Showing posts with label bob hope. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bob hope. Show all posts

May 24, 2011

Upcoming Spy DVDs From MGM's Limited Edition Collection
Including Works From Broccoli and Saltzman, Diana Rigg, Edward Woodward, Richard Johnson and More!

The next monthly wave of titles from MGM's MOD program, the Limited Edition Collection, includes some real spy gems!  Most exciting is the spy movie that Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman collaborated on between Dr. No and From Russia With Love: 1963's Call Me Bwana, starring Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg. Long unavailable on home video and never before released in widescreen (though it's run that way on TCM), this title is probably best known to Bond fans for the in-joke in Sean Connery's second 007 outing. Bond's ally Kerim Bey uses 007's Q-issued sniper rifle to shoot the Bulgarian KGB stooge Krilencu as he attempts to escape his safe house through a secret exit in the mouth of Anita Ekberg on a poster for Call Me Bwana painted on the side of his building. (In Ian Fleming's novel, it was Marilyn Monroe.)  But Bwana is notable for more than that; it's a spy movie in its own right.  When an unmanned American space capsule crash-lands in the African veldt, the CIA sends self-professed African expert Bob Hope (The Road to Hong Kong) to retrieve it.  The other side sends beautiful secret agent Anita Ekberg (The Cobra) and scientist Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), and soon all the interested parties find themselves on safari together.  In typical Bob Hope fashion, hilarity ensues.  Much of the Bond team established on Dr. No remains in place here, including editor Peter Hunt, production designer Syd Cain, composer Monty Norman, D.P. Ted Moore, title designer Maurice Binder and scribe Johanna Harwood.

The 1969 Eurospy movie The File of the Golden Goose doesn't quite live up to the promise of its all-star cast (which includes Edward Woodward, Charles Grey, Yul Brynner, Walter Gotell, Ivor Dean, John Barrie and Adrienne Corri), but it's still a welcome release on DVD. American Secret Service agent Brynner is sent to England where he teams up with Scotland Yard detective Woodward to go undercover to bust a brutal counterfeit gang known as the Golden Goose. All the double-crossing expected of the spy genre ensues, but the stodgy movie feels more like a generic Forties or Fifties noir (thanks in part to some unnecessary narration), belying its origins as a remake of 1947's T-Men. Director Sam Wanamaker made a much better Eurospy movie the following year, The Executioner, which has already been issued on MOD from Columbia.

Don Sharp's 1975 political thriller Hennessy is a real surprise! Based on a story conceived by Deadlier Than the Male star Richard Johnson, its contriversial subject matter ensured an extremely limited release in Seventies Britain, and it's never been very widely available since.  Fans have long demanded it on DVD, but probably never thought it would actually happen. Rod Steiger plays Hennessy, a peaceful Irishman driven to extremism after his wife and child are killed during violence in Belfast. As retribution he plots to assassinate the Queen of England by bombing the British Parliament when the Royal Family is in attendance. Johnson plays the Special Branch operative out to stop him, and Eric Porter plays an IRA thug out to stop him as well, out of fear of British reprisals in Ireland for such a horrific act. Trevor Howard, Lee Remick, Patrick Stewart and Queen Elizabeth II herself (via stock footage) co-star.

Diana Rigg fans will be pleased to note that this wave of titles also includes Peter Hall's 1968 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream starring Rigg (between The Avengers and Bond) as Helena. Judi Dench, decades prior to playing M, also appears, as Titania.  Impossibly young versions of Ian Holm (Game Set Match), Helen Mirren (RED), Michael Jayston (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Barbara Jefford (who lent her voice to Daniella Bianchi's Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love) round out the dream cast.

Though there are no pre-order links up yet, all of these titles will be available soon from online outlets like Amazon and Screen Archives Entertainment.

Feb 3, 2008

DVD Review: The Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection

Covering a fairly long span of the legendary comedian’s career, this recently issued Bob Hope box set offers several titles of interest to spy fans. In addition to classic comedies like The Princess and the Pirate, Alias Jesse James and I’ll Take Sweden, it includes Hope’s never-before-available-on-DVD 1942 spy spoof They Got Me Covered (which sends up Hitchcock thrillers of the time like Foreign Correspondent and Saboteur, among other things) and his final collaboration with Bing Crosby, The Road To Hong Kong (1962). Coming almost a decade after the previous Road instalment, that movie feels kind of weird, with one foot firmly in the 1960s (complete with Peter Sellers cameo and spy spoofery galore, including lots of surprising Bond connections) and the other steadfastly attached to the 1940s! Full reviews of each of those films follow below; unfortunately there are no extras to speak of in this set, not even trailers.

Also worth a look for espionage afficionados (and also making its DVD debut) is Boy, Did I Get A Wrong Number, Hope’s 1966 team-up with that luscious face of Sixties spydom, Elke Sommer. Ms. Sommer gets another chance to demonstrate her deft comic timing (as seen previously in A Shot In the Dark), as well as display her famous figure (as showcased to great advantage a year later in Deadlier Than the Male) as a European actress known best in Hollywood for her bubble bath scenes who would rather display her deft comedic timing than reveal her famous figure! Coincidence and crossed lines (courtesy of a drunk operator) insert her into the lives of Hope and his family after she storms off the set of her latest bubble bath movie, and comedy ensues, largely of the farcical door-slamming "I’m hiding a beautiful Hollywood actress in my basement but it’s not what it looks like!" variety.

It’s all pretty sexist, and despite her character’s defiance of such labels, Sommer is so much treated as "just a body" (includ-ing four bub-ble bath scenes in the course of the film!) that for a good chunk of the movie she’s exactly that, unconscious (having taken sleeping pills) and subjected to all sorts of manhandling (by Hope and the supremely annoying Phyllis Diller as his hopeless housekeeper) and physical gags. But the truth is, she’s great at the physical stuff, whether playing conscious or not, and seems to revel in it. It’s a meaty role for her, and well worth checking out for her fans, even if one has to fast-forward the bits with Diller dancing or racing her motorcycle. The movie plays very dated today (moreso than those reviewed below), but it’s funny and Elke Sommer is fantastic, as usual. There’s a moment early on when Hope, thinking he’s speaking to his wife on the phone, but really connected to Sommer, taps into the zeitgeist of the time by saying, "I’m Secret Agent 007 3/8 who tracked you down, so get your lovely little chassis down here fast or I’ll paint you gold!" Which serves as a nice segue into the real spy movies in the set...

Review: They Got Me Covered (1943)
Review: The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

Feb 2, 2008

DVD Review: They Got Me Covered (1943)

They Got Me Covered is an early entry in the spy parody genre, sending up such then-contemporary classics of international intrigue as Foreign Correspond-ent, Saboteur and Casablanca. Borrowing the basic premise of the former, Hope plays Robert Kittredge, the worst foreign correspondent in the press. Stationed in wartime Moscow, he fails to predict (or even cover) the Nazis’ attack on Russia or Russia’s subsequent entry into the war. Needless to say, this raises the blood pressure of his editor back home, an irritable newspaperman cut from the same cloth as Spider-man’s J. Jonah Jameson. Kittredge is recalled to Washington, where he has one last shot at saving his career when an informant drops the story of a lifetime in his lap, about a Nazi spy ring operating in the capital.

The inform-ant, naturally, ends up dead, and the story ends up in the hands of the Nazis, scrawled in an indeciph-erable short-hand. With the aid of his much more competent Girl Friday, Chris (Dorothy Lamour), Kittredge doggedly attempts to get it back. In the mean time, the Gestapo agents do their best to discredit him by drugging him (giving Hope a welcome opportunity to really ham it up as he gets loopy off a doped cigarette) and arranging a fake marriage to floozy showgirl Gloria the Glow Girl. The scandal catches on, so much so that when a cop mistakenly believes Kittredge is preparing to jump off a bridge and starts to talk him out of it, he changes his mind as soon as he finds out who it is. "Oh, you go ahead."

Unfortunately for Gloria, she does have some principals, and they cost her her life. "There’s a lot of freedom in this country," she says proudly, invoking the same wartime Hollywood sense of patriotism as Saboteur, "and I want to go on enjoying it." When she discovers who’s hired her to pose as Kittredge’s new bride, she declares that she "won’t work for swat-stickers," so the Nazi agents kill her, setting up Kittredge to take the fall. Now we’ve got a classic Hitchcock wrong man scenario, only played for laughs. Bob is a boob in the middle of a real, semi-serious spy plot. The whole thing isn’t zany, mainly just him. As with Inspector Clouseau, those around him tend to play it relatively straight (until the end).

Despite the troublesome contemporary themes (imagine making a comedy today about an Al Qaeda cell operating in the US!) and the deadly stakes (these Nazis aren’t afraid to kill), there are also some incongruous moments of absurdity. For example, when Kittredge comments, "You can’t trust that Hitler. He’d betray his best friend," the man across from him lowers a newspaper, revealing himself to be Mussolini! "Tell me about it," he laments. Likewise, the finale plays out with all the zaniness of a comic Sixties extravaganza like Casino Royale
Chris enlists her five female roommates as blood-hounds, putting them on the scent of a rare perfume. Soon she and Kittredge have tracked the Nazis down to their base of operations inside a luxury spa. Hope gets up to his usual antics (and they pay off well), like pretending to be a mannequin on a bike while the baddies discuss awful schemes (poisoning the water supply, blowing up buildings) in the same room. Unfortunately for him, they then decide to take target practice on the mannequins, and he’s soon pedaling... To escape, Kittredge dresses up like a woman and hides his face under a blow dryer, then under a mudpack, to avoid detection. (What else would you do in a spa?) Sadly, he can’t help but give himself away by wolf-whistling at "another" woman! (Apparently men really couldn’t control themselves at all back then.) He also manages to get himself trapped in a sauna box, like Count Lippe in Thunderball, and assaulted by a burly masseuse.

When Lamour finds herself in the middle of the chaos at the spa, she shouts, "This place is full of spies," recalling Robert Cummings’ similar declaration in Saboteur. They’ve Got Me Covered has a lot of similarities to that picture (including flag-waving, side trips to American tourist destinations–in this case, Niagra Falls–and frequent reminders of our liberties), but by openly parodying them plays more dangerously. Hitchcock’s movie was safe, its patriotism unrestrained. That’s called for in a time of war, but so is that other American liberty, the freedom to question your government. Even in a just war, like WWII, it's easy to get caught up in the movement and unfalteringly obey leaders. The Hope movie directly parodies the patriotism of Saboteur while at the same time embracing it–a neat trick indeed. In wartime, that makes it a slightly dangerous film, and therefore a little surprising, especially considering the star. It’s full of the anarchic spirit of the Marx Brothers (does that make it a Marxist spirit?), and as harmless as the hijinks seem today, it was a bold and necessary move to make light of the ultra-serious Hollywood war effort in 1943. Ultimately, They’ve Got Me Covered is just as patriotic as Saboteur, but in a much more liberal way.

Feb 1, 2008

DVD Review: The Road To Hong Kong (1962)

The Road To Hong Kong, recently reissued in MGM’s Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection, was the final Hope and Crosby "Road" movie, trailing its predecessor by nearly a decade. It’s a strange film, because it straddles two film genres that I tend to think of as being of entirely different eras: "Road" pictures and Sixties spy spoofs. Obviously it comes very late in the game for the former, but also finds itself (strangely) on the cutting edge of the latter. Whereas the vast majority of spy parodies rode on Bond’s coattails, The Road To Hong Kong slipped in before the pack (and even just before Dr. No), actually anticipating the genre it was sending up! And it really does a surprisingly good job, right down to a pre-title bit (a vaudeville routine, representing that one foot squarely in the past) and even a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder. With its mixture of Oriental imagery and rockets, it oddly prefigures his work on You Only Live Twice five years later.

Speaking of You Only Live Twice, The Road To Hong Kong begins pretty much the same way: with a group of American technicians (in Hong Kong) monitoring space transmissions and detecting the presence of a spacecraft neither the Americans nor the Russians can account for. I sincerely doubt that Roald Dahl had this movie in mind when penning the screenplay for the 1967 Bond movie, but the number of plot similarities is astonishing, from the villain declaring his organization "a third world power" down to the heroes donning space suits as a means of disguise to escape by rocket from the villain’s underground headquarters. It’s easy to watch The Road To Hong Kong as a parody of You Only Live Twice–until you remember when it was made!

Bob Hope and Bing Crosby play their usual Road sorts: traveling hucksters trying to con their way through India with an act about a rocket harness that doesn’t really work. Crosby talks Hope into flying the contraption, a predictable disaster that results in Hope losing his memory.

Just when you’re settled in for the same old (ever enjoyable) Road movie routine (lulled by the black and white photography into thinking it’s nineteen-forty-something), Sixties icon Peter Sellers turns up doing his hilarious Indian accent (maybe it’s not P.C. to admit it, but every time I hear Sellers use that voice, I crack up) as the Hindu physician who first assesses Hope’s condition. Unsurprisingly, Sellers’ doctor is far from competent, so the duo end up seeking the help of a mystical herb, said to restore memory, found only in a remote Tibetan lamastery.

At the airport, Crosby tries to coach the hopeless Hope (who’s forgotten everything, even the word "bosom") on how to pick up women. Thanks to Hope’s grabbing the wrong bag (a signal), his charmless, innuendo-laden routine actually nets a catch that turns his partner’s head: Joan Collins. Collins plays an agent of the nefarious Third Echelon (that power I mentioned that rivals the US and the Soviet Union), and, believing Hope to be such as well, mistakenly saddles him with stolen space secrets.

The lama-stery does, in fact, yield a miracle cure (as well as an extremely brief David Niven cameo and Bing Crosby in a Lotus position singing "Sip a little Oolong tea" in a hilarious baritone), not only restoring Hope’s memory, but also making it temporarily photographic. Therefore, once the rocket secrets have been accidentally destroyed, he still retains them in his generally useless noggin. (Just like Chuck!) Now, of course, he’s valuable to the Third Echelon.

After some stock footage of Hong Kong, our hapless duo end up on a couch that plunges through a secret passage and slides them into an underground lair. (Seri-ously! Maybe Dahl did have this movie in mind after all when penning You Only Live Twice!) The lair in question belongs to Robert Morley (in a Dr. No-ish getup), leader of the Third Echelon, and is eerily similar to that of the good doctor’s, complete with magnifying porthole windows into an ocean teeming with sharks. Morley’s Number 2 is played by spy regular Walter Gotell (the future General Golgol), two years before his role as the commandant of SPECTRE Island in From Russia With Love. Morley relishes a choice monologue ("I’ll deal with humanity as I please and I’ll do with humanity as I choose and I’ll do it from the moon with my radial lunar bombs!") before vowing to "rebuild the world according to my own image after my own specifications!" In a wild parody of comic book villainy, he unwittingly becomes the very blueprint for the breed of spy villains to come.

The heroes’ space-suited escape plays hilariously, because the suits happen to be made for chimps (thus contorting Bing and Bob into apelike crouches). After some side-splitting business wherein Hope has his outfit stuffed with live fish (oh, there’s a perfectly good reason) and a cameo by Road queen Dorothy Lamour, the pair are launched into space, a location it would take 007 eleven movies to reach!

The finale on the moon (The Road to the Moon probably would have been a better title for this one) would be forgettable were it not for the incongruous appearance of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, another pair I wouldn’t expect to pop up in a Road movie. Yes, the Chairman of the Board turns up in a wacky space suit. I forget why, exactly, but that’s not the point, is it? Ultimately, with this cameo the movie goes out with a final reminder that the whole affair is weirdly unstuck in time. It’s a relic of a bygone era that somehow manages to foreshadow the Swinging Sixties and the entire Bond canon at once. (Did I mention Morley escapes in a mini-sub, ala Blofeld in Diamonds Are Forever? There are really too many 007 coincidences to list them all.) It’s not a great Road movie, and it’s not a great spy movie, but it contains plenty of inspired bits (the fish and the oolong tea stand out) and fans of both genres are sure to find something to like.