CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR (director: Richard Whorf; screenwriter: Fred Brady/Hans Jacoby; cinematographer: Paul Ivano; editor: Hugh Bennett; music: Dmitri Tiomkin; cast: Ronald Colman (Beauregard Bottomley), Vincent Price (Burnbridge Waters), Celeste Holm (Flame O’Neil), Barbara Britton (Gwenn Bottomley), Art Linkletter (Happy Hogan), Byron Foulger (Gerald), Ellye Marshall (Frosty), Gabriel Heatter (Himself, Radio Annoucer), Douglas Evans (Radio Annoucer), Vicki Raaf (Waters’ Secretary); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Moskov; Image Entertainment; 1950)
“Has a field day spoofing the moronic TV shows sponsored by soap companies.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Richard Whorf (“It Happened in Brooklyn”/”My Friend Irma”/”Blonde Fever”) helms this amiable comedy about a genius quiz contestant named Beauregard Bottomley (Ronald Colman), a nice guy intellectual snob who is unemployed and lives a quiet scholarly life with his piano tutor sister Gwenn (Barbara Britton) in a bungalow colony in Los Angeles. Since television was the enemy at the time of the movie industry, this film has a field day spoofing the moronic TV shows sponsored by soap companies. Writers Fred Brady and Hans Jacoby keep it on track with its one-joke gimmick of the quiz contestant winning enough so he can bankrupt the sponsoring soap company he hates. But it starts to lag at the halfway mark and needs a couple of twists at the end to save the story line from becoming too absurd to buy into.
When Beauregard is sent by the state employment office for a research job with the Milady Soap Company, the eccentric CEO, Burnbridge Waters (Vincent Price), has bad vibes for the reserved dreamer when he cracks a mild joke and doesn’t hire him because he loathes humor. Beauregard aims to get revenge on the soap company and the crass TV quiz show Masquerade for Money it sponsors, who Beauregard believes have become the forerunners for America’s decline in intellect, a tacky program in which contestants dress up in costumes and can win up to $160 if they answer the question right or lose all they previously won if they miss when trying to double their money. Beauregard comes on the show dressed as a walking encyclopedia and the obnoxious host, Happy Hogan (Art Linkletter), trades insults with him in their lightweight banter before the question is asked. The joke turns out that Beauregard answers all the trivia questions right and refuses to leave when he hits the limit. When Beauregard is bounced from the show soap sales decline and Burnbridge is forced to bring him back. To find a weakness in the perfect man’s character, Happy is sent to take piano lessons and pump sis for her brother’s weakness. Gwenn realizes this, but has fallen in love with the heel. When that doesn’t work, Burnbridge sends the perfect woman, brains and beauty, Flame O’Neil (Celeste Holm), to pose as a nurse to endear herself with Beauregard when he catches a cold and even though Beauregard suspects she’s a company spy he can’t help falling in love with her. The climax has the show being shot in the Hollywood Bowl and if Beauregard answers the question correctly he will pocket $40 million and Burnbridge will be out of business. Also brother and sister plan to marry their new mates after the show and wonder if they will go through with the marriage if he loses.
The Caesar in the title is the foul-speaking, booze-guzzling pet parrot that Beauregard found in the street and decided to keep.
Price offers a priceless over-the-top zany broad comedy performance as the greedy tycoon with an acid tongue and a penchant for leaving the world to experience an out-of-the-body ecstasy during meditation–only to return to the world with more nasty deeds up his sleeve. This film deserves more recognition as one of Hollywood’s better romantic comedies, as it for some reason has fallen between the cracks.
REVIEWED ON 5/6/2010 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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