This post is being revamped and republished for the Lon Chaney Blogathon, hosted by Movies Silently and The Last Drive-In, from November 15 through November 18, 2013. Have a thrilling time! We hope you'll enjoy this father-and-son double-feature!
Vertigo, Rear Window, and Touch of Evil, so I was thrilled when The Shout! Factory put out the 5-movie set The Bob Hope Collection, with my favorite Bob movie, the 1947 comedy-thriller My Favorite Brunette (MFB), written by Edmund Beloin & Jack Rose, and directed by Elliott Nugent (the 1939 version of The Cat and the Canary; Never Say Die; The Male Animal). For my money, this comic gem is the best of Bob Hope’s three movies in the “Favorite” series. 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, private eye mysteries.
|I see a fabulous babe in your future!|
|I guess Mrs. Fong's baby isn't a vegetarian!|
|Carlotta Montay has a hush-hush case for our hero!|
In flashbacks (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 (and wait’ll you see the Paramount star doing a swell cameo as McCloud!).
|"All my life, I wanted to be like Humphrey Bogart, |
Dick Powell, or even Alan Ladd!
*Jack LaRue* as sinister Tony, from No Orchids for Miss Blandish; Cornered; and of course, Road to Utopia with Hope, Crosby, and Lamour!
*John Hoyt* as Dr. Lundau. We of Team Bartilucci have affectionately dubbed Hoyt as one of the most angular people on the planet. Fun Fact from the IMDb: In his early years of performing, he put together a nightclub act doing impressions of famous celebrities. His impersonation of Noel Coward was so good that he was hired for the original Broadway comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner in 1939, in which he played Beverley Carlton, a role obviously based on Coward himself. (The 1942 film version was swell, too!)
*Charles Dingle* as Major Simon Montague, from The Song of Bernadette; The Little Foxes; Duel in the Sun; George Washington Slept Here.
*Peter Lorre,* saving my favorite villain for last! Lorre’s long career includes the chilling shocker M; The Maltese Falcon; Casablanca; All Through the Night; *, practically stealing the show as Kismet, the most fearsome of evil Simon Montague’s henchman. I especially get a kick out of Kismet’s running gag about practicing his citizenship exam while keeping his knife skills sharp; now that’s what I call multitasking!
But there are good funny folks here, too:
*Jean Wong* Despite not being listed in the film’s credits, Jean Wong practically stole the show for us here at Team Bartilucci HQ as Mrs. Fong, the mother of a toddler (Roland Soo Hoo) who’s so loathe to smile for Ronnie during his attempts to make the little tyke smile, our hero quips, “This kid's gonna grow up to be a sponsor!” Jean also appeared in The Lady from Shanghai (1947); The Night Has A Thousand Eyes (1948); and The King and I (1956).
* Lon Chaney Jr.* Our star! The son of Lon Cheney touched my heart with his moving performance as Lenny in the film version of Of Mice and Men (1939), and did a swell job in the classic horror thrillers The Wolf Man (1941) and The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), among many others. In MFB, Lon Jr. turns out to have a flair for sending up his classic movie roles, especially from Of Mice and Men, and by golly, I found him downright endearing! Lon Jr. had more comic talent than people gave him credit for. The scene with the bars on the doors especially cracked me up!
|OUCH! Ronnie gets knocked down, |
but gets back up again...and again!
|Dude, that old guy and that righteous babe came from San Dimas,|
where Bill and Ted had those excellent adventures! Awesome!
Fun Facts: According to the IMDb, Elliott Nugent’s grandson, Jonathon Elliott, had memories to share: “My grandfather, Elliott Nugent, directed this movie and wrote about it in his autobiography Events Leading up to the Comedy. Paramount star Alan Ladd got the cool cameo as private eye Sam McCloud on the strength of having directed him in the 1949 version of The Great Gatsby.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby had always a long-standing arrangement to do cameos in each other's movies. In this case, Bing had already done a cameo in Bob's most recent movie, so it wasn't Bing’s turn. (The IMDb didn’t specifiy which film, but I’m guessing it’s our film, My Favorite Brunette). Nevertheless, Bob was so eager to convince Bing to do this cameo that Bob offered to pay Bing $5,000—which Bing donated to charity, bless him! Crosby walked onto the set, skipped makeup (he was already made up from another movie he was shooting on the lot anyway), stopped at wardrobe to don a prison guard shirt, and did his bit in one take, leaving the soundstage in just five minutes. The result: a Hollywood record for the most money per minute paid to an actor!”
My Favorite Lines from My Favorite Brunette:
Ronnie in San Quentin, hearing there’s no word from the Governor about the gas chamber: “No word, huh? I’ll know who to vote for next time!”
Ronnie faces the gas chamber for reporters, his hands getting shaky:
“It’s not so hard to kick the bucket. It’s not so tough to walk that last mile. It’s just hard to light a cigarette, that’s all.”
Female Reporter (Garry Owen): “Was it a woman?”
Ronnie: “It’s always a woman. And you should have seen this woman. Skin like smooth satin; beautiful blue eyes; dark silken hair; the kind of a gal who’d make you want to give her your last shirt. (Pauses to look at his shirt.) I borrowed this one from the Warden.”
Bob Hope: “You see, I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage and a gun—and I had the gun!”.
Bob Hope: “I was cut out for this kind of life. All my life I've wanted to be a hard- boiled detective like Humphrey Bogart, or Dick Powell ... or even Alan Ladd!” (Cue Alan Ladd!)
Ronnie arrives at Seacliff Lodge (not realizing it’s an asylum): “What a joint. Must’ve been something left over from Wuthering Heights. You know, the kind of a house that looks like you could hunt quail in the hallways? I didn’t know it then, but I was gonna be the quail.”
Bob Hope (to Peter Lorre): “Nice cheerful place. What time do they bring the mummies out?”
Bob Hope: “It always looked so easy in those Tarzan pictures!”
Ronnie, coming to after Lorre knocked him out: “When I came to, I was playing Post Office with the floor. I had a lump on my head the size of my head. Inside, Toscanini was conducting the Anvil Chorus with real blacksmiths. I looked at the bottle of Old Pile Driver and decided to stick to double malts.”
Bob Hope to Dorothy Lamour: "I don't know how much more of this I can take. You've had me in hot water so long I feel like a tea bag.”
Ronnie and Carlotta at swanky café: “The Poule D’Or, where they eat mink for breakfast.”
|Carlotta's wheelchair-bound Uncle Stefan makes an |
unexpected recovery! Ronnie's keyhole camera will surely save
Carlotta, her uncle, and the day--if they hurry!
|This car chase is making me hungry! Got any Grey Poupon?|
|Time to open the mailman? Whew, it's just the bad guys messing with us!|
|In the great tradition of Danny Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, |
Bob Hope as Ronnie finally gets a hot clue!
|Is Carlotta giving Ronnie a private screening?|
|Whatever Carlotta wants, Carlotta gets!|
|Never bring a psychiatric patient to a knife fight, |
especially if Kismet's involved! !
|Better luck getting the girl next time, Harry! :-)|
"Just because something isn't good doesn't mean it's bad!"
By this point in his career, Lon Chaney Jr. had either settled into (or been forced into, depending on who you listen to) a steady stream of sad shadows of the classic horror roles, or self-parodies of his great dramatic turn as Lenny in Of Mice and Men, the latter category including the role he played in The Wife's selection above. So it's rather nice that one of his last films ends up being one of his best performances, filled with compassion and kindness, something by that point, I expect most people forgot he could play.
|Most kids play "Doctor" - the Merryes play |
"Civil War Doctor"!
Bruno, following the wishes of their late (?) father, cares for them like he was their own, trying to keep them under control, and away from the prying eyes of neighbors. But the occasional visitor can causes problems, like when a deliveryman (Mantan Moreland) gets caught in Virginia's "Spider web", who she kills with a series of "stings" with a pair of butcher knives. Bruno dutifully cleans up after the trio when the unforeseen happens, and calmly tries to remind them how to behave.
But the delivery bring bad news - a lawyer reports that a distant member of the family wishes to take custody of the Merrye trio, and with them, control of the sizable holdings of the family. Bruno must hastily clean his charges up and make the home look presentable, in the hopes there's no need to take the children away.
It...doesn't work out.
|Bruno (Lon Chaney Jr.) cautions the girls to be on their best |
behavior - no poison in the vinaigrette, and vivisection
is right out!
As for the Sisters Merrye, Jill Banner died at only 35 in 1982, after only a handful of roles, including several parts on Dragnet, and Snow White in house favorite The President's Analyst. Beverly Washburn was a child star, and is still working today. She'll be turning seventy this November 25th.
Quinn Redeker, the family's distant relative, had a 25-year run on The Young and the Restless, after a nearly ten-year stint on The Days of our Lives. He was also nominated for an Oscar as one of the writers of The Deer Hunter. And I'll lay odds that every personal appearance he makes, some yukkapuck makes him sign a copy of this damn movie.
The film is almost required viewing for fans of horror history, and a delight for fans of dark comedy. The recent high-quality DVD release is out of print, but not impossible to find, and well worth the search.
Say hi to Uncle Ned for me.