Saturday, March 12, 2016

MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE - Sarong, it's been good to know ya!

Dorothy Lamour did for the sarong what Jane Russell did for the cross-your heart bra.  Since her first film, The Jungle Princess, she became inextricably tied to those flower-printed wraps, and there was nary a film for years later when she didn't turn up in one at some point. She's best known to modern audiences for the "Road" pictures with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. and indeed, decades later whe the animated adventure Road to El Dorado came out, what was the character occupying the Lamour Position wearing?

In the middle of the Road series, Lamour teamed with Hope for one of another series of films, Hope's "Favorite" trilogy. The first one, My Favorite Blonde (1942), teamed Hope with Madeleine Carroll in a zany yet suspenseful adventure reminiscent of her Alfred Hitchcock thrillers The 39 Steps (1935) and Secret Agent (1936). The last of the trilogy was My Favorite Spy (1951), in which Hope teamed up for similarly funny, frantic shenanigans with the beautiful and brainy Hedy Lamarr. Although I enjoyed all three “Favorites,” I was drawn most strongly to MFB because it affectionately spoofs one of my favorite genres, the private eye mystery.

"I must remember this address!"
 We meet our hero, San Francisco baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Hope), on Death Row—this is comedy? Oh yes it is, smarty, because there’s a gaggle of reporters interviewing our hero as he gets a chance to tell his side of the murder frame-up he’s embroiled in. In true 1940s-style detective voiceover, Ronnie admits, “I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage and a gun---and I had the gun!"

In flashback (this is a film noir spoof, after all, and a darn nifty one!), we find out that before Ronnie found himself embroiled in suspense, romance, and zany shenanigans, he was a successful baby photographer in San Francisco’s Trafalgar Building.  The tenant across the hall is cool, tough private detective Sam McCloud (played in cameo by Alan Ladd, a moment made all the funnier by the fact that he's not seen until Ronnie comments that he could be as tough as those movie detectives, "even Alan Ladd!")

Carlotta Montay has a hush-hush case for our hero!
When Ronnie office-sits for McCloud while he's away on a case, he finds his dreams of playing detective coming all too true all too soon when a mysterious damsel-in-distress, Baroness Carlotta Montay (Lamour; no relation to Vertigo’s Carlotta Valdes) slinks into the picture, wearing fabulous Edith Head fashions. She is, as Ronnie describes her in voiceover, a “dark-eyed-dreamboat up to her gorgeous lips in trouble.” Thinking Ronnie is Sam, she begs him to help her find Baron Montay (Frank Puglia in a dual role), her older husband…or is he?

Soon Ronnie is up to his ski-nose in trouble as he and the comely Carlotta are chased by a gang of cutthroats with designs on Baron Montay’s uranium. That's right, uranium—the MacGuffin of Hitchcock’s thriller Notorious from the previous year!  When things go from bad to worse, will our hero sit down to “the worst last meal I ever ate,” or can he clear himself as he ducks flying bullets and one-liners between make-out sessions with Carlotta? One of Hope's best comedies, MFB deftly spoofs hard-boiled private eye thrillers of the era with a barrage of uproarious quips and set pieces in a private sanatorium and an atmospheric mansion (Ronnie: “Nice cheerful place. What time do they bring the mummies out?”). It’s like The Big Sleep on laughing gas, and makes about the same amount of sense. I’m tempted to quote more of Hope and Lamour’s witty quips, but I’d probably end up typing almost the entire zingy script verbatim.

Time to open the mailman?
Whew, it's just the bad guys
messing with us!

Hope and Lamour's usual comic/romantic chemistry is at its finest. I especially enjoyed the fact that more often than not, Carlotta was able to think on her feet and get the bumbling Ronnie out of one jam after another while he either went to pieces or let his little bouts of success go to his head. You go, girl!  The nifty supporting cast includes Peter Lorre as a knife-throwing henchman and assassin studying to pass his U.S. citizenship exam (he makes the phrase “What does the executive branch of our government do? It carries OUT the laws!” sound sinister and hilarious at the same time); the unfairly uncredited Jean Wong, endearing as Mrs. Fong, mother of a tot so loathe to smile that Ronnie quips, "This kid's gonna grow up to be a sponsor!"; Jack La Rue, the lone American in 1948’s Brits-trying-to-sound-like-New-Yorkers adaptation of the notorious oddball crime drama No Orchids for Miss Blandish; and a couple of delightful star cameos sure to bring a smile to any classic movie fan’s face.

OUCH!  Ronnie gets knocked down,
but gets back up again...and again!
Lon Chaney Jr got a nice big role in the film as Wille, an orderly at asylum Seacliff Lodge, a man whose strength is entirely physical.  After his turn as Lennie in Of Mice and Men, Lon would play parodies of the character at various points of the rest of his career - this was one of the first, and one of the best.

Somewhere along the way, MFB slipped out of Paramount Pictures’ hands and wound up in Public Domain Hell!  The Madacy DVD currently available doesn't have the most pristine print; it’s got more scratches than a nudist who stumbled into poison ivy. Nevertheless, my scratchy copy of MFB is still a far better copy than the one that Turner Classic Movies periodically runs!  Heck, the TCM print is actually missing a few minutes in the scene taking place just after the rained-upon Ronnie and Carlotta return to McCloud’s office. I noticed the Columbia Pictures Television logo at the end of TCM’s recent MFB broadcast. Right now the best copy available is part of a three disc set, The Bob Hope Collection, which also features two of the Road pictures (Rio and Bali), and The Lemon Drop Kid.

6 comments:

  1. Love Nove My Faverat bruve :-D

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  2. Yes, it's really sad that this film ended up in Public Domain Purgatory. There are some poor quality prints out there, but this film is worth finding a quality version.

    It's been a long time since I've seen this film, but I remember many great scenes. Time to see it again!

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing "My Favorite Brunette" with you!

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  3. I love the way you wrote this up! It's been a couple years since I've seen it but it's one of my faves. I hadn't really watched any noir until last year with TCM's Summer of Darkness so I need to watch this again from a noir spoof perspective. And I can understand about having to limit the quotes! I always want to write them all up too :)

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  4. I've been meaning to see this movie for years, but never got to doing it. I'll probably dive into Public Domain Hell to achieve this, though! Until now I didn't know it was a detective spoof, and it makes me want to watch it even more.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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  5. Being a fan of the mystery/detective genres, this is my favorite Bob Hope film. Interestingly, it's the one and only film in which Alan Ladd got to play (if only in one scene) a classic-type private eye character.

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  6. The basic premise, with the hero framed for a crime and telling his story in flashback, and the heroine clearing him at the end, reminded me of Murder My Sweet (Dick Powell as Phil Marlowe). But I'm sure it was intended as a spoof of film noir detective movies in general, not any one in particular.

    I wonder why Hope never made a "My favorite Redhead"? it would seem like a natural vehicle for him and either Lucille Ball or Rhonda Fleming.

    Road to Rio and road to Bali must be in the public domain as well. At least, I've seen them on YouTube. The Lemon Drop Kid is relatively obscure, but it did introduce the song "Silver Bells."

    Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. were hilarious doing self-parody. And a scene near the end was, IMHO, the funniest Bing Crosby cameo in a Hope movie.

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