MGM // 1966 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 8th, 2011
Hope was never lovelier...Ekberg was never funnier!
I was somewhat pleased to read that Bob Hope was notorious in Hollywood for cheating on his wives. It's not that I condone or appreciate adultery; I'm just glad to hear that Hope had at least one chink in his armor. Otherwise, he'd be simply too perfect -- wholesome humor, countless USO shows, all the honors, living to 100 -- and there's something suspicious about a man who's too perfect. Part of the reason Hope seems so perfect is his well-crafted public image, wholesome to the extreme, and it's that totally wholesome image that makes a film like Call Me Bwana work at all. Although not as famous as his collaborations with Bing Crosby, Call Me Bwana should please Hope fans.
The U.S. government is in dire straits: a vital space probe has been lost in the jungles of Africa, and the Russkies can't be allowed to get their hands on it. To recover the probe, NASA enlists the aid of a renowned African expert (Bob Hope) to lead them through the jungle safely. The only flaw in their plan is that their African expert is a fraud; he published his uncle's African journals as his own and really doesn't know anything about the wilds of Africa.
Very few actors could pull off this movie the way Bob Hope does. His character is a charlatan of the first order, compounding a lie about his exploits by digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble with his cohorts. On the page Hope's character could read easily as a bumbling fool or a callous jerk. Other than perhaps Cary Grant, I can't think of another Hollywood actor would could make the character as charming as Hope does.
Sadly, Bob Hope is about the only reason to watch this film (unless, of course, you have a crush on the lovely Anita Ekberg and/or Edie Adams). The film got made because the crew who shot Dr. No were contractually obligated to make another feature and Call Me Bwana was the result. The film was originally going to be shot on location in the jungle, but political strife kept the shoot from leaving Britain (aside from a bit of location footage shot by the second unit). The script reeks of last-minute revisions lacking a clear direction. For instance, both Ekberg and Adams play "secret agents," but the presence of two female leads isn't used effectively to create tension. Instead, the script feels like a group of writers sat in a room and said "Wouldn't it be funny of Bob Hope did this?" and instead of producing a story just strung those scenes together. Some of them work (like the cameo by golfer Arnold Palmer), but some of them fall a bit flat (like Hope up to his neck in sand shouting for his ambassador).
Call Me Bwana is making its DVD debut thanks to MGM's Limited Edition Collection, which is a series of Manufactured On Demand (MOD) discs. They claim that the transfer is sourced "from the best materials available," but this flick has obviously not received lavish restoration treatment. The color transfer looks a bit flat, with only so-so saturation. However, for a film catalog title of its age it looks remarkably good, with little print damage. Grain is generally kept in check, and I didn't notice any significant compression problems. The mono soundtrack is fine, with dialogue clearly audible. Some of the effects on the soundtrack are obviously canned, but for a film that's nearing its fiftieth anniversary, it sounds fine. As with other MOD titles, Call Me Bwana contains no subtitles or extras.
For Hope fans, Call Me Bwana fills a long-running gap in his filmography on DVD, and it's for his fans that this DVD has probably been released. Perhaps Anita Ekberg or Edie Adams completists will appreciate the film is as well, but for everyone else the film is a dated farce that feels more like a collection of "funny" scenes than a coherent story. Although the lack of extras may be disappointing, this MOD DVD has a strong enough audiovisual presentation to satisfy fans.
Goofy, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated