"When I came to I was playing post office with the floor. I had a lump on my head the size of my head. Inside, Toscanini was conducting The Anvil Chorus with real blacksmiths."
- Ronnie Jackson
Many great films-noir were released in 1947: Nightmare Alley, Crossfire, Born to Kill, Kiss of Death, Out of the Past, The Lady from Shanghai, Railroaded, and Dark Passage. If ever a film style were ripe for spoofing, that time was 1947.
Ronnie Jackson, a San Francisco baby photographer played by Bob Hope, narrates to the press the story of his life up to his imminent execution. Sob sister Ann Doran wants the "woman's angle" and the woman, in this case, has plenty of angles. (I couldn't help myself!)
Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour
"Nutty as a fruitcake, and with all that beautiful frosting."
- Ronnie Jackson
Dorothy Lamour, Bob's co-star in 11 movies, plus 3 cameos, plays Carlotta Montay, a mysterious woman who consults detective Sam McCloud about her kidnapped husband or uncle, who may or may not really be kidnapped. Only, as convoluted as is Carlotta's story, so is that of the detective.
Alan Ladd, Bob Hope
Sam McCloud, Private Eye has the office across from Ronnie Jackson, Baby Photographer and the proximity has filled Ronnie's head with the idea that he too can be a detective. After all, he has a trench coat and has invented a key-hole shaped lens which should and does come in handy. When McCloud played by Alan Ladd in a smart cameo leaves town for a few days, he gives Ronnie the key to his office to look after things. Enter Carlotta Montay and all "Hope" is lost. (I couldn't help myself.)
Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Charles Dingle
The next stop is one of those Spanish style mansions on the California coast where Ronnie is slow to take up Carlotta's cues to watch what he says around her "keepers." Charles Dingle (The Little Foxes) is Major Montague with a dripping southern accent and a sinister air. He runs the show. Peter Lorre (The Maltese Falcon) is Kismet, a sarcastic henchman disguised as a gardener. Kismet is an expert with knives and resents Ronnie giving him the nickname of "Cuddles." He resents it very much!
Bob Hope, Peter Lorre
"Easy, Cuddles. One move and you're a dead midget."
- Ronnie Jackson
John Hoyt (Brute Force) plays the taciturn Dr. Lundau. Every gang needs a taciturn doctor especially when you have replaced the femme fatale's uncle with a phony in a wheelchair. Both the genuine and phony uncles are played by Frank Puglia (Colorado Territory). Lon Chaney Jr. (Of Mice and Men) spoofs poor Lenny as Willy, the dumb muscle in the gang. Ronnie is Willy's pal. Someday Ronnie is going to buy Willy a rabbit. Jack La Rue (No Orchids for Miss Blanding) is the smart muscle in the gang.
The gang has spirited Carlotta and her uncle the Baron to a sanitarium with the bucolic name of Seacliffe Lodge. Ronnie is led there by the gang and before he can find Carlotta he finds Charles Arnt as an inmate playing a round of golf with an invisible golf ball. Bob Hope contributed this comic scene to the picture.
"The MacGuffin is the thing that the spies are after but the audience doesn't care."
- Alfred Hitchcock
The MacGuffin in My Favorite Brunette is a map to a source of uranium that the bad guys want to keep from the State Department. Enter Reginald Denny (Skinner's Dress Suit) as an engineer hoping to collaborate with the real Baron Montay and present the information to the government. The bothersome engineer presents Kismet/Cuddles with the long-sought-for opportunity to use his knife and frame the hapless Ronnie Jackson for the murder!
Lon Chaney Jr., Bob Hope
Carlotta and Ronnie trail the gang to Washington where more gags abound in their effort to lay the murder where it belongs but as we recall from the opening, Carlotta seems to have left Ronnie hanging. (I couldn't help myself!)
All's well that ends well when Carlotta and one of Ronnie's baby photography clients, Mrs. Fong played by Jean Wong, come through with vital clues that free Ronnie. This turn of events is most annoying to the executioner "Harry." Cue Bing Crosby's cameo appearance!
On radio and television, Bob Hope was apt to make jokes about his writers, but he certainly knew a good thing when he had it. The writers of My Favorite Brunette, Jack Rose and Edmund Beloin got their start on the radio before moving to screenplays. Rose had three Oscar nominations for The Seven Little Foys, 1955, Houseboat, 1958, and A Touch of Class, 1973. Edmund Beloin had a Writers Guild of America nomination for G.I. Blues, 1960, and wrote and produced classic TV including My Three Sons and Family Affair. Rose and Beloin combined on 13 of Bob Hope's popular movies of the 1940s and 1950s.
Elliott Nugent, the actor turned stage and film producer/director directed My Favorite Brunette, the last of 5 movie collaborations between Nugent and Hope beginning in 1938 with Give Me a Sailor through Never Say Die, The Cat and the Canary, and Nothing But the Truth.
Giving My Favorite Brunette the film noir aura was cinematographer Lionel Linden (I Want to Live!, Quicksand, The Manchurian Candidate). Linden filmed nine of Hope's comedies including Casanova's Big Night and Alias Jesse James.
Edith Head, the femme fatale's best friend, with Dorothy Lamour
Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope are always a wonderful team and particularly so in My Favorite Brunette. Bob's cowardly-custard characterization adapts to many situations but a film noir where our lead is continually off-balance is comedy gold.
Dorothy Lamour was born to be a femme fatale which she often played in the "Road" pictures. However, Johnny Apollo, 1940 and Manhandled, 1949 were her only chances at an actual noir.
"You see, I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage, and a gun...and I had the gun."
- Ronnie Jackson
My Favorite Brunette was one of Paramount's top-grossing pictures of 1947 and deservedly so. The noir crowd is sure to enjoy its many allusions to the works of Raymond Chandler, particularly Murder, My Sweet, 1944. Hope's narration throughout provides many giggles and guffaws.