I'll Take Sweden (Blu-ray Review)11 Jul, 2016 By: Mike Clark
$19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray
Stars Bob Hope, Tuesday Weld, Frankie Avalon, Dina Merrill, NR.
When you finally hit the century mark not all that long after you were a still-active headlining entertainer, it’s possible or even likely that you hung around too long in the profession — and in ways capable of tarnishing even an otherwise titanic legacy. This is a key thesis of Richard Zoglin’s savvy 2014 bio of Bob Hope, a movie/TV/war zone giant who arguably deserved the book’s subtitle (“Entertainer of the Century” — though I’d vote Frank Sinatra in a walk) but remains a head-scratching figure to Millennials.
In addition to, say, the post-1965 Hope TV specials (“but I just wanna say that O.J. Simpson just told me backstage that that Joey Heatherton really something”), there was the rancidness of his twilight movies, which were a step off the cliff compared to Hope’s mostly Paramount heyday (1938-57 but especially the 1940s). I’ll Take Sweden, whose print quality does look better and less DeLuxe Color-muddy than expected via Olive’s new Blu-ray, is a case in point, and it’s not even the worst or most offensive of Hope’s later lot. Though lacking even a single laugh, it does offer some mild curio currency, courtesy of its immediate supporting cast.
I saw Sweden first-run with The Satan Bug at a drive-in, which by 1965 was next thing to the exclusive domain for big-screen Hope (1963’s Critic’s Choice was the last one to play a downtown indoor palace in my Al Roker neck of the woods). And this was even before an entire array of subsequent SCTV spoof bait — Hope titles that still wreak the as much havoc on one’s system as acid flashbacks, nocturnal malaria chills and the kind of flop-sweat dreams that Sinatra and James Edwards wake up screaming from in The Manchurian Candidate. In other words, we’re talking Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! (or: “let’s all give Cesare Danova some work”); Eight on the Lamb; The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (which deep-sixed Frank Tashlin’s career); How To Commit Marriage; and Cancel My Reservation (aka payback time for Eva Marie Saint after having gotten to work with Brando and Clift early in her career).
OK, back to Sweden. As Hope’s teenaged daughter, the now revered Tuesday Weld was already showing signs of career jinx, though cult royalty Lord Love a Duck and Pretty Poison were still in the future. Meanwhile, her romantic co-star Frankie Avalon was about a month away from How To Stuff a Wild Bikini and already amid his tenure at hosting NBC’s "Hullabaloo" as a get-down alternative to Gary Lewis and George Maharis (who, in fact, were moving more “units” at the time). Plot-wise, the deal was and is this. As a longtime single dad in an array of form-fitting sport jackets, Hope returns home from a business trip to a living room array of twisting/frugging teen party people (by 1965, it was probably too late for The Fly and The Mess Around, but who’s counting?).
More bewildered than ballistic, Hope is further shaken by daughter Weld’s amour-time choice of Avalon, who in this still pre-hippie era might be classified as the kind of bohemian who sports a hundred-dollar razor cut in a mid-’60s currency. Or to put it this way, Frankie lives in a small trailer isolated on a hilly dirt road — getting himself there by means of rear-screen process shots more humble than what you’d see in one of the lesser Abbott & Costello Universals. Hope is anxious for Weld to get married (after all, her character must be all of 17) but not to her current choice. For a family that seems well-heeled enough with its pristine suburban digs and the obligatory African-American housekeeper, there isn’t any mention of college or even a guest shot at the Beta house for some shooters. Tuesday’s probably not giving many spins to Bringing It All Back Home, either.
Envisioning a squalid life for her less removed from Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road than from plumbing, Hope whisks Weld off to Sweden on a business trip where romantic entanglements realign. He meets Swedish interior decorator Dina Merrill (“I never met an interior decorator with your exterior” — or words to that effect), while Weld takes up with a Hope work subordinate played by Jeremy Slate, who was the kind of sandy-haired actor you hired in this era if Skip Ward had a scheduling conflict.
Slate, turns out, is only interested in one thing — which is the same Weld thing that Dobie Gillis was after (and, for that matter, even a relative senior citizen like Gregory Peck was after in I Walk the Line). Foiled again, Hope’s only recourse is to get Avalon over to Sweden on a rescue mission — after, of course, the lad delivers the “yeh-yeh-yeh”-laden title tune (long past the industry’s expired “yeh-yeh-yeh” street date) against a dockside backdrop of what used to be called a bevy of beauties plus a few equally nondescript male clean-cuts from Central Casting. Extraneous Footnote No. 1: I remember how its 1957 sheet music rendered Perry Como’s “Love Makes the World Go Round” with a parenthetical “Yeah Yeah” (with extra vowels this time) just below the main title. Extraneous Footnote No. 2: For a trumpet player turned manufactured teen idol, the production numbers makes it clear that Avalon had obviously been working out with weights or at least dumbbells (beyond the scriptwriters, that is).
On a gray matter level, it’s beneficial to note that The Member of the Wedding, despite being more than a dozen years older, seems more relevant today by a factor of centuries. But as labored as Sweden is, it’s slightly less a case here of jokes falling flat than of long, long stretches that don’t even attempt any humor (Hope’s A Global Affair from the previous year is probably the comic’s all-time champ at this). It all degenerates into some wince-engendering comic humiliation of John Qualen as the world’s oldest bellboy — though Qualen does rate mention on the back of the Olive jacket as a disc selling point. So, in fact, does Walter Sande, a familiar face I used to watch on TV as a kid in “The Adventures of Tugboat Annie” syndicated series. I myself was always fond of both character actors, though the copywriter who elected to tout them as audience magnets must be the hardest working PR person since Bagdad Bob in the Sadaam Hussein days.
The real selling point, if there is one, is the mind-expanding concept of Weld and Avalon as a couple — though there’s something to be said for the amusement quotient from tallying the number of Bob, and even Frankie, menswear changes. If the two carted all those dress jackets to Sweden, the luggage volume at the airport must have rivaled Jerry Lewis’s in 1995’s Funny Bones, for which runways practically had to be cleared. And while we’re at it, Funny Bones really needs a Blu-ray release.