There are several movies about the end of an era--one of the best, for example, is [i]Singin' in the Rain[/i], which is about both the end of one era and the beginning of another. This movie, too, tries to show us the beginning of the era of the thing that supplants it, but in a joky, self-referential kind of way. Further, those days in Peoria, inventing the television, must have been an [i]awful[/i] long time ago, given how long the history of television is. (Actually, it was commerically available, albeit not common, in 1939, when this film is set.) The bigger problem is how confused this movie is. I'm listing it as a mystery, but it's also a romance, a slice of life piece, and the aforementioned "end of an era" piece. [i]Prairie Home Companion[/i] manages such a burdensome, complex idea; [i]Prairie Home Companion[/i] is a better film. Garrison Keillor is also, Gods love him, a better writer than George Lucas.
It's 1939. Radio is peaking; the end is not yet in sight. A bunch of wacky characters are planning to launch a new network. This launch has been designed by someone unfamiliar with how radio works, as all of the acts are done at one time, on one stage, in front of a live studio audience. (Yes, it happened; see the aforementioned Keillor. But it didn't happen [i]much[/i] or to this extent.) We have at least three serials, a comedian, a Spike Jones-y band (that's Spike Jones the musician, not Spike Jonze the video director who stole his name), a couple of real bands, a dance routine or two (on the radio?), and so forth. The scripts are all in rewrite [i]during the show[/i]. Everyone who works for the station, from the station owner to the doorman, is a Wacky Character.
In short, it's too busy. We don't need characters to start dropping like flies; we don't need the backstory. Give us a couple more minutes with George Burns in what would be his last picture. I think this is supposed to be in real time; if it isn't, it isn't much longer. The film is just over an hour and a half long, and I'm pretty sure the show is supposed to be an hour and a half as well. We don't need the frenzied or the madcap or whatever adjective you feel like inserting. (Zany? Screwball? I've got a ton of 'em.) Pick a plot, is I guess what I'm saying.
The cast is great. I have to admit that there's one hell of a cast. It's the final film of two great old performers, George Burns and Rosemary Clooney. (She would do a couple more episodes of TV, including one appearance on [i]ER[/i] with her nephew, George.) It's got a cavalcade of comedians. It's a lovely film, diving headlong into Art Deco. The filming's not bad. Not [i]great[/i], but pretty good. The colours pop in the way that colours actually did in '39. It could be a much better movie than it is.
Also, it's wasting its comedic talent. I'm not going to tell you that I never laughed. I am going to tell you that I didn't laugh as much as I expected to, given who's in it. It's disappointing. I think that makes it worse than it otherwise would be, and I can genuinely wish my hopes weren't so high going in, because I might have enjoyed the movie more. But they were, and I didn't.