The Big Broadcast

Reviewed by Jay Mandeville

"THE BIG BROADCAST" is one of the Bing's STRANGEST films, 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" and, of course, Bing does only a "music-video" style cameo in that one.

THE ORIGINAL 1932 feature is a catalogue of innovative editing, stop-motion special effects, dislocating and disorienting plot twists, and 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 that Bing meets in a speakeasy; the vivacious BOSWELL SISTERS do a great bit as telephone operators at a radio station when everyone is trying to figure out Bing's whereabouts. GEORGE BURNS and 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" and became a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of the public adulation Bing received after its release. In "Broadcast" Bing is mobbed when he arrives late for a radio performance near the film's beginning. His clothes are torn to shreds by female fans and when he reaches the microphone he is seen covered with lipstick kisses. Into the mike he gasps 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 and depression after being jilted by his fiance, invites Stu Erwin to join him in death by turning on the gas jets full blast on his kitchen stove, with all the windows and 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 a hotel employee lets her in and lights a match triggering an explosion. Abruptly the scene changes to sunlit curtains fluttering in an open window -- morning has broken, and 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 and unexpected elements colliding here that one could go on noting unusual details at length, and 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 a rare screen appearance. With its oddball routines, songs, one-liners and surrealist elements, "The Big Broadcast" is an entertaining, unusual movie very high on my list of Bing Crosby's most important films.

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