Sunday, August 8, 2010

Bob Hope for kids

TCM is showing one of Bob Hope's "Road" movies as tonight's Essentials, Jr. selection. I think I'd pick a different Hope film instead: Alias Jesse James, which is on TCM overnight tonight at 12:45 AM ET.

Hope plays Milford Farnsworth, an incompetent insurance salesman in 19th century New York. He's on the verge of getting fired until he sells a large policy to notorious outlaw Jesse James (Wendell Corey). It turns out, though, that the company is never going to be able to pay off on the policy, and sends Farnsworth west to explain the situation to James until the company can figure out a way to cancel the policy to both sides' mutual satisfaction. Jesse James, however, has other plans. He realizes that there's a chance he can use this policy to get some good money and escape the authorities for a while. All he has to do is come up with a way to get Farnsworth to be taken for James, and then get Farnsworth-as-James killed.

To be honest, it's fairly insipid stuff, but the sort of lousy humor that's more likely to appeal to kids. The other thing that the kids might well enjoy is the movie's climax, which like any good movie about the old West, is a shoot-out scene. The difference here is that Hope is just as incompetent with a gun as he is selling insurance, but gets saved by a lot of TV western stars of the day, each of whom pops up for a very brief cameo. This deus ex machina gives the finale the feel of a cartoon, while those of an older generation may enjoy trying to figure out all the cames.

As for the movie as a whole? Bob Hope is in his older Bob Hope stage, which is as typically behind the times as he would be in later movies. Wendell Corey is completely miscast as Jesse James. Rhonda Fleming provides the eye candy, and there's nothing wrong with that. As I said earlier, it's passable entertainment for the younger set, but grown-ups will probably wind up thinking that this isn't as funny as we remember it having been in our youth.

Apparently, Alias Jesse James got released as part of a DVD box set that includes several of Hope's later movies, including the previously mentioned I'll Take Sweden. If you're a masochist, you're in luck.

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