dolly, sends his devoted assistant, Lefty Williams, ahead to Moscow to secure a hotel suite and hire a interpreter to find a peasant, a worker and a modern woman to interview. Using his newspaper's money, Lefty outbids Buckley's more ethical rival, Englishman Pettingwaite, out of both his hotel suite and his industrious interpreter, Kostya. While Kostya is locating Buckley's interview subjects, Buckley arrives at the hotel and is soon joined by Kate Nelson, a British reporter and former lover. Although still in love with Buckley, Kate agrees to "look out for" Dolly, who has snuck out of Paris to be near Buckley and to "cultivate" her voice. At the same time, Kate meets Eugenie Smirnova, another of Buckley's romantic conquests, who comes to the hotel with her husband-of-convenience, Prince Alexander Tomofsky, the last Romanoff in Russia. After noting that Alexander's story has human interest value, Buckley interviews Kostya's peasant, worker and modern woman. The worker, Sozanoff, declares that he is the new revolutionary leader of Russia and confides in Buckley that he led a group of students in a failed takeover of a radio station. Describing Sozanoff's actions as inconsequential, Buckley tells the fanatical leader that if he wants publicity he must bomb the Krelim or attempt an assassination. After dismissing Sozanoff, Buckley goes with Kostya to see the Commissar, the head of the Soviet secret service, who has never been interviewed by an American. While Kostya confers with the Commissar, Buckley observes Sozanoff's students being executed by a firing squad and then learns that the Commissar has refused his interview. Buckley next discovers that Pettingwaite, who has threatened to reveal Dolly's whereabouts to Stevens, was awarded the only executive pass to a military parade over which Joseph Stalin is presiding. Just before the parade, however, Lefty pickpockets Pettingwaite's pass, and Buckley impersonates his rival to obtain a seat next to Stalin. When Buckley returns to the hotel with his exclusive interview, he learns that Stevens has fired him for "conduct unbecoming to a gentleman." Desperate to regain his position, Buckley asks Kate to marry him as a publicity stunt, but she denounces him as a corrupt fraud and abandons him. Buckley then hears that a bored Dolly is returning to Paris and, finding himself suddenly alone, contemplates suicide. Instead of shooting himself, Buckley comes up with a phony assassination idea in which Lefty is to shoot and wound Prince Alexander while he is sitting in Buckley's hotel suite. Buckley's plan goes awry, however, when Kostya appears with the Commissar, who has decided at Kostya's urgings to grant Buckley his interview. After ordering the prince to leave, the Commissar sits in the marked chair, and unable to signal to Lefty, Buckley ends up taking one of the bullets meant for the prince's shoulder. Although at first hailed as a hero, Buckley and Lefty come under suspicion when the Commissar's men find a telegram in the suite announcing the assassination of the prince. The two Americans are arrested and thrown in prison, where they discover Sozanoff in a neighboring cell. When the raving Sozanoff says that he is to be executed the next day, Buckley convinces him to confess to the assassination attempt and earn publicity for his cause. After Buckley learns that Sozanoff actually had not yet been condemned, he persuades the Commissar to spare the madman's life, while securing his own release. Buckley's clever manueverings earn him a higher-paying job on Stevens' newspaper, and after he swears that he will reform as a reporter, Buckley's sincere marriage proposal is accepted by Kate.
C. Henry Gordon
John Melvin Bleifer
Clear All Wires!
The main character is Buckley Joyce Thomas, a smart-alecky newshound who covers the international beat for the Chicago Globe, spars with rival reporter Pettingwaite of the New York Times, and chases women whenever he can - including an airhead named Dolly, who happens to be involved with J.H. Stevens, his editor and boss. After a somewhat confusing start in the desert sands of Morocco, the story moves to Moscow, where Buck goes to get the scoop on what he regards as the greatest social experiment in history. He's accompanied by his sidekick, Lefty, who's always willing to help with a scheme, a ruse, or a con.
Within minutes of arriving Buck steals Pettingwaite's hotel room and hires away Pettingwaite's assistant. Then he orders his new aide to supply him with a peasant, a worker, and a "New Woman" he can quiz for information. He also demands a meeting with the chief of the secret police, ignoring the fact that the Commissar never grants interviews to anyone. Visits from several women add to his crowded agenda. One is ditzy Dolly, who wants to move in with him; another is old flame Eugenie, now stuck in a marriage of convenience with a distant relative of the ousted czar; and the third is sophisticated Kate, an ace newspaperwoman who wishes Buck would get some sense and settle down with her.
Further complications ensue when Stevens gets wind of Buck's relationship with Dolly and sends a wire firing the reporter. Hoping to save his career by getting a spectacular story, Buck sets up a bogus assassination attempt with the former czar's relative as the supposed target. Everything goes wildly wrong, of course, but after numerous hairpin turns the plot somehow screeches to a happy ending.
Clear All Wires! predates World War II, when the struggle against Nazi Germany made relations between the USA and the USSR relatively cordial, and of course it predates the cold war, when capitalists and communists were fierce ideological enemies. Hollywood tended to swing whichever way the political winds blew, and since Soviet authorities were banning American movies on principle by the middle 1930s, the studios could be as irreverent as they liked toward Communism and other Russian isms. Sometimes they were very irreverent indeed, as when MGM allowed the working-man character in Clear All Wires! to be an aspiring revolutionary with a perplexing platform: "Leninism is not Stalinism! Stalinism is not Bolshevism! Bolshevism is not Communism! And Communism is not Marxism!" Lefty promptly labels him a nut, but Buck thinks there may be a story in him yet. According to his platform, "Nuts make news."
The movie originated as a play by Bella and Samuel Spewack, a married couple who worked as foreign correspondents before turning to the stage and scoring big Broadway hits like Boy Meets Girl in 1935 and Kiss Me Kate in 1948. The theatrical version of Clear All Wires opened (without the exclamation point) in 1932, racking up a lukewarm three-month run. (Five years later the Spewacks turned it into the successful musical Leave It to Me! with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.) It played long enough to catch the eye of MGM, which hired the Spewacks to adapt their play and assigned George W. Hill to direct. Hill had been a cinematographer before becoming the director of significant movies like The Big House and Min and Bill (both 1930), and he was slotted to direct a very high-profile production, The Good Earth, when he went through a bad car accident and then committed suicide. He was only 39, and Clear All Wires! was his last picture.
Lee Tracy was an inspired choice to play Buck, since he had created the character of newspaperman Hildy Johnson in the first Broadway production of The Front Page in 1928, and had just finished playing journalists in no fewer than four movies released in 1932. The role of Dolly went to Una Merkel, whose dozen (!) pictures of 1933 also include the Busby Berkeley musical 42nd Street and the Jean Harlow comedy-drama Bombshell, and Lya Lys, a veteran of Luis Buñuel's legendary L'Age d'or (1930), came in as Eugenie the old flame. Benita Hume, a young but experienced English actress, made her Hollywood debut as Kate, the young but experienced English reporter. The supporting cast also features the great James Gleason as Lefty, the rather dull Alan Edwards as Pettingwaite, and three carry-overs from the stage edition: John Melvin Bleifer as the revolutionary worker, Eugene Sigaloff as the ex-czar's relative, and Ari Kutai as Buck's assistant.
New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall judged Clear All Wires! to be "a good picture with several humorous incidents," and praised Tracy for his "clever" performance as a "braggart" who "bears up well after being called a faker and a liar" by his fictional New York Times competitor. That's a generous verdict. The film is energetic and diverting, but every decade has produced newspaper movies more substantial than this one; just think of Josef von Sternberg's Underworld (1927), William A. Wellman's Nothing Sacred (1937), Howard Hawks's His Girl Friday (1940), Alexander Mackendrick's Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Samuel Fuller's Shock Corridor (1963), Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men (1976), Sydney Pollack's Absence of Malice (1981), Ron Howard's The Paper (1994), and David Fincher's Zodiac (2007). Like the exclamation point in its title, Clear All Wires! is ultimately an add-on with little of real substance to contribute. It has its charms, though, and aficionados of the journalism genre won't want to miss it.
Director: George W. Hill
Producer: George W. Hill
Screenplay: Bella and Samuel Spewack; adapted from their stage play; continuity by Delmer Daves
Cinematographer: Norbert Brodine
Film Editing: Hugh Wynn
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
With: Lee Tracy (Buckley Joyce Thomas), Benita Hume (Kate), Una Merkel (Dolly), James Gleason (Lefty), Alan Edwards (Pettingwaite), Eugene Sigaloff (Prince Alexander), Ari Kutai (Kostya), C. Henry Gordon (Commissar), Lya Lys (Eugenie), John Melvin Bleifer (Sozanoff), Lawrence Grant (MacKenzie), Guy Usher (J.H. Stevens.)
by David Sterritt
Clear All Wires!
The film was adapted by the Spewacks in 1938 into the Broadway musical "Leave It To Me!", which featured a Cole Porter score that included "My Heart Belongs To Daddy".
Motion Picture Herald lists Percy Hilburn as the film's photographer, but this credit is probably an error. According to a Film Daily news item, in order to create a realistic live radio broadcast, studio technicians worked out an electric "brush discharge" that produced a "glow about a transmitting tube" instead of the usual "sputtering sparks" effect. A musical version of Bella and Samuel Spewacks' story, called Leave It to Me, opened on Broadway November 9, 1938. Cole Porter wrote the music and William Gaxton, Victor Moore, Sophie Tucker and Mary Martin played the leads.