THE BOB HOPE COLLECTION VOLUME 2 (1949-1972). Last year's first set of Shout! Factory-released comedies starring the beloved entertainer only included films from his first two decades in front of the camera, resulting in a high number of solid efforts. Volume Two stretches further out, meaning that some earlier hits eventually give way to some notorious late-career duds.
The Great Lover (1949) finds Hope in his most familiar role, that of a wisecracking, none-too-bright guy who's fond of the ladies and always gets himself in dire predicaments. Here, he's Freddie Hunter, a scout leader perpetually trying to sneak away from his moralizing charges in order to grab a smoke and woo a duchess (Rhonda Fleming). What Freddie doesn't know is that he's been targeted by a sophisticated serial killer (Roland Young) who lures men into card games before strangling them for their money.
A sequel to 1948's The Paleface, Son of Paleface (1952) reunites that film's potent team of Hope and Jane Russell. In this oater outing, the comic portrays the idiotic son of the man he played in the original, arriving out West to claim an inheritance but instead mixing it up with outlaw Russell and good guy Roy Rogers. Frank Tashlin, who co-wrote The Paleface (and won an Oscar for co-penning that film's hit song, "Buttons and Bows"), moved up to the director's chair for this one, thereby allowing him to test out the sort of cartoonish sight gags that would become even more prominent in such later films as The Girl Can't Help It and some of Jerry Lewis's works.
Paris Holiday (1958) was an attempt to score an international hit by casting American idol Hope opposite the extremely popular French comedian Fernandel. The result is a mixed bag, with Hope as an actor who becomes involved with murder and intrigue while in Paris on business. Hope and Fernandel (clearly playing second fiddle to his Yankee counterpart) are both pleasant but don't conjure up any screen magic together — of course, considering that neither speaks the other's language, that's not a huge surprise. Still, there are many bright bits along the way, although the climactic helicopter chase feels endless.
The late 1960s and early 1970s were a terrible time for long-established comedians like Hope, Jerry Lewis and Jackie Gleason, as their starring vehicles seemed particularly dismal and wheezy at a time when cutting-edge filmmakers were producing movies like M*A*S*H and The Graduate. I've never seen Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! — considered by many to be Hope's worst film from this period — but it's hard to believe it's more abysmal than The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968). Hope plays the title character, who tries to boost his men's morale while stationed in the Pacific during World War II. He promises them beer and babes, but all he can deliver is a stringy-haired, sex-hungry harpy (Phyllis Diller, as usual). Aside from one crack leveled against close friend/frequent co-star Bing Crosby, this is unwatchable.
How to Commit Marriage (1969) is a bit more tolerable, but it's still a poor comedy that has managed to age disgracefully. Hope and Jane Wyman play a couple whose divorce convinces their own college-age daughter (JoAnna Cameron) to live in sin with her boyfriend (Tim Matheson) and later, under the advice of their guru (Irwin Corey as The Baba Ziba), to give up their newborn baby for adoption. Jackie Gleason, mugging shamelessly, co-stars as Matheson's father, a sleazy music promoter whose acts include The Comfortable Chair (a real group — discovered by The Doors — that released only one album). The Naked Gun's Leslie Nielsen turns up as Wyman's suitor — and Gilligan's Island's Ginger, Tina Louise, plays Gleason's girlfriend — but aside from one modestly amusing segment in which Hope plays golf against a chimpanzee, this is dreary and, in those moments when Hope wears "mod" clothing, frightening.
Cancel My Reservation (1972) marked Hope's final starring role in a motion picture — 1979's The Muppet Movie and 1985's Spies Like Us offered only cameos — yet while it's routinely tagged as one of his biggest turkeys, I didn't find it awful, just easy to take in its flagrant mediocrity. Based on Louis L'Amour's novel The Broken Gun, this stars Bob as Dan Bartlett, a TV show host who heads to Arizona for a much-needed vacation. While there, he becomes the chief suspect in a murder investigation, with only his wife (Eva Marie Saint) and a local free spirit nicknamed Crazy (Anne Archer) believing in his innocence. A dream sequence involving four back-to-back cameos (two movie stars, two TV stars) makes this worth a peek all by itself, and the rest is harmless if rarely uproarious.
The back-cover copy states that these movies were "taken from wonderful high-definition transfers." That's an empty claim when it comes to The Great Lover, whose quality ranks with that seen on public-domain titles, but the other five films look decent enough. As for extras, there are none.