As a kid growing up and falling in love with movies, Bob Hope was always 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 1930s with movies like The Cat and the Canary, The Ghost Breakers, and continued into the 1940s (Monsieur Beaucaire, The Princess and the Pirate, The Paleface and The Road to movies.). By the mid-1950s, his films were going downhill. In the 1960s, Hope’s films were hopeless (ouch!). Movies like Call Me Bawana, Eight on the Lam, I’ll Take Sweden, Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number and A Global Affair were unfortunate affairs. But in that early golden period, Bob Hope, a master of timing, had many gems that still hold up.
A few years 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 know the film by heart.
Watching My Favorite Brunette and other Hope films, you can see the influence old ski nose had on Woody Allen. Bob Hope was Woody’s comic idol. You easily see this 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 marvelously funny take-off on the classic film noirs of the day. Adding a bit of noir authenticity is the inclusion 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 first 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 perfect photo and promises to have the proofs ready tomorrow. Shortly afterward, Ronnie visits Sam McCloud whose office is next door to Jackson’s photography studio 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 his newly invented keyhole camera (he’s been kicked out of five hotels 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. 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 Jackson 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. He 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 rocky road to San Quentin and the Gas Chamber. As expected, Jackson is saved from execution thanks to Carlotta, McCloud and Mrs. Fong’s help. 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 execute Bob.
This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Laughter is the Best Medicine Blogathon. If you need more comic shots in the arm? Click here and here.