Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst

Film: The Paleface
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

When I was a kid, Bob Hope used to go to war zones and entertain the troops. I realize he did that before I was a kid, but that’s how I remember Bob Hope. It wasn’t too long before I started to get the impression that the riotous laughter of the troops didn’t happen because Bob Hope was funny. He wasn’t funny. Even as I kid I recognized that his act was pretty corny. I got the distinct impression that the troops laughed at the jokes more or less to make Bob feel good about flying all that way. They were, essentially, patting him on the head.

Which brings us to The Paleface. This “Western” “comedy” has four stars—Bob Hope, Jane Russell, and Jane Russell’s tits. But really, I should give you a little more to go on than that.

Calamity Jane (Russell) is in prison, but is broken out by an unnamed governor of an unnamed state. It seems that someone has been selling arms to the natives, and that needs to be stopped. So they offer Jane a full pardon if she can find out who’s doing what. They’ve decided to send a woman because the last agent was picked up immediately and found dead. The plan is for her to meet up with another agent, pose as a married couple, and head west in a wagon train.

So Jane heads out and discovers her first contact dead with only a cryptic note leading to the next link in the chain. With nothing like a plan, she encounters “Painless” Peter Potter (Hope), a sort of dentist without much experience who is being run out of town. She immediately agrees to marry him, figuring she can use him as a sap while she figures out how to get her pardon. Of course, once in Indian country, they meet up with some angry natives. Painless Potter panics and fires off a gun randomly while Jane, being the crack shot that she is, fights off the attack.

Of course, since she needs to protect her identity, he gets all the credit and he immediately becomes a hero. And so we have these two plots that go back and forth. She needs to figure out who the gun runners are (and discovers that there’s also dynamite involved), and he needs to discover that he’s actually not that brave, but that he might be when Jane is discovered to be in trouble.

Okay, so it’s a bit of a wacky plot that takes a lot of liberties with at least one historical character, and I don’t have any problem with that. Where I do have a problem is in the fact that this film simply isn’t funny. Allegedly, Bob Hope could tell a joke, but with a couple of spare exceptions, you wouldn’t know it from this film. Most of his schtick seems to be looking at Jane Russell’s chest and barking like a dog.

There’s plenty of humor that manages to be funny years after it was made. Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd are still funny. The Marx Brothers are still funny. Bob Hope, not so much. I understand that times have changed and the way we look at things has changed, but this film is little more than sexism (in both directions) and racism. And it’s hard to recommend anything that seems to get all of its comedic oomph from things that feel so backward.

Yeah, times have changed. They’ve changed enough that we should consider forgetting about movies like this one. This can’t be the best thing in Bob Hope’s career. We couldn’t get Road to Morocco?

Why to watch The Paleface: Because Bob Hope was an American institution.
Why not to watch: Because there has to be a better Bob Hope movie somewhere in the world.


  1. It's been forever since I saw The Paleface, but I remember liking it a lot. Maybe it helps if you're eleven and have only ever seen old movies? But seriously, thinking back I can see the humor not quite working these days, but I'd have to rewatch and see. In any case, it's worth watching for Jane Russell.

    I WILL say that the sequel Son of Paleface is generally regarded as being much better than The Paleface (I liked it better, too, but as I said, it's been years since I watched these), so if you really are on the search for a better Bob Hope movie, you should try that one.

  2. I'm thinking I might go with Road to Morocco, but Son of Paleface is actually a film I can find at my local library, so there's always a chance.

    This one just seemed so...backward.

  3. The Road films are fun, and Road to Morocco is easily the best of them, but they're all pretty slight and forgettable. I think Son of Paleface is better than any of them, but your mileage may vary. It's worth watching Road to Morocco just to see Crosby and Hope do their thing together. Plus, it has a very young Anthony Quinn.

  4. I'm more prone to argue the case for the Road films for the same reason I argue Harry Potter in terms of the overall list--it's a lot more culturally relevant.

  5. Turns out we quite agree on this one. I have no history with Bob Hope, but I understand your sentiment concerning Bob Hope. If The Paleface is representative for the rest of his career I actually feel sorry for him.

    1. Try one of the Road movies. They're silly and fun and pretty harmless.

  6. My Favorite Brunette is hilarious. Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney Jr. Lorre's character studying for his U.S. citizenship test is hilarious.

    I also like Here Come the Girls for being so strange. Funny, yes. But also very strange.

    1. My favorite Hope on screen so far has been the Road movies with Bing Crosby. There's a lot of fun packed into those short scripts.