Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Holiday Gift Ideas for the Classic Film & TV Fan (2013 Edition)

For the past five years, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has published a list of holiday gift ideas recommended by our staff. Click here to view previous years' recommendations. After each gift idea below, we have included the retail price in U.S. currency. Please note that--with a little web research--you can find many of these items for 20-50% off the retail price.

Television Westerns Episode Guide ($39.95 paperback) - Classic TV Western fans will spend countless hours browsing this 568-page encyclopedia of 180 Western series that played on U.S. television from 1949-1996. For almost every series, author Harris M. Lentz III describes the cast, the premise, and the following information for each episode: title, broadcast date, guest stars, and a brief plot summary. While it's fun to read about the famous Westerns, such as Gunsmoke (all 635 episodes!) and Have Gun--Will Travel, I had a blast looking up more obscure, personal favorites (e.g., Rod Serling's The Loner, Black Saddle, Yancy Derringer). In terms of defining the Western genre, Lentz errs on the conservative side and includes contemporary Western series, such as Walker, Texas Ranger and Cowboy in Africa. There's even an entry for The Secret Empire, a limited-run, science fiction Western shown as part of NBC's Cliffhangers umbrella series. There are no photographs, but the book includes an extensive personnel index and an additional "storyline" index that cross-references historical figures, locations, and significant subjects. Comprehensive, interesting, and unique, Television Westerns Episode Guide will keep your favorite classic TV Western fan glued to its pages.

TCM's Greatest Classic Films Collection: Astaire and Rogers ($29.92) - Thanks, TCM, for packaging the four best Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies into one low-cost set comprised of Top Hat, Swing Time, Shall We Dance, and The Gay Divorcee. This is an opportunity to add to one's DVD collection some of the finest musical numbers choreographed on film: Astaire's stunning solo "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" and the dancing-on-air fluidity of "Cheek to Cheek" (Top Hat); the emotional "Never Gonna Dance" (Swing Time); the roller-skating delight "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" (Shall We Dance); and the enchanting "Night and Day" (The Gay Divorcee).Plus, you can enjoy the comedic talents of Edward Everett Horton, Eric Blore, Alice Brady, and Erik Rhodes. The latter's "chance is a fool's name for fate" routine from The Gay Divorcee always earns laughs from my family and friends.

Great Showdowns: The Return ($14.95) - Last year, illustrator Scott Campbell published The Great Showdowns, a very funny little book which featured his drawings of the confrontations between famous film characters. Last October, he published the sequel: Great Showdowns: The Return. While I still prefer the first book, the second one is a delight, too. Just remember that Campbell includes no "answers" to his illustrations; either you "get" them or you don't. Some of the films are off the beaten track (Zardoz, Princess Mononoke), while most are pretty famous (Grease, The Gold Rush). One of my faves is shown to the right: Donald Sutherland shrieking from the 1978 version of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season ($39.98) - Young folks should enjoy discovering this classic action-packed, prime-time animated series. And the young at heart, who watched it during the 1960s, will enjoy revisiting it again. The 26 episodes pit Jonny, his father Dr. Benton Quest, bodyguard Race Bannon, friend Hadji, and dog Bandit against a plethora of villains that include: a mummy; a lizard monster; a spider-like robot; pirates; dinosaurs; a possible werewolf; and Quest nemesis Dr. Zin. Jonny Quest purists have quibbled that some of the dialogue has been re-edited to make it politically correct and that series creator Doug Wildey's name is missing from the end credits. Those are valid points, but still don't distract from a well-packaged DVD set.

Frankie & Annette: MGM Movie Legends Collection ($39.98) - MGM has packaged almost all of the movies made by Frankie Avalon and the late Annette Funicello. While these nostalgic sand-and-surf musicals may hardly seem like classics, they hold up surprisingly well thanks to quality musical acts (e.g., Little Stevie Wonder), the funny antics of Harvey Lembeck and Don Rickles, and the charming stars. Two films in the Beach Party series are conspicuously missing: Pajama Party, which stars Annette and Tommy Kirk (plus a prominent cameo from Frankie) and the lame Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, which features neither Frankie nor Annette. It's understandable why the latter is missing from this collection, but Pajama Party should have been included. Still, there's enough music and surfing to inspire a beach party (tonight!) at your house.

We also want to mention two additional books that we reviewed in-depth earlier this year: Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz and My Lunches With Orson Welles. That's it for this year--happy shopping to all and to all a good night!

McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers provided a review copy of Television Westerns Episode Guide and Titan Books provided a copy of Great Showdowns: The Return.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ursula Andress Is She Who Must be Obeyed

Although Hammer Films remains best known for its horror films, the studio frequently dabbled in other genres. In fact, it achieved solid success with historical adventures about Robin Hood, pirates, and smugglers. Its most ambitious adventure yarn was She (1965), an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's venerable 1887 novel about "She who must be obeyed." Haggard's novel had reached the screen in several previous incarnations, mostly notably an expensive 1935 version produced by Merian C. Cooper (King Kong) and starring Randolph Scott. Of course, Hammer's She had one thing not found in the earlier films--Ursula Andress.

Set in Palestine in 1918, the tale finds three Army veterans trekking through the desert to find the lost city of Kuma. The reason: The youngest of the trio, Leo (John Richardson), had a vision in which a beautiful woman named Ayesha (Andress) promised endless wealth and more. After overcoming minor obstacles like murderous bedouins and death from thirst, the three men--with assistance from a young woman who fallen for Leo--arrive at their destination.

Andress with Christopher Lee.
They are welcomed hospitably until the local townsfolk realize that Leo's face adorns their local currency. It turns out that he's the spitting image of a previous ruler, who just happened to be Ayesha's lover. It seems that the merciless Kuma queen (hence her nickname of "She who must be obeyed") is over a thousand years old. Naturally, she looks pretty stunning for her age and that seems to be all that matters to Leo. And despite the fact that she murdered her former lover for infidelity, Ayesha appears ready to accept Leo as his reincarnation and live happily forever--literally forever--after.

Peter Cushing as Leo's friend
Major Holly.
After making a string of cost-conscious, profitable pictures, Hammer briefly considered moving to larger-scale productions. She would end up being the studio's most expensive film and it shows on the screen. While it lacks the scope of Hollywood epics like Ben-Hur, She is a vast improvement over earlier Hammer movies that were clearly shot on cheaply-made sets (e.g., the flashbacks in The Mummy). It helps noticeably that the exteriors for She were film in Israel.

Another upgrade for Hammer is James Bernard's soundtrack. Bernard was the studio's "in-house composer" and wrote some marvelous scores for classics like Horror of Dracula. However, due to time constraints, Bernard sometimes had to borrow from himself. Listen closely to the music in the Dracula films and it all sounds very familiar. For She, Bernard crafted separate musical cues for Leo and Ayesha that recur throughout the film--perhaps a little too often. Still, it's a lovely score and one of Bernard's best.

John Richardson as Leo.
Alas, despite the improved production values, She can't overcome sluggish plotting and a dreadful performance from John Richardson. If one removed the desert journey and the extraneous dancing scenes in Kuma, there's probably about 45 minutes of plot left (or so it seems). Still, that might be forgivable with a more convincing lead than the wooden Richardson. Given his portrayal of Leo, it's impossible to fathom why Ayesha seems so intent on making him her immortal lover (we'll talking centuries of marital boredom, people!). I do believe that Richardson must have had an amazing agent, given that he was cast as the love interest for both Ursula Andress and Raquel Welch (One Million Years, B.C.).

The rest of the cast in She ranges from excellent (the always reliable Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee) to adequate (Andress). In Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography, director Robert Day said of his female lead: "She's a great presence but had little experience. I really had to work with her. It wasn't easy!"

Olinka Berova in
Vengeance of She.
Although She failed to be the boxoffice smash Hammer hoped for, it still made money. Three months after its release, the studio announced a sequel called Ayesha--Daughter of She starring Andress. That film never came to fruition nor did another proposed sequel called The Return of She. In 1968, though, Hammer released The Vengeance of She. Initially, the studio planned to cast Susan Denberg (Frankenstein Created Woman) in the lead role, but ultimately it opted for an unknown Czechoslovakian beauty named Olga Schoberova (but billed as the more exotic Olinka Beroka). And in case you were wondering, her co-star was John Richardson.

Finally, for all you Rumpole of the Bailey fans, it was indeed Rumpole's intent to reference H. Rider Haggard's fearsome ruler when he referred to his spouse as "she who must be obeyed."

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Seven Things to Know About Frankie Avalon

1. Frankie Avalon learned to play the trumpet as a child--and was very good at it. He played trumpet for singer Al Martino (Johnny Fontane in The Godfather) when the crooner visited Philadelphia. That led to an audition for an agent and an appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show.

2. On his web site, Frankie states: "It seems like every young kid in Philadelphia wanted to be a singer. I started as a musician…a trumpet player in the beginning. But, when I picked up the paper one day and read about Jimmy Darren who was from my own neighborhood and school, making a successful career for himself, I decided that I could do it just as well."

3. Frankie dominated the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1958-60, scoring seven Top 20 hits. He reached #1 twice, first with "Venus" (his biggest hit) and then with "Why." The latter song was co-written by Avalon's manager Bob Marcucci, who also discovered Fabian. (The 1980 film The Idolmaker is supposedly based on Marcucci's career.) Frankie Avalon recorded a disco version of Venus in 1976; it reached #46 on the chart.

4. He made his feature film debut in 1960, appearing in Guns of the Timberland with Alan Ladd and in John Wayne's The Alamo. In the former film, producer Ladd even found a way to incorporate Avalon's singing talents; Frankie croons the memorably-titled "Gee Whiz Whillikins Golly Gee."

5. Yes, Frankie and Annette Funicello did date in real life--but they quickly realized they were destined to just be friends. (By the way, Annette also dated Paul Anka, who wrote the song "Puppy Love" for her.) Frankie and his wife Kathryn have been married since 1963 and have eight children.

6. In addition to the Beach Party movies, Frankie and Annette also starred in the stock car "B" picture Fireball 500 (though Fabian gets the girl!). In 1978, Frankie and Annette appeared in a TV series pilot called Frankie and Annette: The Second Time Around. Although a regular series never materialized, the duo reteamed in 1987 for the Beach Party spoof Back to the Beach.

7. These days, Frankie also sells health and food products. One can buy Zero Pain, a homeopathic cream to treat arthritis pain, on his web site and purchase Frankie Avalon Italian sausage on QVC. And at the age of 73, he is still performing concerts--with three dates on his tour schedule for November.

Embed from Getty Images Frankie Avalon in 2013.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Jimmy Takes a Vacation, Clint Fights a Grizzly, and George Gobel Channels Henry Fonda

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962). In the best of his 1960s family comedies, James Stewart plays Roger Hobbs, a successful St. Louis banker who has spent too much time in the office. His plans for a quiet vacation are dashed when he learns that his wife Peggy (Maureen O'Hara) has invited the entire family for a a month on the California coast. The clan includes teenage children Katey and Danny, adult daughters Susie and Janie, their husbands, the grandchildren, and the grumpy family housekeeper. To make matters worse, when the Hobbs arrive at their beach house, they find a dump with rotted-out steps, no water pressure, and mounds of dust. Furthermore, except for Peggy, no one wants to be there.

Lauri Peters and Fabian.
Fortunately, this is one of those 1960s comedies where it's inevitable that everything will work out in the end. Thus, Roger spends the summer reconnecting with each of his children in unexpected ways. Veteran screenwriter Nunnally Johnson sneaks in a few offbeat touches, such as Roger referring to his grandson as "the little creep." Still, Mr. Hobbs is a formula picture and a very long one at that (clocking in at almost two hours). Its modest success can be attributed to its likable (and interesting) cast. The supporting players include: teen heartthrob Fabian; Lauri Peters, who was Tony-nominated as one of the Von Trapp children in the original production of The Sound of Music and later married Jon Voight; and Marie Wilson, who played the title role in Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis' film debut My Friend Irma.

The Night of the Grizzly (1966). Until viewing this film recently, I could have sworn it was about a frontier family fending off a night-long grizzly bear attack. Well, The Night of the Grizzly does feature a frontier family and there's a grizzly--but the plot similarities end there. Instead, we get Clint Walker as Big Jim Cole, who has just moved his family to the town of Hope after inheriting Grandpappy's 640-acre farm ("the richest section of land in the whole territory"). To Big Jim's dismay, he discovers the house needs major repairs and that Grandpappy owed $175 on a $500 loan. The Cole family's problems don't end there: mean Jed Curry (Keenan Wynn) wants the property and Big Jim's livestock are being killed by a 1500-pound grizzly named Satan ("he just kills for the wicked fun of it").

Gypsy--after the skunk encounter.
With exteriors shot in scenic San Bernardino National Forest, The Night of the Grizzly aims to be a family film along the lines of Old Yeller. There are amusing scenes (six-year-old Gypsy eating by herself after being sprayed by a skunk) to go along with the grizzly encounters. Unfortunately, there are too few of the latter--for a movie with a ferocious bear in the title, there are not enough scenes with the "savage, senseless killer." All that remains is a perfunctory frontier family saga that wastes nice turns by Leo Gordon and Jack Elam. Gordon plays an ex-convict that hates Big Jim, but has a soft spot for Jim's son Charlie (Kevin Brodie). Elam portrays another of his grizzled town layabouts who develops a sweet friendship with little Gypsy (Victoria Paige Meyerink).

George Gobel and Mitzi Gaynor.
The Birds and the Bees (1956). After a lengthy expedition in the Congo, George Hamilton II--the heir to the Hamilton Hotdogs empire--boards an ocean liner to return home to Connecticut. Buried in his books and preoccupied with his pet snake Emma, George is oblivious to all the young, fortune-hunting women pursuing him--that is, until he trips (literally) over Jean Harris. The naive George falls hard for Jean--not realizing that she and her father are con artists after his money.

Niven as a card sharp.
Wait a minute, you say! Didn't I just describe the plot to Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve? You're right, of course, The Birds and the Bees is a semi-musical remake of the Sturges classic with Mitzi Gaynor as Jean, George Gobel as George, and David Niven as Jean's father. While Sturges purists may argue with the casting, Mitzi Gaynor (who has never looked lovelier) gives one of her best performances as the con artist who falls in love with her target. Personally, it took me awhile to warm up to George Gobel's doe-eyed protagonist, but his innate low-key charm eventually won me over. Still, one's opinion on this remake will likely hinge on whether you accept Gobel in the Henry Fonda role.

One of television's first big stars in the 1950s, George Gobel had little success on the big screen. However, he continued to be a mainstay on television, whether showing up as a Tonight Show guest or appearing as a regular for several years on The Hollywood Squares.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Short Takes with Charles Laughton, Cowboys & Dinosaurs, and Neil Simon

This Land Is Mine - When the Nazis invaded France during World War II, acclaimed filmmaker Jean Renoir relocated to the United States. Renoir, son of the Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir, had already completed what would become his masterpiece, 1939's Rules of the Game. Unlike fellow refugee director Fritz Lang, Renoir never found his groove in Hollywood. Still, his first English-language film, This Land Is Mind, is a heartfelt, patriotic story of a timid schoolteacher (Charles Laughton) in a small European village occupied by Nazis. Maureen O'Hara, George Sanders, and Una O'Connor lead a strong supporting cast.

The Valley of Gwangi - Ray Harryhausen's imaginative mix of Western and fantasy overcomes a leisurely first half en route to 45 minutes of almost non-stop cowboys vs. dinosaurs action. While it can't stand alongside Harryhausen classics like Jason and the Argonauts, the special effects in 1969's Gwangi are excellent--especially the climatic T-Rex rampage. The scene where the cowboys lasso the T-Rex took stop-motion animator Harryhausen five months to film. Willis O'Brien, King Kong's creator and Harryhausen's mentor, conceived Gwangi in 1942, but RKO abandoned the production.

The Goodbye Girl - Playwright Neil Simon penned this winning romantic comedy as a vehicle for his then-wife Marsha Mason. She plays the title character, a single mother recently jilted by her latest lover. To make matters worse, she learns that her NYC apartment has been subleased to Dreyfuss, a struggling actor. Simon wisely keeps sentiment to a minimum, while allowing his outwardly brash characters to reveal their inner insecurities. Mason is good, if a bit too theatrical, but Dreyfuss hits all the right notes in his Oscar-winning performance. Quinn Cummings, as Mason’s wise-beyond-her-years daughter, delivers most of Simon’s trademark zingers. She, Mason, Simon, and the film all earned Oscar nominations. David Gates, formerly of the rock group Bread, wrote and performed the memorable title tune, which peaked at #15 on the Billboard chart.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rio Bravo: Howard Hawk's "Response" to High Noon

The classic status attributed to Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo (1959) has always puzzled me. While it's a solid, well-done Western, it doesn't rank with the best Westerns of the 1950s (e.g., Shane, The Hanging Tree, 3:10 to Yuma, the Anthony Mann-James Stewart collaborations, etc.). It's also not as good as the movie that allegedly inspired it: High Noon.

Hawks, who disliked High Noon, famously said: "I didn't think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him." Thus, Rio Bravo is often considered to be Hawks' and John Wayne's cinematic response to High Noon.

Dean Martin as Dude.
The plot is simple: Sheriff John T. Chance (Wayne) arrests Joe Burdette when the latter guns down a man in cold blood. Joe's brother, Nathan (John Russell from TV's Lawman) "bottles up" the town and hires a bunch of professional gunfighters to spring Joe from jail. That leaves Chance, his elderly deputy Stumpy (Walter Brennan), and his alcoholic former deputy Dude (Dean Martin) to guard Joe until a marshal arrives in six weeks. One of Chance's friends states it eloquently: "A game-legged old man and a drunk? That's all you got?"

In Hawks' world, though, that's all that Chance wants. Unlike Will Kane (Gary Cooper) in High Noon, Chance doesn't solicit help. It's not the job of married men with families to face hired guns. That's what Chance was hired to do (although he does eventually accept help from a young fast gun played by Ricky Nelson). This exaggerated view of public service lends a little thematic density to an otherwise lightweight plot.

A brown-haired Angie Dickinson.
Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, who co-wrote Hawks' The Big Sleep (with William Faulkner), certainly provide a quotable screenplay. After Chance and con woman Feathers (Angie Dickinson) follow up their first kiss with a sequel, she quips: "I'm glad we tried it a second time. It's better when two people do it." Granted, it's a line that seems more appropriate for The Big Sleep than a Western--but it's still entertaining. Indeed, Feathers seems to be a character lifted from a late 1940s film noir, as evidenced by the following exchange in which Chance confronts her with a "wanted" poster:

Feathers: This isn't the first time that handbill has come up. I'd like to know what to do about it.
Chance: Well, you could quit playing cards...wearing feathers.
Feathers: No, sheriff. No, I'm not going to do that. You see...that's what I'd do if I were the kind of girl that you think I am.
Dickinson and Dean Martin stand out in the cast. She hits all the right notes as the sassy Feathers, who keeps missing the stagecoach out of town because she has finally found a man that interests her. Martin has a more difficult role, playing a drunk trying to sober up in the middle of a life-threatening situation. He's quite effective in the film's first half before getting cleaned up a little too quickly for the big climax. As for Wayne and Brennan, they plays roles that each has done at least a half-dozen times.
Ricky Nelson as Colorado.
That brings us to Ricky Nelson, who seems miscast as Colorado, the young gunfighter. Still, he tries hard and it helps that he doesn't have a lot of lines. He does fine in the singing department when he and Dino duet on the memorably-titled "My Rifle, My Pony, and Me" (which Dimitri Tiomkin adapted from his own theme for Red River). Allegedly, Elvis Presley was interested in playing Colorado, but his business manager Colonel Tom Parker nixed the idea.
Director Howard Hawks, who was a master at crafting lean movies, surprisingly lets Rio Bravo drift along at a leisurely 141 minutes. He still musters some exciting action scenes, although his best set piece contains little action and comes at the beginning of the film. Rio Bravo opens with a four-minute scene with no dialogue, but contains plenty of information. We learn that Dean's character is a drunk that will stoop to anything for a drink. We see the murder committed by Joe Burdette that sets the film's plot in motion. And we see that the townsfolk, after witnessing a senseless murder, are too intimidated to do anything about it.

Interestingly, Hawks, Wayne, and screenwriter Brackett teamed up again seven years later for the semi-remake El Dorado. This time around, Wayne is a gunfighter, Robert Mitchum is an alcoholic sheriff, and James Caan is a young gun named Mississippi. It's not as good as Rio Bravo, but, like its predecessor, is a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Seven Things to Know About James Robertson Justice

1. James Robertson Justice's most famous role was as Dr. Lancelot Spratt, the blustery chief surgeon at St. Swithin's Hospital in the British Doctor movies. He first appeared as Spratt in 1954's Doctor in the House, with Dirk Bogarde playing handsome medical student Simon Sparrow. Justice played Spratt in five sequels that starred either Bogarde or Leslie Phillips.As the film series progressed, Spratt evolved from a supporting character to co-lead in entries like Doctor in Distress (1963).

2. Although Lancelot Spratt did not appear in the second Doctor film, Doctor at Sea, Justice still returned opposite Dirk Bogarde. In this outing, Justice played Captain Wentworth Hogg, who ran a cargo ship...very much like Dr. Spratt ran St. Swithin's. Young physician Simon Sparrow didn't seem to mind--he was too busy romancing Brigitte Bardot!

3. When he was 17, Justice played for the Beckenham Rugby Club during the 1924-25 season. One of his teammates was Johnnie Craddock, who became famous working alongside his wife Fanny, a celebrity cook. Justice later worked briefly as a journalist at Reuters--as did James Bond author Ian Fleming. Many years later, Justice appeared in the 1968 adaptation of Fleming's children novel Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang.

4. James Robertson Justice co-starred with Gregory Peck in four movies: Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951); David and Bathsheba (1951); Moby Dick (1956); and The Guns of Navarone (1961). In Moby Dick, he played Captain Boomer, who lost an arm to the white whale pursued by Peck's Captain Ahab.

5. He co-starred with Richard Todd in three movies produced by Walt Disney in the early 1950s. He played Little John to Todd's Robin in The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). He and Todd then re-teamed for The Sword and the Rose and Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue. Both pictures were made in 1953 and also featured the delightful Glynis Johns.

6. Although Justice claimed he was born in Wigtown or Skye Island, Scotland, most sources list South London as his birth place. Regardless, he embraced his Scottish heritage and was Rector of the University of Edinburgh for two three-year terms in 1957 and 1963. The Rector heads the university's highest governing body and is elected by the students and staff. Other famous people to hold the Rector office at the University of Edinburgh are Winston Churchill and Alastair Sim.

7. Justice was married twice. His son, James, died in 1949 at the age of four in a drowning accident. He met actress Irena von Meyendorff, a real-life Baroness, while making The Ambassadress in 1961. They became lovers, later appeared together in Mayerling (1968), and were wed three days before Justice died in 1975 from complications from a stroke.

This post is part of the What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Paula's Cinema Club, and Outspoken & Freckled. Click here for the full schedule of posts that celebrate cinema's great character actors.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dorothy Lamour Is Bob Hope's "Favorite Brunette"

Confession: I sometimes get the plots of Bob Hope's three My Favorite... movies mixed up. While recently viewing My Favorite Brunette again, I kept waiting for the scene where the baddies give Bob truth serum--with predictably silly results. However, that classic bit is from My Favorite Spy with Hedy Lamarr. Well, to my defense, at least Hedy and Bob's Brunette co-star Dorothy Lamour both have dark hair--as opposed to leading lady Madeleine Carroll from My Favorite Blonde.

Bob Hope made the three My Favorite... films between 1942 and 1951, the peak period of his Paramount career. Technically, he played a different character in each film, though they all displayed the typical Hope persona. The series’ premise had Bob encountering mysterious women that got him involved in murder mysteries and spy intrigue. In My Favorite Blonde, he meets Madeleine Carroll (already a spy movie veteran after 1935’s The 39 Steps) on a train and winds up helping her elude Nazi agents. My Favorite Spy pairs him with the gorgeous Ms. Lamarr in a spy spoof with Bob as a comedian posing as a tough secret agent.

In My Favorite Brunette, Bob plays baby photographer Ronnie Jackson, who tells his story in flashback as he awaits the San Quentin gas chamber. As Ronnie explains in voiceover, he was ready for a career change and knew what it took to be a detective: "Brains, courage, and a gun. And I had the gun."

Tough-guy Hope and Lamour.
When the exotic Carlotta Montay (Lamour) mistakes Ronnie for out-of-town detective Sam McCloud (an unbilled Alan Ladd), the baby photographer plays along. He is soon involved in a plot with a kidnapped uncle, mineral rights, and plutonium. Of course, the story is really just an excuse for the zany situations and frequently funny Hope wisecracks (to Carlotta: "We're caught like two rats in a least, we're a boy rat and a girl rat."). And while this may not be the Hope comedy with the truth serum scene, it is the one with the "keyhole camera" and a classic routine in which Hope keeps overlooking a clue that bad guy Peter Lorre repeatedly places in front of him.

Hope feels Lon's muscles.
As was typical in Hope's Paramount comedies, the supporting players are first-rate, especially Lorre as a knife-throwing henchman. The most surprising performance, though, comes from Lon Chaney, Jr., who channels his Lenny (from Of Mice and Men) to charming comedic effect as Lorre's oafish partner.

My Favorite Brunette may not be a top-notch Hope vehicle along the lines of Son of Paleface or The Ghost Breakers, but it's a solid comedy that will keep a smile on your face for 87 minutes.

Monday, November 4, 2013

We Describe the Movie...You Name It!

This is our 5th edition of this type of quiz. The rules are easy: Name each film below based on our vague description. Be sure to include the question number with your response. Please don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is one film that is the single best answer to each description.

1. A guy trying to make it as a tobacco farmer romances three women.

2. Two guys dress up like girls and lip sync to a record to buy some time.

3. Honeymoon couple unwisely accepts an invitation to a masquerade ball.

4. Sort of a predecessor to Kramer vs. Kramer--and the lead only sings the theme song.

5. A mermaid and a sweet girl are both attracted to a bone-headed guy.

6. In this 1960 film, a woman goes to a hotel and vanishes. Her sibling investigates. Oh, and it's not Psycho.

7. A renegade cop and a tough prostitute borrow a bus.

8. A clergyman and a former swimmer are among the attendees at a big New Year's Eve bash.

9. The first of four films about homicidal fruit.

10. Misinterpretation of a dying man's words highlights the importance of punctuation and shows why homonyms can be challenging.

11. A World War II vet suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome is happily reunited with a young girl named Kathie.

12. A 1970s family musical set in England that features a Broadway star, kids, songs, and animated animals. There are no nuns, nor actresses who played nuns, though people do fly.

13. In the original version of this film, a little girl is spanked in a scene tacked on after the ending.

14. Woman "tames" husband by treating him like a dog.

15. Interesting mystery that opens with a man being murdered after a game of poker. Did I mention this movie's a Western?