Saturday, December 20, 2008

The audacity of Hope

I wrote a review a month ago about a Kay Kyser film entitled My Favorite Spy (1942), in which the main wisdom to be imparted was that appointing a popular bandleader to a position as an undercover spy might not have been the best way to win World War II. This morning, TCM showed a Bob Hope film entitled My Favorite Spy (1951), in which the main wisdom to be imparted was that appointing a popular comedian to a position as an undercover spy might not have been the best way to win the Cold War—or whatever conflagration happened to be taking place at the time.

Truthfully, I think My Favorite Spy (the ’51 version) is one of Hope’s better vehicles, employing the successful formula of placing Bob’s comedy against a background of menace as our hero—“Peanuts” White, a burlesque comic who’s a dead ringer for dashing, debonair spy Eric Augustine—is enlisted by the U.S. government to impersonate Augustine and obtain valuable microfilm from a fellow undercover agent (Luis Van Rooten) with a ransom of $1,000,000 (places pinky finger to corner of mouth). Hedy Lamarr is the beautiful femme fatale who’s planning to double-cross Hope, and Francis L. Sullivan (the poor man’s Sydney Greenstreet) a rival spy whose intends to do the same. Also appearing in Spy’s cast are Arnold Moss, John Archer, Morris Ankrum, Iris Adrian, Frank Faylen, Mike Mazurki and Marc Lawrence.

Spy is an unusual Hope film in that not only is it not available on DVD…it was never even released on VHS. Which is a shame, because while it’s not his best comedy it still stands a little taller above some of his other 50s vehicles (Off Limits, Here Come the Girls)—plus it allows him to stretch a bit in that he plays two roles…and his characterization of Augustine sort of telegraphs his later attempts to break out of his “cowardly custard” persona and play real people, as he would in movies like Beau James (1957) and The Facts of Life (1960). He performs one of my favorite songs from a Hope film, I Wind Up Taking a Fall (co-written by Johnny Mercer…okay, all you Savannahians can stop genuflecting now), and even demonstrates during this performance some energetic hoofing (the sequence is marred only by an all-too-obvious stunt double “taking falls”). (Savannah native Hal Kanter also contributed additional dialogue to the movie.) I like Lamarr in this film, too; she works very well opposite Hope and it’s a shame they never got the opportunity to make another film together.

At the recommendation of Cultureshark’s own Rick Brooks, I also made sure that I scheduled a viewing of Holiday Affair (1949) last night—a movie that I didn’t think I was going to like (Robert Mitchum is one of my very favorites, but I just don’t see him in a romantic comedy) but was surprised by the results. War widow Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) works as a comparison shopper for a department store and purchases an electric train set from the toy department where clerk Steve Mason (Mitchum) works; he knows what she does for a living when she returns the item but decides not to turn her in to management—losing his job as a result. Meanwhile, Connie’s kid (Gordon Gebert) is upset because he thought the train set was a gift from his mom; he takes it out on her and her fiancé—a nice guy played by Wendell Corey who’s destined to lose Leigh to Mitchum because…well, because he’s Wendell Corey, that’s all.

Rick suggested I see Affair because of a funny sequence featuring an exasperated Harry Morgan as a police lieutenant trying to sort things out when Mitchum’s character is arrested—and while I’d agree that this is one of the film’s highlights the movie on the whole is certainly worth a glance, seeing that it’s the holidays and all. Big Bad Bob is his usual charming self, Leigh is winsome and perky—and the supporting cast (Corey, Morgan, Griff Barnett, Esther Dale, Henry O’Neill and Larry J. Blake) are all pretty game as well. (TCM is rerunning this on Christmas Eve at 12:45pm in case you missed it the other three million times.)

1 comment:

hopeinbrazil said...

Holiday Affair has been a favorite for years. I'm not sure why it is so little known. It turned me into a Mitchum fan.