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Armchair Cinephile

HOPE, GRANTED

Bob Hope: The Tribute Collection (Universal)
The Truth About Charlie/Charade (Universal)
The Awful Truth (Columbia)
Talk of the Town (Columbia)

Yet Hope, who recently celebrated his 100th birthday, was one sly character in his heyday - and thanks to some recent reissues, you don't have to be a senior citizen to be acquainted with his prime years. Universal alone just put out 17 films, releasing the more obscure titles on double-feature discs and the better known ones individually, with bonus features.

The collection includes the first four Road films; apart from his tireless performances for the American military, the seven vagabonding buddy movies Hope made with Bing Crosby are

 
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his most enduring legacy. The two actors have an easy, graceful chemistry that works as well for straight song-and-dance routines as for self-conscious asides to the movie audience, though even that charm may not sell contemporary audiences on anachronistic gags like Road to Singapore's blackface interlude.

Crosby's characteristically mellow responses to whatever trouble befalls the pair brings out Hope's edgy, skittish side - a comic cowardliness that has influenced any number of screen comedians. On a recent TV tribute to the actor, Woody Allen admits that he's been imitating Hope his whole career; when the editors followed that statement with a couple of Hope clips, it was amazing to see all of Allen's familiar tics and gestures, immortalized on celluloid years before little Woody was old enough to enter thereapy.

Unlike Bob Hope, Cary Grant retired while still in his prime. Reputedly, he didn't want movie lovers to have to watch him age onscreen. The perfection of late-but-never-old Grant is on view in Charade, which is included on the new DVD of the film it inspired, The Truth About Charlie. Of all the remakes you might choose to bind forever with their source material, this is one of the least likely - Charlie's charms are entirely different from Charade's, and are actually diminished by viewing the films in succession - but it's still welcome, as Criterion's edition of the movie went out of print some time ago.

Grant had passed up a couple of opportunities to work with Audrey Hepburn before accepting Charade, presumably because he thought their age difference made them ill-suited for comic-romantic sparring. In The Awful Truth, on the other hand, he has a pitch-perfect partner. Irene Dunne was a beauty with a splash of goofy sass - and playing

 
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Grant's ex-wife who intends to sabotage his current romance, she gets to lay the sass on pretty thick. In a hilarious payback scene, she barges into a swanky affair and claims to be Grant's sister, implying that his origins are a lot less upper-class than his new fiancée thinks. The whole routine is in response to the film's first half, in which Grant spoils Dunne's chances with an Oklahoma millionaire whose fortune is only matched by his dullness.

Talk of the Town doesn't seem to be as well known as Awful Truth, but it deserves a wider reputation. Here, Grant is a political agitator who's been convicted of a crime he didn't commit. He escapes to the home of an old schoolmate (Jean Arthur) and hides in her attic, but the house is about to be rented to an incomparably stuffy legal scholar (played by Ronald Colman, but squint your eyes and Colman might as well be Peter O'Toole). Grant is forced to hide out in the attic, and Arthur contrives a way to stay around as Colman's secretary while figuring out what to do about the white elephant upstairs. Mistaken identity, mix-ups with the cops, and the world's least dramatic romantic triangle ensue.

For extra credit: Will some legal-eagle movie buff out there listen to the music in Talk of the Town's closing courtroom scene and tell me if the estate of composer Frederick Hollander could make a convincing plagiarism case against John Williams, who I believe wrote an almost identical theme for The Empire Strikes Back? •


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