A baby photographer plays private eye to help a woman find her uncle, kidnapped by a master criminal.
"I suppose you wonder why I came in this way?"
"Oh no, every girl does that!"
Every popular genre gets what's coming to it. One moment, a certain type of film is the talk of Tinseltown so much so that every studio has about a dozen pictures in the pipeline to fill that need. Some years, it's horror films, some years, it's superheroes, but in the late 1930s and into the 1940s, the movie of the hour was the Raymond Chandler-inspired hard-edged detective. Pulled from great pieces of literature or the dime store heaps, smart talking, heavy drinking, chain smoking detectives filled movie theaters. In 1947, all it took was Bob Hope and his frequent female foil co-star Dorothy Lamour to let a little air out of the genre's balloon with the farcical detective yarn My Favorite Brunette.
Ronnie Jackson (Bob Hope) is in a tough spot. Awaiting execution for a crime he didn't commit, he's got mere moments to regale a pod of reporters with his story before the hangman comes calling. As a baby photographer, Ronnie was doing gangbuster legit business - but he needed adventure. Down the hall from him was a hard-edged P.I., a gumshoe who lived a life of dames, danger, and excitement. Wanting to get in on the act, Ronnie offers to help but gets more than he bargained for when the beautiful Carlotta Monta (Dorothy Lamour) walks into the office thinking Ronnie is an on the level private detective. When Ronnie took the case, he thought he'd just be helping a pretty gal out of a jam. He didn't expect to tossed into a world of intrigue and espionage as a knife-throwing killer named Kismet (Peter Lorre) and his lunk-headed strong arm Willie (Lon Chaney Jr.) are out to retrieve a vital piece of information that Ronnie doesn't know he even has. Now as he's awaiting execution, Ronnie's only hope is for someone to find that vital clue that proves his innocence.
If you've watched any of Bob Hope's movies, you know the man can sling off a one-liner faster than a jackrabbit. My Favorite Brunette is no exception as Hope finds himself working alongside his familiar co-star Dorothy Lamour. Without Bing Crosby in the picture, Hope has to rely on his everyman set of charms and his quick wit to roll with the punches and make light of a pretty standard detective plot. Thankfully, with a cast of costars like Lon Cheney Jr., Peter Lorre, Reginald Denny, and Charles Dingle working from a script by Edmund Beloin and Jack Rose and under the direction of Elliott Nugent, Hope is in fine form. Even without someone to play off like Bing Crobsy, Hope exploits his perfect comedic timing and makes light of a beloved genre without completely lampooning it.
My Favorite Brunette's sense of humor may not be as subtle as the comedy found in The Thin Man films, but it is still respectful of the material that spawned it. As a pitch-perfect detective spoof, My Favorite Brunette gets most of its laughs by playing the plot straight and allowing a numbskull like Bob Hope's Ronnie get in way over his head. Hope's manic nervousness sided with Lamour's smart damsel in distress creates plenty of opportunity for some great laughs. Things only get better when Peter Lorre comes into the picture playing his traditional creepy heavy and never breaks the scene. A film like this could have been played any number of ways, but by allowing the plot to be straight as an arrow and letting a fish-out-of-water like Bob Hope enter the show makes for some great comedy. Even Lon Chaney Jr. gets to show his own comedic branding as a slow-witted henchman with a measure of charm.
As someone who never really spent a lot of time watching Bob Hope movies outside of the various Road films with Bing Crosby, it's nice to discover a comedy like My Favorite Brunette. It's a gag a minute sort of spoof of its root genre without being dismissive or insulting towards its inspiration. The best parodies are the ones that get all of the best elements of a genre correct before making light of the material. My Favorite Brunette works because it's not making fun of detectives, it's making fun of Bob Hope as a coward who wanted to be a detective. Its humor is Hope's alone to own. Everyone in the cast plays their parts in the genre perfectly - and somehow manages to keep a straight face through the show. If you've only ever seen Bob Hope alongside Bing Crosby, make some time for My Favorite Brunette.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
My Favorite Brunette arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber through their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover artwork for other Studio Classics releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
As with Road to Rio, I'm not sure when this 1080p 1.33:1 transfer of My Favorite Brunette was minted, but it had to have been fairly recent as the results on screen look terrific. As a film that's resided most of its life in the public domain, the level of detail with an even and stable film grain presence is impressive. Facial features - which are important for all of the mugging Hope does - are apparent and appreciable as are clothing details and the set design work. Black levels are great as well as this film's photography under the skilled eye of Lionel Lindon plays up the classic heavy black and white Film Noir look. Blacks are inky while the grayscale offers up plenty of shadow separation to give the image a nice three-dimensional vibe. There are a couple of shots that can be a bit too dark, and there remains some mild speckling and a couple scratches here and there, but considering this film's age and it's previous home video life, My Favorite Brunette makes a pleasing leap onto Blu-ray.
Dialogue is front and center with this English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix. As most of the comedy comes from Bob Hope's one-liners, this is especially important. Most of the comedy comes from word exchange without getting much backup help from scoring or cheesy cartoonish sound effects. That said, the score and the sound effects offered do provide a nice little bit of atmosphere and dimension, even if the film sounds relatively flat most of the time. The only real trouble with this audio mix is the ever-present hiss and a couple of pops throughout the mix. They're not enough to be distracting, but they're impossible to miss, especially during quieter sequences.
Only a brief preview reel of trailers for other Bob Hope films from Kino Lorber Studio Classics is present on this disc.
Also from KLSC (HD 4:17)
If you love Bob Hope all on his own, then My Favorite Brunette is your sort of comedy. As a terrific spoof of the detective genre, Hope gives it his all and delivers plenty of laughs as he frequently breaks the fourth wall or makes side references that may go over your head without doing a little research to get the joke. It may be goofy, but it never disrespects the genre making it a terrific comedy. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a great job bringing this flick to Blu-ray with a terrific video transfer and a solid audio mix. Sadly, bonus features are virtually nonexistent. Even still, fans of Bob Hope should pick it up and those who have yet to see him in action in one of his classic comedies, My Favorite Brunette is an easy starting point to recommend.