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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection
Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection
R2 Entertainment // Unrated // November 6, 2007
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted November 14, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Often, when people wax nostalgic about annual Christmas TV traditions of their youth, they invariably return to animated children's fare, mentioning various Rankin and Bass efforts, such as Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, or possibly CBS' A Charlie Brown Christmas. It's funny, though, how the Bob Hope Christmas specials that were staples of the NBC primetime holiday schedules for decades, rarely come up anymore in those discussions. Hope was such an ubiquitous presence on TV when I was growing up (his yearly NBC shows; his movies endlessly re-run on the afternoon and late shows), that when he died in 2003, the sad news didn't quite sink in for me; you always just kind of got used to the idea that Bob Hope would be around forever.

Part of that feeling of permanence came from the fact that Hope's act changed little over the 35 years or more that he put on these TV specials. Usually opening with a monologue (filled with topical jokes gleaned from his stable of writers), Hope would then segue into introducing a celebrity guest, where they would then exchange a little patter or maybe a song, followed by a comedy skit. Later specials would further solidify that implacable steadiness of form by repeatedly recycling old clips from earlier specials, sometimes numerous times over, with Bob often acting as little more than a voice-over emcee to a compendium of his "Best of" moments. Some critics used to get on Hope in later years, exasperated with his ever-increasing reliance on what were basically "clip" shows, but to fans of the comedian (myself included), that seemingly endless regurgitation of prized past moments only enhanced the nostalgia factor of these specials (something Johnny Carson certainly realized, as well, with his clip shows that featured popular moments from his show, repeated year-in and year-out).

Respond2 Entertainment, in association with Hope Enterprises, has released the four-disc Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection, featuring previously released Hope DVDs at what I would imagine is a significantly lower price. TV specials included here are 50 Years of Laughter, from 1976 (split into two parts); The Bob Hope Christmas Show: Around the World with the U.S.O., which for some reason has been renamed on the disc box as Salute to the Troops; Bob Hope's Bag Full of Christmas Memories, a 1993 TV special that for some inexplicable reason is labeled Hope for the Holidays on the back of the DVD case, along with an extra title card at the beginning of the special, labeling it A Bob Hope Christmas; Bob Hope Presents the Hilarious Unreleased Antics of the Stars, a 1984 special that has been renamed Celebrity Bloopers on the DVD box; and Bob Hope's World of Comedy, a 1976 TV special.

As with most Bob Hope TV specials, the emphasis is on lots of one-liners and a seemingly endless parade of guest stars, either present in the studio with Bob, or featured in the myriad clips from previous specials. How you'll respond to these specials depends, perhaps, on when you were born, and how you view Hope as a comedian and TV icon. I would imagine that quite a few of Hope's guest stars will be unfamiliar to younger viewers. Part of the enormous appeal of these and other variety shows and specials from the 1950s to the 1970s was the relatively rare sight of a particularly big or famous motion picture or TV star, cavorting in unfamiliar territory. Before Entertainment Tonight or TMZ, and before 24-hours-a-day celebrity news coverage we now possess on the internet, the private lives of the stars were still relatively obscured to the average fan. What we might have read in a newspaper gossip column was about it; the only chance you had of seeing Lee Marvin was up on the movie screen. So when Hope featured him clowning on a 1971 TV special (clips of which appear on several of these discs), it was a big deal. Today, the so-called "mystique" of stars has been completely eliminated (maybe that's why they're so "small" and disposable now?), but back during Hope's heyday, a bevy of big-time guest stars on TV (as you'll see from my listings below) was a novel, noteworthy event.

As for Hope himself, I still find him the master of the snappy, cynical one-liner. These specials may not show Bob Hope in his 1940s and 1950s feature film prime, and perhaps there's a sameness and even a hint of "going through the motions" to some of the monologues and skits, but even Hope at half-speed is better than most comedians at their peak. And when Hope throws out a rejoinder without seeming to care whether it hits home or not, that's when he's frequently at his funniest. Many critics discuss the celebrated Hope persona as the sniveling, wise-cracking coward that Hope honed to perfection in film after film - and that's a great character he created. But I was always more fond of the hipster Hope - the Hope you often see in the U.S.O. clips that permeate these specials - where Hope was cooler than cool. Throwing out risque jokes to hardened soldiers, Hope effortlessly guided his crowd with supreme confidence. Here, he's the old pro who's seen it all and can laugh at it with a dead pan sophistication. That's the Hope I love; it's a shame he didn't pick stronger directors and writers in the later stages of his film career, to allow that Hope, and not the "coward Hope," to come out more often.

Here are the 4 TV specials included in the four-disc boxed set, Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection:

DISC ONE:

50 YEARS OF LAUGHTER (PART 1) (51:36)
Celebrating his previous 25 years on NBC TV, this 1976 special features the usual "topical" monologue (including jokes connecting Kissinger, Mao and egg foo yong), cut up into multiple takes as Bob lasers in on those "idiot cards." An absolutely astounding array of guest stars show up for funny skits with Bob (almost all of them in clips from previous shows), including: Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, John Wayne (with the Duke in person with Bob, as well, giving a great line, "How do you like this? I'm getting a free lube job."), Shirley MacLaine, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Carroll Baker, Cyd Charisse, Vicki Carr, Angie Dickinson, Jill St. John, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, James Cagney, Rosemary Clooney, Shirley Jones, Mike Connors, Rocky Marciano, Barbara Eden, Bing Crosby, Ed Sullivan, Jack Dempsey, The Carpenters, Jack Benny, Diana Ross, Ann-Margret, Bob Newhart, Carol Lawrence, Glen Campbell, Jerry Colonna, Ginger Rogers, Dyan Cannon, Burt Reynolds, Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis, Jr., Racquel Welch, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Andy Williams, Natalie Wood and Ray Charles.

50 YEARS OF LAUGHTER (PART 2) (50:47)
Part two of this special, which I would assume was originally shown as a single two-hour special, includes visits with Lee Marvin (quite hysterical, by the way), Robert Goulet, Rex Harrison, Lilli Palmer, Ed Wynn, Toots Shore, Faye Emerson, Imogene Coca, Sid Caesar, Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante, Flip Wilson, Frank Sinatra (who makes an appearance in the studio with Bob), Charlie Rich, Lucille Ball, Dezi Arnez, Bill Frawley, Vivian Vance, Jackie Gleason, Barbara Streisand, Gwen Verdon, Steve McQueen, Janice Page, David Niven, Dorothy Lamour, Milton Berle, Petula Clark, Danny Thomas, Ingrid Bergman, Wally Cox, Phyllis Diller, Jonathan Winters, Elke Sommer, Redd Foxx, David Janssen, Rowen and Martin (in what may be one of the funniest skits I've seen in a long time - particularly Dan Rowen's opening reaction shot), Maurice Chevalier, Debbie Reynolds, and Johnny Carson. Whew! The number of guest spots guarantees that the skits and clips run no longer than a minute at most. An invaluable time capsule.

DISC TWO:

THE BOB HOPE CHRISTMAS SHOW: AROUND THE WORLD WITH THE U.S.O. (1:04:47)
This was one of two Christmas specials that Bob Hope delivered from his travels to Vietnam, during the height of the conflict. And both specials still hold spots in the top thirty most watched (per household) primetime TV programs of all time. Hope was always extremely careful to keep his politics to himself. He was an equal opportunity jester, skewering with aplomb whatever party or President currently resided in Washington. But his support of the troops through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War, was proudly displayed. Some naysayers accused Hope of exploiting those trips for ratings and publicity, but that's a fairly baseless charge, when you consider the real danger Hope and his various troops of entertainers were put in (traveling to hot spots all over the world), as well as the total commitment Hope showed by going year after year, for decades, to entertain troops when he really didn't have to anymore. In the 1990s, President Clinton bestowed on Hope an "Honorary Veteran" award, and it was well deserved, when you factor in how many millions of dollars worth of war bonds Hope sold, as well as the tremendous boosts to morale his shows gave to soldiers who were frequently forgotten by the people back home.

This Christmas special from 1970 has Bob narrating the circuitous trip his troupe had to take to get to Vietnam, with highlights from each stop featured in the film. Certain moments stand out, including Connie Stevens appearing to fend off almost certain rape by four very enthusiastic soldiers (she looks vaguely terrified, actually), as well as a genuinely hysterical "Mail Call" bit at Cu Chi military base. Technically, the special is pretty rough (it looks like it was edited with a chainsaw), and a worrisome original announcement at the end of the program (where the announcer states this 90 minute program was brought to you by Chrysler without commercial interruption - unfortunately, the DVD version only runs 64 minutes) indicates that we're probably not seeing the whole program. Lots of funny jokes from the cynical pro Hope, as well as a final lump-in-the-throat moment where Bob very eloquently talks about the sacrifices these soldiers are making, as he implores those detractors at home to get behind them and support them - regardless of their own political beliefs (sounds familiar, doesn't it?).

BOB HOPE'S BAG FULL OF CHRISTMAS MEMORIES (58:55)
Produced in 1993, this is one of Bob's later specials (his last would be in 1996), and it's clear that although age has slowed him down, he still has the old polish. Set up as a Christmas party that Bob's throwing at his home, "old friends" drop by (who happen to have starred in NBC programs from the past), including Barbara Eden, Loni Anderson, The Judds, Joey Lawrence, Ed Marinaro, Lynn Swan, as well as Delores Hope and Bob's children and grandchildren.

The script is fairly pedestrian - as well as frequently groan-inducing (one of Bob's grandchildren asks one of the Judds, like they're old friends, what Grampa would like for Christmas) - but fans of this type of traditional Christmas special appreciate that deliberate phoniness. That's part of the appeal of these shows. Lots of clips from previous shows are included with Brooke Shields (listen to the military personnel go absolutely ape when the young, long-legged Shields steps out onto the stage), Jayne Mansfield, Marie Osmond (who's nicely flirty with a soldier), Phyllis Diller, Joan Van Ark, Red Skelton, Redd Foxx, Jack Benny, Reba McIntire, Macaulay Culkin, Phil Silvers, Emmanuel Lewis, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, and Lee Marvin (who famously breaks up Hope when he portrays a mad dog killer). There's a marvelous moment where Hope visits with John Wayne in 1976 (right before his final bout with cancer), where the Duke and Bob share a duet on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Wayne may croak it, but he croaks it in tune). The highlight of the special has to be a compendium of clips showing Bob singing his trademark Christmas special song, Silver Bells with various ladies through the years, including Gale Storm, Kathryn Crosby, Shirley Jones, Marie Osmond, Loretta Swit, Gloria Loring, Olivia Newton-John, Dyan Cannon, Phylicia Rashad, Donna Mills, Dixie Carter, Barbara Eden, Reba McIntire, Loni Anderson, and of course, his wife Delores. It's a very touching moment.

DISC THREE:

BOB HOPE PRESENTS THE HILARIOUS UNREHEARSED ANTICS OF THE STARS (46:46)
Produced in 1984 (but aired in 1985), this special celebrates Bob's 35th year at NBC, with a host of "bloopers" from his various TV specials. Most seem to be true bloopers (although some made it to final broadcasts in their original form), and for the most part, they're quite amusing. Guests who screw up include co-host Angie Dickinson (who, in an earlier skit, frisks Bob, saying in a barely audible, sultry tone, "You're big!"); Sammy Davis, Jr., Burt Reynolds (with his all-time best rug), Olivia Newton-John, George Burns, John Forsythe (who really cracks up Hope), Catherine Bach, Brooke Shields, Lee Marvin making Barbara Eden blush (Marvin also acts as a host - when the two talk about the long-past glories of Cat Ballou, it's a sad testament to how wasted his post-Oscar career was. What the hell is he doing here?); Loni Anderson, Jack Benny, Rosemary Clooney; a classic The Tonight Show moment with guest host Don Rickles insulting Bob, Bing Crosby and John Wayne (!), Lucille Ball (who also hosts), Tom Selleck, Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, Danny Thomas, Dyan Cannon, Milton Berle (who also hosts), Elizabeth Taylor (the video is terrible for this clip), Mr. T., Perry Como, Phyllis Diller, Fred MacMurray (who's funny as hell), and Janice Page.

DISC FOUR:

BOB HOPE'S WORLD OF COMEDY (1:29:17)
This 1976 special has Bob welcoming several guest, discussing the nature and merits of various comedy forms, as he introduces a treasure-trove of funny clips. People who drop by (via past clips) include Bob Newhart, Jackie Gleason and a chimp (Gleason kills in this simple skit), Roy Rogers and Trigger, Julie London, Rowen and Martin, James Mason, Greer Garson, Lassie, some walking dogs who absolutely slay Bob, Ava Gabor, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ingrid Bergman, William Holden, Robert Strauss, Anita Ekberg, Rex Harrison, Lili Palmer, Janice Page, David Niven, Marilyn Maxwell, Lucille Ball, Ernie Kovacs, Ann-Margret (watch her strip out of her tennis outfit - helloooooo!), Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Bing Crosby, Steve Allen, Jack Paar, Danny Thomas, Donald O'Connor, Don Rickles, Milton Berle, Tony Randall, Redd Foxx, Glen Campbell, Gina Lollabrigida, Jerry Colonna, Dorothy Lamour, Fred MacMurray, Joan Crawford, George Sanders, Troy Donohue (who gets a big laugh), Frank Sinatra, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Dyan Cannon, Debbie Reynolds, Jack Benny, Juliet Prowse, Johnny Carson, Burt Reynolds, Martha Raye, Lee Marvin (again), and Barbara Eden (again).

Co-hosts for this special include include Big Bird (who breaks up Hope like a pro), Neil Simon, in his first TV appearance (Hope asks him about ethnic humor, which Simon wholeheartedly supports - take that, P.C. goon squads!), Don Rickles (who plugs his flop C.P.O. Sharkey), and Norman Lear (who discusses the failure of Hot L Baltimore, of all things). Another fascinating trip down memory lane, and an invaluable tool for pop culture historians - as well as a still-funny hour and a half for those viewers who couldn't care less about "pop culture."

The DVD:

The Video:
Often looking no better than second generation VHS transfers, the video quality of the specials in the Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection set won't look too attractive on your large monitor, with quite a bit of compression problems. But I suppose that's part of the charm of this set: vintage video for vintage TV.

The Audio:
The English mono audio tracks for the Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection accurately reflect the original broadcast presentations of these specials.

The Extras:
On disc three, after Bob Hope Presents the Hilarious Unrehearsed Antics of the Stars, there are a few revealing extras featured, including excerpts about Bob and his U.S.O. shows from a 1995 film, Memories of World War II. This segment, entitled Bob Goes to War on the DVD menu, runs 17:09. Next, Bob's on the Air features a 1935 radio broadcast with Bob as the new Master of Ceremonies for Bromo Seltzer's The Intimate Review. And finally, two of Bob's early two reelers, Paree, Paree from 1934, and Calling All Tars from 1936, are included on this disc.

Final Thoughts:
We'll probably never see the likes of a Bob Hope TV special again. Stars today - if you can even call them that - are far too self-conscious and self-protective of their "image," and not at all multi-talented enough to appear on a variety show. It use to be great to see our favorite movie idols and TV personalities let their hair down and get all loose and clown around with the likes of an old pro like Bob Hope - something the dour young whelps of today wouldn't dream of doing. Hope, the master of the snide aside, is a seminal figure in the annals of 20th century comedy, and the specials included in the Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection set are invaluable looks into our shared TV past. The jokes may get corny, and the clips may repeat at times, and Hope may look a little too closely at those "idiot cards," but no one could out-cool Hope when he set his smart-ass sights on you. If you don't already own these previously released DVDs, I highly, highly recommend Bob Hope: The Ultimate Collection.


Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

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