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Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection (DVD Review)

10 Jun, 2010 By: Mike Clark

$39.98 three-DVD set
Not rated.
Stars Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Bing Crosby, Jane Russell.

Mixing a previously released trio of favorites with three DVD premieres, this six-pack with extras is either a happy accident or one programmed by savvy pros. In addition to tossing in bonus featurettes that deal with entertaining the troops during World War II, the box contains all three movies Hope made with one of his most compatible leading ladies (Paulette Goddard), including a pair of haunted house comedies often mentioned in the same sentence when discussing his screen career. Of the DVD premieres, one was previously available on VHS, while two making are their debuts in any home format. Nice.

Perhaps the chief selling point is the belated appearance of 1939’s The Cat and the Canary  — whose literary rights imbroglio kept it out of both the huge 1929-48 Paramount package that MCA bought in the late 1950s and then off TV for many decades (in recent times it has shown up on YouTube). As Hope’s first teaming with Goddard — even their heights were nicely in sync — it’s historically important as the vehicle that really put the comic over in pictures while establishing the cowardly persona that sustained him on screen into middle age.

A creepy comedy built around the reading of a will, Cat is freely adapted from a stage play that had been filmed before (and would be later, in 1978). And truth to tell, it’s not particularly funny, boasting just enough sporadic wisecracks to remind us that it’s a Hope vehicle we’re watching. But at 74 minutes, this whodunit (actually, it’s more like a who’s-doing-it?) is over before one can become restless, and the photography/décor is so expressive — there’s actually more visual mood in Paramount comedies than MGM dramas of the era — that viewing it is a pleasure.

Canary’s box office success led to the re-teaming of Hope and Goddard in 1940’s Ghost Breakers, another haunted house comedy long available on DVD and included here. Set in Cuba, it makes black sidekick Willie Best (as Hope’s servant) the butt of some jokes in discomforting ways, but it has always been savored by a lot of Hope fans. Overall, it’s an agreeable comedy, though I — in an opinion not always shared — much prefer the 1953 Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis remake Scared Stiff, my favorite by far of the team’s black-and-white movies (which were inferior to most of the Technicolor ones).

The third Hope-Goddard title in this box is the other home media premiere: 1941’s Nothing But the Truth. With a premise that seemed wheezy even before Jim Carrey disinterred it for 1997’s Liar Liar, it’s another comedy about the perils of always telling what the title implies. But it moves faster than Cat and Ghost and is my preferred pick of the three with Goddard — and also of all vehicles with this story hook. Truth, too, is based on a literary property that kept it out of that vintage MCA package, but those who say it has never been shown on TV are wrong. The long dreadful American Movie Classics, back in the Bob Dorian-Nick Clooney era when it still deserved to be called a movie network, gave it a few plays in the 1990s.

Thanks for the Memory (like Hope’s trademark song, it’s singular, not plural) is the selection previously available on VHS but never before on DVD; used copies have recently been selling on Amazon in the $16-to-$40 range, which shows you what a good deal this set is. Less a comedy than a rocky-marriage romance with a light touch, it reteamed Hope was Shirley Ross, who vocally dueted with him on Memory (which won the Oscar for best song) in Hope’s screen debut The Big Broadcast of 1938. This cash-in on the tune’s popularity is a curiosity: Hope plays a struggling writer (though a lot of people would kill to have his apartment), and at one point we see him wearing suspenders for what must have been one of the few times on screen. This time, Hope duets with Ross on "Two Sleepy People," which the two recorded for Decca and has been issued on a Hope CD.

I’ve seen some online carping that this set also includes the frequently issued Road to Morocco (1942) and The Paleface (1948) — as if a) every Hope fan has automatically bought every previous release; and b) there’s an endless alternative trough of unreleased Hope Paramounts that Universal controls (in fact, there are barely any, and I think 1943’s Let’s Face It is tied up in another rights hassle — plus, it’s a pretty bad movie). These are, in fact, the two best comedies on the set — and one can’t go too wrong including releases of their stature as a kind of bonus as long as the cost isn’t inflated too much.  I just checked two websites online, and both were selling the Memories box in the $30 range. That’s five bucks a title.

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