BOOTLEG FILES 249: “My Favorite Brunette” (1947 comedy starring Bob Hope).

LAST SEEN: It is available on several online sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Only in public domain dupes.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A lapsed copyright.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Without copyright protection, no official commercial release is possible.

When it comes to Bob Hope movies, you cannot help but feel a sense of deja vu. Truly, if you have seen one Bob Hope flick, you feel like you’ve seen them all. (I should emphasize that I am talking about Hope’s solo work and not the surreal “Road” films, which is another matter.)

Perhaps it is because the Hope films follow the same scenario down to the tiniest detail: the funnyman is inevitably cast as a bumbling shmuck who falls into a comedy of errors where he is pursued by menacing villains, but where he always winds up saving the day (by accident, of course) while claiming the pretty girl and reeling off a bunch of self-deprecating wisecracks. Quite frankly, it was a commercially successful formula – Hope had a strong box-office run by churning out variations of the same product.

“My Favorite Brunette” is typical of this body of work. It is clearly Hope’s most accessible work, since it is a public domain title that has been duped endlessly into cheapo video and DVD copies.

“My Favorite Brunette” opens in San Quentin, where Hope is on Death Row. Hope’s opening salvo is typical of his brand of mildly sarcastic humor: “This is the worst last meal I ever had!” From there, Hope’s character is interviewed by a group of reporters while the execution chamber is being prepared.

The film then falls into flashback, with Hope being shown as Ronnie Jackson, a San Francisco baby photographer. In a somewhat unusual move for 1947 racist Hollywood, Hope’s client is a Chinese-American woman whose rambunctious son is refusing to smile for the camera. The woman is played by Jean Wong, an actress whose career consisted almost entirely of uncredited screen work. Wong actually has a substantial role in the film (her character accidentally helps to switch around Hope’s fate late in the story), but she did not get any screen credit for this part.

However, Hope is not interested in a career as a baby photographer – he wants to be a private eye, just like his macho neighbor (played by Alan Ladd in an unbilled gag appearance). Hope gets his chance when he is mistaken for his neighbor by an appropriately distressed damsel. She is played by Dorothy Lamour, the leading lady of the “Road” pictures, and in this flick she’s supposed to be a Spanish baroness whose uncle has been kidnapped. Or was he? And is it her uncle or her husband? After all, she gives Hope two different stories.

“My Favorite Brunette” then veers into a full-blown parody of the film noir genre, with Hope tripping in the path of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and the other legendary gumshoes. Much of the film is tied around the alleged insanity of Lamour’s character (the film’s villains run a sanitarium). This enables Hope to reel off jokes tied to mental illness: “Uh oh, her schizo’s about to phrenia!” and “Nutty as a fruitcake, and with all that beautiful frosting!” are typical of the humor here.

The sanitarium’s caretaker is played by Lon Chaney Jr., who was doing a riff on his mentally-challenged Lennie character from “Of Mice and Men.” While a few mild laughs can be found in Chaney cracking walnuts with his biceps, the notion of having a retarded adult as the subject of laughs doesn’t hold up well in today’s climate.

Somewhat more acceptable is eerie, diminutive Peter Lorre as the knife-throwing henchman who pursues Hope throughout the film. Hope refers to him as “Cuddles” and drops lines like “Easy, Cuddles! One move and you’re a dead midget!“

You may have noticed that Hope has all of the funny lines – or at least the lines that are supposed to be funny. Even when someone has a jokey input (a state trooper tells him: “If you bother us again, I’ll personally punch you in the nose so hard it will look like other peoples’ noses!”), Hope winds up stealing the laugh by mugging an exaggerated reaction.

And perhaps that is why few film scholars openly advocate Hope’s work – there is a sense of monotony having Hope as the only funny person in the movie. Everyone else exists strictly to either react to Hope’s antics or to set up the mood for Hope to drop a smart remark. Unfortunately, most of the jokes in “My Favorite Brunette” are fairly weak. Consider these exchanges (thanks to the IMBD for compiling them):

Hope: You see, I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage, and a gun… and I had the gun.

Lamour: I’m at my wit’s end!
Hope: I passed there an hour ago.

Lamour: You said you’d stick with me till your dying breath.
Hope: Yeah, and I’m getting too close to it.

“My Favorite Brunette” also repeats the closing gag from an earlier Hope movie, “The Princess and the Pirate,” by having Bing Crosby make an unbilled appearance. But, of course, Hope gets the laugh by his double take reaction to Crosby’s supposedly unexpected presence.

“My Favorite Brunette” had a curious advertising campaign, with poster art that depicted Hope in a heavy mustache and Lamour in a bikini – there is no such scene in the film where the actors appear like that.

It is not clear why the film’s copyright was not renewed, and as a result “My Favorite Brunette” has been bootlegged to death for years. Most duped prints are adequate (I just bought a $1 DVD at Wal-Mart and the visual and audio qualities were okay). If you are a Bob Hope fan, “My Favorite Brunette” is par for the course. If you are not a fan, this won’t win you ever. And if you never saw a Hope film – eh, it doesn’t matter, as they pretty much all look and sound alike.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!

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