Sunday, May 2, 2021

You take the good, you take the bad...

Bob Hope is known for his brand of humor that was going out of date by the time the 1960s rolled around. He kept making movies, however, and a surprising one in his output is The Facts of Life.

Lucille Ball plays Kitty Weaver, who at the opening of the movie tells us that she's arriving at an airport to meet a man who's not her husband. That man is Larry Gilbert (Bob Hope). Kitty is surprised with herself for doing this, but what brought it about? Well, as you can guess, we're going to get a flashback.

Kitty and Larry are suburbanites each married, although not to each other, and with children. Kitty's husband Jack (Don DeFore) likes to gamble and often has to go away on business, while Larry's wife Mary (Ruth Hussey) spends a lot of time with the children. None of them are bad people; each half of each couple could just do with spending a little more time together. The Weavers and Gilberts are friends with each other and a third couple, the Masons (Philip Ober and Marianne Stewart), to the point that they all belong to the same country club and take vacations together since it's cheaper that way and the only way they can afford it. But Kitty doesn't have any great love for Larry and his bad dad jokes (not that the term was used in the early 1960s).

The three couples have another vacation in Acapulco scheduled, but a couple of things happen. One is that Jack has a business meeting up in San Francisco that suddenly comes up, delaying his trip to Acapulco by a couple of days. But Kitty should go ahead and enjoy herself. Meanwhile, an emergency with one of the kids will delay Mary, who doesn't think Grandma might be able to handle this emergency. So for the time being it's just Kitty, Larry, and the Masons. Larry rents a fishing boat to do some deep-sea fishing, but on the morning the four are supposed to go out, the Masons have gotten sick and in no condition to go out.

So Larry figures that since he's already paid for the boat and can't get the money back, perhaps he and Kitty should go out by themselves and the crew. Kitty even catches a big fish, and the two find out that they're not as bad as they might have thought about each other. Perhaps that will make things go smoother at the country club when they get home. But then they also begin to think that perhaps they might be falling in love. This is a big no-no, and not necessarily what they want.

When they get back to the US, the put it behind them, figuring it was just a vacation fling that will never happen again. But somehow, since they belong to the same country club and run in the same circle of friends, fate keeps conspiring to leave the two of them alone together, and they find out that they still have those feeling from the vacation.

In fact, things begin to go downhill between Kitty and Jack go downhill in part because of Jack's gambling habit, to the point that Kitty and Larry plan another vacation together and Kitty is even thinking of filing for divorce. What will they decide when they rent a cabin up near Monterey?

Although both Hope and Ball are both known for comedy, Ball had rather more of a career outside of comedy, even putting in fine performances in films like Lured and The Dark Corner. In the case of Bob Hope, I can't think of much non-comedy he did. The Facts of Life might be closest, as much of the film is a relatively light drama, with a bit more comedy in the second half after everybody gets back from Mexico.

Ball unsurprisingly does well. Hope doesn't do too badly, although I think the mish-mash of styles doesn't particularly help him. The movie starts to lose a bit of its steam in the second half even though Hope is more suited to comedy. The bright side is that the two characters' motivations seem quite real and plausible, which really helps the movie.

The Facts of Life is an interesting period piece and look at societal norms back in the early 1960s, as well as an interesting movie in the careers of both Bob Hope and Lucille Ball. It's not the greatest movie for either of them, by a long shot, but it's definitely worth a watch.

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