Some time back I wrote a post about Celluloid Comfort Food and one of the five films I mentioned was My Favorite Brunette. It’s always been a go-to film whether I was in some sort of funk or did not feel like watching anything new; I pretty much know the film by heart.
As a kid growing up and falling in love with movies, Bob Hope was always there on the TV screen, not just in old films but on TV specials that seemed to pop up all the time. Hope’s best period on the big screen began in the late 1930’s with movies like The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers, and continued into the 1940’s (Monsieur Beaucaire, The Princess and the Pirate, The Paleface and The Road to…movies.). By the mid-1950’s, it was starting to go downhill. In the 1960’s, Hope’s film work was hopeless (ouch!). Films like A Global Affair, Call Me Bawana, Eight on the Lam, I’ll Take Sweden and Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number were unfortunate affairs. But in that early golden period, Bob Hope, a master of timing, had a few gems that still hold up.
Watching My Favorite Brunette and other Hope films, you can easily see the influence old ski nose had on Woody Allen. Bob Hope was Woody’s comic idol. You see it in many of Woody’s early films, the cowardly sperm in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…, the live Lobster scene in Annie Hall, and most of the scenes in Bananas. The mannerisms, the jokes, it’s all there.
My Favorite Brunette is a fabulously funny take-off on the classic film noirs of the day. Adding a bit of noir authenticity are the inclusions of a cameo by Alan Ladd as tough guy detective Sam McCloud, an evil Peter Lorre, and Hope’s character telling the story in voice-over. Hope is baby photographer Ronnie Jackson, a wannabe Private Investigator. When we meet Ronnie Jackson, he is on San Quentin’s death row awaiting execution for a murder he did not commit. The warden allows him to tell his story to a group of reporters.
Portrait photographer Ronnie Jackson is having a tough time photographing Mrs. Fong’s baby. The child will not smile! Two hours and numerous shots later, Ronnie gets his shot and promises to have the proofs ready tomorrow. Shortly afterward, Ronnie visits Sam McCloud whose office is next door to Jackson’s photography studio located in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Jackson has been begging to McCloud to give him a chance at P.I. work. Ronnie wants to be a tough guy P.I. like Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and even Alan Ladd. Jackson reveals to McCloud his newly invented keyhole camera (he’s been kicked out of five hotel already trying it out), and his recently purchased gun. But tough guy McCloud says nothing doing. Ronnie can answer his phone whenever he is out on a case. For Ronnie, it’s better than nothing. When McCloud takes a quick trip to Chicago, he leaves Ronnie in charge to man the phone, unwittingly giving Ronnie a chance to play detective. That happens when our sultry femme fatale, who else but Dorothy Lamour, enters the detective’s office, mistaking Ronnie for P.I. tough guy McCloud.
Her name is Baroness Carlotta Montay, and she claims her invalid husband, really her uncle, Baron Montay has been kidnapped by some very dangerous men, including a weasel like henchman called Kismet, noir veteran Peter Lorre, who followed her to McCloud’s office and is peeking into the detective’s door. Carlotta begs for help. She gives our hero an address and a critically important map that she tells him to guard with his life. Ronnie hides the map in a paper cup dispenser in his photography studio and is soon on his way to his first P.I. case. Jackson soon finds himself deeply involved in a convoluted plot involving mystery, murder, and mayhem. Hot on the trail, Ronnie’s detective work leads him down the road to San Quentin, and the Gas Chamber. As expected, Jackson is saved from execution thanks to Carlotta, McCloud, and Mrs. Fong’s still wanting her baby’s photos. The biggest loser in the film is not the criminals, but Bing Crosby whose film ending walk on as the executioner leaves him disappointed he cannot pull the switch on Bob.
With the renaissance of film noir over the years, this film still feels fresh. Hope’s hardboiled narration is spot on as is the cinematography of Lionel Linden (Alias Nick Beal, Monsieur Beaucaire). The script by Jack Rose and Edward Berloin is good enough that it could have played as a straight mystery. However, as depicted by Hope’s cowardly/horny persona, it’s a hilarious take off that noir aficionado’s will soak up.
This post is part of the Comfort Movie Blogathon. You can check out plenty of other posts in the celebration of National Classic Movie Day by clicking here!