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.