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One of the brighter efforts from comedy star Bob Hope's '50s film output is Off Limits, an amiable mix of service comedy and boxing picture. It's noted as the only film to co-star Hope and Mickey Rooney, the multi-talented ex-MGM contractee, now freelancing in smaller pictures. For his leading lady Hope chose the talented Marilyn Maxwell, who had graced Hope's earlier success The Lemon Drop Kid. She inspires a typically suggestive line of dialogue: "Come out from behind there, Spongecake, and I'll buy you a little drink or a chinchilla coat... something to cover you from your chin to your chilla."
The script by Hal Kanter and Jack Sher provides a strong story foundation for the comedy. Boxing impresario and ladies' man Wally Hogan (Hope) has been managing and training various Palookas for years, and has finally lucked onto a winner in Bullets Bradley (Stanley Clements). But when Bullets is drafted, Wally's partner Vic Breck (Marvin Miller) talks Wally into enlisting alongside the boxer, to protect their investment. Then Bullets is rejected for medical reasons, and Wally realizes that he's been cruelly tricked: he can't un-enlist himself, and is stuck doing a tour of duty. He volunteers for the Military Police (MP) under the dutiful and stern Sgt. Karl Danzig (Eddie Mayehoff of How to Murder Your Wife). Not permitted to fraternize with female officers, Wally takes a shine to nightclub singer Connie Curtis (Marilyn Maxwell). She's the aunt of his MP partner Herbert Tuttle (Mickey Rooney), an aspiring boxer who wants Wally to train him. Connie doesn't want Herbert to fight, but a wave of publicity forces Wally to put the young man in the ring. Herbert does well under Wally's direct coaching, but loses a bout on a Navy ship when Wally becomes seasick and passes out - Herbert needs Wallly's moment-by-moment guidance during fights. The feisty Herbert makes a comeback in a winning streak that pairs him against the champion -- civilian Bullets Bradley. Realizing that his former partner knows all of Bullets' moves and weaknesses, Vic Breck and his goons threaten Wally. But Wally's own misadventures get him thrown in the stockade, leaving Herbert defenseless for the big fight.
Off Limits is a fine-tuned Bob Hope comedy vehicle. Hope is best within a light comedy framework, as with his Paramount Damon Runyon adaptations and haunted house spoofs. As a beloved USO entertainer for troops overseas, Hope is particularly good as a reluctant draftee. His Wally Hogan is also a hopeless lover boy, as established early on when a half-dozen girls show up at ringside. All of them have dates with Wally and two or three are engaged to him. The ensuing catfight in the bleachers is more spectacular than the boxing match up in the ring.
Early press releases listed comic actor Alan Young as playing the role that eventually went to Mickey Rooney. Off Limits became Rooney's first "second banana" supporting role picture since leaving MGM as a top star a couple of years earlier. Considered a troublemaker after some run-ins with the studio brass, Rooney expressed gratitude for Hope's support: "Hope knew I would be good in the role and he insisted on me. I never forgot that." Rooney is an energetic marvel as the hopeful pugilist Herbert Tuttle, hitting all the dramatic notes while modulating his comic performance so as not to upstage Hope's Top Banana. The two do quite well singing, "It's Great To Be a Military Policeman" while patrolling on duty with helmets and white gloves. In one amusing gag, a medic shines a light into Herbert Tuttle's ear, and Wally notes that the light beam continues out the other side of his head. Rooney does his part, just sitting and asking what's going on, while Bob Hope gets to do the broad double-takes.
The cheerful Marilyn Maxwell entertains servicemen with her own song, "All About Love", before a brawl forces Wally to put her club Off Limits to military personnel. Funny-faced Eddie Mayehoff begins as a stern drill sergeant but eventually befriends his maladroit MPs, doing his best to keep Wally out of the stockade. Even he can't help Wally after the film's comedy chase sequence. Echoing Laurel & Hardy's silent Big Business, Wally destroys his general's new staff car, thinking that it belongs to the hoodlum Vic Breck. Wally and Connie then lead half the Army on a car chase (filmed in Culver City), convinced that gangsters are pursuing them.
Veteran director George Marshall (Fancy Pants) maintains the comedic pace and gives the boxing scenes special attention -- the characters are funny but the fights are mostly played straight. The legendary Johnny Indrisano is the film's technical director in the ring, while champion Jack Dempsey plays a referee. Football great Tom Harmon and popular boxer Art Aragon play themselves. For one screen fight "Golden Boy" Aragon pretends to be knocked out by Mickey Rooney's character.
Off Limits also features bit appearances by three of Hollywood's most beautiful starlets. Joan Taylor (On Dangerous Ground) and new Paramount contractee Carolyn Jones (The Bachelor Party) slug it out fighting over Wally in the first boxing scene. Gorgeous Mary Murphy (The Wild One) is a WAC who flips Wally over her shoulder when he makes advances. Also appearing in fleeting bits or glimpsed in the margins are Alvy Moore, Tom Dugan and Charles Bronson. The 7-foot 7-inch sailor seen outside Connie's nightclub is Lock Martin, who played Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Olive Films' DVD of Off Limits is an excellent transfer of this all-but-forgotten B&W Bob Hope romp, which looks as if it hasn't been out of the can since it was new. Both sound and picture are excellent.
The on-screen title is "Military Policemen", which was replaced as the film's title after the movie was trade-shown and just before the release. Reviewers found the film funny, applauded the comic duo of Hope and Rooney and singled out the comical Eddie Mayehoff for special attention.
Bob Hope fans looking for his expected joke at Bing Crosby's expense are given a great example in Off Limits. Locked out of the sports arena for the climactic prize fight, Wally coaches Hubert by walkie-talkie from the bar across the street, monitoring the bout on the bar's TV set. The reception is interrupted by an annoying burst of static, and when Wally leaps up to adjust the set, he tunes in momentarily to a close-up of Bing Crosby, singing a song. Hope then delivers a perfect deadpan aside to the camera: "More static!"
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Off Limits rates:
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T'was Ever Thus.