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Friday, October 30, 2020

Hope Springs 60's Eternal

 


Bachelor In Paradise (1961) Seems Centuries Ago




Bob Hope the Bachelor, give-or-take sixty (more give) when he made this, heats up suburbia and frustrated wives as writer turned counselor at love. Bob was supposed fifty-eight, but a friend who worked for him told me that years had been shaved here/there over course of a long career. Bob himself was always a bachelor in paradise (Hollywood and environs) for overlook of marital vow amidst bask in fleshpots layed before-and-by this funmaker who was hot for most of a 20th century. Hope would like to have thought of himself as ageless (wouldn't we all?), but the 60's was turning point (downward) for his kind of comedy, vehicles getting worse from only-by-comparison high point of Bachelor In Paradise.




Bob's persona had from youth been a would-be, but mostly thwarted, lover, till someone (himself?) whispered he should morph into swinger after Hugh Hefner example, a late-in-day misjudge and could-be affront to family audiences that had supported him. There was smarmy aroma to Hope as satyr in clutch of lovelies a fraction his age, even if this was the role he’d largely play offscreen. Bachelor In Paradise opens thus, Bob as book author who writes of love practices around the world, sampling Euro and elsewhere babes. Bachelor sees him nibbling on one at a start, sans irony or opt-out as a dream sequence. No, this was the Bob Hope we’d have, that or harried husband, a role he may not have favored so much, as did it remind him of home and disapproving Dolores?




Of course, he is catnip to women here, Janis Paige forceful in attempts to seduce a reluctant Hope, who balks because she is married (now there's irony), and it's only Lana Turner who turns ice when he approaches. Bachelor In Paradise was meant to "satirize" suburbia, using a model neighborhood to comment comically on lives revolved around carpools, pesky kids, and balky washer machines. That last makes for slapstick of a sort, Bob adding too much soap powder with foamy result. Did all this have to be staged so tepidly? Jack Arnold directs Bachelor In Paradise. I'd guess he was picked for willingness to accommodate Hope in all things, as I don't associate Arnold with this line of work. Henry Mancini tenders a sprightly score that was Bachelor's one concession to attractive aspect of the 60's (there's a soundtrack CD available). Crosby had used Mancini for his recent High Time, so maybe it was he that put a bug in Bob's ear to hire the composer.

Bob Signs Autographs for Youthful Admirers on Bachelor Location


Nowadays Bachelor In Paradise is valued, if at all, as a time capsule, suburbia as paradise for those who'd study the film like a bug under post-modern microscope. So it celebrates phony and superficial values --- wasn't/isn't that the point? Here is one occasion when being woefully dated is a good thing. Bob and bevy bask at up-to-minute super markets and atom-age drive-ins, both places you'd give anything to visit now. Again, there is graceless slapstick: Bob knocks over egg displays, pulls out the tin can that supports a hundred others, the sort of stuff we'd anticipate Larry/Moe/Curly Joe doing should they venture into such a place. Were super-markets really so gloriously lit as here? Such Bachelor moments really take you back, and that's what makes it a must.

25 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer considers the alternate universe that is BACHELOR IN PARADISE:


As someone who grew up in Levittowns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I can assure you that, yes, the supermarkets were just as brightly lit as in this movie, and that my Depression-era parents preferred the superficial space and cleanliness of suburbia to the cramped shabbiness their own childhood lodgings. As for other things, I don’t know that my Dad was himself a “bachelor in paradise,” though I suspect that he would have at least found certain aspects of it attractive, and I have the idea that the manager at Collier-MacMillan Publishing who shared his Cinerama promotional books with my mother, so that she could share them with me, found her rather pretty, though, I would hope, utterly unattainable. What might be overlooked when watching such a comedy, however, is that these utopias of suburbanland were also located in America. The people living in them almost certainly grew up during the Depression and many had fought in the Second World War or had family members who did. They knew what it was like to live with uncertainty and doubt as to an income or shelter or even food. They struggled, their character and values had been tested, and they had come through to this brighter and better place. There is a scene where Bob Hope’s A. J. Niles reads out what he’s found, living among the folks of this enclave, and it’s a tribute to the women there, with their strength and intelligence, and with the loving ways in which they live their lives and care for their families. The movie may be a balloon floating over a never neverland now far removed from our own time, but here is the ground on which it drags a trailing anchor. For me, it makes a difference. There is not only an appreciation for the foibles of the people living in such a setting, but a certain wistful longing for what they had hoped to find there.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Great post (again), John — as are all your Bob Hope posts. I have every Hope film that has yet emerged on DVD — yes, even the turkeys like THE PRIVATE NAVY OF SERGEANT O’FARREL and CALL ME BWANA (though his absolute nadir, CANCEL MY RESERVATION, is only viewable on YouTube, and it’s a hard sit, even for a diehard like me).

I adored him as a kid — his specials were must-sees in our house, and I was still being exposed to his classics from the late ‘30’s to the early ‘50’s via TV broadcasts — but even I could eventually tell that his comedy and persona were becoming ossified into the smug, conservative-playing-hip dinosaur he eventually became.

That said, there are two Hope films that I enjoy for the decor/milieu alone, BACHELOR IN PARADISE and CRITIC’S CHOICE. Neither is among his best (CRITIC’S CHOICE didn’t even do well at the BO, the weakest of his four films with Lucille Ball), but all the locations you mentioned in BACHELOR, as well as CRITIC’S’ swank NYC apartment (that kitchen! that sweeping staircase!), it’s LA mock-up of Sardi’s, shots of Times Square and Columbus Circle, and it’s general Broadway setting, make both easy (and frequent) watches for me. Anything with BOb and Lucy together, even some uneven late TV special sketches, goes down easily for me. (Though as a LOUSY Hope foil, Lana Turner ranks 2nd only to the inept Joan Fontaine in CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT, who’s idea of playing comedy is to speak louder than anyone else, and to roll her eyes at every conceivable opportunity.)

In the early ‘80’s, as a newly minted starving actor, I got my first network gig playing a practical joke on Soupy Sales (on that Dick Clarke/Ed McMahon BLOOPERS & PRACTICAL JOKES show — I’m dating myself), and told him how much I enjoyed his CRITIC’S CHOICE cameo as a desk clerk. He told me something I found very revealing about casting practices at the time, at least with celebs in Hope vehicles. Sales (who was admittedly “hot” due to his kiddie show popularity) said he got a call one morning from Hope, asking, “Hey, how’d you like to come out to Burbank and do a bit with me this afternoon?“ A few hours later, he’d wrapped and was back home.

12:08 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

What a great Soupy Sales anecdote, Neely. Thanks for including it along with your Bob Hope insights. I would also mention one of Bob's from the 50's that I always liked a lot, THAT CERTAIN FEELING, with Eva Marie Saint and George Sanders. Saw it first on NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, but hardly anywhere since. Beats me me why it has never been released on DVD, or legit streaming.

12:42 PM  
Blogger Supersoul said...

As an young teenager in the late 1950's, Bob Hope was well-known even to my age group. I loved his long tenure as host of the academy awards, where he likely made his biggest impact In my youthful opinion, "Alias Jesse James" in 1959 was his last great comedy role. Most of what followed was dreck, after he abandoned his classic Bob Hope movie persona that had worked so well for him throughout his movie career. Yes, he made the effort to be hip and change with the times, but he was just too old to pull it off, plus his movies, by and large, were simply just not funny. His downward spiral seemed to occur quite rapidly from that point on. The absolute nadir of his career happened at the end stage of his life when I saw what appeared to be an embalmed version of 100 year old Hope doing a Kmart commercial back in the late '90's. It was, at once, sad and pathetic to think that he needed the money bad enough to show his decrepit visage in that situation. For years I've been trying to banish that image from my brain. I admire those actors who know when it's time to quit,like Cary Grant, Joel Mccrae, and Randy Scott.

1:07 PM  
Blogger RichardSchilling said...

Another performer who knew when to quit was Johnny Carson - and Bob Hope was inadvertently responsible for his decision. On the day Johnny Carson died, his nephew called into CNN and said after Johnny would watch Bob Hope literally get wheeled in and propped up for his Tonight Show appearances, he swore that would not be him when he reached a certain age.

I saw Bachelor In Paradise many years ago all I can recall is how unfunny it was, however now I want to see it again for all of the reasons mentioned in this interesting Greenbriar column!

8:03 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Not so long after "Bachelor in Paradise", suburbia evolved from a novelty to the default American dream.

I was born in '55, and by the time I could read I was aware of the concept of suburbia. It was heavily satirized in MAD, magazine cartoons riffed on organization men living in organization neighborhoods, and postwar Disney shorts eased Mickey, Donald and Goofy from bungalows with chicken coops out back to angular modern homes with lawns to mow. Sitcom families -- even Lucy and Ricky -- were increasingly suburbanites.

Suburbia was the stuff of comedy, but it was also presented as the way everybody should live and supposedly the way most people DID live -- a little aspirational, but not out of reach. Certainly more plausible than, say, Spencer Tracy's "everyman" lifestyle in "Father of the Bride", or the outsized apartments occupied by waitresses and the like on sitcoms.

In south Santa Clara County I had little contact with genuine "As Seen On TV" suburbs. California had room for urban sprawl and freeway-based living, and we squandered it accordingly, so we never had that clearcut separation between bedroom communities and workplaces, nor the attendant ritual of train or bus to work ("Bachelor in Paradise" seems to position its little piece of heaven in the middle of a dusty nowhere with one daily bus). Instead of mighty Levittowns we had developments of all sizes and shopping centers filing in all the farmland between midsized cities and small towns. Local businesses, neighborhood-level social and political life, and stuff a kid could walk to -- these endured, but began to fade. The shopping center and then the mall disconnected retail from housing; nearly everything involved a drive even if there was a walkable alternative. Schools consolidated and got bigger; you had to ride to those too. In a weird way, "real" neighborhoods began to live like suburbs.

Agree with Mr. Mercer about the appeal of Levittowns, but he missed one point. That ranch-style box may not have been as good a value as a city rental, but it came with a deed. The suburbanite was thus first-generation landed gentry, despite still having a renter's income. "Bachelor in Paradise" underplays the point, but for all their comfortable middle-class appearances these little families are probably first-time homeowners, viewing their washing machines as genuine luxury.

In lieu of an intelligent conclusion, a really dumb cartoon about suburbia, circa 1962: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gepK2O1KHuo

8:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

We all get older. I'm 74 and surprised to still be here. Happy to be here as well. I doubt Hope needed the money. I doubt he needed the ego boost. I looked for and found the K-Mart commercial. Yeah, obviously he's not the man he was however he's still the boy he was. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kN2Ilk57ZM

9:10 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

In retrospect, Hope's great years were from 1933 ("Roberta" on Broadway) to 1952 ("Road to Bali"). The rest of the '50s saw a gradual decline, although his live TV appearances hold up well. That means his last 40 or so years were mainly junk. And they didn't have to be, had he acted his age in movies and laid off the TV specials. But, boy, in his prime -- brilliant.

9:58 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Supersoul:

I think I can assure you Bob Hope didn't need the money by any stretch. What he DID need was being Bob Hope, movie star and flag-waving icon. There are those who simply cannot surrender the fame and/or power.

Recently saw an "American Masters" documentary on Walter Winchell, who went from being one of the most famous and powerful men in the country to an obsolete joke. By the 1950s, after long runs in print, on the radio, and finally on television, the public lost interest (Didn't help that he often wielded his power in SOB fashion and was a cheerleader for Joe McCarthy). He had wealth but couldn't stand not being THE Walter Winchell. He died rich but largely forgotten, which was probably worse for him than dying poor.

There are also those who live for the work itself. Some, because they came up the hard way and need constant reassurance they'll never be unemployed again. Some because they love the work itself.

Keaton seemed to be a bit of both. You get those facets in "Buster Keaton Rides Again".

Stan Laurel retired and stayed retired, turning down offers from fan Jerry Lewis to work on or off camera. Besides not wanting to work without Hardy, he felt he couldn't present the Stan people remembered (hence his not collecting his Oscar in person). But he did keep writing gags for his own amusement, and welcomed pretty much anybody who wanted to talk comedy, eventually accumulating a circle of friends that formed the Sons of the Desert. He wasn't interested in working, but he definitely stayed connected to comedy through performers, writers, and buffs.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I grew up in L.A. County in that period, and it captures it to a T. Supermarkets were that huge and that well-lit, neighborhoods were that sparse and bare (comparing a photo of the Valley location today with what we see in the movie is like looking at another planet), and Hope seemed credible as a Lothario.

The Hope movie of this period that really jumps out at me is "The Facts of Life" which, in trying to be a cynical look at anyone who'd have an extramarital affair (Hiya, Bob!) comes off as really dark and creepy and as close as Hope would come to making a film noir.

4:35 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Great post and great comments! Interesting how Hope's film career was bookended with a ladies' man persona. His earliest Paramount features pegged him as a legitimate leading man, even a bit of a chick magnet (as, to an extent, did MGM with Red Skelton!) Pretty quickly everyone doped out the real laughs kicked in when his character was a craven coward AND a buffoon in the boudoir. Stuff like THE GREAT LOVER had heavy air quotes around the title no matter how gorgeous the leading lady he eventually ended up with.

I'm actually amazed how well so many of Hope's films from the 40's and early 50's hold up when a lot of those one liners simply are NOT that funny on the written page! Yet Hope is relentlessly hilarious most of the time by sheer force of practiced technique. Conversely, although many of his later films would probably be judged bad movies on their own terms anyway, Bob Hope is usually the single worst thing in them! Not just unfunny, but pretty much anti-funny in a sad clueless way.

Interesting that DBenson mentions Walter Winchell. After starring in two biopics (SEVEN LITTLE FOYS and BEAU JAMES) Hope spent years trying to get a Walter Winchell project off the ground.

Oh, and yeah, THAT CERTAIN FEELING and ALIAS JESSE JAMES are both pretty okay sez me.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Interesting to see that Erich Von Stroheim gets an "Assistant Director" credit on "Bachelor In Paradise". I wonder what his input was.

2:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'd swear Janis Page was Lucille Ball in that top photo.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Dan Oliver said...

If Erich von Stroheim assisted with the direction of Bachelor in Paradise, he did so from beyond the grave. I suspect it was Erich, Jr.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

The credit reads "Assistant Director......Eric Von Stroheim" - that's what it says. Must be somebody else entirely.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Dave K: Anti-funny sums it up perfectly and hilariously.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Fake news?
I can't remember the actor who told about being a caddy as a young man and caddying for Ole Ski Nose. Supposedly, Hope gave the kid a dime as a tip. The kid gave it back, saying, "It seems as if you need this more than I do." And Hope accepted it back.

Any chance this is true?

4:46 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

John,

I loved your article on Bachelor In Paradise, and have some thoughts on it and some of the comments:

Kevin K. stated “…Hope's great years were from 1933 ("Roberta" on Broadway) to 1952 ("Road to Bali"). The rest of the '50s saw a gradual decline…” I disagree or agree partly. Let me explain. I think Hope’s work during the Paramount years are what I would describe as his great years. His last few Paramount films included more sophisticated comedy (That Certain Feeling) and dramatic parts (The Seven Little Foys and Beau James). It was after he left Paramount that his 50s films started going down. The Iron Petticoat (1956) and Paris Holiday (1958) featured major co-stars (Katherine Hepburn and Fernandel) and location filming (England and France). I believe Paris Holiday had the highest budget of any solo Bob Hope film. But both seemed disjointed like they were filmed with partial or incomplete scripts. His final 50s effort (Alias Jesse James) was probably the best, but still not as polished as his Paramounts.
Neely O’Hara stated “…his absolute nadir, CANCEL MY RESERVATION, is only viewable on YouTube, and it’s a hard sit, even for a diehard like me…” I find Cancel My Reservation an interesting failure. It had a great cast, location filming (New York City and Arizona), and a new (to Hope) director (Paul Bogart). The original intent was a new type of Hope film, but he kept over riding Director Bogart and the result was a mixture of an old style Hope comedy and a different not well define new approach. Would have been interesting had Bogart been allowed to make the film his way. As far as his absolute nadir, I have to go with his last starring role in 1986’s A Masterpiece of Murder. Some might argue, it shouldn’t count as it was a television movie, but I think that doesn’t matter. Resemble one of his 40s or 50s mystery comedies, except that Hope was 83, and although on his specials he could and often did seem younger, his age is apparent in this film.

Filmfan said “…Interesting to see that Erich Von Stroheim gets an "Assistant Director" credit on Bachelor In Paradise. I wonder what his input was…”. Erich Von Stroheim died in 1957. The actual credit was Second Unit Director or Assistant Director and it was Erich von Stroheim Jr., who on IMDB has 44 credits as Second Unit Director or Assistant Director.

Hope did make one of his best films after leaving Paramount-The Facts of Life (1960) with Lucy as his co-star/leading lady, however for some reason when discussing his films often gets overlooked. Personally, I think that The Road to Hong Kong is a lot better than it’s reputation, and I think it would be better thought of if Lamour had been used as the leading lady instead of in a cameo or his at least her and Joan Collins had been given equal sized parts. Finally, think an underrated film from Hope’s later career is The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Directed by Frank Tashlin, it has a period setting (World War II) and gets Bob away from domestic comedy and gives us a wacky war comedy. I have always thought coming out during Vietnam hurt it’s reputation.

Joe from Virginia Beach

Joe McGrenra

7:51 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Thanks Joe for that clarification; I had no idea von Stroheim even had a son,let alone one active in Hollywood.
It seems there's always something new for me to learn here at Greenbriar Picture Shows and comments.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

At least Hope could still walk in that WalMart ad. I saw him on the news when he was almost 97 or 98. He was at Disneyland. He was in a wheelchair & all bundled up. There to throw the switch to light the Christmas ornaments for the first time that season. And he really looked like he was back from the grave.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aiPSHvGjwYw

3:58 PM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

Woody Allen is raving about Hope in his autobiography. Not for the first time of course, he has always been on record of being a big fan of his. He neither cares for his early or later movies (of course) but thinks the world of his timing and personality in his 40s and 50s movies.
Interesting choice of movies he singles out: "Monsieur Beaucaire", "The Great Lover" and "Casanova's Big Night"

Has anyone ever seen (or knows where to find) Allen's documentary about Hope "My Favorite Comedian"?

11:46 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I've always thought Woody's "Love and Death" was his own Bob Hope costume comedy.

When Woody guest hosted the Tonight Show, he interviewed Bob Hope, and you could tell he was in awe of him. It used to be on YouTube before it was taken down. To see Woody giggling like a little kid was something to see.

11:55 AM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

In "WA - A Life in Film" Allen has admitted to stealing Hope´s act (not only) for "Love and Death".

The Tonight Show interview is back or still up, have to watch it soon, thanks for mentioning it.

2:03 PM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

I'd say that Woody revived Hope's act, although perhaps that's but a more polite way to say that he stole it; the fact is, when Woody was doing that, back in the 1970s, Hope was by then no longer of an age to continue to do his brand of "romantic comedy" - and furthermore, at the time, there was no easy way of viewing Bob Hope vehicles from the 1940s-1950s "on demand" as there is now, so that any stylistic 'borrowing' by Woody was then much less noticeable than it would be today.
Woody successfully filled a niche in the movie entertainment of the 1970s which Bob's aging had left unoccupied; that Bob had carved the niche originally (but did he really? I wonder...) was immaterial to those then laughing it up in the cinemas.
I think both of them are / were great comedic talents.

8:32 AM  

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