The tastes of moviegoers is always changing. Back in the 40’s and 50’s, Bob Hope was a pretty big box office draw. Howerver, his star started to decline in the 60’s and by the time I was a kid in the 70’s he was doing more TV specials than movies. The late 60’s though saw a handful of attempts to resurrect his box office clout…such as 1966’s Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number.
We open with a French actress named Didi (Elke Sommer) whose main claim to fame is doing bubble bath scenes. She’s tired of it, though, so she storms off the set and bolts. Soon, the big news story across the country is Where is Didi? Turns out that she heads up to Oregon and hides in a hotel. At this hotel is a beauty parlor frequented by Mrs. Martha Meade (Marjorie Lord), wife of local realtor Tom Meade (Hope). One afternoon, when Tom tries to reach his wife at the parlor, the switchboard operator wires the call wrong and he ends up talking with Didi. Not even thinking he should probably just hang up on the perennially semi-nude sexpot, he ends up getting roped into helping her evade the press. He even offers to let her stay in a lakeside cottage he is having trouble selling. He figures if he can promote the house as the place where Didi hid, he’ll sell it at top price.
Of course, Tom soon starts to get into all sorts of trouble. The cops, trying to locate the missing actress come poking around because they find Tom’s phone number in Didi’s room. More trouble comes when Tom’s wife wants to spend the weekend at the cottage where Didi is hiding. Along with some help from his weird housekeeper, Lily (Phyllis Diller), Tom ends up having to try and hide Didi, who is unconscious due to hearty helping of sleeping pills, all around the house, out of the view of his wife.
Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number has its share of funny moments, but they are overshadowed by how out-of-place Bob Hope seems in this film. He’s still doing some of the same kind of one-liners he’d been doing for 25 years and that vaudeville style just doesn’t quite jive with a late 60’s sex farce Honestly, the at-the-time 63 year-old Hope is playing a part meant for someone about 30 years younger. Hope is very much miscast. I will say, though, that Hope’s best moments in the film are the scenes that he has with Phyllis Diller. This was the first of several films they would appear in together, and the two play off each other very well. These scenes, though, kind of exist outside the context of the film itself. They are funny scenes because they feature two skilled comics who have solid chemistry, not because they add anything to the overall story.
Whereas Hope is miscast, Elke Sommer is very well suited to the role of Didi. The German actress doing a heavy French accent is almost unintelligible, and I think that may have been somewhat intentional. Sommer’s performance is appropriately over-the-top and serves its purpose in creating an extremely self-obsessed character. And so help me, I found it funny that this character who wants to advance beyond doing bubble bath scenes spends most of the film in a towel, nightgown, or bathtub.
The things that made me laugh in this film were few and far between, though. So many moments desperately reach for something funny only to come up very short. As the film reaches its climax it deteriorates at a drastic rate. The finale culminates into a completely pointless madcap police chase. Other than the slight novelty of seeing wild-haired Phyllis Diller zooming around on a motorcycle, the sequence scrapes the bottom of the comedic barrel.
So much about this film is just out-of-place. Back in the 40’s Hope may very well have succeeded with a similar scenario. Here in 66, though, it just doesn’t come together. Aside from a few funny moments between Hope and Diller, the classic funnyman seems a bit out of his element.
Note: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number was recently released on DVD and BluRay by Olive Films. Many thanks to them for sending the film our way.