As an entertaining comedy for Bob Hope, MY FAVORITE SPY is one of the best films in his career. It is typical for his normal plot line - a glib, slightly sleazy coward is forced into some job in which he conflicts with dangerous types. He manages to bungle his way to victory. It was the plot line for MY FAVORITE BLONDE, MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE, THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE, MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE. THE LEMON DROP KID, PALEFACE, SON OF PALEFACE, SORROWFUL JONES, even FANCY PANTS. In each film he'd be assisted by the heroine (Jane Russell, Dorothy Lamour, Lucille Ball, or whoever), and would confront serious villains like Bruce Cabot, Lloyd Nolan, Charles Dingle, Walter Slezak, Joseph Schildcraut, Otto Preminger, and Peter Lorre. In each of these films the villain is interested in money, stolen secrets, the chance at marrying the heroine, or power. The comedy would center on Hope's behavior and antics, sometimes pulling in the heroine and the villains as accidental recipients of Hope's blunders (like his attempt to give Lucille Ball a special hairdo in FANCY PANTS). If he confronts the villain the villain might be temporarily discomforted (like Schildkraut is momentarily in the duel sequence in BEAUCAIRE). But the villain is normally captured by outside forces running to Hope's rescue - he is incapable of beating the villains by himself (in FANCY PANTS he just barely beats Bruce Cabot with an assist by Teddy Roosevelt - John Alexander). It is all familiar, but Hope is still in top form.
It was in MY FAVORITE SPY (1951) that Hope finally got a glimmer of trouble in his paradise. The trouble was from his co-star: Hedy Lamarr.
Hedy Lamarr's movie career, unfortunately, is considered something of a joke today. From the start of it, her classic pornographic masterpiece ECSTASY, her critics considered her solely as a beautiful woman with little talent - a wooden actress. This is very unfair, because when given good direction and a top script (H.M. PULHAM, ESQ., THE STRANGE WOMAN, SAMSON AND DELILAH) she proved a first rate actress. Maybe she was not "Oscar" caliber, but she was close to it on these occasions. Moreover, Lamarr had brains. She actually is one of the few actresses who holds a patent. She was determined to show her best acting if she could.
When Hope made a comedy he chose actresses who were perfectly willing to be second bananas to him. Even long time "Road Film" partner Dorothy Lamour reacted to his comedy in their movies (in her case she usually could also depend on co-star Bing Crosby in those films; but she made MY FAVORITE BRUNETTE with Hope alone). It was rare for any of these actresses to act zany in his films. Hope liked it that way. He appreciated being at the center of attention in his films.
But with MY FAVORITE SPY he discovered that the formula would not totally work. Lamarr rarely had a chance to play pure comedy (HEAVENLY BODY with William Powell was more typical of the quiet comedies that she got cast in). She was determined to really be Hope's equal in this film - and Hope had problems with that.
In the plot of MY FAVORITE SPY, Lamarr was an adventuress named Lily Dalbray who had formerly been romanced by spy and thug Eric Augustine (Hope - playing a rather unscrupulous villain for a change). Augustine is injured while going to retrieve valuable microfilm, and the government find that he resembles a burlesque comic named Peanuts White (Hope again). They force White to go in place of Augustine. Lily has been hired by Eric's old rival and enemy Karl Brubaker (Francis Sullivan) to romance and stop or thwart Augustine. The film follows the mix-up, with Hope assisted by a government agent Tasso (Arnold Moss).
As I mentioned before the film is very entertaining, but Hope had problems he never experienced before. Lamarr insisted on equal comic time to Hope, especially in the conclusion - a slapstick chase involving a fire and a fire engine. Her performance in the film actually shows that she was enjoying slapstick. But most of her performance actually ended on the cutting room floor. Hope had control of the production, and saw to it. Lamarr protested but Hope had legal right to it. Lamarr never forgave Hope, and never appeared opposite him again in film (unlike other leading ladies) or on his television specials.
The film showed Francis Sullivan to good form as the forbidding Brubaker - who actually so hates Augustine that he tries to shoot him at the conclusion of the film. Although made by Paramount, one wonders if Sullivan was the original choice for the role. One can imagine Sidney Greenstreet playing Brubaker as well. Possibly Greenstreet was thought of for the film, but either was in poor health or had other commitments. Arnold Moss also does well as Tasso, having to deal with that hopeless simpleton Peanuts White. As I said Hope's film is entertaining, but he was put on notice that his formula could not last if he had problems with his cast. The next time it happened he was unable to control the filmed appearance of his co-star. It was Katherine Hepburn in THE IRON PETTICOAT.
My Favorite Spy
Comedy / Crime / Music
My Favorite Spy
Comedy / Crime / Music
Peanuts White, a burlesque comic, is recruited by U.S. agents to impersonate international spy Eric Augustine (whom White resembles) in a mission to purchase a million-dollar microfilm in mysterious, exotic Tangier. There, he encounters the irresistable Lily Dalbray, an "old friend" of Augustine who is now dealing with his arch-enemy, Brubaker. But where is the real Eric? Comedy thriller with slapstick climax. —Rod Crawford
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
August 22, 2021 at 07:53 AM