"When I was born the doctor said, ‘Boil some water,' and I've been in it ever since."
- Wally Hogan (Bob Hope)
Like the concurrently released My Favorite Spy, Off Limits (1953), presented here under its hardly enticing British title, Military Policemen, is a decidedly lesser Bob Hope comedy. It plays almost like material originally intended for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, with 50-year-old M.P. Hope managing seemingly hopeless lightweight (and short-heighted) boxing prospect Mickey Rooney. Writer Hal Kanter and director George Marshall both did Martin & Lewis's Money from Home immediately after this, so who knows?
Either way, the picture seems unusually cheap and routine for a Bob Hope comedy. His movies for Paramount were usually pretty lavish and polished. This is not. In 1953, Martin & Lewis placed second on the year's list of top box office stars (just behind Gary Cooper), while Hope had fallen to a still-respectable eighth place. Off Limits resembles an early Martin & Lewis movie, before Paramount realized they weren't flashes in the pan, while Money from Home more closely resembles the usual early-‘50s Bob Hope movie.
The film was shot in late 1952, premiering in 1953, just as the widescreen revolution was heating up, but its 1.37:1, black and white transfer is very impressive. No extras.
Hope plays Wally Hogan, an inveterate womanizer (his girlfriends include Joan Taylor and Carolyn Jones) and manager of promising young fighter Bullets Bradley (Stanley Clements). But immediately after Bullets's first big knockout (refereed by Jack Dempsey) he's suddenly drafted into the Armed Forces. Mobsters Vic (Marvin Miller) and Bade (Richard Weil), owners of the biggest piece of Bullets's contract, compel Wally to enlist as well in order to keep an eye on the volatile fighter but despite his name and occupation, Bullets is declared 4-F. Fifty-year-old Wally, however, is not, much to the gangsters' delight.
Wally meets platinum blonde singer Connie Curtis (Marilyn Maxwell), and he begins lusting after her in typical Hope fashion, unaware she's the aunt of a young recruit, aspiring boxer Herbert Tuttle (Mickey Rooney), who's been desperately trying to get Wally to train him.
Wally and Herbert become military policemen, a job that, according to the film, mostly involves hanging out at swanky nightclubs and performing the occasional soft shoe number on Connie's grand piano. Eventually Wally agrees to take Herbert on, with predictable results.
Off Limits is undistinguished, and Hope and Rooney have oil and water chemistry as a team, with Rooney, his own career quickly ebbing at this time, a very distant third place in terms of screen time and opportunities to make any kind of impression. Hope reportedly was having a red-hot, long-lasting extramarital affair with Maxwell around this time, so one can read some real sparks in their scenes together, with Hope even more lascivious than usual. Conversely, it's stretching things with 32-year-old Maxwell as a 33-year-old's aunt, and a bit more with the diminutive Rooney as an M.P. (technically he was too short to qualify for the real thing), adding to the film's off-kilter feel.
Rather like Abbott & Costello and their bland early fifties films, Hope was concentrating more on establishing himself as a television star, and in routine comedies like this one he tended to walk through such projects on autopilot, conserving his interests and energies for more ambitious films like his Damon Runyon adaptations and especially The Seven Little Foys (1955), Hope's first attempt at something like serious drama.
Video & Audio
The 1.37:1, high-def black and white transfer of Off-Limits/Military Policemen looks totally fine, with almost no damage, good detail, contrast, blacks, etc. The DTS-HD Master Audio mono (English only) is likewise perfectly fine. There are no subtitle options, and no Extra Features.
Lesser Hope, but still mildly entertaining. That and the good transfer make this marginally Recommended, though it's hardly Hope's best.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Tora-san DVD boxed set, is on sale now.