Champagne for Caesar

Champagne for Caesar is a 1950 American comedy film[1] about a quiz show contestant, directed by Richard Whorf and written by Fred Brady and Hans Jacoby. The movie stars Ronald Colman, Celeste Holm, Vincent Price, Barbara Britton and Art Linkletter. The film was produced by Harry M. Popkin for his Cardinal Pictures and released by United Artists.

Champagne for Caesar
Film poster
Directed byRichard Whorf
Produced byGeorge Moskov
Leo C. Popkin
Written byFred Brady and Hans Jacoby
StarringRonald Colman
Celeste Holm
Vincent Price
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyPaul Ivano
Edited byHugh Bennett
Production
company
Cardinal Pictures
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 11, 1950 (1950-05-11)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish

Plot

Beauregard Bottomley is a polymath who lives in Los Angeles with his piano-instructor sister Gwenn (Barbara Britton) and an alcohol-guzzling parrot they found named Caesar (voiced by Mel Blanc). Beauregard is knowledgeable on any subject -- except how to hold a job.

In front of a store window, Beauregard and Gwenn watch a quiz show, Masquerade for Money, hosted by Happy Hogan and sponsored by Milady Soap; the show was described as a radio show that was simulcast on television, similar to how You Bet Your Life was broadcast as a simulcast by NBC. Each contestant dresses up as a historical personage, an inanimate object or an animal. The questions asked are based on the contestant's costume, with the prize money doubling with each right answer (in the style of the 1940s radio show The $64 Question), starting at $5 and going up to $160. They can quit anytime, but a wrong response results in no money won. Beauregard is contemptuous of the show and what he deems its dumbing down effect on the country.

Beauregard goes for a job interview at the Milady Soap Company. He meets the eccentric owner, Burnbridge Waters. Waters disapproves of Beauregard's humor and rejects him. To get even, he goes on the program dressed as an encyclopedia; according to the host, consistent with the rules of the show, this means that Beauregard can be asked about anything. Before the questions begin, Happy Hogan starts to praise Milady Soap, but Beauregard says that it works just like any other soap, outraging Waters. Beauregard easily answers the maximum six questions, then requests one more, which he also gets right, earning $320. Beauregard turns down the money and asks to return next week.

Waters decides to invite Bottomley back for one question per show for six weeks and heavily publicize it. At the end, they will give him an impossibly hard question. Masquerade for Money tops the ratings and sales of Milady Soap skyrocket.

When Beauregard answers the question intended to stump him, Waters becomes uneasy. Happy offers to take piano lessons from Gwenn to try to find Beauregard's weakness. Beauregard sees through the scheme, but Gwenn sneaks out on a date with Happy anyway. When she tells Happy that she and her brother think he is just trying to get information from her, he admits it, but also says he is glad to have met her. She tells him that Beauregard intends to win $40 million and take everything Waters has. Happy tells Waters, who cancels the show and sends Beauregard a check for his current winnings ($40,000), which Beauregard refuses to accept.

After sales plummet, Waters is forced to reinstate the show, and Beauregard reaches $10 million. Waters calls in "Flame" O'Neill (Celeste Holm) to distract Beauregard. Beauregard catches a cold, so Flame pretends to be a nurse. He quickly succumbs to her charms (as does Waters). Flame breaks their dinner date to undermine his self-confidence and peace of mind. The night of the show, he reveals that he never mastered Albert Einstein's "space-time theories". The next question is about Einstein's views of space-time. Realizing Flame has betrayed him, Beauregard struggles to come up an answer. It is ruled an incorrect answer and he is offered the consolation prize of Milady Soap in lieu of his cash prize. However, Einstein himself calls on the telephone before the end of the show to say that Beauregard's answer is right and the host acknowledges the correct answer. Afterward, Beauregard confronts Flame, who has fallen for him. Unaware of this, Beauregard spanks her with her hairbrush and informs her that he deliberately misled her; he actually "spent an entire season with Einstein". However, he also admits that he fell madly in love with her.

Waters books the Hollywood Bowl for the last show. Happy and Gwenn and Beauregard and Flame plan to marry. Beauregard and Gwenn caution each other that their would-be spouses could just be after the money. They both call and suggest marrying before the show, but Happy and Flame come up with excuses.

On the big night, Happy asks Beauregard what his Social Security number is. He gets it wrong. To the joy of Beauregard and Gwenn, Flame and Happy still want to marry them. Waters shows up at their home, bearing gifts, including champagne. It turns out that Caesar used to be Waters' pet. As Beauregard and Flame drive off to Las Vegas to get married, Beauregard reveals that he and Waters made a deal where he would lose in exchange for his own radio show, some stock and other considerations. Beauregard then admits that he actually did not know the answer.[1]

Reception

In his 1950 review of the film in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther panned the film, sparing only Holm:

"Some of his [Vincent Price's] broad aberrations offer faintly satirical thrusts at advertising genius, but most of them are duds. Mr. Coleman's exquisite urbanity wears awfully thin as time goes on. ... With Celeste Holm playing the charmer, there is some evident reason, at least, for the hero's infatuation. But with a chap named Art Linkletter cast as the quiz-master, we cannot fathom the basis for the sister's romance."[2]

Contemporary criticism of the story indicated that the film violated Beauregard's criticism of the nature of quiz shows in its final plot twist, with Beauregard being given his own quiz show[3][4] - unless Beauregard were to use the opportunity to reform quiz shows by having one that is truly intellectually stimulating.

Nicholas Laham has analysed the treatment of Beauregard as a highly educated, yet unemployable, character in the context of how scholars were regarded in the 1950s, and in anticipation of the unemployment of information-based, highly educated people in later decades in the information age/"new economy". Laham also places Champagne for Caesar in the historical lineage of screwball comedy, over a decade after that genre had reached its peak before World War II.[5]

Cast

  • John Eldredge as Executive No. 1
  • Lyle Talbot as Executive No. 2
  • George Leigh as Executive No. 3
  • John Hart as Executive No. 4
  • Mel Blanc as Caesar (voice)
  • Peter Brocco as Fortune Teller
  • Brian O'Hara as Buck (T man)
  • Jack Daly as Scratch (T man)
  • Gordon Nelson as Lecturer
  • Herbert Lytton as Chuck Johnson
  • George Meader as Mr. Brown

References

  1. Richard Whorf (director) (May 11, 1950). Champagne for Caesar (movie). Cardinal Pictures.
  2. Bosley Crowther (1950-05-12). "The Screen: Ronald Colman Plays Winner of Quiz Program in Popkin's Champagne for Caesar". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  3. Review of Champagne for Caesar. Life, 10 April 1950, pp 119-122.
  4. "The New Pictures, May 8, 1950". Time. 8 May 1950. Retrieved 2011-05-30.
  5. Laham. Nicholas, Currents of Comedy on the American Screen. McFarland & Company (Jefferson, North Carolina, USA), p 49 (ISBN 978-0-7864-4264-5, 2009).
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