Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Sunday, May 25, 2014

CMBA Fabulous Films of the 50s blogathon: Champagne for Caesar (1950)


The Classic Movie Blog Association sponsors the Fabulous Films of the 50s blogathon from May 22 to May 26.  So many great movies and so many great posts. 

Ronald Colman stars as Beauregard Bottomley, the last scholar, in the delightful 1950 comedy Champagne for Caesar.  As always, Colman is perfect in his role.  He was a perfect Sidney Carton, a perfect Robert Conway, a perfect George Apley, a perfect Rudolf Rassendyll, etc.  Beauregard Bottomley is a head-in-the-clouds and rather naive sort of fellow who devotes his time to higher learning and Greek translations, which doesn't pay very well.  He lives in a friendly bungalow court with his younger sister Gwenn, a piano teacher played by pretty Barbara Britton (The Virginian, I Shot Jesse James, TVs Mr. and Mrs. North).  The abode is also shared by a parrot named Caesar.  Caesar's former owner taught him a number of colourful phrases and encouraged a taste for the grape.  Caesar is voiced by Mel Blanc.

A stroll on a pleasant, warm evening to join others gathered in front of a storefront to watch television will irrevocably change not only the lives of the Bottomley siblings, but of the nation!  Beauregard is anxious to watch the broadcast of a scientific experiment and is prepared to return home at its conclusion when the popular radio/TV hit "Masquerade for Money" hosted by "Happy" Hogan begins.  This is the program which has drawn the rest of the crowd and Gwenn wants to check it out.  Perennial host Art Linkletter is cast as "Happy" and does a credible job.  Certainly he is on his mettle as a TV host and handles his "off" scenes well.  The premise of "Masquerade for Money" is that the contestant dresses up as someone or something and is asked questions about their assumed identity.  The first correct answer is a $5 win and the money increases to the top prize of $160.  The program is the brainchild of and sponsored by Milady's Soap ("the soap that sanctifies").  Milady's Soap is run by Burnbridge Waters.  In Vincent Price's mad and hysterical performance as the mastermind you will see the genesis for his Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, 35 years in the future. 

Beauregard is appalled by what he sees on the television.  "This man is the forerunner of intellectual destruction in America.  If it is noteworthy and rewarding to know that 2 and 2 make 4 to the accompaniment of deafening applause and prizes then 2 and 2 making 4 will become the top level of learning."  Gwenn, on the other hand, thinks "Happy" is cute.

Beauregard's ongoing efforts to find meaningful employment are a problem for both himself and Mr. Brown of the Department of Employment.  "If you know everything, you're not wanted around for long."  Perhaps at long last they have found the way Beauregard can "make a buck" and he eagerly attends for an interview at a firm that is looking for someone to do something with a research survey.  The company is Milady's Soap ("the soap that sanctifies") which is housed in an office complex that looks as if Dr. Seuss was hired as interior designer.  There is a hushed atmosphere, an obelisk with disembodied arms holding soap, disembodied voices greet and offer commands and eventually Beauregard is ushered in to see the top man.  Burnbridge Waters is currently in a trance.  It's how he thinks up things like "Masquerade for Money".  Coming out of the trance, he questions the applicant and finds Beauregard Bottomley not to his liking.  "You are the intellectual type.  I despise intellectuals types."  Beauregard's attempts at injecting humour into the interview are also met with strong disapproval and insults.  Beauregard does not take the rejection from the "pompous ass" lightly.

Art Linkletter, Ronald Colman

Beauregard enters "Masquerade for Money" as the Encyclopedia Britannica.  His appearance causes a sensation.  The audience cannot get enough of the "overgrown wiz kid".  Waters plays along.  After all, it's great publicity for Milady's Soap ("the soap that sanctifies").  Soon enough is too much!  Beauregard refuses to leave the game and they cannot stump the genius.  They try pulling the plug on the show, but there is outrage and sales plummet.  Beauregard's revenge is taking shape.  He wants to win the entire company.  "Happy" Hogan is sent to influence Beauregard through Gwenn, but instead falls for the girl.

Waters resorts to his secret weapon in the feminine form of Celeste Holm as Flame O'Neill.  What a name!  What a woman!  Ostensibly a nurse hired by one of the many Beauregard Bottomley fan clubs that dot the country, to help him recover from a cold, the brainy and beautiful Flame puts a plan in action to upset the equilibrium of the corporate raider.  Beauregard is smitten.  Two romances, the fate of a prominent company and television history all rest with Beauregard Bottomley, the last scholar. 

Champagne for Caesar was produced by Harry Popkin.  Harry and his brother Leo were film distributors who got into the producing line and whose titles gladden the hearts of old movie buffs.  Along with Champagne for Caesar there is the great Christie adaption And Then There Were None, the classic film-noir Impact and D.O.A., and the social conscience drama The Well, among others.

The director of Champagne for Caesar is former actor Richard Whorf (Yankee Doodle Dandy, Blues in the Night).  He began directing in the early 40s and movie credits include It Happened in Brooklyn and Luxury Liner.  As of 1952 Whorf's work would be entirely for television including many episodes of My Three Sons, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and Gunsmoke.  The sprightly score by Dimitri Tiomkin hits all the right notes.  Tiomkin would also work with Harry Popkin on D.O.A. and The Well.

Vincent Price, Vicci Raaf

The supporting cast of this film are a delight.  John Eldredge and Lyle Talbot are beleaguered Milady's Soap ("the soap that sanctifies") executives.  Vici Raaf as Waters' secretary is a quiet riot and Ellye Marshall as a Monroe-like starlet is charming.  Byron Foulger adds a droll touch as one of Gwenn's piano students.  Bess Flowers can be found backstage at the Hollywood Bowl during the finale of "Masquerade for Money". 

Champagne for Caesar is one of those movies that could very easily be translated from 1950 to 2014.  The gadgets have changed, and some of our TV viewing habits, but the habit is still there and the advertisers still have us by the throat.  Game show contestants become celebrities, whether their knowledge exceeds that of 2 and 2 making 4 or not.  Side note:  my sisters and I once saw Jeopardy champ Ken Jennings on a street in Toronto and we pointed and screamed.  I think we frightened him.  The comedy in Champagne for Caesar is relatable and played with elan by a cast that truly delivers the good natured and hearty laughs.


42 comments:

  1. Oh, my lord, why, WHY have I never even heard of this movie! This is absolutely ("the soap that sanctifies") HYSTERICAL! Honestly, CW, as a buttoned-down New Englander, I rarely use exclamation points or all caps, but this even almost temps me to use a smiley face emoticon. Got to see this film. Thanks for such a delightful post, delivered in your own spectacular way.

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    1. I was quite taken aback by the all caps AND exclamation points. You are definitely ready for "Champagne for Caesar" (YouTube can currently oblige). It is a treat and a half.

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  2. A fun post and a nice analogy comparing TV habits, advertisers between then and now. Still need to watch this. Coleman always come across as so sophisticated.

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    1. It's a real day brightener, as well as a gently light reminder that despite the outward trappings people haven't really changed all that much since the decade of my birth. In attitude toward a lot of things, but in our collective selves - not so much.

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  3. Given the quiz show scandals that would come later in the decade, this movie seems prophetic. Coleman's character could be a Charles van Doren parody.

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    1. A prophetic parody, what? Interesting thought and very true. Even in its infancy TV was ripe for being ripped.

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  4. This is an adorable movie (and Ronald Colman is darling in it), and I love your post! Humorous and witty, and perceptive as to why this film is so enjoyable - thanks!

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    1. Colman can be so many things and he is truly adorable in "Champagne for Caesar". Was there ever a more even-handed and thorough approach to revenge?

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    2. I haven't seen this movie CaftanWoman, but your review makes it so appealing and the kind of film I would really enjoy. I'll look for it and thank you for choosing Champagne for Caesar for the blogathon.

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    3. It's a wonderful Sunday afternoon - leaves you with a warm feeling movie. Enjoy.

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  5. I love this movie - and I haven't even see it yet. The concept, the cast, the story all sound delightful. And you are so right, Ronald Colman was perfect in everything. Fantastic review, CW. I must find "Champagne for Caesar."

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    1. Maybe we'll start a "Champagne for Caesar" cult!

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  6. I'm so glad you said this is on YouTube. I'm going to find it and bookmark that page. I know I will love this movie. With Ronald Coleman in it, what's not to love?

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    1. Colman is witty and wonderful, and Price is an over-the-top marvel. Lots to love.

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  7. I love your take on this movie and it's one I hadn't even heard of before. It sounds like a blast. How great that you were able to shine a spotlight on one of the less talked-about movies of the '50s. Colman is always such a polished and debonair presence that the very thought of him on a game show is surreal enough. But the thought of Vincent Price as a soap-selling mastermind is the real kicker. I must see this one. To Youtube, I will go.

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    1. Vincent Price has some absolutely hysterical moments as Burnbridge Waters. There are moments when he looks like he's about to break into song.

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  8. Oh gosh, this brings back memories. It has been years since I've seen this film..and even though it was viewed on a terribly poor transfer VHS tape ( that badly needed tracking ) the movie was so entertaining it quickly made it to the top of my favorite films list ( I was 10 at the time ). Your delightful review reminds me that I definitely have to see it again! The only thing I really remember about the film was the final quiz question that stumps him for the grand prize. What a doozy!

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    1. I remember the first time I saw this. It was "please adjust tracking for best picture" time. The sheer entertainment came through the blips. Who were those guys following Beauregard? They sure look shady to me.

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  9. CW, as you know, this is one of my favorite films. It's consistently witty and the cast is marvelous. Vincent Price should have done more comedies--he and Colman have some great exchanges. Still, it's hard to beat the scene where Nurse Flame (a present from a Beauregard Fan Club) gets under Beauregard's skin. And' that later leads to one of the best lines in the fan (in which Flame gets spanked). So glad you picked the unheralded classic.

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    1. "Champagne for Caesar" was the first movie I thought of for the blogathon, and then I sat down and made a list of other worthies, but I couldn't help but return to it. I can't help but think that the cast must have had as much fun as we have watching them.

      Gee, I wish somebody would call me "Flame".

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  10. MON DIEU! I've never seen this! What a cast and Mel Blanc's voice! Gotta run and get my hands on this pronto. Thanks for choosing this. :)

    Aurora

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    1. Sometimes around here we simply call it "the Mel Blanc movie". I'll bet he was the first one cast.

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  11. I love Ronald Colman and was smiling as you checked off some of his most popular (and my favorite) characters, but I haven't caught this one. I was sold by the screen capture of him looking so silly--and so un-Ronald Colmanlike--alongside Art Linkletter, but your review just put this one over the top for me.

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    1. That makes me very happy, Cliff. You've steered me toward so many movies that I've enjoyed.

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  12. I'm late, I'm late!
    Hi, CW!
    Am I the only one when reading the movie poster "Ronald Coleman loves Celeste Holm" say to myself "Sure he does!" ha ha I also noticed immediately how incredibly tiny they made her waste and hips?

    On the the review! So much fun wrapped up in your review, CW. I'm a huge Coleman fan and this isn't the genre I usually enjoy him in but I came away really liking the film. Not stellar in writing but entertaining, light and a good way to waste an hour or so.

    I'm glad so many lesser known films for the 50s are getting so much attention during this Blogathon. You've put a lot of time into giving us your thoughts on the film. So nicely done!
    Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day with the family.
    Page

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    1. You're never late, you're always fashionable.

      Fun was the aim of the movie and my piece. So glad that came through. Thanks.

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    2. You always pick the best films to write about. I saw this delightful film on TV as a kid and while I was most entertained by Vincent Price, my mother explained who Ronald Colman was and why he was so divine. I never forgot that. Great post lady!

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    3. Thanks.

      It's wonderful that your mom shared the love for Colman. Mothers and daughters can learn a lot from each other.

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  13. Paddy, you've ended my evening on a very happy note with Champagne for Caesar! Any film that tweaks TV is worth a look, but I'm especially pleased that this one involves Ronald Colman, Barbara Britton of TV's Mr. & Mrs. North, Celeste Holm,and especially the fact that the film was produced by the Popkin Brothers, the gents who brought us from AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, and especially one of my favorite noirs, IMPACT! This movie sounds like my kind of flick! :-) I look forward to catching up with it! You picked a fine post for the 1950s Fabulous Films of the 1950s, my friend! :-D

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    1. Knowing what a Popkin fan you are, I knew this would be right up your alley.

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  14. As much as I like Gothic horror movies, if someone would ask me to name my favorite Vincent Price performance, I would name CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR. His trance scenes with his hand in the air is hysterical. Second would be HIS KIND OF WOMAN, which makes me wish Vincent Price did more comedies. His scenes with Colman are pitch perfect and so funny. Alas, their next teaming, THE STORY OF MANKIND provided comedy of a different sort. But CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR is a true gem. Thanks for bringing back a lot of fun memories.

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    1. Your one-two Price performances echo my own favourites. There's a special kind of joy watching Price at work in those movies.

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  15. And I thought I'd seen all of Vincent's Price-less performances. Ah, more work to do...

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    1. You've got to get on it. I feel safe in saying that there is no way to praise Price too much as the mad executive.

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  16. Thank you for this, Caftan Woman! I've never seen it and I have really come to appreciate Ronald Coleman lately. You're right--he's perfect in everything he does and in a range of movies. RANDOM HARVEST is particularly heartbreaking (in a good way) and PRISONER OF ZENDA is great fun, too. I'm definitely going to check your pick out--thanks for choosing it for the blogathon!

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    1. I have had times where I have taken Colman for granted (shame on me), but every once in a while his talent and versatility is driven home to me.

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  17. Your description of the Milady's Soap building alone makes me want to see this. This sounds like a comedy, which I think Colman was very good at, although he was often in dramatic roles.

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    1. The fun of this movie for me is in how little audiences have changed in the last 50 or so years. I adore Colman in comedies, especially his guest appearances on radio with Jack Benny. Classic stuff.

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  18. This sounds like an utter hoot! The title has always stuck out to me and I love both Ronald Colman and Vinnie Price - so why haven't I seen this already? Danged if I know.

    Great review! Another DVD added to my ever-growing Amazon wishlist.

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    1. Check YouTube, Jeff. The movie may still be up. I sometimes get my DVD and then find that all I needed to do was check the old internet. I'm a spendthrift!

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  19. Anybody remember the "Halls of Ivy"? The Spoken word was king.

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