Bob Hope had a gift: He could be lecherous, cowardly, squirrelly, gullible, and dimwitted, yet somehow make it all endearing. At his best, the result was wonderful comedy--at his worst, the result was belabored schtick. The Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection has a little of both ends of the spectrum. The most "classic" Bob Hope picture in this set is Alias Jesse James, in which Hope plays an insurance salesman who, after selling an expensive policy to the famous outlaw, then has to go West and protect him so his beneficiary can't collect. The hapless fool rises to heroic heights by accident and mistaken identity; it's Hope's favorite storyline and he clearly enjoys himself. A host of Western stars--from James Arness (Gunsmoke) to Gary Cooper (High Noon) make cameo appearances. The Road to Hong Kong is the last Hope & Crosby Road to movie, and while the formula (preposterous plot, good-looking gal, and lots of jokes about being in a movie) is wearing thin, there are still plenty of pleasures to be had. The duo play con men who find themselves in possession of a secret rocket fuel formula after Hope loses his memory, which leads them into the clutches of James-Bond-style megalomaniac (Robert Morley, The Loved One). Dorothy Lamour appears, but it's pretty much an extended cameo; a young Joan Collins provides most of the eye-candy. The mid-60s sex farce Boy, Did I Get Wrong Number! doesn't have much to offer. Elke Sommer plays a starlet weary of always being naked in a bubble bath (naturally, this movie misses no opportunity to put her naked in a bubble bath); when she runs away, she crosses the path of flop real estate agent Hope, who ends up accused of her murder. Hope puts hardly a smidge of effort into his usual stream of one-liners; most of the movie's energy comes from Phyllis Diller, who approaches her gags like a heavyweight boxer, putting her full body into every one. I'll Take Sweden is a pleasant surprise; what initially seems like a typical teen exploitation movie starring Frankie Avalon and Tuesday Weld, with Hope along as Weld's befuddled father, turns into a sly cross-culture satire when Hope takes his daughter to Sweden so she won't marry Avalon--only to discover the European morals may pose a greater threat to her virtue than bohemian hijinx. The result is like a pop version of Henry James, peppered with zippy musical numbers. But the true gem of this collection is The Facts of Life. Hope and Lucille Ball are married to other people; they've known each other a long time and never liked each other, but when a trip to Mexico forces them together, they fall in love. This middle-aged love story is a comedy, but shot through with a bittersweet awareness of the compromises of life. Hope and Ball are both superb, giving their comic skills an yearning melancholy that perfectly expresses the Academy-Award-nominated screenplay. Not to be missed. --Bret Fetzer
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