Just as HD DVD was dying, BCI released a pair of Bob Hope classics on
the format. Virtually impossible to find in retail stores the double
feature of My Favorite Brunette and Son of Paleface HD DVD is a
disc worth tracking down. Presenting two public domain titles in
HD, it is uncertain when, or if, these will ever make it to Blu-ray.
If you're even slightly interested in these two funny films, I'd pick them
up sooner rather than later.
My Favorite Brunette (1947):
It's hard to do parodies correctly. A good parody is funny and entertaining
and makes it look easy. A bad parody can be torture to watch, and
is all too often mean-spirited and not at all humorous. This film
is a great parody of film noir. If you're not familiar with the genre
the film won't be quite as amusing, but even so it will be an enjoyable
Ronnie Jackson (Bob Hope) is a baby photographer who yearns for the
glamorous life of a hard-boiled private eye. When the detective across
from his studio (played wonderfully by Alan Ladd) goes out of town, Jackson
is mistaken for him by a damsel in distress (Dorothy Lamour.) She
gives him a map, which he hides, and then we're off for an hour's worth
of comic adventure.
One of the reasons this parody works so well is because of the excellent
guest stars. Alan Ladd's role as the real detective is very small
but he plays it straight, which makes it wonderfully comical when juxtaposed
against Hope's goofy character.1 Peter
Lorre appears as a knife-throwing psychopath mimicking several of his other
roles, and Lon Chaney plays a character very similar to his character in
Of Mice and Men.
The film has all the trappings of a noir, but Hope's goofy personality
and frequent one-liners make it into a hilarious spoof. The film
never takes itself seriously and it occasionally winks at the audience
such as when a policeman, led on a wild goose chase by Hope, tells him
"If you bother us again, I'll personally punch you in the nose so hard
it will look like other peoples' noses." A funny and spot-on send
up of noir films, this is a classic.
Son of Paleface (1952): This
film is a sequel to Hope's earlier hit Paleface (1948). Hope
plays Junior Potter, the son of the character he played in the prequel.
He's a Harvard grad who travels out west to claim the inheritance his father
left him. Unfortunately the chest he obtains in the lawyer's office
is empty and everyone in town is expecting Junior to settle up his father's
In a competing plotline it's revealed that the local saloon owner Mike
(Jane Russell) is really the masked bandit The Torch. Roy Rogers
(playing himself) and his horse Trigger have come to town to nab the Torch
and her gang. Potter gets interested in Mike however, and since everyone
in town thinks the goofy Harvard man is rich, Mike is interested in him
too. Add in a tribe of Indians who are after Junior's scalp and you've
got a comical western spoof that works more often than it doesn't.
This is another classic comedy, and though it's slightly less entertaining
that the other feature on this disc, it's still a fun flick. It's
almost like this is two films, a straight western with Roy Rogers searching
for a group of bandits, and a comedy with Hope trying to talk the town's
people out of lynching him. The two rarely meet until the end, and
when they do, it to sing a song.
That's not actually a bad thing. Roy Rogers is much better in
this than I was expecting, and Trigger (who is billed as "the smartest
horse in the movies") steals most of the scenes he's in. (This is
especially true for the bit where Trigger and Hope are both in bed and
fighting over the covers.) Jane Russell is, of course, gorgeous and
charismatic in her role. She's both voluptuous and strong-willed
and that makes for an attractive combination. (What ever happened
to actresses like that? Today they're all skin and bones. Anyone
else think that Nicole Riche should go eat a donut? But I digress...)
As in Brunette, this film plays it for laughs and never takes itself
seriously. The cameo by Bing Crosby in the opening is a perfect example
and laugh-out-loud funny. One thing that really adds to the appeal
of this film are the quick throw-away gags that might be missed.
My favorite one that luckily made the censors is just before the big musical
number Buttons and Bows. Jane Russell sings to Hope, and gets
quite a reaction, and then to Rogers, who stares straight ahead the entire
time. Hope waves his hand in front of Rogers' eyes and then
glances down to the cowboy's crotch to see if Russell had any effect on
him. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment but it's hilarious.
The HD DVD:
Both films are housed on one 30 GB single-sided HD DVD and are encoded
with the MPEG-2 codex. They are both presented with their original
aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in tact and look very good for a pair of public
The problem with movies being in the public domain is that there is
no monetary incentive to have them restored, or even go to much trouble
to preserve them. These two films are available from a number of
publishers (a quick search on Amazon turns up literally dozens of different
versions of the first feature alone) with often less than spectacular image
and sound quality. I was very pleasantly surprised with the image
quality of this HD DVD. While not a reference disc by any means,
it did do a good job of presenting both movies and made them look better
than they ever had before on home video.
The first feature, My Favorite Brunette, is in black and white
and looks clearer than I've ever seen it. The level of detail is
very good, but not outstanding. The image is soft and there is some
grain too. There are a few instances where white objects bloom just
a bit. Check out Dorothy Lamour's white bath robe when she and Hope
are trying to escape from the sanitarium. The blacks are not as inky
as I would have liked either. The biggest defects however are the
many spots and small scratches that mar the print. While it's not
nearly as bad as some movies I've seen it is very noticeable.
Son of Paleface was shot in Technicolor and also looks very good
when compared to other releases on home video. It looks better than
the first feature, and has noticeably less marks on the print itself.
The colors varied from bright and vibrant to about average. There
were some scenes where the flesh tones were a shade too red (the opening
sequence for example) but the blues popped nicely as the often do in Technicolor
The films both come with their original mono soundtracks. They
both sounded fine, especially for films this old. Common problems
like background noise and tape hiss were not noticeable at normal viewing
levels, and distortion wasn't a problem. Recorded with 50 year old
technology, the audio is thin and tinny when compared to movies of today.
The dynamic range is very limited and this is very apparent in the songs
where both the highs and lows are clipped. That's the way it was
recorded though, and this disc does a good job of reproducing the original
sound of the film.
Unfortunately, there are no extras on this disc.
Both of these films are great fun. Made at the height of the studio
system, these comedy films are filled with excellent direction, talented
co-stars, and some hilarious scenes. Fans of Hope who have gone high
def should make it a point to seek these out. They won't be around
for long. While the video image is not reference quality and the
audio is the original mono, the presentation to both of these films in
much better than I've ever seen them before. Highly Recommended.
1) One of my favorite lines in the film is when
Hope is trying to convince Ladd to take him on as a partner. "I told
you before, stick to watching the birdie and you'll die of old age."
Says Ladd, to which Hope retorts: "Yeah, but I was cut out for this
kind of life. All my life I wanted to be a hardboiled detective like Humphrey
Bogart or Dick Powell or even Alan Ladd." It's funny that they mentioned
Ladd in the film, but hilarious that the listed him last.
Note: The images in this review are not from the HD DVD and do not necessarily
represent the image quality on the disc.