My Favorite Brunette (1947)

“I wanted to become a detective, too. It only took brains, courage, and a gun — and I had a gun.”

Synopsis:
A baby photographer (Bob Hope) mistaken for a private eye is hired by a desperate young woman (Dorothy Lamour) to help her track down her missing uncle (Frank Puglia), who has been kidnapped by a gang of criminals.

Genres:

Review:
I was pleasantly surprised to revisit this private-eye spoof, which remains my favorite iteration of this unique comedic genre. Hope and Lamour are in fine form, with Hope flinging his characteristically deadpan one-liners (“Nutty as a fruitcake, and with all that beautiful frosting”) left and right, and Lamour remaining appropriately dark and mysterious throughout. It’s especially fun to see iconic character actors such as Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr. in respectful, meaty supporting roles — ones which pay fitting homage to their on-screen personae. Interestingly, part of what makes this film so successful (as pointed out by one contributor on IMDb) is that the storyline (minus Hope’s one-liners) would probably work just as well if played straight — a sign of its intelligence and ultimate staying power. Excellent use is made of real-life locales in Monterey, California; apparently the mansion where the criminals reside still exists on the town’s touristy 17-mile drive. Watch for the refreshing presence of an Asian-American actress (Jean Fong) in a small but pivotal role as a mother in Chinatown who brings her young son to be photographed by Hope; it’s truly criminal that she wasn’t given any official credit. Available for free viewing on the Internet Archive.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bob Hope as Ronnie Jackson
  • Dorothy Lamour as Carlotta Montay
  • Fun supporting performances

  • A consistently clever satire of private eye flicks
  • Fine use of location shooting (in Monterey, California)
  • Refreshing inclusion of an Asian-American woman (Jean Fong) in a non-stereotypical role
  • Plenty of humorous dialogue: “I don’t know how much more of this I can take – you’ve had me in hot water so long I feel like a tea bag.”

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around good show.

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One Response to “My Favorite Brunette (1947)”

  1. I can’t say I’m as enamored of this on a revisit (my first since childhood), but I’m willing to “must” it for its place in cinema history – as well as for its last 20 minutes.

    It could just be that I’m impatient when it comes to comedy, particularly vintage comedy. More than perhaps any other genre in film (and we’ve discussed this), tastes in comedy have evolved so that demands can be placed on older films – which are at times hard to meet. ‘MFB’ is certainly pleasant enough, but I can’t help but notice a strain in much of the humor. Granted, the material is better than Hope had in a number of his other films. But, as a comic actor, Hope doesn’t reveal a lot of range (except when called on to do a specific comic bit – like when he becomes a nutty patient here) – so that leaves him very dependent on jokes. (On the other hand, though not asked to do a whole lot, Lamour provides as expected.)

    The jokes do get better as ‘MFB’ moves along – and the last 20 minutes (as I said) do bring us some real invention when the material is elevated through welcome complexity. The writers seemed to really come up to the plate here – leaving one to wonder why they didn’t exert more effort earlier on.

    As noted, Lorre and Chaney, Jr. (the latter hilariously referred to as “Boulder Dam on legs”) are actually standouts here throughout, both able to play solid characters and both given enough appropriate dialogue to work with. (I’ll agree about Fong – it’s a commendable choice to have cast her, tho I wish she had a bit more oomph.)

    Woody Allen fans (esp. those who love his early comedies) may notice something of his style in this film, and I would think Allen perked up at some of the dialogue. (“I get airsick when I step on a thick carpet.”, etc.) The mood of many of the lines here is reflected in Allen’s style.

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