The Big Broadcast

Reviewed by Jay Mandeville

"THE BIG BROADCAST" is one of the STRANGEST films Bing ever did, hands down, in my humble opinion. The only other motion picture he appears in that even approaches the bizarre, dreamlike quality of this flick might be its successor, "The Big Broadcast of 1936," & of course, Bing only does a "music-video" style cameo in that one.

THE ORIGINAL 1932 feature is a catalogue of innovative editing, stop-motion special effects, dislocating & disorienting plot twists, & crazy slapstick. "The Big Broadcast" even has a weird opening: "lobby card" photos of the performers on a placard "come to life" for a few instants, then each freezes back into their photograph.

STU ERWIN is delightful as a new acquaintance Bing meets in a speakeasy; the vivacious BOSWELL SISTERS do a great bit as telephone operators at the radio station when everyone is trying to figure out Bing's whereabouts. GEORGE BURNS & GRACIE ALLEN also introduce their particular brand of madness into the proceedings.

THE HABITS of the character Bing portrays seem virtually indistinguishable from the working-methods sometimes employed by the carefree, wild-oat-sowing crooner himself at this early point in his career-- tellingly, Bing's fictional persona in "Broadcast" is named... BING!

THIS MOVIE was in fact a major HIT despite its "oddness" & essentially became a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the public adulation Bing received after its release. In "Broadcast", Bing is already being mobbed... when he arrives late for a radio performance near the film's beginning, his clothes have been torn to shreds by female fans & he reaches the mike covered with lipstick kisses, just in time to sing the final words of "I Surrender Dear".

THE STRANGE, ghostly "suicide sequence" is a disquieting, altered-state segment wherein Bing, in a convincingly-acted condition of shock & depression after being jilted by his fiance, invites Stu Erwin to join him in death by turning the gas jets going full blast on his kitchen stove, with all the windows & doors shut. As the gas begins to have its poisoning influence, a peculiar grating on the kitchen wall takes on the glowing, hallucinatory appearance of a skull, as the apparition of an accordion-playing speakeasy-singer seen earlier performs a distorted version of "Here Lies Love" in the shape-shifting form of a spooky, smoke-like photo-wraith superimposed over the darkened kitchen.

WHEN a concerned friend comes looking for Bing at his apartment & the hotel employee who lets her in lights a match, there is an explosion... then the scene changes to sunlit curtains fluttering in an open window-- morning has broken, & the two would-be suicides are still in one piece, peacefully snoozing away.

THE ENTIRE film rewards attentive re-viewing-- there are so many off-beat & unexpected elements colliding here that one could go on noting unusual details at length, & never manage to mention them all.

CAB CALLOWAY, resplendent in white tux, does a great turn with his band that substantially heps up the scene, Bing's brilliant guitarist EDDIE LANG makes one of his only screen appearances-- & taken together with all the other routines, songs, one-liners & odd, Surrealist elements in "The Big Broadcast," I place this entertaining, unusual movie very high on my list of Bing Crosby's most important films.

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