Never Say Die (1939)
Before Bob Hope hooked up for an extremely successful partnership with best buddy Bing Crosby he made a trio of films with comedienne Martha Raye in the late thirties. This was the third pairing of the two following College Swing and Give Me a Sailor. Light comedy specialist Elliott Nugent was behind the camera as director. Nugent would work repeatedly with Hope on films such as My favorite Brunette and also gave us the superior The Male Animal.
Bob plays a wealthy offspring in this one who just happens to be a hypochondriac. While resting at a spa in the Swiss Alps he finds himself tracked down by black widow specialist Gale Sondergaard. Gale is on the make for a third husband and Bob is worried he’s next as her hubby’s don’t seem to live long. It isn’t long before Bob meets up with the “big mouth’ herself. Raye is trying to get out of an arranged marriage with phony prince Alan Mowbray. She’d like nothing better than to marry her sweetheart back home Andy Devine. Comedy ensues with Hope and Raye coming up with a scheme to get out of the troubles that seem to dog them. Speaking of dogs, Hope is misdiagnosed with a canine disease by Monty Woolley. It looks as if his time is short.
This is a lively screwball effort as should be expected with one of the credited writers being Preston Sturges. We also get character actor Sig Ruman along for the fun as a befuddled inn keeper who can’t quite put together who Hope is actually honeymooning with, Raye or Divine. Towards the end we get a comedy bit during a duel between Hope and Mowbray where one gun has a bullet and the other does not. It plays very much like Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester scene where the poison’s in this and the brew that is true is in that. (I confess I can’t recall the exact poem but I do love that film)
Hope was fine tuning his persona here and the jokes are not quite as self deprecating yet but the cowardice was seeping in to his being that many of his characters would become known for. It’s Gale Sondergaard that really shines in this one as a crazed husband hunter in black. When she gets wind that Andy Devine might be coming into money she’s ready to pounce. Lastly a special mention to Devine as his snoring like a duck is …. well just ducky. 🙂