Director: Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models, The Girl Can’t Help It)
Writers: Frank Tashlin, Robert L. Welch, Joseph Quillan
Stars: Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Roy Rogers, Trigger
The Story: Hope is a Harvard-educated boob who goes back out west to claim his father’s missing fortune. While there, he becomes a pawn in the battle between Rogers’s singing gunslinger and Russell’s buxom bandit.
How it Came to be Underrated: Bob Hope allowed himself to be defined for two generations as merely “that guy who sure loved the Vietnam war.” Whether or not you think that puts him on the wrong side of history, it certainly wasn’t at all funny. This is a shame because before that he was one of the smartest, funniest, and most consistently daring screen comics.
Why It’s Great:
- My first clue that I’d been foolish to avoid Hope was when I heard that his movies were Woody Allen’s favorite American comedies. Sure enough, Woody’s persona in his funniest movies owes a lot to Hope: a horny, clever, wisecracking, self-deprecating goof who seems to somehow know he’s in a movie and always makes sure that those folks over there behind the fourth wall are having a great time.
- This is a pseudo-sequel to The Paleface, also with Hope and Russell, which was funny but nowhere near this good. Tashlin was one of the writers of that one as well but didn’t direct. Seeing how much better that one could have been finally convinced him to get back behind the camera, bringing the same anarchy to the big screen that he had brought to his Bugs Bunny cartoons. This paid off spectacularly—Nobody but Tashlin himself could capture his own madcap mind. (Like, for instance, when Hope gets some advice from his father down in Hell…)
- After Howard Hughes gave her a big star build-up for The Outlaw, then failed to release it, Russell got her belated introduction to audiences with the first Paleface, which proved her comedic talents were just an ample as her other charms. She was so good that they had to bring her back for this one even though it meant that Hope’s character was falling for a gal who looked a lot like his mom.
- Roy Rogers is another once-ubiquitous star who is too-little-seen today. The problem is that he showed the same enormous appeal in several dozen versions of the same movie, none of which stood out very much from the others, so modern DVD renters have no idea where to start. This movie, one of the few where he didn’t get top billing, is a great introduction that shows why he was so perpetually popular. Like Hope, he’s a lot more modern in his humor that you might think. He’s certainly not shy about implying that he’s amorously inclined toward Trigger.
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Hope does the same thing for film noir in My Favorite Brunette that he does for westerns here. Russell is also great in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
How Available Is It?: It just disappeared off of Netflix entirely! Boo!
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