In case you thought all the contributors to our Crush-a-Thon were going to be mouth breathing fanboys, today we have a contributor of the female persuasion. R.A. Kerr is the writer of the weekly classic movie blog Silver Screenings. I admit, her celebrity crush caught me a bit off-guard. I don’t know that Bob Hope has ever been listed a heartthrob, but here he is in 1944’s “The Princess and the Pirate.”
Our first movie crush was Bob Hope. Yep, you read that right. Bob Hope. We’re not kidding. While our pre-teen friends were swooning over pop music celebrities and TV sitcom stars, we were fascinated with Bob Hope.
We know what you’re thinking: Bob Hope is no Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, and you’d be right. But Hope has one thing they don’t – the ability to be a complete maroon and still be charming and suave. When we were young, these were the necessary ingredients in a movie crush.
We first discovered the illustrious Mr. Hope in a strange 1944 Technicolor wonder, “The Princess and the Pirate.”
“The Princess and the Pirate” is a lavish spoof of the popular swashbuckling movies of the time. Our movie centers on two people who have to leave Europe ASAP. Virginia Mayo is an undercover princess running from an unwanted fiancée, a man selected by her father for political advantage. Hope, on the other hand, is a performer (“Sylvester the Great, The Man of Seven Faces”) who is being run off the continent by disgruntled audiences. The two happen to book passage on the same boat, the Mary Ann.
Alas, no sooner have they set sail than the ship is captured by a bloodthirsty pirate known as The Hook (Victor McLaglen), and his band of angry men. Mayo is taken prisoner along with Hope, who disguises himself as crazed gypsy woman.
The two escape to the island of Casa Rouge, whose inhabitants kill and maim with impunity. For example, as Hope and Mayo try to arrange lodging, they interview the landlady of the island’s one hotel. The landlady is a grizzled, pipe-smoking gal who lights her matches on her behind.
Landlady: You can have this room. The last tenant died.
Mayo: What did he die of?
Landlady: Non-payment of rent.
Hope meets with a local saloonkeeper to get a spot in the evening stage show. As they discuss terms of the contract, the saloonkeeper makes it clear that anyone who doesn’t finish his drink will be thrown out the window. They seal the deal with what the locals refer to as a “small” beer
Immediately after their first performance at the saloon, Mayo is kidnapped by the island’s governor (Walter Slezak), who recognizes her as the AWOL princess. Hope visits the governor’s palace, in hopes of finding her but he, too, is taken prisoner. Slezak tells a terrified Hope that he better not try to escape because he (Slezak) has learned the “art” of shrinking heads.
Meanwhile, pirate McLaglen and his angry men are in hot pursuit. They won’t stop until they have: (A) the princess; and (B) a treasure map that one of McLaglen’s men (Walter Brennan) has sewn into Hope’s coat.
If that weren’t enough excitement, once the pirates land on the island, Brennan makes the weird decision to tattoo the treasure map onto the chest of an unconscious Hope. (Don’t ask; this is something we’re unable to explain.)
As strange as “The Princess and the Pirate” is, it’s the perfect movie for Hope’s comedic talents. The joke is always on him, yet he has a way of winking at the audience as if to say, “Can you believe they pay me for this?” Hope is a likeable buffoon who seems to have too much fun in every scene.
This is not the must-see movie of the year, but it is an enjoyable – if somewhat mindless – spoof of the swashbuckling genre. Besides, it has what is arguably the best punch line in movie history. You’ll have to see it to believe it.