Bob Hope and Lucille Ball ham it up in Old-Timey Technicolor Comedy
DIRECTED BY GEORGE MARSHALL/1950
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: NOVEMBER 8, 2022/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
Bob Hope is a bad actor. Not really! I mean, in this movie, he plays a bad actor. Welllll… maybe Bob Hope isn’t the greatest actor… But he did manage to become a major star on his own accord, exclusively utilizing his own established wisecracking persona.
Not the same can be said of Arthur Tyler, a hambone klutz who can’t hold down a limited theatrical engagement in an embarrassingly formulaic potboiler. It’s Great Britain, 1905, and Tyler (Hope) needs a plan. Thanks to assorted Act I plot convolutions and contrivances he catches the eye of a traveling American matriarch (Lea Penman) in the market for a good British butler. Before you can say “Parasite”, Tyler, now dubbed “Humphrey”, is ensconced in their large but often informal stateside home. It’s tea and crumpets on demand… and frequently spilled all over a particularly persnickety old broad. Oops, it was an accident!
Hope shares the marquee with Lucille Ball, who was clearly famous enough to warrant half of the poster but proves to be a disappointing non-entity in the movie proper. Ball, playing a headstrong gal from New Mexico is given precious little to do beyond the occasional sarcastic remark or chasing Hope around the desert. When she makes the mistake of insisting that he do her hair in some bold new way of his own creation, she winds up with a small birdcage, complete with a live canary, installed in her tall kooky coif. The movie is particularly proud of this gag. Eventually our leads fall in love and share a big smooch, which is somehow just weird to watch. The remainder of Ball’s screen time is her howling “Hey, Faaaaaancy Paaaants!” to Hope (believing he’s a proper Brit, even though he’s not trying) in a shrill tone that I did not care to hear multiple times.
I should stop right here for a moment in the name of critical honesty. Specifically, to say that Fancy Pants, despite competent direction by comedy journeyman George Marshall (The Ghost Breakers; Murder, He Says) and a very full, eager-to-please supporting cast, is remarkably forgettable. As in, I watched it yesterday and am currently struggling to remember much of significance about it. Particularly the plot, wherein Hope’s character (which is to say, Bob Hope) is thrust into playing a British butler who’s then made to play an Earl when President Theodore Roosevelt (John Alexander) visits. Actually, that might be the gist of it, though don’t ask about any particular gags. I laughed out loud involuntarily at least once but can’t remember at what.
What I can confirm is that this supposed “musical” remake of Leo McCarey’s 1935 comedy favorite Ruggles of Red Gap has only two count ‘em two songs performed. That’s it, two. What is the bare minimum threshold for songs performed in order for a movie to officially pass muster as a musical? It’s got to be more than two. These two songs, “(Hey) Fancy Pants!” and “Home Cookin’”, both penned by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, are good enough in context… but that’s about it. To top it off, Lucille Ball not actually singing. Her voice is doubled by an uncredited Annette Warren.
Fancy Pants has been nicely remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures from 4K scans of the 35mm YCM (that’s yellow/cyan/magenta) three-strip Technicolor elements. Which is to say, they went to the effort to do it well, and KL Studio Classics and Bob Hope fans are the beneficiaries. It looks really nice and vibrant, which certainly isn’t always the case when it comes to older three-strip Technicolor films. Extras on this Blu-ray, however, are absent. It wasn’t so long ago that KL’s Bob Hope offerings could at least net a historian commentary. For this not-so-fancy edition of Fancy Pants, we’ll have to settle for the theatrical trailer. And optional English subtitles, if those count as extras.
Fans of vintage “they don’t make ‘em line that anymore” Hollywood comedies have ample reasons to put on Fancy Pants. It’s a Bob Hope movie by George Marshall with Lucille Ball as the girl, Bruce Cabot as the badguy, and a bully extended Teddy Roosevelt appearance. Yet, Fancy Pants is nobody’s best work. Chalk it up to the rapidly shifting returns on any given Bob Hope comedy between their rich run in the 1940s and their tired spell in the 1950s. Fancy Pants, released in 1950, splits the difference… one leg at a time.