Top Ten Bob Hope Films
Bob Hope: a legend of theatre, film, radio, and television, he remains the most honored entertainer who has ever lived. One of the founders of modern stand-up comedy in America, Bob was respected not only for his work onscreen but, even more so for the work he did offscreen. During WWII, he became the unofficial face of the USO and his unyielding dedication to the soldiers abroad made him a hero to many. Over the course of 50 years, he went on 57 tours with the USO and spent 48 Christmases with the troops. From WWII to Korea to Vietnam to the Gulf War, Bob was always there, becoming an American institution in his own right and a living legend. Over the course of his 100 year lifespan, Bob performed for 11 presidents from FDR to Bill Clinton and, to this day, he remains the only civilian to ever be granted the status of an honorary veteran.
Onscreen, Bob was known for his quick one-liners and tongue-in-cheek asides, inspiring future performers like Woody Allen with his unique comedic style. Although, he starred in many popular films on his own, Bob's name, also, became forever linked with his most frequent comedic partner, Bing Crosby, and the names of Hope and Crosby have since become synonymous with that of a perfect partnership. Although Bob was never awarded a competitive Oscar for any individual performance, he became famous as the original Oscar host, hosting the award ceremony a record 18 times and setting the standard for every host that has followed in his wake. If you've never seen this legend of comedy at work, it's time to familiarize yourself with the one and only Bob Hope.
FYI: I chose the order of my Bob Hope top ten by considering each film's importance in Bob’s overall career, the size/importance of his role in them, and their overall popularity today as evidenced by their ratings on sites like IMDB, Netflix, and Rotten Tomatoes. Naturally, feel free to watch them in any order you like (this is merely a recommended top ten). You might watch them in the order listed here, chronologically (like I did), or in a way that corresponds with your own movie tastes. If you discover your favorite Bob Hope film is missing, feel free to post a comment explaining why you would recommend it.
And now, on with the Top Ten:
1. “ROAD TO MOROCCO” (1942) –
Road To Morocco is the third and most iconic of the film series that would forever link Bob's name with crooner Bing Crosby. Along with Dorothy Lamour, Hope and Crosby would, eventually, go on to make 7 "Road pictures" over the course of 20 years, setting the standard for comedic duos for generations to come. In Road To Morocco, Bob and Bing play Orville Jackson and Jeff Peters, two stowaways who accidentally sink the ship they stowed away on. They find themselves on the shore of Morocco so, after hitching a ride on a passing camel, they make their way to the nearest town. Once there, Jeff (ever the con-man), impulsively, sells Orville into slavery for some quick cash. However, after Orville’s dead Aunt Lucy (also played by Bob) appears to Jeff in a dream, he thinks better of it and rushes off to save his old friend. But, it turns out that Orville is in no hurry to be saved. Apparently, he has been sold to the lovely Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour), who now seems very keen on marrying him. But, there may be more to this sudden marriage proposal than Orville or Jeff suspect. Regardless of whether Road To Morocco is truly the funniest Road picture, it is, most certainly, the one with the best soundtrack (featuring the iconic titular song, as well as, the standard “Moonlight Becomes You”). A spoof of the adventure movies popular at the time, this absurdist musical comedy was, actually, the first Road picture to be written specifically for Bob and Bing (the first two were offered to other actors first and then adapted for them later). Road To Morocco is, actually, considered to be one of the first films ever to feature characters breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience or refer to the fact that they are in a movie (something that would become a hallmark of not only the Road pictures, but, also, Bob’s irreverent comedic style). Road To Morocco, also, remains the only Road movie to be selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
2. "THE GHOST BREAKERS” (1940) –
Based on the play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard, this horror-comedy features Paulette Goddard as Mary Carter, a woman who has just inherited her family’s supposedly haunted ancestral home in Cuba. Despite multiple warnings, she firmly insists on visiting the house, herself. But, just before leaving for Cuba, she runs into radio personality Larry Lawrence (Bob), who believes that he may have just accidentally killed a mob hit man. As Larry and his butler/sidekick, Alex (Willie Best), attempt to hide from both the police and the mob, they inadvertently end up joining Mary on her quest to Cuba and her mysterious family mansion. It’s a good thing too, as the threats on Mary’s life are beginning to get more and more aggressive. The Ghost-Breakers was, actually, Bob and Paulette Goddard’s second horror-comedy together, made to capitalize on their successful earlier pairing, The Cat and The Canary. Bob really enjoyed playing the role of Larry Lawrence, as he considered Larry to be slightly more successful at being heroic than most of his other cowardly characters. He, also, loved working opposite character actor Willie Best (at the time, calling him “the best actor I know”). Like many of his films, Bob would later recreate the role of Larry Lawrence for the film’s radio adaptations both in 1949 and 1951. Although this film was the first sound version of the play The Ghost Breaker, it was, actually, the third movie version overall. The story was then remade again in 1953 with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the main roles under the name Scared Stiff.
3. “ROAD TO ZANZIBAR” (1941) –
The second film in the Road picture series, Road To Zanzibar, surprisingly, did not, originally, start out as a comedy. Based on a story by Sy Bartlett called “Find Colonel Fawcett”, it was intended to be a completely straight-forward dramatic adventure film. However, when it was decided that the story was too similar to the recently released Stanley and Livingstone, the movie was rewritten as a comedy using the same writers that had written Road To Singapore. The film stars Bob and Bing as Hubert “Fearless” Frazier and Chuck Reardon, a couple of hucksters traveling through Africa by way of various carnivals and circuses, roping in suckers with whatever sideshow act they can come up with at the time. This all goes fairly well until their Human Cannonball act goes awry and burns down an entire circus tent. Now running from the authorities, they decide to make their way back home to the States. But, before that can happen, they run into a distraught American girl who begs them to help rescue her friend, Donna (Dorothy Lamour), who has, apparently, been abducted by slave traders. However, there may be more to this damsel-in-distress than meets the eye. Intended as a spoof of the jungle/safari pictures that were becoming popular at the time, Road To Zanzibar was the first Road movie to start incorporating some of the more irreverent and wacky humor that would become a trademark of the series. Probably some of the best scenes happen after Chuck and Fearless get abducted by cannibals, all leading up to a full-fledged wrestling match between Fearless and a gorilla (which probably gives you a pretty good idea about how far out there the plot of this movie gets before you reach the final credits).
4. “ROAD TO SINGAPORE” (1940) –
And now the one that started it all: Road To Singapore is the original Road picture, setting the stage for the entire film series that followed. Bing Crosby stars as Josh Mallon, the son of a wealthy shipping magnate, with Bob playing the role of Josh’s best friend and shipmate, Ace Lannigan. Josh’s father (Charles Coburn) has been pressuring his son to settle down, marry his (family-approved) fiancée, Gloria, and take over the family shipping business. But Josh isn’t quite ready to settle down just yet, so he and Ace decide to run away to Singapore for a while. Actually, they don’t quite make it to Singapore, instead settling for the tranquil little island of Kaigoon on their way there. Shortly after they arrive, they meet a local girl named Mima (Dorothy Lamour) and rescue her from her abusive dance partner, Caesar (Anthony Quinn). In order to stay away from Caesar, she ends up moving in with Josh and Ace. Although they had sworn off of romantic entanglements, the longer Josh and Ace spend with the beautiful Mima, the more they both find themselves falling for her. Out of the three leads, Bob was, actually, the least well-known when this film was first released. Road To Singapore, actually, marks the only time in the Road series that Bob would be billed after both Crosby and Lamour. As the first Road movie, Road To Singapore is, also, the most traditional story-wise. But, it was Bob and Bing's unique off-the-cuff banter that would set the stage for every film that followed. To give the film an ad-libbed quality, both Bob and Bing brought writers from their respective radio shows to the set, so they could scribble down one-liners while filming. The writers would then slip them jokes in-between takes so, they could impulsively work them into scenes (a practice that, apparently, drove some of their more traditional co-stars up the wall).
5. “THE PALEFACE” (1948) –
This fun Western farce features Bob opposite the beautiful Jane Russell. Russell plays the part of legendary cowgirl Calamity Jane, who has been enlisted by the U.S. government to discover who has been illegally selling guns to hostile Indian tribes. They've already discovered that the weapons will be smuggled in on the next wagon train, so the plan is for Jane and another agent to infiltrate the wagon train as husband and wife, therefore allowing Jane to do her reconnaissance work without suspicion. However, when Jane’s partner is killed, she’s forced to improvise. She still needs a husband to divert attention away from herself, so she marries the first willing man she meets: “Painless” Peter Potter, a correspondence school dentist (Bob). While Painless is lovingly devoted to his beautiful new wife, he can’t begin to fathom the danger he’s getting into by marrying her. Screenwriter Frank Tashlin originally wrote The Paleface as a parody of The Virginian, but by the time production rolled around, the screenplay had changed significantly. Tashlin was never very happy about that and later stated that the experience is what, finally, inspired him to start directing his own films. (Interestingly, Tashlin would later go on to write and direct The Paleface’s sequel: Son of Paleface). By far, the most famous sequence in The Paleface is Bob’s performance of the song “Buttons And Bows”. Although the film is not really a musical and the song has a definite comedic slant, “Buttons and Bows” ultimately became one of Bob’s most famous numbers (even winning the Oscar for Best Song).
6. “THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE” (1944) –
This comedic spin on classic swashbucklers stars Bob as Sylvester the Great, an actor traveling from Europe to America on the ship Mary Ann, hoping to further his floundering career in another country. But, unbeknownst to Sylvester, a runaway princess named Margaret (Virginia Mayo) is, also, traveling aboard the ship. Princess Margaret has run away from her kingdom to elope with her true love and a large reward is now being offered for her return. Hearing that the princess might be traveling on the Mary Ann, a ruthless pirate captain called The Hook attacks the ship to find her. Now it seems that Sylvester might be the only one capable of saving Princess Margaret, using the only strength he’s got: that of a “master” impersonator. Although Bob was, actually, under contract with Paramount at the time The Princess and the Pirate was made, Samuel Goldwyn “borrowed” him for 12 weeks in order to make this movie (as well as, the film They Got Me Covered). This bright live-action cartoon is a great showcase for Bob’s talents and Virginia Mayo has never looked lovelier (her costumes, in particular, are breathtakingly flattering). But, this film also, features a surprisingly unexpected conclusion, involving an absolutely priceless cameo from another well-known star.
7. “MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE” (1947) –
This fun film noir parody reunites Bob once again with his Road series co-star, Dorothy Lamour. This time Bob plays the role of Ronnie Jackson, a baby photographer who has always dreamed of becoming a private eye. Well, Ronnie’s wish, suddenly, comes true when the beautiful Baroness Carlotta Montay (Lamour) mistakes him for his detective neighbor. But, Ronnie soon realizes that he’s not nearly as ready to be a private eye as he always thought he would be. Partially filmed on location in San Francisco and Pebble Beach, My Favorite Brunette benefits from a very strong cast, including Lon Chaney, Jr. and Peter Lorre playing parody versions of their most famous roles (namely, Chaney's role in Of Mice And Men and Lorre in pretty much anything). The movie, also, contains uncredited cameo appearances from Alan Ladd and Bing Crosby. Crosby’s cameo, in particular, was highly sought after by Bob. In the end, Bing was paid $5,000 for his appearance, but he later donated the entire sum to charity. Be aware, this film has been in the public domain since the 1970s, so although it's an easy movie to find, you may have to do some searching to, actually, find a nice-looking copy. However, it is certainly worth it to see this fun detective caper at its very best.
8. “SORROWFUL JONES” (1949) –
This cute family comedy is a remake of the 1934 Shirley Temple film Little Miss Marker, which itself is based on the short story Markie by Damon Runyan. Bob stars as the titular Sorrowful, a penny-pinching New York bookie who is left with four-year-old Martha Jane as a marker while her father goes to pick up the money he needs to pay his bet. But, when the little girl’s father is killed before he can return to pay his bet, Sorrowful is stuck with the little orphan until other arrangements can be made. Unfortunately, Sorrowful’s lifestyle is not exactly ideal for children. Unlike the original Little Miss Marker, Sorrowful Jones focuses primarily on the titular Sorrowful rather than little Martha Jane. Consequently, the film is a great star vehicle for Bob, giving him an opportunity to show a slightly more serious side to his personae than many of his broader comedies allowed. Sorrowful Jones, also, marks the very first time Bob would appear opposite Lucille Ball, who plays Sorrowful’s ex-girlfriend, Gladys. Bob, specifically, requested Lucy for the role of Gladys, having worked with her a few times before on his radio show. The two got along famously during production and their comedic instincts were perfectly matched. Bob was known for riding around the studio lot on a bicycle with a sign that read: "Bob Hope - Available for Parties, Banquets, Weddings, etc." so, Lucy made a similar sign for her own dressing room door. It read: "Lucille Ball. Wife of Desi Arnaz. Stooge for Bob Hope. Sympathetic Friend of Dolores Hope. New Fan of Bing Crosby's." After production wrapped, Bob and Lucy remained close friends and would, eventually, star in a total of four films together, with Bob even making a guest appearance on Ball’s career-defining TV show, I Love Lucy.
9. “MY FAVORITE SPY” (1951) –
A combination broad comedy and spy thriller, My Favorite Spy is, actually, a loose remake of the little-known 1942 movie musical of the same name. The film stars Bob as Peanuts White, a burlesque comic who is, unexpectedly, recruited by the U.S. government to impersonate international superspy Eric Augustine. It turns out that the real Augustine is missing in action and Peanuts just happens to look exactly like him. But, how can Peanuts possibly pass himself off as a suave and sophisticated superspy? Especially, when an old flame of Augustine’s, Lily Dalbray (Hedy Lamarr), is working for the enemy? This film gave Bob the great opportunity to not only play the cowardly and awkward Peanuts, but also, the cold and confident Augustine and he, easily, succeeds at both. Quite bizarrely, the “world premiere” of My Favorite Spy, actually, took place in the living room of ordinary movie fan Anne Kuchinka in Bellaire, Ohio. Ms. Kuchinka was the lucky winner of a letter-writing contest sponsored by Bob’s radio show, in which contestants had to describe why My Favorite Spy's premiere should take place in their home. Before the actual screening, a big parade and radio broadcast featuring various stars was held in Bellaire. The day after the official premiere, a second screening took place at the army hospital at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Corporal Karl K. Diegert from Camp Atterbury had written Bob about adding the second screening for the hospital's wounded soldiers and he readily agreed to make it happen.
10. “ROAD TO BALI” (1952) –
Road to Bali is the 6th entry of the Road series, once again reuniting Bob with co-stars Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. The only Road movie to be filmed in color, Road To Bali stars Bob and Bing as Harold and George, a pair of American song-and-dance men performing their act across Australia. By the time they get to Melbourne, their multiple romantic trysts (and premature marriage proposals) with the local girls have started to catch up with them. They realize they need to disappear fast in order to avoid the vengeance of the girls’ families and since they can’t take any more performance jobs, they agree to take jobs as deep-sea divers for the prince of an exotic island (which is specified as being vaguely located somewhere between Australia and Bali). But, this diving job is much more dangerous than the prince leads either of them to believe. Of course, unbridled silliness ensues as George and Harold, also, meet the prince’s beautiful cousin, Princess Lala (Lamour). Just like the rest of the Road series, Road To Bali is purposely ridiculous and never meant to be taken seriously even for the briefest of moments. A co-production of Hope Enterprises, Bing Crosby Enterprises, and Paramount, the movie features a number of surprise joke cameos, including Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Jane Russell, and even Bing’s brother, Bob Crosby. Hilariously, despite the name of the film being Road To Bali, the characters never, actually, make to Bali at all, but are always simply “on their way there”. Full of in-jokes and fourth-wall breaks, this wacky comedy really pushes reality to its limit so take my advice and just enjoy the ride.
HONORABLE MENTION: “THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS” (1955)
For my honorable mention, I have chosen one of Bob’s few dramatic roles. The Seven Little Foys tells the true story of famous vaudevillian Eddie Foy (Bob), who abandoned his solo career to incorporate his seven children into what became a massively successful family act. The real Eddie Foy’s son, Charley, acts as narrator for the film, giving it an extra dash of legitimacy it would have been severely lacking otherwise. But, without a doubt, the film’s biggest highlight is a memorable cameo by Jimmy Cagney, reprising his Oscar-winning role as George M. Cohan (whom he had played 13 years earlier in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy). Cagney, actually, agreed to appear as Cohan on the condition that he not be paid for the cameo. He wished to appear in the film entirely as a tribute to the real Eddie Foy. (In the 1920s, the successful Foy would provide meals for struggling New York City entertainers and Cagney had been one of the young actors who had benefited from his generosity). Quite simply, The Seven Little Foys is worth watching if only to see the amazing tabletop dance sequence between Bob as Foy and Cagney as Cohan. Though Bob wasn't given the chance to show off his dancing skills very often, he certainly puts them on display here. But, of course, even Bob is no match for the incredible Cagney, who somehow manages to make every step look absurdly effortless.
And if you would like to learn more about the incredible and hilarious Bob Hope, you need to check out Bob Hope: My Life In Jokes, written by Bob with his daughter, Linda (the book is a collection of jokes and comic anecdotes told by Bob over the course of his 100-year lifespan, organized in a unique autobiographical format).
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