Saturday, July 19, 2008

i bought hope for $11.99 (cdn + tax)

... And he's worth every penny.

Oh sure, I like expensive things, but I can
afford cheapy discount items, and thanks to some archaic copyright laws, there is no shortage of value priced DVD collections, largely comprised of films that have fallen into the public domain, to be found in stores. You, yourself, have likely passed by an aisle display and seen covers such as the one below, retailing for under ten dollars.

Now, to a certain extent, you get what you pay for. I have several sets produced by St. Clair Vision (including Classic Film Noir), and the quality of the discs is so poor that most DVD players have trouble reading them. On several occasions I have been half way through a movie when it suddenly digitizes, freezes, and will not restart regardless of how I tamper with the disc and/or the machine.

Also, no matter how much one loves a bargain, the average consumer probably harbors little interest in these old fashioned films. To the consumer's credit, it is often the case that only a few of the titles included in any given set are worth the time it takes to watch them.

Still, for all the rough, it is inevitable that one will stumble upon a few diamonds. Assuming that you can get them to play from beginning to end, pictures like "D.O.A."; "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers"; and "Detour" should provide you with a quantity of B-grade entertainment that exceeds the price of admission. It was with this in mind that I decided to take a chance on the affordably priced "Legends of Hollywood Bob Hope" collection: ten films on five DVDs for $11.99.

This nicely packaged set is not distributed by the dreaded St. Clair Vision people, but by a company called BCI Eclipse that seems to have put an extra few pennies into basic materials in order to ensure that the discs actually function. And while not every film in this compilation is a gem, it does provide a fairly comprehensive overview of Hope's big screen career, and includes a number of, what I consider to be, his best pictures.

Previous to buying this set, I had seen most, if not all, of the Hope/Crosby "Road" movies (two of which-- "Road to Rio" and "Road to Bali"-- are part of the package) and found them to be quite charming overall. I frequently lament the fact that vaudevillian style entertainment is no longer common within popular cinema and television. The "Road" pictures revel in the spirit of a sometimes hokey brand of comedy, and, in particular, the duo's musical numbers highlight the irreverence that makes this erstwhile genre so enjoyable. To be honest, though, in spite of the chemistry between Bob and Bing, I always found Hope to be more compelling to watch than his partner, Crosby.

So it was a joy to finally delve into some of Bob Hope's solo projects: "My Favorite Brunette"; "The Great Lover"; and "Paris Holiday". Though the names of his characters change, Hope's persona remains much the same throughout all of these pictures, and the plots of the films are always superfluous to the punchy one-liners. But the formula works: put Bob in an outrageous situation and watch him be a cad, a coward, an anxious lover, a hero, a victim, a ladies man, and a commentator, all in a single scene.

Other movies included in this package (like "Son of Paleface" and "The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell) are considerably less delightful. These later works employ many of the same comedy devices, but the writing is far weaker and, at times, Hope appears to be justifiably disinterested in the material. Even his trademark direct address to the camera/audience cannot excuse the lameness of the events taking place on screen-- and nothing can excuse the broad racial stereotypes that are meant to serve as humor in these films.

In the category of good-but-not-great, "The Seven Little Foys," inspired by the true story of a family of vaudeville performers, offers a rare glimpse of Hope in a quazi-dramatic role, and for the purposes of the film, he competently fits the bill. There are certainly better movies from the era (circa 1955), but I think contemporary audiences would be surprised at how engaging and emotionally moving this story really is.

I have yet to watch the remaining two films in the compilation, "The Lemon Drop Kid" and the much maligned "How to Commit Marriage." By all accounts, it looks like I'm in for one decent picture and one that's a total stinker. For the money, though, I can't complain.

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