Like many Woody Allen fans, I was surprised to find out that he is a life-long fan of Bob Hope, who also seemed to me, from the TV specials I had seen as a kid, very unfunny. In the 2002 TV special “Woody Allen: A Life in Film,” the Woody admits, “I do Bob Hope all the time. I am just nowhere near as good, but I do him all the time…It is shameless how I steal from him. I don’t mean steal the content of jokes, but I do him, I lean on him. Why people don’t see it is because I am not as good. He is the genuine article.” In the interview, the director points to Love and Death as his own film that is most influenced by Hope, and that since that is one of my favorite early Allen films, I decided to finally watch some early Hope films.
There have been plenty of parodies of film noir—especially in the ’80s with Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid—but not so many when the genre was more or less still current. My Favorite Brunette works well as a parody of a noir detective film, with Hope playing a wisecracking baby photographer who is mistaken for the hard-boiled detective (Alan Ladd) he shares an office floor with, and takes a case from the irresistible title client ( Dorothy Lamour). Hope has some pretty funny one-liners that poke fun at the requisite narration in films like Double Indemnity. Woody Allen mentioned in the TV interview that in Love and Death he is playing someone pretending to be a hero, even though he isn’t one at all, something Hope did “in all of his movies.” That is certainly what he does in this film, which opens at San Quentin prison, where hope is awaiting execution. Peering into the execution chamber, he quips “Gas… Haven’t even put in electricity yet,” but then gets wobbly knees as he tries to walk away.
Everyone joins in on the fun as Peter Lorre parodies his own roles in several film noir classics, here playing one of the henchmen of a criminal mastermind who is plotting to have an actor impersonate a baron to get a piece of land rich in uranium. Lon Chaney Jr. plays a dumb lug of hospital orderly, and even British character Reginald Denny is a good enough sport to do comedy while keeping his usual erudite screen persona.
I found Bob Hope funny in this, but at times the film suffers as a parody of film noir because of Hope, and the necessity for every joke to be tailored to his comedic style, frequently breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience and making references to Bob Hope the celebrity.