Weekly Video/DVD Picks

Road to Morocco (1942)

The third of the well-known Road movies starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour is perhaps the best. Lighthearted and nonsensical, sophisticated but not overplotted, Morocco represents the point at which the Road-movie formula hit its stride but hadn't yet descended into self-parody.

By this time audiences knew what to expect and were in on the joke as Bing and Bob sang, in their self-aware opening number, “Where we're goin', why we're goin', how can we be sure? I'll lay you eight-to-five that we meet Dorothy Lamour!”

This time out the boys take their Road act to Arabian Nights territory, where, as usual, they sing (especially Bing), crack wise (especially Bob) and vie over Lamour, who again has an agenda of her own. The story, which is taken about as seriously as the plot of a typical Looney Tunes cartoon, has Bing and Bob shipwrecked and washed up on the road to Morocco.

Bob's sainted aunt (played by Hope himself in a wig) appears periodically from heaven, urging the boys along the path of righteousness — but when Princess Shalmar (Lamour) unexpectedly takes an interest in Bob, it's every man for himself.

The camel sums it up nicely: “This is the screwiest picture I've ever been in.”

Content advisory: Mild farcical innuendo and sensuality; comic menace and violence.

My Favorite Blonde (1942)

One of Bob Hope's best comic-thriller vehicles, My Favorite Blonde benefits from its semi-serious spy-thriller ambiance, tolerably cogent plot, scene-stealing penguin and above all one of the more human, less caricatured, less one-dimensionally narcissistic characters in Hope's movie oeuvre.

That character is Larry Haines, a vaudeville player whose trained-penguin act has him Hollywood bound — until he gets mixed up with a mysterious blonde named Karen Bentley (Madeleine Carroll, of the original The 39 Steps).

Unbeknowst to Haines, Bentley is a British agent desperately trying to get time-sensitive intelligence information past a cadre of determined Nazi pursuers led by Gail Sondergaard and George Zucco. (That the plot never permits Bentley to demonstrate a credible level of espionage acumen is one of the film's chief weaknesses.)

Typical screwball zaniness ensues, but the picture doesn't really hit its stride until Haines finally learns what's going on. This leads to one of the movie's funniest sequences, a hilarious escape from a hotel room where they've been cornered.

Shortly afterward, there's a rare moment of soul-searching and moral feeling from a Bob Hope character, with Haines vacillating between manhood and mousehood.

Content advisory: Mild innuendo and sensuality; semi-comic menace and violence.

Monsieur Beaucaire (1946)

An above-average Bob Hope costume comedy, Monsieur Beau-caire borrows its title and inspiration from a silent Rudolph Valentino romance-drama (which was in turn based on a novel and play by Booth Tarkington), but transforms the original premise of a duke disguised as a barber into a farce about a real barber and a duke who switch places.

Beaucaire (Hope) is barber to Louis XV of France — until the former's romantic altercations with a chambermaid named Mimi (Joan Caulfield) inadvertently result in banishment for both Mimi and himself.

At the same time, the king finds it expedient to rid the court of the Duc le Chandre, a renowned swordsman and celebrated ladies' man, by making a political marriage between le Chandre and Princess Maria of Spain (Marjorie Reynolds).

Romantic and political intrigues collide as sinister forces conspire to draw Spain and France into war. As with the romantic comedies of Shakespeare, the plot involves parallel “upper-class” and “lower-class” storylines — the difference being that here the upper-class romance is in the background and the lower-class one in the foreground. Even so, le Chandre provides a typical swashbuckling model of honor and heroism, contrasting nicely with Beaucaire's churlish buffoonery.

Content advisory: Mild farcical innuendo and romantic intrigue; comic menace and violence.