Release Date(s)1950 (November 8, 2022)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: D
Fancy Pants is the fourth screen adaptation of Ruggles of Red Gap, a 1915 best-selling novel by Henry Leon Wilson. The first two were silent pictures. The third, starring Charles Laughton, was directed by Leo McCary and received a Best Picture Oscar nomination. In 1950, Paramount produced the last adaptation, featuring a Paramount comedy star and an actress who would soon move to television to headline a top-rated comedy series.
Nouveau riche American Effie Floud (Lea Penman, We’re No Angels) has taken her daughter, Aggie (Lucille Ball), to England for some social polish and a titled husband. Sir George Van Bassingwell (Hugh French, Shadow of the Eagle), a gentleman in want of cash, lavishes his attentions on Mrs. and Miss Floyd. To make himself more attractive to the ladies, he borrows an estate from an out-of-town friend and hires a group of provincial actors to portray his high society friends and his servants. Actor Arthur Tyler (Bob Hope) plays the part of Humphrey, the butler.
So taken with the cultured manner of “Humphrey,” Mrs. Floud entices him work for her family in their hometown of Big Squaw. Meanwhile, Mr. Floud (Jack Kirkwood, Never a Dull Moment) has been bragging to the townsfolk that his daughter was coming home with a nobleman for a husband, so Mrs. Floud persuades Humphrey to assume the persona of the Earl of Brimsted. President Theodore Roosevelt (John Alexander) is scheduled to make a campaign stop at Big Squaw, and the Flouds use the presence of their earl to entice the president to their home.
As the plot unfolds, attraction grows between Aggie and Humphrey, whom she nicknames “Fancy Pants” when he proves highly unsuited to life in the American west. Cowboy Bruce Cabot (King Kong), who expected to marry Aggie on her return, supplies a good deal of jealous interference.
The film offers lots of slapstick, some action sequences courtesy of stunt doubles, a few forgettable tunes, and some good gags. However, the screenplay by Edmund Hartman and Robert O’Brien lacks cleverness. It relies instead on tepid jokes and Hope’s mugging for humor, and the laughs are few. With the film centering on Humphrey, Hope must shoulder a good deal of the responsibility for its lack of sizzle. We know from the Road pictures with Bing Crosby that, with sharp writing, he can be very funny. Here, neither his frenetic line readings nor his pratfalls compensate for the lackluster writing.
Lucille Ball, as we know, has an innate flair for comedy, and it’s apparent in Fancy Pants. As Hope’s second banana, she holds her own and manages to overcome script deficiencies. She gets to perform two songs, (Hey) Fancy Pants and Home Cookin (dubbed by Annette Warren), upbeat ditties that seem to come out of nowhere in what is essentially a Western comedy, not a musical. While her tomboyishness in the scenes in England is over the top and fails to ring true, in later scenes she’s more restrained and her comic timing perfect. One of the best visual gags is her three-foot hairdo containing an actual caged canary, courtesy of amateur hairdresser Humphrey.
Fans of 1930s Astaire-Rogers musicals will appreciate that Eric Blore is on hand as Sir Wimbley, an aged gentleman who is impossible to understand with his combination of mumbles, heavy British accent, and facial contortions. Though the joke is overused and wears thin quickly, it’s nice to see a veteran comic actor among the “new kids.”
John Alexander, who played Teddy Roosevelt so humorously in Arsenic and Old Lace, once again portrays the President, playing straight man to Hope’s broad physical gags. Bruce Cabot has the thankless role of a jealous bully intent on undermining Humphrey at all costs.
The plot builds to a climactic fox hunt that reminded me of the one in Auntie Mame, made eight years later. A pack of dogs, an elusive fox, a jealous cowboy, and Hope’s antics contribute to a fast-paced comic chase sequence that is fun but not the riotous finale it should have been. The film’s ending is rather abrupt, suggesting that the writers ran out of ideas.
Fancy Pants was shot by director of photography Charles Lang with spherical lenses on 35 mm film using three-strip Technicolor cameras, processed photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is sourced from new 4K scans of the 35 mm YCM (yellow/cyan/magenta) three-strip Technicolor elements. Clarity is excellent, with delineation especially effective in period costumes, rocks and bushes, and interior decor. The picture is bold and vibrant, with a bright color palette featuring rich primary colors, particularly in the ladies’ dresses and large hats accessorized with feathers, fruit, and flowers. Deep purples, lush greens, luxuriant reds, and lemon yellows really pop. Complexions are natural, and Lucille Ball’s make-up is especially smooth and creamy.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is clear and precise throughout. Hope adopts a British accent as Humphrey but fails to sustain it. Eric Blore’s intentional mumbling is used for comic effect. A pack of dogs barking, a spirited horse champing at the bit, pratfalls, and a tray filled with a tea service repeatedly dropped onto the same individual’s lap contribute to the wild goings-on. Van Cleave’s score enhances the comic hijinks. There are three songs by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, one performed by Bob Hope, the other two by Lucille Ball. Hope does his own singing but Ball is dubbed by Annette Warren.
Bonus materials include the following Bob Hope-related trailers for films also available from Kino Lorber:
- Fancy Pants (2:13)
- Never Say Die (:55)
- The Cat and the Canary (3:40)
- Road to Singapore (2:38)
- The Ghost Breakers (2:15)
- Road to Zanzibar (2:16)
- Caught in the Draft (2:21)
- Nothing But the Truth (2:02)
- My Favorite Blonde (2:17)
- Road to Morocco (2:13)
- Road to Utopia (2:15)
- Where There’s Life (1:57)
- The Paleface (1:50)
- Sorrowful Jones (2:19)
- Alias Jesse James (2:13)
- KLSC Bob Hope Promo (4:18)
Fancy Pants is a typical Bob Hope vehicle that offers him plenty of opportunities to wisecrack, engage in physical comedy, react comically, and portray a fish-out-of-water character. Tailored for Hope, the film hasn’t aged well. The wisecracks aren’t witty, the pratfalls are overused, and the jokes are milked dry. Most of the jokes fail to land and the supporting cast is not fully exploited. We know what a clown Lucille Ball could be from her TV work, but in Fancy Pants she seems to be treading water. The film is hardly the “stampede of laughs” touted on the Blu-ray case.
- Dennis Seuling