Monday, October 26, 2015

My Favorite Brunette (1947)

My Favorite Brunette is a spoof of the hard-boiled private eye movie and it’s a spoof that actually works. Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour and Peter Lorre all contribute to the success of this thoroughly enjoyable picture.

Ronnie Jackson (Bob Hope) is a baby photographer awaiting execution in San Quentin. He tells his story in flashback with voiceover narration in approved private eye movie style.

Ronnie Jackson didn’t want to be a baby photographer. He wanted to be a hard-boiled private eye. His office is on the same floor as that of private eye Sam McCloud and Jackson is constantly trying to persuade McCloud to take him on as his partner. He tells McCloud that he could be a tough guy PI just like Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell. Or even Alan Ladd. The joke here being that Sam McCloud is played by Alan Ladd!

The closest Ronnie gets to his dream is answering Sam’s phone for him while he’s out of town working on a case. When a client turns up and assumes that Ronnie is Sam McCloud he sees his chance. He lets her think he really is the private eye and he takes on the case. The fact that Carlotta Montay (Dorothy Lamour) seems just like the kind of dame who would be in need of a private eye in a movie has quite a lot to do with Ronnie’s decision. 

Carlotta’s husband has disappeared. Or it may be her uncle. Her story keeps changing. Her story changes so much that Ronnie is inclined to believe that she’s crazy, and that’s what everyone seems to be trying to persuade him really is the case. But what if she’s not crazy? What if her story about a secret map, and a kidnapped uncle (or husband) and a nefarious plot to gain control of valuable mineral rights is true?

It’s all very exciting, just like in the movies. Except that when the sinister Kismet (Peter Lorre) keeps trying to kill him Ronnie’s excitement turns to abject fear. Being a tough guy isn’t so much fun when you’re likely to get hurt! But Ronnie is already in too deep, plus he’s fallen for Carlotta so he’s persuaded to press on with the case, even when both he and Carlotta find themselves locked up in a mental hospital.

The reason this movie works so well is that the screenwriters (Edmund Beloin and Jack Rose) and the director (Elliott Nugent) really do understand the private eye genre. The actors understand the genre as well. Even Bob Hope understands how to deliver hard-boiled dialogue. It’s a movie that respects the genre it is spoofing and that’s why the spoof works. 

Plus the gags really are funny.

Hope is a delight as the hapless Ronnie Jackson, desperately trying to pretend to be the tough guy that he isn’t. Dorothy Lamour has great fun vamping it up as Carlotta. Peter Lorre of course was equally adept at both comedic and sinister villainous henchmen roles and in this movie he gets to do both, with his usual effortless style. Lon Chaney Jr adds to the fun as the simple-minded sanitarium orderly Willie (clearly spoofing his own most famous role in Of Mice and Men). 

There are plenty of movie in-jokes and you won’t be surprised when Bing Crosby turns up in a brief but amusing cameo.

It all works because it has an actual plot (and a fairly serviceable one) and the plot is taken quite seriously. This makes Bob Hope’s performance all the funnier. This is not just a series of gags strung together. The humour comes from the fact that Ronnie Jackson is put in exactly the kinds of situations that the hero of a private eye movie would find himself in.

My Favorite Brunette has had numerous DVD releases. The Region 4 release from Passport offers a passably acceptable transfer but there are undoubtedly better versions available.

My Favorite Brunette is a delight from start to finish. Highly recommended.

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