The Great American Broadcast (1941) Poster

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One of the friskier Foxes
marcslope28 June 2009
You know those Fox musicals: dreary plots, dragged-out playing times, benumbed direction, uninteresting photography, excruciatingly familiar casts, undistinguished or antiquated old-fave scores. This one, with less production values than usual, actually has a fun if unremarkable plot, pretending to be about the history of radio, but really just an excuse to let its stars do what they do best: Alice Faye to sing in her throaty, comforting contralto, John Payne to look handsome (he also warbles a bit, and not badly), Jack Oakie to clown (less annoyingly than usual). Mack Gordon and Harry Warren wrote many gorgeous ballads; here the keeper is "Long Ago Last Night," and it's a corker. It moves fast--positively at a gallop, by Fox standards--and though there are anachronisms everywhere, in the costumes and the dialog and the sets, this time you don't mind. A very entertaining, unpretentious Fox musical.
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Interesting Pseudo History with a Too Familiar Dumb Plot
Dick-4227 October 2001
Few middle-aged people now even remember the waning days of big time network radio, much less its prime time from the late 1920s to the mid 50s. When I first became aware of radio, about 1930, the networks had been operating for some time. Nothing in this movie would tell me how long. The signals were, indeed, carried over telephone lines. In fact, by the late 30s, at least, telephone cables consisting of thousands of wires in a lead sheath carried larger gauge wires in the center to provide a cleaner signal for radio transmission. Broadcasts originated mostly in New York, with quite a few from California, some from Chicago, and a few from other places around the country -- like Nashville. If it was necessary to switch the feed from, say, New York to Hollywood for a special interview, it took about 5 seconds for the phone lines to be reconnected in the opposite direction. It was a fun time, that this movie pretends to have invented. When it originated, the people -- broadcasters and listeners -- must have been fully as excited about it as the movie depicts.

The plot of the story is one we've seen in at least a dozen films: boy steals friend's girl; friend and girl succeed big in some enterprise, boy, left out, becomes jealous and disappears; boy turns up just in time to observe girl's ultimate triumph. The enterprise may be a business, a farm, or a mine, but more commonly it's an act or dramatic career. The story is always stupid, and this film is no exception.

Still, the music featuring Alice Faye, a couple of numbers by the Ink Spots, the hilarious Wiere Brothers, and the incomparable Nicholas Brothers, and even John Payne in one of his early singing roles, makes for eminently watchable entertainment, with the bit of questionable broadcast history thrown in for good measure. Despite the too familiar plot, it's far better than the average musical of the 30s through 50s. I loved it enough to save the recording I made off the cable 15 years ago, and liked it just as much when I dug up the tape this week.
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Modest but thoroughly enjoyable
ilprofessore-16 February 2009
Even back in the early 1940s when MGM was dazzling the world with their spectacular Technicolor musicals, Twentieth Century Fox under Daryl Zanuck's direction was still turning out modest B&W musicals like this one about the early days of radio. No breath-taking dance numbers but lots of pretty if ultimately forgettable songs by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, enjoyable specialty numbers by the Ink Spots and the incomparable Nicholas Brothers (as railroad porters!); and even a parody radio commercial sung with German accents by those madcap expatriates from the Berlin cabarets, the Wiere Brothers (the poor man's Ritz Bros.) The fast-moving plot is expertly directed by the usually lethargic Archie Mayo with lots of gags and even a bit of pathos from Jack Oakie, and enough romance between handsome John Payne and adorable Alice Faye to keep the girls in the audience happy. Fans of big studio high-style glamor cinematography will enjoy the gorgeous close-ups of Alice Faye lit by J.P. Marley and Leon Shamroy. Mike Frankovitch, who was one day to become president of Columbia Pictures, can be seen briefly as a radio announcer.
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Among the best of its type
fcullen20 April 2006
Archie Mayo and the writers took a stock project (a show biz musical) and made it special. The plot line about the beginnings of radio doesn't get lost in the welter of specialty numbers nor does the love story intrude too much in the fun. We even get a sense of what it was like when radio was expanding from a hobbyist's pursuit to a a mass market entertainment industry. The cast is nearly top notch all around but the Wiere Brothers are a marvel, providing the best turn in the film despite competition from the Nicholas Brothers, the Ink Spots and the always professional and often underrated John Payne, Alice Faye and Jack Oakie. Payne was usually justified in sleepwalking through the roles Fox saddled him with, but in this outing he shows what he can do with a congenial plot, director and co-stars. The primary reason for watching this film is to see the Wiere Brothers at their antic best. They were a deft and whimsical European comedy trio--comedians, instrumentalists, dancers and jugglers--with a long lineage in Continental circus, ballet and opera, and their style may be baffling to tastes weened on hit-them-over-the-head roughhouse comedy. Nothing wrong with roughhouse, but the Wieres offer something gently different.
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Great Musical, but not the history of the origin of radio
bkoganbing30 June 2011
The Great American Broadcast marks the first of four films that Alice Faye teamed with John Payne at 20th Century Fox. It has long been a contention of mine that Payne was signed by Darryl Zanuck because he looked a whole lot like Tyrone Power and could sing and thus carry his end of musical films with Alice, Betty Grable, June Haver, etc. Funny thing is when he left Fox, Payne abruptly stopped doing musicals and concentrated on all kinds of other films. He never sang a note on screen after 1946.

Putting it mildly this is not the history of the origin of commercial broadcast radio. Still it's a pleasant 90 minutes or so of musical entertainment with Alice Faye, John Payne, Jack Oakie, the Ink Spots, the Wiere Brothers, and the tap dancing Nicholas Brothers. I won't even quibble about how one enjoyed the Nicholas Brothers tap dance on radio.

In 1919 flier John Payne, radio electrician Jack Oakie, saloon singer Alice Faye, and millionaire Cesar Romero essentially all team up to launch commercial radio. If you're wondering what Payne's specialty and what he brought to the table, he was the promoter of the bunch, a role he would repeat in Tin Pan Alley and Hello Frisco Hello also with Faye and Oakie. Alice has all three of these guys panting for her, but her heart belongs to Payne even though he's a bit of fathead and doesn't appreciate what he has.

Harry Warren and Mack Gordon wrote the songs for The Great American Broadcast, the best of which is I Take To You which should have done a whole lot better in record sales. Oakie has a very funny bit trying to fake an operatic tenor during an early broadcast.

The event which launches the quartet in the broadcasting business was the famous Jess Willard-Jack Dempsey heavyweight championship fight and director Archie Mayo did a very good job integrating newsreel footage of the fight with the cast. In the opening montage you'll also see a whole lot of radio personalities who were big in 1940.

As Alice Faye is one of my real favorites I'm prejudiced, but The Great American Broadcast holds up very well after over 70 years even if it isn't the history of radio.
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A Fox musical starring the usual suspects
blanche-227 June 2009
Alice Faye, John Payne, Jack Oakie, and Cesar Romero are part of "The Great American Broadcast," a 1941 20th Century Fox musical about the beginning of radio broadcasting. It's complete fiction, of course, but peppered with some wonderful singing by Faye and the Ink Spots, magnificent dancing by the Nicholas Brothers, and some good comedy bits by the Wiere Brothers.

Payne and Oakie play partners in a radio venture, financed by Romero. They're both in love with the pretty Faye. You've seen this plot a million times.

This is worth seeing for the cast. Romero is very elegant as the money man, Chuck, Payne is handsome and sings well, and Oakie is extremely likable. Besides the specialty numbers, there is footage of the Dempsey-Willard fight in 1919.

The older folks will especially love this one.
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Fun picture, but typical Fox screenplay!!
trw33320001 August 2002
For those of us lucky enough to see Turner Classic Movies library of great MGM, Warners and RKO pictures, it comes as a letdown to see comparable 20th Century Fox pictures done with such juvenile plots--and there were many.

The Great American Broadcast is worthwhile to see gorgeous Alice Faye (about the time she married Phil Harris), hear her great songs, see the incomparable Ink Spots, Weire Brothers and Nicholas Brothers! Also performing well in restrained character for a change is Jack Oakie.

The backdrop of early radio is interesting, but the plot was so bad I had to turn away for a while--like broadcasting from a building rooftop from a tent in a thunderstorm(early AM low power radio would never reach far with all that lightning and static), also preposterous that John Payne would leave his beautiful new bride Alice Faye and run away to south america....only to have Jack Oakie beat him up to get him to look at her in the end....ha!!

Thanks to the Fox Classic Movie Channel for providing a beautiful print, enjoy it just the same.
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Origin of the Internet ?
fifties16 November 1999
While it is almost impossible to bypass the beauty of Alice Faye, I wish to mention that the plot of this cute fluff pic contains an interesting idea: hook up radio stations in a coast-to-coast network via the telephone. One hears so many arguments (political and otherwise) about "Who Invented the Internet?" It's easy to forget our honorable ancestors in the early days of Radio (when that name drew enough awe to have SciFi and even strange Westerns use it as a buzzword). The idea of telephone hookups apparently gave audiences a thrill.
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Routine Plot, but has some good musical numbers
sryder-15 January 2006
During the first twenty minutes or so there is actually some loose correspondence between the actual early history of radio and the history as presented here: the broadcast of a heavyweight prize fight, the proposal to broadcast a national political convention, the commercial link between the development of broadcasting and the sale of radios for home entertainment; and also the way national broadcasts began. The opening sequence before the title would have caught the attention of film goers in the forties, with brief clips of jack Benny, Fred Allen, Kate smith, Walter Winchell and other radio stars. Unfortunately, the origin and evolution of radio broadcasting becomes merely the background for a clichéd romance. However, there are some entertaining musical moments along the way. Jack Oakie stands out from the rest of the cast because of his energy, while Alice Faye, a favorite of mine from the 1930s, sings well, but seems mostly tired, except when she and Oakie are performing a song and dance number together. John Payne, Fox's back-up leading man (after Tyrone Power, who had moved on to major dramatic roles by this time), always does his job in a professional, though bland, manner. The Nicholas Brothers always impress. 20th Century Fox seemed to find some way of working them into most of the 1940s musicals. On the other hand, the Wiere Brothers are truly tiresome, supposedly performing over the radio an act that has to be seen to be enjoyed (or not, in this case). This review may sound more negative than I intended. In fact, most viewers will enjoy this hour and a half for what it is.
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John Payne's back brace
jormond-119 September 2019
I met John Payne one time and he wore a back brace in public and in his later movies. I think he said it was in the fight scenes at the beginning of this movie where he injured his spine.
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Alice was a big girl
jormond-119 September 2019
It seemed that Alice's chest was larger than in any of her other movies at Fox. She must have been taped down in the other pictures, for what reason, I have no idea. I think this was the real Alice.
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In some ways, rather insane!
MartinHafer1 October 2012
many of the acts on the radio were VISUAL acts--the Ink Spots dancing, the violinists' antics, etc.

The film begins with John Payne punching people and being rather nasty--and he continues like that throughout the film. It turns out he's a man of vision--but one who is perennially angry. He hits upon yet another scheme to make a fortune when he meets Jack Oakie--a guy who LOVES early radio. Payne gets the great idea of creating a radio station--one that is paid for by sponsors. It's rocky going at first but soon he's created a network of stations--and he ends up taking Oakie's girl (Alice Faye). However, the marriage is a mess--as Payne is, in many ways, a pain--and Faye has had enough. Can their love somehow prevail? Can they manage to survive despite a meanie's (Cesar Romero) desire to crush them? The bottom line is that this is yet another clichéd film involving a long-suffering woman in a troubled relationship with a butt-head. And you know that even when Faye is talking about divorce, they STILL will be together when the film ends. But, frankly, I saw no reason for her to stand by her man--he was annoying from start to finish.

Now in addition to my talking about the plot, I must mention a HUGE problem with this film. While it is supposed to be a pseudo-history of the radio industry, the acts they have in the film often make no sense at all. In one case, a singing group then starts dancing (the Nicholas Brothers). It's impressive dancing, but how can the audience at home SEE this when they are listening to them on the radio?! In another, there are LOTS of comic antics by three violinists. BUT, their humor is all physical--so how can the audience at home possibly know what's happening?!? This sort of insanity occurs throughout the film. And, while these routines are very good, they just make no sense in a history of radio! It's sloppy and silly at the same time. Overall, while the song and dance numbers are nice, the plot and radio idea are poor and make for a weak film--one of the weaker ones in Faye's career.
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Alice and John together again
HotToastyRag18 April 2019
Remember Hollywood Cavalcade, the film that showed a tumultuous relationship between Alice Faye and Don Ameche during the transition from silent to talking pictures? If you liked that movie, you'll want to give The Great American Broadcast a chance. It stars Alice Faye and John Payne, so you know there'll be some songs sung by beautiful voices, and it shows their tumultuous relationship during the advent of the radio.

This isn't the best movie in the world, but it is certainly entertaining. There are two good-looking, talented people in the lead roles, and even though Alice gets to sing much more than John does, you still get to hear his singing voice, something he didn't get to show off in his movies very often. Oftentimes, either the romance or the actual plot overshadows the other, but in this movie, both are equally interesting. John is torn between his love for Alice and his desire to explore the power of radio broadcasting, and his pal Jack Oakie provides plenty of support. There are by far more movies made about early Hollywood than early radio, so if you're interested in that part of our history and culture, you can watch this extremely sugar-coated version while basking in a melodramatic romance and listening to lots of songs. And as a bonus, you'll get to see the Nicholas Brothers dance!
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Not So Great, After All
dougdoepke11 July 2009
So how did radio networks get started. After all, they are the precursor of modern-day TV and even computer networks. I don't know how accurate the depiction is here, but at least the screenplay got me to wondering after years of incurious radio listening. In my book, that depiction is the best part of this clearly second-rate musical. The numbers themselves vary rather wildly in quality— the Nicholas Bros. are a show-stopper and the very definition of "flying feet", while the Ink Spots shine with "Alabama Bound". I confess to even being captivated by Oakie in his underwear doing a soft shoe while warbling into a primitive microphone. However, I agree with the reviewer who characterizes the usually sparkly Alice Faye as looking unusually tired. At the same time, the Wiere Bros. violin pantomime may be the worst stage act I've seen in some time. I guess they are a matter of taste-- at best.

The production itself appears to be on a strict budget, with a series of rather drab sets and only one big production number, a chorus line backing up Faye. Now I'm no particular fan of Jack Oakie's. His sometimes relentless mugging can get tiresome. Here, however, he injects much-needed energy into a romantic plot line that too often sags under its own recycled weight. The overall result looks to me like Fox doing little more than meeting escapist demand on the eve of WWII.
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