Release Date(s)1942 (March 2, 2021)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
The 1940s was a productive time for Bob Hope. Beginning with The Ghost Breakers and the Hope-Crosby Road to Singapore, Hope was on a roll. He was already a star of radio, and the decade offered audiences more than twenty opportunities to see Hope’s antics and laugh at his quips and wisecracks.
One of his most popular films of that period is My Favorite Blonde, a spy drama/comedy that begins with a murder aboard a ship. It’s the work of Nazis chasing British agent Karen Bentley (Madeleine Carroll), who must deliver a brooch containing revised U.S. bomber flight plans to a fellow agent in Chicago, who in turn will deliver it to an air base in California. Trying to elude her pursuers, she slips into a vaudeville house where Larry Haines (Hope) is performing with his penguin, Percy. Larry is preparing to board a train for California, where Percy has been offered a lucrative job in the movies. Karen’s feminine wiles induce Larry to let her tag along, but the German spies, led by Dr. Streger (George Zucco) and Madame Runick (Gale Sondergaard), never let them out of their evil sights.
The cross-country chase plot leaves plenty of room for Hope to turn danger into zaniness, and there’s never any doubt that Larry and Karen will emerge from peril intact and in love. Director Sidney Lanfield keeps the pace brisk and is especially effective in setting up the cloak-and-dagger aspect of the film, with its mist-shrouded opening looking more suggestive of a Sherlock Holmes whodunit or a film noir than a Bob Hope comedy. The atmosphere drips with foreboding but changes quickly when Hope’s Larry is introduced performing with a talented penguin. Once Hope is on screen, his barrage of one-liners and asides punctuates the action and the villains become mostly comic foils for Hope’s verbal barbs.
Extremely popular when initially released, My Favorite Blonde has not aged well. Hope is loud and brash throughout, with little nuance in his performance. Most of the gags fall flat, and he appears more entertained than the viewer by his own quips. Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, Hope’s longtime radio collaborators, stuffed the screenplay by Don Hartman and Frank Butler with many gags to suit Hope’s style and delivery. So sure of the laughs was director Lanfield that he allowed for beats after each joke before continuing the dialogue so that audience laughter would not obscure the follow-up lines. Bob Hope is an acquired taste. His career spanned vaudeville, the stage, radio, and television, so generations were familiar with him, but the formulaic plot has none of the sparkle and topical relevance it had in 1942.
Madeleine Carroll keeps up with Hope’s pace and holds her own as the straight woman, with more than a few zingers of her own. At one point, posing as Larry’s wife, she averts disaster by cooing cloying baby talk. Carroll is a fine actress, and her Karen convinces us that she is in real danger while Larry consistently makes light of whatever situations arise. A broad slapstick scene in which Larry and Karen attempt to summon the police so they can escape the clutches of the spies is a comic highlight. The two destroy a hotel room as they act out a marital spat. Hope and Carroll’s screen chemistry is effective and they work well as a team, keeping viewers attuned to the plot as non-stop wisecracks provide chuckles.
The film’s scene stealer isn’t Bob Hope. It’s Percy the penguin. With his sweet appearance, top hat and tails, waddle of a walk, and proficiency at rollerskating, Percy has some very funny scenes. The joke, of course, is that it is Percy, not Larry, who has been offered a job in Hollywood. Larry is forced to rely on the good fortune of his stage partner.
Gale Sondergaard and George Zucco are perfectly cast as the bad guys. Unfortunately Sondergaard, who has a way with a withering comment, has hardly any dialogue and sells her character mostly with her icy, dour appearance. Bing Crosby and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (from the Our Gang comedies) appear in unbilled cameos.
Based on the success of the film, there were two follow-ups, My Favorite Brunette (1947) and My Favorite Spy (1951), but the stories are not related. The editing in My Favorite Blonde is crisp and the running time is only 78 minutes, enough for the plot to be resolved and for Hope to deliver his signature wisecracks.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the new 2K Blu-ray restoration by Kino Lorber Studio Classics is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The picture varies according to mood. The opening aboard ship is misty and mysterious. Larry’s act with Percy features high key lighting. Night scenes are obviously filmed on the back lot. Scenes on the train feature rear projection to suggest the movement of the train, a commonly used technique at the time.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio. Optional subtitles in English SDH are also available. Dialogue is sharp throughout. Though Hope speaks quickly, his words are distinct and his timing is precise, qualities essential in putting a joke across. Carroll’s natural accent gives her British agent credibility. Though playing Nazi spies, Sondergaard and Zucco don’t use cliched German accents. Hope is much louder than other actors and self-consciously zany, making him overbearing at times and taking him out of character.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary, a Bob Hope promo, and several theatrical trailers.
Audio Commentary – Film historian Samm Deighan refers to My Favorite Blonde as one of her favorite comedies of the World War II years. Most American wartime films offered propaganda, though outright themes against fascism didn’t hit their peak until after the attack on Pearl Harbor. From the mid 1930s on, there was an escalation to war in Europe and Asia but the United States tried to remain isolationist. Many Americans saw the war as a European war. By 1942, films started to depict everyday American citizens getting into patriotic fervor. Spy thrillers and spy comedies were very popular but the war theme figured in all genres. The Production Code banned political content to protect Hollywood’s interests overseas. In My Favorite Blonde, a British agent comes into contact with an average American who ultimately comprehends the real threat of fascism. Casablanca is cited as a film with a central character (Rick) who exhibits moral ambivalence but eventually comes to see the value of fighting fascism. Jews were the target of Nazism, but Hollywood glossed over this by referring to the oppressed as “non Aryan.” By 1942, most screen comedians were making anti-fascist films. Abbott and Costello started the trend with Buck Privates in 1941. Bob Hope “did it all,” exerting his influence in the field of entertainment for the better part of a century. He started in the 1920s in vaudeville, then Broadway, radio, film, and television. His style is comforting and familiar as well as self-deprecating. He was adamant about helping the U.S. effort, did many U.S.O. shows, and continued entertaining the troops in both war and peacetime for decades. The Big Broadcast of 1938 was his first movie hit and led to a long association with Paramount Pictures. The Road movies, a series of seven films made between 1940 and 1962, featured great camaraderie between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, a working partnership that lasted until Crosby’s death in 1977. Madeleine Carroll’s first hit was I Was a Spy (1933), in which she played a Belgian woman who nursed German soldiers during World War I while spying for the British. This role brought her to the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who cast her in The 39 Steps, the film that made her an international star and one of the earliest “quintessential Hitchcock blondes.” Carroll was one of the first foreign actresses to be offered a Hollywood contract. Career overviews are provided for Academy Award-winner Gale Sondergaard, who usually played supporting roles in horror films, mysteries, and film noirs. She was frequently cast in exotic roles, as in The Letter. George Zucco was “an actor who never said ‘no’ to anything.” He was ubiquitous in horror films, historical dramas, comedies, film noirs, and serials.
Bob Hope Promo – Excerpts from Bob Hope films along with their original release dates available from Kino Lorber are shown. They include My Favorite Brunette, Road to Rio, The Lemon Drop Kid, Road to Bali, and Son of Paleface.
Trailers – Eleven theatrical trailers are included: My Favorite Blonde, The Cat and the Canary, Road to Singapore, The Ghost Breakers, Road to Zanzibar, Caught in the Draft, Nothing but the Truth, Road to Morocco, Road to Utopia, The Paleface, and The General Died at Dawn.
My Favorite Blonde doesn’t retain the zip it might have had nearly 70 years ago. Tailored as a vehicle for Paramount star Bob Hope, it revolves around his everyman buffoonery. The film starts promisingly, but once Hope’s character is introduced, the plot becomes secondary and often inconsequential as long as Hope has enough one-liners to get to the final fade-out. The film has none of the devil-may-care nonchalance of the Hope-Crosby pictures and hasn’t aged nearly as well.
- Dennis Seuling