The Great Lover
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.
Son of Paleface
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 Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell
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
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
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.
The Great Lover: ***
Son of Paleface: ***
Paris Holiday: **1/2
The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell: *
How to Commit Marriage: *1/2
Cancel My Reservation: **
SMOLDERING: John Garfield emerged an overnight star thanks to Four Daughters.
FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938). Even today, it still ranks as one of the greatest film debuts of all time. This adaptation of Fannie Hurst's story is a delightful slice of small-town Americana, with Claude Rains as a father who teaches his love of music to his four grown daughters (real-life sisters Priscilla, Rosemary and Lola Lane, plus Gale Page). The ladies are romanced by the usual sweet guys and saps familiar to this sort of tale (Jeffrey Lynn, Dick Foran and Frank McHugh), but then John Garfield arrives at the 36-minute mark as Mickey Borden, and a star is born. Playing a damaged character, a talented but struggling pianist who believes that Fate will never give him a break, Garfield embodies charm, sarcasm, danger — the sorts of qualities that would turn actors like Brando, Dean and Clift into superstars a decade or more later. It's an electrifying debut, and Garfield would remain a star through such films as The Postman Always Rings Twice and Gentleman's Agreement until his career was derailed by the despicable House Un-American Activities Committee — although not a Communist, he was thereafter "tainted" and had trouble finding work, eventually dying in 1952 at the age of 39. It was a tragic ending to a much-too-brief career, which makes his coming-out party in Four Daughters all that more important. This earned five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Michael Curtiz (who earned a second nomination that same year for helming Angels with Dirty Faces and also co-directed the Best Picture nominee The Adventures of Robin Hood) and, of course, Garfield for Best Supporting Actor. Incidentally, this was remade as a musical in 1954: Young at Heart, starring Doris Day and Frank Sinatra.
Four Daughters has been available as a standalone title from the Warner Archive Collection since 2009, but now the company has seen fit to offer Four Daughters Movie Series Collection, which includes all the titles in this popular franchise. In addition to the original, the set contains 1939's Daughters Courageous, not a sequel but an entirely different story featuring all 10 principal cast members in new roles, as well as 1939's Four Wives and 1941's Four Mothers, the latter pair proper follow-ups to the 1938 hit. There are no extras on any of the discs except for theatrical trailers.
INSIDIOUS (2011). While it's probably time to call for a moratorium on both haunted-house thrillers and creepy-child sagas, Insidious milks a bit of innovativeness from both these sub-genres before self-destructing. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne make a believable couple as Josh and Renai Lambert, who move into an old mansion with their three kids in tow. An accident in the attic leaves son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) in a comatose state, and soon afterward, all sorts of supernatural shenanigans begin occurring. No problem; the Lamberts simply pack up and move out. But when strange things start happening at their new abode, they suspect that it wasn't the former house itself that was haunted ... Director James Wan and scripter Leigh Whannell don't allow a PG-13 rating to temper their work: Rather than relying on gore, they manage to conjure some genuine tension by keeping both the characters and the audience off-kilter for much of the running time. But the film slips drastically with the introduction of two paranormal investigators whose painfully unfunny comic relief (we're not talking Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd) disrupts the unsettling mood. Late arrival Lin Shaye is excellent as the two clods' all-knowing boss, but her elaborate — and exceedingly daft — explanations regarding the otherworldly occurrences further deflate the project, and the frantic finale is simply overkill. And the less said about the awful last-minute twist, the better.
Blu-ray extras include an 8-minute behind-the-scenes piece; a 10-minute interview with Wan and Whannell; and a 7-minute featurette about the film's various spirits and demons.
INSIGNIFICANCE (1985). A favorite (and deservedly so) with the folks over at Criterion, Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession) witnesses yet another of his works enter their esteemed catalogue. Tasking British dramatist Terry Johnson to adapt his own play for the screen, Roeg has made a unique film about the vagaries of fame and the demons that haunt even the most celebrated among us. Without ever specifically naming the characters, the piece brings together four of the most famous figures from the midpoint of the 20th century: the Actress (Theresa Russell as Marilyn Monroe), the Professor (Michael Emil as Albert Einstein), the Senator (Tony Curtis as Joseph McCarthy) and the Ballplayer (Gary Busey as Joe DiMaggio). Most of the action takes place in the hotel room of the kindly Professor, who's hard at work when the Actress shows up, drawn to a fellow celebrity (one who amusingly doesn't recognize her) and hoping to have an intelligent conversation for once. They make a connection, especially when she delights him with her visual demonstration of the Theory of Relativity, but they're eventually interrupted by her dense husband, the Ballplayer. Additionally, the Professor also has to contend with the vile, Commie-hating Senator, who orders him to testify at a special Congressional hearing. A fragmentary movie that offers glimpses at a prickly past, a nuclear present and an unclear future, Insignificance examines the fears and foibles of self-deluding celebrities, and its two central figures, the Monroe and Einstein surrogates, bring to mind Living Colour's "Cult of Personality": "Neon lights, a Nobel Prize, The mirror speaks, the reflection lies."
DVD extras include a vintage 14-minute making-of featurette; a 13-minute interview with Roeg and producer Jeremy Thomas; a 15-minute interview with editor Tony Lawson; and the theatrical trailer.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: GUNSLINGER (movie made in 1956; featured on MST3K in 1993) / MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: HAMLET (movie made in 1961; featured on MST3K in 1999). Perhaps it's due to a glut of product, but Shout! Factory has begun releasing select MST3K episodes in single-film DVDs to go along with their four-flick box sets. Unfortunately, the two episodes presented this time around don't match the pair (The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies and Beginning of the End) offered back in February.
Billed as the show's "first Western," Gunslinger is a limp Roger Corman cheapie about a woman (Beverly Garland) who becomes town marshall after her husband, the previous sheriff (an early appearance by character actor William Schallert), gets murdered. She squares off against a hardened saloon owner (Allison Hayes) and a mercenary-for-hire (John Ireland), but of course the latter falls in love with her. The novelty of the premise quickly gets buried under banal dialogue (especially the hired hand's contention that the man he seeks was solely responsible for the South losing the Civil War!), and the climax plays like a spoof of the Jennifer Jones-Gregory Peck standoff at the end of Duel in the Sun. Joel and the 'Bots do what they can riffing on this material, and the between-film segments are especially inspired (most notably Forrester's attempts to emulate Scanners by exploding the head of TV's Frank). Incidentally, this was Joel's penultimate episode: He would vacate the premises in the following episode, the classic Mitchell.
At roughly the same time that he was stealing Paul Newman's The Hustler Oscar (for Judgment at Nuremberg), Maximilian Schell appeared in a production of Hamlet for German television. Watching Mike Nelson and co. take on Shakespeare sounds so crazy that it might just work, but the truth is that this is one of the weaker MST3K episodes. After an ingenious setup — Mike wins a bet against Pearl and requests to see Hamlet, expecting to get the classy Olivier or Zeffirelli version — the Satellite of Love residents immediately find their work cut out for them in tackling a movie as boring and stagy as this subpar take on the Bard's immortal classic. There are some fine gags — The Three Stooges get a shoutout, and annoying clowns (a perennial target for the crew) show up in the play — but not enough to sustain a full episode. But fret not: The next single-serving MST3K, due out Sept. 13, is a special edition of the immortal Manos: The Hands of Fate.
There are no extras on the DVDs.
MST3K: Gunslinger: **1/2
MST3K: Hamlet: **