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Hollywood Comedy Classics [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

My Favorite Brunette
Just as Bob Hope's My Favorite Blonde (1942) was a takeoff on Alfred Hitchcock, Hope's My Favorite Brunette was a lampoon of the noirish "hard-boiled detective" school popularized by Raymond Chandler. Awaiting execution on death row, Hope tells the gathered reporters how he got into his present predicament. It seems that Hope was once a baby photographer, his office adjacent to the one leased by a private detective (played in an amusing unbilled cameo by Alan Ladd). While hanging around the p.i.'s office, Hope is mistaken for the detective by beautiful client Dorothy Lamour. She hires Hope to search for her missing uncle, and also entrusts him with a valuable map. Hope's diligent (if inept) sleuthing takes him to a shady rest sanitarium, where he runs afoul of lamebrained henchman Lon Chaney, Jr. and sinister, knife-throwing Peter Lorre. Both are in the employ of attorney Charles Dingle, who is responsible for the disappearance of Lamour's uncle. Escaping the sanitarium with Lamour in tow, Hope follows the trail of evidence to noted geologist Reginald Denny. The geologist is murdered, and Hope is accused of the crime. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Africa Screams
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello temporarily leave their usual Universal stamping grounds to star in the Huntington Hartford production Africa Screams. Costello plays the colorfully inept Stanley Livingstone, a meek book salesman who poses as a big-game hunter at the behest of his shifty pal Buzz Johnson (Abbott). It's all part of a scheme to extract some money from adventuress Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke), who intends to search for a lost diamond mine in the heart of Africa. It seems that Stanley has committed to memory a long out-of-print book which contained a map to the mine. Despite his mortal fear of wild animals, Stanley accompanies Buzz, Diana, and Diana's henchmen on the African expedition. The subsequent comic complications involve a legendary giant gorilla, a cannibal tribe, and a friendly orangutan who falls in love with Stanley. Animal trainer Clyde Beatty and big-game tracker Frank Buck make cameo appearances while character comics Shemp Howard and Joe Besser provide laughs as, respectively, a nearsighted gunman and a sissified flunky. Also on hand are boxer brothers Max Baer and Buddy Baer, who engage in an amusingly unconvincing display of fisticuffs. But the film belongs to Abbott & Costello, who are in fine form. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Smallest Show on Earth
The Smallest Show on Earth is a gentle, frequently uproarious takeoff of Britain's neighborhood-cinema industry. Real-life husband and wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna star as Matt and Jean Spencer, a middle-class couple who inherit a decrepit movie house in a tiny railroad whistle stop. They also inherit the theater's ancient, doddering employees: bibulous ticket-taker Percy Quill (Peter Sellers), former silent-movie accompanist Mrs. Fazackalee (Margaret Rutherford) and doorman/janitor old Tom (Bernard Miles). Making the best of things, the Spencers set up shop going through the usual travails of small-time cinema owners: substandard projection and sound reproduction, a dismal selection of films (all they can afford is American B-Westerns), and sundry mishaps with the audience. Just when they're about to write off the theater as a loss, crafty old Tom comes up with an underhanded but effective method to allow the Spencers to make a huge profit on their shaky enterprise. Though chock full of entertaining vignettes, the best and most poignant scene in The Smallest Show on Earth finds the three elderly employees tearfully reveling in a nostalgic screening of the 1924 silent film Comin' Thro' the Rye. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Flying Deuces
In their first starring feature away from the Hal Roach studios, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy play a couple of fish peddlers from Des Moines on a Cook's Tour of Paris. While stopping over at quaint suburban inn, Ollie falls in love with innkeeper's daughter Georgette (Jean Parker). At Stan's prodding, Ollie pops the question to Georgette, who gently refuses because there is Someone Else. Disconsolately, Ollie decides to commit suicide by jumping into the Seine, insisting that Stan join him in his plunge to oblivion. The boys are halted from this drastic action by the timely arrival of Francois (Reginald Gardiner), an officer in the French Foreign Legion. Francois convinces Stan and Ollie that they'll forget all about Ollie's lost love if they join the Legion, and within a few days our heroes are in uniform at an outpost in French Morocco, where they are promptly assigned to laundry detail. Alas, try as he might, Ollie can't forget his beloved Georgette-until Stan suggests that he pretend to forget so that they can get back in their own clothes and head home. This Ollie does, but not before accidentally setting fire to a mountain of laundry. After leaving behind a rather nasty letter of resignation for their scowling commandant (Charles Middleton), Stan and Ollie pack their bags and head for the airport-where Ollie is reunited with Georgette, who turns out to be the wife of their commanding officer Francois! Sentenced to death for desertion, the boys tunnel their way out of their jail cell and hide out in an airplane, which Stan accidentally sends into flight. After a wild and noisy ride, the plane crashes, leading to the flm's hilarious-and somehow touching--"freak" ending. Officially a remake of Les Aviateurs, a French vehicle for Fernandel and Toto, The Flying Deuces also owes a lot to the earlier Laurel & Hardy Foreign Legion farce Beau Hunks. Highlights include Stan and Ollie's impromptu soft-shoe rendition of "Shine on Harvest Moon", and Stan's lunatic excursion into Harpo Marx territory as he plays a bed-spring "harp". Produced by Boris Morros and released by RKO Radio, Flying Deuces is unquestionably the best of Laurel & Hardy's non-Hal Roach vehicles. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

At War With the Army
Though At War With the Army was the third film appearance of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, it was the team's first starring vehicle. A pattern is set herein for all the Martin-Lewis flicks to follow: Martin plays a self-assured romeo, forever bursting into song, while Lewis is a hopeless screw-up unable to perform the simplest task without wreaking havoc (in this one, he can't even operate a Coke machine properly). Mike Kellin repeats his Broadway role as M&L's tough topkick while Polly Bergen makes a very brief appearance. Because it has lapsed into public domain, At War With the Army is one of the most available of the Martin and Lewis films. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Inspector General
The satirical bite of Gogol's play The Government Inspector is dispensed with in favor of traditional Danny Kaye buffoonery in The Inspector General. Kaye plays the illiterate stooge of two-bit medicine-show- entrepreneur Walter Slezak. Abandoned by Slezak, the starving Kaye wanders into a corruption-ridden Russian village, which is all geared up for a visit from the Inspector General. Mistaking Kaye for that selfsame royal inspector, the townsfolk fawn on the confused Kaye, granting him his every whim and plying him with all sorts of bribes. In the original Gogol play, the boorish phony inspector takes advantage of the villagers' error by laying waste to the town and seducing a few local maidens; in the film, Kaye is as pure as the driven borscht, as is his true love (Barbara Bates), the only honest person in town. The treachery is in the hands of Slezak, who fakes Kaye's death and tries to blackmail the crooked local officials. The deus-ex-machina arrival of the real Inspector General foils the crooks and places the nonplused Kaye in the job of town mayor. Those of you who read the play in college may remember it ends with everyone frozen in horror when the genuine inspector shows up, with Gogol's stage directions insisting that the actors hold their fearful poses for a full sixty seconds. Be assured that in the film version of Inspector General, nothing stands still--least of all Danny Kaye, who cuts quite a swath through several Sylvia Fine/Johnny Mercer specialty songs. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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