Hi there all you mugs, and happy summer solstice! It’s Burl here to review a film noir comedy, a spoof of the genre that came out as noir was still in its fairly early days: yes, it’s a Bob Hope picture called My Favorite Brunette!
Of course we know Hope from Son of Paleface, and here he plays baby photographer Ronnie Jackson, a chatty coward who harbors dreams of becoming a real private eye! He tells his tale in flashback from death row, and it goes as follows: his office is connected to that of a genuine private dick, who is played in surprise cameo fashion by a just-leaving-town Alan Ladd, the wee actor who may or may not have been in Island of Lost Souls, ha ha! When the beautiful Dorothy Lamour, well known from Creepshow 2, walks into the detective’s office, Ronnie Jackson takes advantage of Ladd’s absence to step into the role of detective himself! (Lamour’s character is called Carlotta, which immediately puts the viewer in mind of Vertigo!)
Immediately Ronnie becomes embroiled in a kidnapping case, and soon finds himself facing down a gallery of classic nogoodniks! These include Peter Lorre (from Muscle Beach Party), Lon Chaney Jr. (from House of Frankenstein), John Hoyt (from Desperately Seeking Susan) and Ann Doran (from Them!)! Hope dispenses great zingers all the while, and there are comic set pieces as when Lorre moves an important piece of pseudo-evidence all around the room, in hopes that the incompetent, unobservant Ronnie will find it and thereby be mislead! Ronnie and Carlotta take a detour to a bughouse, where Ronnie must act loco! Ha ha, he doles out plenty of funny business here! And others dole it out on him, as when a cop threatens to punch Ronnie in the nose so hard, it’ll look like other people’s noses!
Then we come to the events which lead to death row! A professor is murdered, and the evidence points to Ronnie! Of course, the knife-waving Lorre is the real killer, and he’s part of a conspiracy that operates much the way James Mason and the boys did in North By Northwest! They take over a big house whose owners are away and make it their lair, then when Ronnie escapes their clutches and comes back with the police, they’ve changed everything around to make it look as though Ronnie’s a crazy man! Ha ha, Hitch went to see this one, that’s for sure, or Ernest Lehman did at least!
It’s a funny picture, but the great thing is, it’s also a genuine noir! It was photographed in reasonably moody chiaroscuro by Lionel Lindon, who had already shot both Road to Utopia and The Blue Dahlia, so he was well qualified for the gig! Peter Lorre does well by the comedy, but works hard to convey a genuine menace, and he succeeds! Hope spends the whole picture calling him names, like “gremlin” and, most often, “cupcake,” and it just makes Lorre more and more angry!
Unfortunately there’s not much of a payoff - we never even learn if the bad guys (whose plot I confess I never really understood) were caught or not! But that’s okay, because at the end we get another comedy cameo, this one from Der Bingle himself, who plays the executioner disappointed that he doesn’t get to pull the switch on Hope! Ha ha!
In the end, My Favorite Brunette is a fine evening’s entertainment, the more so if you’ve got an appreciation for Bob Hope’s tiger growl! I give it three McGuffin maps!