Judge Ben Saylor is not thankful for his memories of 11th grade math.
Jeff (Bing Crosby): Now look, puffy, I want to have a talk with you, man to
Comedian Bob Hope had a very prolific film career; in the 1940s alone, he appeared in over a dozen movies. Universal has gathered six of his big screen works together for the Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection. The set includes some titles that have been released on home video before, along with others, like the coveted The Cat and the Canary, that are making their DVD debut.
Facts of the Case
Thanks for the Memory: Steve Merrick (Bob Hope) is a struggling writer trying to get his first book off the ground. His wife, Anne (Shirley Ross, The Big Broadcast of 1938), gets a job so that Steve can focus on his writing. Steve, however, chafes at his new role of househusband, causing a rift in his marriage to Anne.
The Cat and the Canary: Ten years after the death of millionaire Cyrus Norman, his relatives convene at his house deep in the Louisiana bayou. Joyce Norman (Paulette Goddard, Modern Times) is named the sole heir, but a clause in the will makes her fortune forfeit if she is proved insane. Before long, Joyce becomes convinced that something in the house is out to get her. No one will listen to her pleas except for Wally Campbell (Hope), a timid actor smitten with Joyce.
The Ghost Breakers: Mary Carter (Goddard) has just inherited an old Cuban castle that is rumored to be haunted. Despite receiving several warnings about the castle, Carter sets out for Cuba. Stowing away on the boat Carter's traveling on is radio broadcaster Lawrence Lawrence (Hope), on the run after (mistakenly) believing himself responsible for killing a man. Once at the castle, Lawrence and his valet Alex (Willie Best, The Red Dragon) face dangers from both this world and the next.
Nothing But the Truth: Stockbroker Steve Bennett (Hope) makes a bet with his cynical partners that he can tell the truth for 24 hours. On a yacht belonging to one of the partners, Steve is put through his paces as he struggles to be honest while wooing the beautiful Gwen Saunders (Goddard).
Road to Morocco: Jeff (Bing Crosby, Going My Way) and Orville (Hope) are shipwrecked and make their way by camel to Morocco. The pair are friends, but not so close that Jeff has any qualms about selling Orville into slavery in order to make some quick cash. Orville ends up engaged to the beautiful Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour, Road to Zanzibar), but the princess is not motivated by love, and on top of that, Jeff and Orville soon become the target of the fearsome Mullay Kasim's (Anthony Quinn, La Strada) enmity.
The Paleface: Outlaw Calamity Jane (Jane Russell, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) is offered a pardon if she can find out who's been smuggling weapons to American Indians. But when the federal agent she's to travel with is murdered, Jane suckers hapless dentist "Painless" Peter Potter (Hope) into marrying her so that she can blend in with a wagon train in which the smugglers are hiding. Can the unlikely couple thwart the smugglers and save the day?
Thanks for the Memory is the earliest film in this set and one of the weakest. Hope isn't a very good fit for the leading man role he plays here. The character isn't funny enough, and the film's plot is awfully mundane compared to the more absurd and adventurous Road to… movies. The film is based on a play, and a sense of staginess is always present, as the plot rarely ventures beyond the Merricks' charming but tiny apartment.
Still, there's no denying Hope and co-star Shirley Ross' chemistry. The two share a terrific duet, "Two Sleepy People," and Charles Butterworth and Hedda Hopper are amusing as friends of the couple who are forever dropping in on them. The film also, of course, features what became Hope's signature song, "Thanks for the Memory."
Things pick up considerably with The Cat and the Canary, which deftly mixes murder mystery, horror and comedy. Hope is on much surer footing here as a cowardly actor who has to suck it up to help the woman he loves. The movie isn't wall-to-wall funny, but there are definitely some great moments, like when one of the relatives asks Wally, "Aren't you afraid of big, empty houses?" to which he replies, "Not me; I used to be in vaudeville." Charles Lang's cinematography makes terrific use of shadows and lends the film considerable atmosphere. Paulette Goddard, who pops up frequently in this collection, is a radiant and energetic heroine. The contrasting tones are well balanced, and the result is an enjoyable film.
The Ghost Breakers attempts to replicate the formula of The Cat and the Canary, with significantly diminished returns. Even the re-teaming of Hope and Goddard can't save this film, which suffers from glacial pacing. So much of the film is focused on warnings about the haunted castle and the journey to the castle that it takes nearly an hour of the film's 85-minute runtime to actually get to the place. Things don't improve much at that point, mainly because Hope doesn't have an ensemble to play off of like he did in The Cat and the Canary; in The Ghost Breakers, he has only Alex (Willie Best), his valet. The third act, unsurprisingly, feels rushed. A character introduced halfway into the movie is revealed to be the villain in such an abrupt manner that I almost thought I was watching a Scooby-Doo cartoon for a minute.
Nothing But the Truth predates Liar, Liar by several decades in its tale of a man who is compelled to tell the truth. The role of the compulsive truth-teller is a good one for Hope, but he's let down somewhat by a script that largely has his character speaking evasively to get out of telling the truth, which is funny at first but becomes repetitive over time. Still, some sequences, like an extremely uncomfortable dinner party, as well as a scene where Steve has to move about the ship in negligee, are admittedly pretty funny.
Road to Morocco is my favorite film in this set, and is one of the better Road to… movies I've seen. The jokes and patter are in generous supply with this film, which is more self-reflexive than other entries in the series. A good example of this tongue-in-cheek approach is the following exchange between Jeff and Orville:
Orville: A fine thing. First, you sell me for 200 bucks, then I'm gonna marry the princess, then you cut in on me! Then we're carried off by a desert sheik; now we're gonna have our heads chopped off.
Jeff: I know all that.
This is the third film in Road to… series, and Hope and Crosby have nicely settled into their character types. The contrast between Hope's agitated Orville and Jeff's laidback, slang-spouting crooner makes for some great comedy, and their repartee keeps the film moving along at a nice clip. Additionally, Crosby has two great songs to sing in "Ain't Got a Dime to My Name (Ho-Hum)" and "Moonlight Becomes You."
It's not all good, however. The picture hasn't aged well, particularly in its portrayal of Morocco; expert Jack Shaheen, PhD, dubbed Road to Morocco "probably one of the most stereotypical films ever to come out of Hollywood." There's also a rather tasteless bit in which Jeff encourages Orville to feign mental disability in order to get free food.
The Paleface closes the set. This Western spoof is not a great film, but it has its share of laughs. Painless Potter is a great Hope character, and the actor has fun with the role, particularly after he is mistakenly credited for single-handedly fending off an American Indian attack. (Jane actually did the shooting.) Hope affects a mock-macho swagger and deeper voice as Painless savors his hero status. His physical comedy in The Paleface is among the best in the set; examples are when he takes a powerful drink in a saloon, and when he gets startled by a cat while sneaking into an undertaker's office. The one-liners are also there, such as when Jane tosses Painless some guns during the Indian attack: "I hope they're loaded…I wish I was too." Jane Russell is probably Hope's weakest leading lady in the films included in this set. She conveys Jane's disgust and disdain of Painless well enough but falters when trying muster sympathy, and later love, for him.
The Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection spreads its six movies across three discs. Picture and sound quality is almost universally strong, although The Ghost Breakers seemed to have more instances of damage than the others. The Dolby 2.0 tracks included for each film are all fine as well.
For extras, each film has its trailer. The Ghost Breakers also contains a cursory featurette called "Entertaining the Troops: Bob Hope and the U.S.O." that runs about 6 minutes. In addition, there's an excerpt from Army-Navy Screen Magazine, which was recorded and set to troops overseas, featuring appearances from several stars of the day. The best extra with this film (and probably the best in the set) is called "Hollywood Victory Caravan," which is basically a 20-minute ad for war bonds, with appearances from Hope, Crosby and several other stars. Finally, there's a photo gallery scored to the film's music that lasts about 3 minutes.
With Road to Morocco, there's a 14-minute featurette called "Bob Hope and the Road to Success" that gives a brief history on how the Road to… films came to be, featuring interviews with authors Randall G. Mielke and Richard Gruden, as well as Phyllis Diller. In addition, there's a "Road to Morocco" sing-along, in which the title track sequence is played with the lyrics on the screen, as well as a musical photo gallery akin to the one found with The Ghost Breakers.
Finally, with The Paleface, there's another Army-Navy Screen Magazine clip, a sing-along for Hope's number "Buttons and Bows," and one more musical photo gallery. Overall, I enjoyed the extras relating to World War II the most; many of the others, like the sing-alongs and the photo galleries, won't really be worth most viewers' times.
Three of the titles in this set (The Ghost Breakers, Road to Morocco, and The Paleface) have previously been released on DVD, but Hope completists will likely want this set anyway for its inclusion of new-to-the-format titles like The Cat and the Canary. For anyone else, a rental should suffice.
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Scales of Justice, The Cat And The Canary
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Scales of Justice, The Ghost Breakers
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Scales of Justice, Nothing But The Truth
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Scales of Justice, Road To Morocco
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Scales of Justice, The Paleface
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