Champagne for Caesar (1950) Directed by Richard Whorf. Ronald Colman, Celeste Holm, Vincent Price, Art Linkletter, Barbara Britton and Mel Blanc as Caesar. (99min.)
Last year I went to a film convention in Columbus, Ohio, called Cinevent, and saw 19 movies in three days. Out of all 19, this was my favorite. The title gives away that this is no ordinary movie we are talking about, and it has nothing to do with ancient Rome. I can tell you I have never laughed so hard in all my life.
It is about a guy who is a total genius. He knows everything! However, he cannot find a job that fits him. No one needs a genius. People need a trade. He finally finds a job at a quiz show for Milady Soap. So, he goes for a job interview with the boss. Now, the boss is played by Vincent Price, who you usually think of as a villain. He hardly gets a chance at comedy, but when he does, he is hilarious. Anyway, at the job interview the genius cracks a cheesy joke and the boss refuses him a job because he hates humor. So, the genius (Beauregard Bottomly) goes on the quiz show.
The quiz show is called Masquerading for Money. You are supposed to dress up as someone or something and you are asked questions about what you are dressed up as. Beauregard Bottomly dresses as the Encyclopedia Britannica A-Z, so they can ask him whatever they want. He wins a little bit of money, but he won't take it. He wants to come back next time and win more money. His scheme is that he has estimated the worth of Milady Soap and he is going to get revenge on the boss for making fun of his sense of humor. He is going to double his winnings every week until he wins enough to own the company. The boss tries to find out his weak spots so he can ask him that one question which he does not know. I hate to tell you…does he find out?
Now, the boss, Vincent Price is so weird and funny. Sometimes, his eyes mist over and one of his hands stretches towards the ceiling and he stares wistfully upwards and all of his employees know he can not see or hear a thing, as they put it, "He's gone out of this world." I love this movie!! It is so funny. You have got to see it! You will be holding your sides and crying over how funny it is.
Celeste Holm and Ronald Colman
Notes by moviediva:
"Champagne for Caesar" was the last film in which Ronald Colman played the romantic lead. He had been a leading man since he was discovered by Lillian Gish and cast as the hero in The White Sister in 1923. A rare star of both the silent and sound eras, he had recently (1948) won an Oscar for A Double Life, but had not made a film in two years. All that remained in his career was a cameo in Around the World in 80 Days, and a role as "The Spirit of Man" in The Story of Mankind.
Critics in 1950 didn't "get" Champagne for Caesar. It was filmed at a time when there was a great deal of trust in institutions like big business and the media. But, the satire that seemed baffling half a century ago now seems right on the mark in a more cynical age. The National Legion of Decency gave the film an Adults Only rating. One can only speculate on what was so offensive.
The film was produced by independent producer Harry Popkin, an unscrupulous character who paid his actors a flat fee of $25,000 for the picture, with the promise of another $75,000 and a percentage of the profits guaranteed by contract. Needless to say, nobody ever saw another dime. Colman even sued. R. Dixon Smith wrote, "Colman's daughter recalls that whenever her parents drove past Popkin's home in Beverly Hills, 'Ronnie and Benita would shake their fists and we'd all join in with 'That's where that son of a b**** Harry Popkin with all my money used to live!'"
Vincent Price, wary of being typecast as a heavy, jumped at the chance to play a comedy role. His daughter writes in her biography, "Vincent's friends, family and co-stars had long enjoyed his ribald sense of humor and devastating wit, but he had few opportunities to show this side of himself in his acting until his good friend, director Richard Whorf, gave him this chance to break away from his usual assortment of villains." He also loved playing opposite his idol, Ronald Colman. Unquestionably, Price steals the picture with his unbridled (and unexpected) looniness.
Whorf had originally been an actor; he had been signed at Warners in 1940 as a sort of second string John Garfield. Champagne for Caesar was probably his best film as a director, although he went on to a long career directing tv episodes in the 1960s.
There are many bizarre details in the film, such as two of the women being named "Frosty" and "Flame," that add to the lively atmosphere. Those who remember Art Linkletter as the host of television's House Party may find it odd for him to be cast as a lover boy. He is not very convincing, but I believe that Beauregard's sister simply decided at last she had to get out of the house, somehow. R. Dixon Smith writes," The picture emerges as one of Colman's finest comedies. The Devil to Pay and The Talk of the Town were better crafted, but also decidedly less hilarious."
(Photo from Daniel Blum's Pictorial History of the Talkies. Sources include, Ronald Colman, Gentleman of the Cinema by R. Dixon Smith, Ronald Colman, A Bio-Bibliography by Sam Frank and Vincent Price-A Daughter's Biography by Victoria Price.