Critic’s Choice (1963)
In what proved to be the final of four films teaming comedy legends Bob Hope and Lucille Ball the laughs are far from broad like we might anticipate as the story leans towards straight drama at times yet the film harkens back to a time past and proves nostalgic from our vantage point looking back.
Minus his numerous back handed one liners, Bob stars as the number one critic on Broadway. A negative review from his pen shuts down the latest shows and he seems to take delight in doing just that. All to the chagrin of theater manager John Dehner. His reviews can be so scathing it even cost him his first marriage to Marilyn Maxwell, an actress he had been married to. He was quick to cut up her stage performances. “The clothes gave a better performance than the actress.”
What’s Bob to do when his second wife Lucy breaks the news she’s decided to become a playwright and pen the story of her life growing up called Three Sisters. Out come the snide remarks and snarly put downs Bob is famous for. It doesn’t sit well with our fiery redhead and this one seems destined for a comical battle of the sexes routine. In actuality it leans more to straight drama when Lucy is on screen and one shouldn’t overlook her performance here in the dramatic scenes. Bob is all but shocked when her finished work gets picked up by Dehner for producing and the Elia Kazan of the stage played by Rip Torn decides to direct it. Bob’s feeling neglected and even a bit sorry for himself when he begins to suspect the late night readings and out of town tryouts are covering for a Lucy/Torn affair. Jealousy is about to rear it’s ugly head and thankfully Bob’s part in the film picks up some comical steam when he attempts to bury his sorrows in a bottle and his ex-wife’s bosom as Maxwell would be only too happy to reclaim Bob from Lucy.
“To Review or not to review” that is the question plaguing Bob.
This is the center piece of the Bob-Lucy argument. She’s convinced he’s out to get her and will slaughter them on opening night while Bob feels it’s his duty to his readers and his own self respect to call it as he sees it. Opening night jitters and Bob’s drunken entrance to the theater soon follow.
Overall this is far from what one would expect from Bob and Lucy whose previous titles are Sorrowful Hones (1949), Fancy Pants (1950) and The Facts of Life (1960). It’s not hard to see why this film proved a dilemma for the host studio Warner Brothers who let the film sit on the shelf for a year before finally releasing it. It’s just not laugh out loud funny. Even with Jim Backus as an analyst in tow who has a funny bit with Bob on the couch using the classic third person narrative telling Backus about his “friends” troubles.
Helmed by prolific television director Don Weis it might be a surprise to see that the film was actually based on a stage play by Ira Levin who I’ll always associate with Rosemary’s Baby. Even Otto Preminger gets his name in the credits as the producer of the original play though it appears as if he has nothing to do with this screen adaptation. Lucy scored Edith Head as her costume designer and Noir favorite Marie Windsor turns up as one of Lucy’s sisters that her play is about. Add in Richard Deacon in his usual secondary, snooty role as a competing critic that Bob likes to take cheap shots at and you have a film that is passable because of the iconic leads though it can never quite make up it’s mind if it’s meant to be a serious drama or laugh out loud comedy. Because of this it never really becomes a memorable pairing for the two who have made so many of us laugh our whole lives when we tune in to see a Lucy rerun or a Bob and Bing classic.
Still that closing laugh is a classic!
Should you pick up the WB issue of this on DVD be sure to check out the 1936 short included as bonus material. It’s an early appearance by Bob opposite John Berkes ( a dead ringer for Buster Keaton if you weren’t looking to closely) as a pair of hooligans looking to score some dates by donning sailor outfits and the hijinks that follow.