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Off Limits (DVD Review)

14 Mar, 2011 By: Mike Clark

$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Bob Hope, Mickey Rooney, Marilyn Maxwell, Eddie Mayehoff.

What Vietnam didn’t do to kill the service comedy, cessation of the draft did. Which means that even if Bob Hope weren’t a looking-it 49 here and playing an M.P., there’d still be a kind of out-of-this-universe feel to one of the last really characteristic movies he made at onetime home studio Paramount (and the last one he made there in black-and-white). Of course, the fact that Mickey Rooney is 5-foot-3 and playing an M.P. as well only adds to the twisted tone.

Hope, who boxed early in his pre-stardom Cleveland days, plays a fight trainer here — one about to hit the big-time with a champ who is suddenly drafted. To keep the story moving (because otherwise, it would end, and we’d have to watch something else), the script contrives to have Hope enlist as well — only to have his meal ticket (Stanley Clements) rejected for service. The situation halfway recalls a great gag in Hope’s much funnier 1941 Caught in the Draft, which came out about six months before Pearl Harbor. A fellow draftee with Hope brags (or, rather, “gums”) that he’s just pulled out all his teeth to get rejected — only to hear himself classified 4-F for flat feet. It’s not really not all that much of a stretch from here to the draft board sequence in Arthur Penn’s great counterculture paean Alice’s Restaurant. No one wanted to get drafted, even in peacetime.

So Hope is stuck, as is fellow inductee Rooney, who by coincidence yearns to be a fighter. But objecting to this is Rooney’s unlikely aunt played by the seriously blonde Marilyn Maxwell, who was said to have been Hope’s off-screen girlfriend at the time (they’d co-starred before in The Lemon Drop Kid, one of Hope’s better movies). Giving Hope more trouble is an MP authoritarian played by Eddie Mayehoff, who had just had prominent roles in a couple Martin & Lewis pictures, with a third to come. Rooney is puny but, for the movie day, a reasonably convincing scrapper in the ring. Previously, he played a boxer in 1947’s Killer McCoy at MGM.

If you look closely, you can spot Carolyn Jones as one of Hope’s myriad squeezes; just four years later, she’d be getting an Oscar nomination for the Paddy Chayefsky-scripted The Bachelor Party. And if you don’t blink, there’s also Charles Bronson walking across a boxing ring. Early on, Tom Harmon appears as a sports announcer, which he did many times in the movies. And it was a pretty good coup here getting Jack Dempsey to play a ref in a pair of fights (one early and one late in the picture). In one funny bit, Hope chides Dempsey about calling “a long count” — a reference to Dempsey’s still famous what-if bout with Gene Tunney in 1927.

Rooney looks kind of tired in the face — that’s what money woes and ex-wives (often one and the same) will do to you — but he and Hope play well together: a good teaming that’s better than the material. There are two oddities here, starting with the fact that Olive’s print actually calls the film Military Policemen (which was the working title). The other has to do with a couple musical numbers that come out of nowhere (one a Hope-Rooney duet as they’re patrolling down the street). Both indicate that one end may not have known what the other was doing here.

But the there’s one reliable thing that you can all but count on. Late in the movie, Hope takes a verbal swipe at Bing Crosby — and it ranks with the funniest of countless putdowns involving the two over many years.

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