My Favorite Blonde (1942)

my favorite blonde

Bob Hope was one of the 20th centuries greatest personalities but sometimes his pictures weren’t always up to par. The most obvious exceptions would be the majority of the Road pictures with Bing Crosby, The Paleface films with Jane Russell, and this fun addition pairing our beloved funnyman with the divine Madeleine Carroll.

It’s not quite a Hitchcockian thriller but Madeleine Carroll provides an icy blonde secret agent while Bob Hope is in usual form with his typical smart-mouthed nitwit characterization that garners our love.

Carrying over some of the world from The 39 Steps (1935), enemy agents are looking to intercept invaluable secrets that are needing to make their way to America in the hands of Karen Bentley (Carroll). Her partner has already bought it and she has two tails observing her every move.

The place she chooses to hide away at is the backstage of a vaudeville joint where Larry Haines (Hope) is just finishing up with his penguin partner Percy who has a big contract coming in Hollywood. Larry has been included on the bill as an afterthought.

But all that is put on hold when this beautiful, mysterious woman wanders into his life. He gladly entertains her company and yet he doesn’t know what else comes with that proposition. In typical fashion, Hope’s character always bites off more than he can chew whether it be villains or women. He’s got no answer for either.

A near wordless confrontation occurs on a train as the girl hides and Hope sits with some leering thugs in the club car, filling the moments with nervous comedy bits.

His answer for Ms. Bentley isn’t much better. It’s the same type of patter that would be recycled in My Favorite Brunette (1946) or other Hope sketches where the woman plays it straight, seducing him and he’s outright oblivious from the first advance. He has no defenses to speak of. A few strands of cajoling baby talk and he’s putty in their hands.

But the gal gives him so many mixed signals he’s libel to run out on her cockamamie ways or let her have it (Yeah the little man is hurt and if the little woman doesn’t watch it she’s going to get a little hit in the head). Still, they somehow keep winding up in the same places. Perhaps it’s because she’s conveniently hidden vital international secrets under the lapel of his coat.

He somehow feels like the only normal fellow in a screwed up world but if everyone else is playing cloak and dagger games, that becomes the new normal and he begins to look all the crazier turning increasingly more paranoid due to the various antics around him. Maybe he doesn’t have all his buttons after all. If he’s our new archetype for the man-on-the-run, then I’m Cary Grant.

Some throwaway expositional dialogue over the film’s MacGuffin gives Hope ample time to retort with a joke about his ring being filled with Benny Goodman and his band (They had to drop a clarinet player. It was a little crowded). That exact moment exquisitely sums up why the film works. There’s the spy thriller arc that is continuously deflated and lampooned by Hope’s particular brand of comedic zingers.

An ingenious ploy to escape an apartment complex crawling with baddies leads to a rampage to trash the joint while drumming up some marital pandemonium that’s bound to bring some police. It’s sheer comedic chaos and…it works. Ironically, Cary Grant would reuse a similar gag in North by Northwest (1959).

Another moment Hope is taking on the mantle of a baby specialist, Doctor Higbie, much in the way that Robert Donat joins a political rally in The 39 Steps. Both men pull quips out of their backsides to stirring results on their way to their next juncture on their ever-changing itinerary.

Thanks to an absolutely nefarious move by that criminal mastermind Gale Sondergaard, a murder is called in by the real culprits and pinned on our heroes. But Hope continually proves his faithfulness or at least how much he likes the blonde with the face and a certain je ne sais quoi. And that’s part of Carroll’s allure but far from being a glamorous Brit, she proves just how much she can pull off the more screwball elements that Hope already seems at home in.

The home stretch leads to California with the murder rap still hanging over their heads and a funeral parlor in their sights. To get there it took them a bus, a plane, a winking Bing Crosby cameo, and a few watermelons a piece.

Like the best classic thrillers it’s not so much the outcome but the road it takes to get there that we relish the most. This one has a lot of lovely inane speed bumps that perfectly accentuate the utter contrast between Madeleine Carroll and Bob Hope’s character types. They actually end up making a witty romantic couple and Hope as always gets the last laugh in on camera.

4/5 Stars

Road to Rio (1947)

Road to Rio 1.png

My dad has been and forever will be a fountain of pop cultural knowledge. I learned the little I know from the best, the difference is, he lived through most of it. Still, I must admit, at times I didn’t believe some of these touchstones of yesteryear when I was a kid. How could anyone have actually written a song called “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and what in the world does “You’re in the Groove Jackson” mean? They can’s possibly be real.

Of course, for those more enlightened than I was back then, you would have already known that both these fantastical things were in fact true. Alan Sherman was quite the nut and the same goes for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In that roundabout way, we get to the Road Picture that I’ve always cherished at least a little bit because of one particular gag. But let’s start closer to the beginning.

The wonderful thing about the Road films is the very fact that their two bozos know exactly who they are and they never stray from those characterizations from one picture to the next, even if the schemes change as do their names. There’s the same self-referential jabbing and fourth-wall-breaking executed in a way that later films would pick up on too. People loved Hope and Crosby and they enjoyed their onscreen buddy-buddy just as much. By the looks of it, they always seemed to be having as much fun as the audience and that’s the key. It’s contagious comedy.

I’m inclined to think that some of the greatest comics are the ones who come up with the lines on the spot. But whether or not Hope and Crosby actually ad-libbed any of their verbal jabs, to their credit, they had a complete handle on their personas and so every phrase comes off as genuine.

They’re always trying to pull off some get-rich-quick scheme only to wind up in some wild locale completely broke.  We’re always provided the enjoyment of Crosby’s ever-present condescending pet name “Junior” for his partner in crime. Because he takes on the mantle of the idea man and Hope unwittingly ends up doing the dirty work, in this case, a circus bicyclist up on a trapeze.

Crosby is also always playing the easily duped gentleman — a real sucker for the ladies — who’s not above throwing his pal to the lions except when it really counts. Plus you have to throw a little crooning in there to make all the ladies swoon a bit. We get an appearance by the All-American songstresses The Andrew Sisters performing “You Don’t Have to Know the Language” with Bing.

Still, everyone knows all that is “happening” in the world circa 1947 is in Rio so there the boys go as stowaways, of course, after getting chased out of town by an angry circus promoter. That’s what all the great comics do. Namely, The Marx Brothers, who were consequently also directed by Norman Z. McLeod in Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932).

Our two bunglers now aboard a slow boat to Brazil meet the ever-present Dorothy Lamour, the bodacious beauty in all their movies, as a grateful knockout, a damsel in distress. But something dastardly is going on as the gorgeous woman is caught in the hypnotic clutches of Gale Sondergaard who has a couple hired cronies (one played by a personal favorite Frank Faylen).

There are some real laugh riot moments not least among them watching the pals don their stuffiest British accents as they sway on the ship’s deck to snag an easy meal from a seasick patron or our heroes dressed to the tee doing their best impression of the samba. Of course, you have some tried and true favorites like “Patty Cake” or Hope’s sardonic one-liners such as affectionately calling his trumpet “Grable-bait.” Look it up if you don’t get it.

But the showstopper is the formation of their groovy band Americain made up of our hapless heroes and three Brazilian street musicians who earn a crash course in English. Composed of three universally accepted phrases: “You’re in the Groove Jackson,” “This is Murder,” and “You’re Telling Me.” Presto they’re Americans in a pinch and what follows is “Who’s on First” light.

The final charade is to break up an ill-fated marriage with a bit of safecracking and they bungle it immaculately.  The greatest surprise of all is that Hope actually gets the girl (like Road to Utopia) except this time he gets a little help.

3.5/5 Stars

Sons of the Desert (1933)

sons of the desert 1Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into. 

When I was a kid Laurel & Hardy were a mainstay of the local lending libraries and I viewed many of their pictures from Bonnie Scotland to Flying Deuces to Saps at Sea.  I’m not sure if I can make that point enough. I watched a lot of Laurel & Hardy and a lot of Road Movies with Hope and Crosby. Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed those comedies which got played over and over in my household. But the point is you only see a limited number. That being said, I never got the opportunity to see of Sons of the Desert until a few years back and it’s yet another quality comedy in the Laurel & Hardy hall of fame.

The film opens with a powwow of the Sons of the Desert society with its many members waiting with baited breath for the proceedings before they are rudely interrupted by two malcontents. None other than our lovable heroes who sheepishly wade through the crowds. They’ve made their presence known and never let up from thenceforward.

But more importantly than their entrance is the solemn oath they take along with the legions of others, resolving to show up at the annual convention in Chicago no matter the obstacles in the way. For Stan and Ollie that’s means getting their wives to let them attend or better yet pulling the wool over their eyes because that’s a lot more entertaining from a comedic perspective.

Chance events like meeting relatives and sinking ocean liners are really inconsequential insertions into the already nonsensical storyline. After all, if something’s already absurd what’s the difference if it gets even crazier? The bottom line is that Sons of the Desert keeps Stan and Ollie at its center and they don’t disappoint getting into mess after mess as they always do.

In this particular iteration, a bit of the battle of the sexes is going on although there’s no way either of these men can dominate their wives and that’s the funny part. Ollie’s the instigator, blustering his way into the scenario with his typical overconfident ways, dragging Stan along with him and getting them both into a heap of trouble. They’re up on the roof in the rain without a paddle or any prayer of keeping dry. And in precisely these types of moments, you see the irony of Ollie’s catchphrase. Stan might unwittingly add to the chaos but Ollie is the instigator of every mess.

They try and exert their dominance and when that doesn’t work they try deception, putting on a false front for their spouses. And when that doesn’t work they run and hide, snivel and beg for forgiveness. Either that or get all the contents of the kitchen cabinets hurled their way. In the end, Stan has a fairly amiable homecoming but Ollie can’t say quite the same thing.

Some memorable moments involve Stan snacking on wax fruit and trying to string along some flimsy lies about how they “ship hiked” across the ocean, highlighting his perpetual struggle with the English language. Meanwhile, Ollie is trying his darndest to fake an illness with Stan’s help and the boys end up hiding out in the attic away from their wives before they’re forced to sneak down the drainpipe in the pouring rain. They can be conniving buffoons but there’s also very rarely a moment when we’re not on their sides.

As if having each other was not enough already, they always have the backing of the audience. They give us that same gift of Chaplin or Keaton or Lloyd or The Marx Brothers or Tati or any of the other great comics. They give us laughter in droves. The mode isn’t all that important. It’s simply the fact that they too have a timeless ability for evoking giggles.

3.5/5 Stars

The Ghost Breakers (1940)

9c09c-the_ghost_breakersYou have two great leads in Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard for this horror comedy film. It is not the best film of either of them by a long shot and it is not much to write home about but if you like the stars you will probably get some laughs out of this one.

It is a dark and stormy night in Manhattan when Mary (Goddard) learns that she is the new owner of a supposedly haunted island. Larry (Hope) on his part is a radio man who is soon on the run from mobsters after a comment he made on air. After a shooting Larry finds himself face to face with Mary and she helps him out of a pickle. Soon she boards her ship heading for her island and he has no choice but to tag along. There everything comes to fruition and the Ghost Breaksers take on the haunts and the dangers of Castillo Maldito. This is a good example of the horror comedies of the 1930s and 40s. Hope was better with Crosby and Goddard was better with Chaplin, but this film certainly has some hilarity.

3.5/5 Stars

The Best Films of Bob Hope

1. Road to Morocco
2. Son of Paleface
3. Road to Utopia
4. My Favorite Blonde
5. The Paleface
6. Road to Rio
7. Road to Singapore
8. The Ghost Breakers
9. The Cat and the Canary
10. Road to Zanzibar
11. The Big Broadcast of 1938
12. My Favorite Brunette

Road to Morocco (1942)

58f0c-roadtomorocco_1942Starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in this third installment in the Road Series, this film has the boys floating towards Morocco as castaways. They finally reach land, hitch a ride on a camel, and just like that they are off on the Road to Morocco. They wander the streets looking for food at first then Jeff (Crosby) sells Orville (Hope) for money. Little does he know that Hope has been taken to the castle of a beautiful princess (Lamour) to be married in order to fulfill a prophesy. Jeff finds out soon enough and he tries to win the affections of the princess as well, but trouble arrives in the form of the jealous suitor of the princess. He takes the girl and the two lovebirds are left to chase after mirages in the desert. They are imprisoned, but after a daring escape they come up with a comedic solution to turn a visiting sheik against Kasim (Anthony Quinn). In the chaos both Jeff and Orville get away with a girl of their own. This has to be my favorite road picture. The title song is great, Hope has some great one liners, Crosby croons nicely, Aunt Lucy makes an appearance, there are talking camels, Hope tries to win an Oscar, and I love it when the three stars sing together in the desert.  Unfortunately the film is stereotypical, but as far as the Road pictures go it is a good one.
 
4/5 Stars

Road to Utopia (1946)

Starringc0cc6-roadtoutopia_1946 Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in this fourth Road picture, this film begins in the present with an old marry couple who gets a surprise visitor. Then the story flashes back to the turn of the century where two lowlifes commit murder in order to steal the map to a gold mine. However, the police are on their tails so they duck into a vaudeville show where Duke (Crosby) and Chester (Hope) are performing. Eventually the two con men decide to part ways, but they double cross each other only to end up heading for Alaska on the same ship as the two killers. Through a bit of luck they get the map and take the place of the two killers, but trouble follows close behind them. The daughter of the man who was killed (Lamour) is intent to get the map back and she is unknowingly working with some undesirables. As always happen both hapless adventurers fall head over heels for Sal, who wants to get close to them for the map. However, the map is in two parts and then Sperry and McGurk are on the loose again. Duke and Chester’s real identities are revealed to Sal and now the trio must hightail it, with two killers and a multitude of others looking for them. Miraculously they escape by sled, but only two can get away so Duke heroically holds off the pursuers. This Road film is probably one of the best and all the stars are in fine form in Utopia.

4/5 Stars

 

Road to Singapore (1940)

2e545-roadtosingapore_1940This is the Road film that started all with the brilliant comic pairing of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. The two bozos both skip out on obligations and relationships back home and together they hightail it to Singapore. There they both fall head over heels for the same girl despite having vowed to give up women.  Together the trio hide from their respective pasts. However, with barely any money  they must muddle through with cons. Everything comes to fruition at a native marriage ceremony where Mallon’s father and fiancee catch up with him. In the end everything works out as it always does and Singapore was only the tip of the iceberg. The film works based on the chemistry of the leading trio and the ad-libbing and various gags such as “Patty-Cake.”

3.5/5 Stars

Road to Zanzibar (1941)

3bcc4-roadtozanzibar_1941This is the second installment in the Road Series and it follows two con men who must go on the run which leads them to Africa. Crosby is pulled into saving Dorothy Lamour from a life of slaver. Little do the hapless con men know what her true motives are. They travel on a safari together and a midst the song and comedy love creeps up. Both believe Lamour has her eyes on them but then they figure out what is really going on and they head off on their own. However, all too soon they are captured by cannibals and it looks like they will become shish kabobs. That’s when a little game of “Patty Cake” comes in handy and in the end everyone is reunited. There are some choice moments in this Road Film but I think it was one of the weaker ones.

3.5/5 Stars

"You’re Telling Me"

One of the most memorable scenes from the Road movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. “You’re Telling Me” from Road to Rio (1947)