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Call Me Bwana (1963) is one of Bob Hope's solo efforts from his later career and a pleasant diversion for his fans. In it, the United States government sends famed anthropologist and expert on Africa, Matthew Merriweather (Hope), deep into the African jungle to retrieve a valuable moon probe that has gone off course and crashed. The problem? Matthew Merriweather is a total fraud who has never been to Africa in his life! Edie Adams plays a sensible CIA agent sent to accompany Hope, and Anita Ekberg (of La Dolce Vita  fame) is a sexy foreign spy out to charm Hope with her feminine wiles.
The producers of Call Me Bwana, Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, are the same team behind the first seven hugely popular James Bond films, beginning with Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963). Their Bond influence comes through in Call Me Bwana's tongue-in-cheek presentation of gadgets, spies, and gorgeous girls. Many of the same production personnel from the Bond films were also used, including editor Peter Hunt and composer Monty Norman, who is noted for originating the famous "007 Theme."
It was producer Harry Saltzman who came up with the idea of Call Me Bwana as a vehicle for his friend Bob Hope. He originally wanted to take advantage of the exotic locales and shoot on location at the Mount Kenya Safari Club in Africa. Due to the political unrest at the time in Africa, however, the location shoot was scratched and production moved to Pinewood Studios outside of London. The forest behind the studios doubled for the African jungle.
Co-star Edie Adams was disappointed that they didn't get to travel to Africa. She was looking forward to the trip so much that she had already run to her doctor to get every possible vaccination against tropical diseases. "The first clue I had that we weren't going to Africa," Adams says in her autobiography Sing a Pretty SongThe Offbeat Life of Edie Adams, "was when I said to Bob (Hope), while doing his (TV) special, `Weren't those shots terrible?' He said, `What shots?'"
Anita Ekberg was friendly with Bob Hope and had worked with him once before on Paris Holiday (1958). So, when she expressed interest in the role of Luba, in which Edie Adams was already cast, Hope gave her the part. Adams didn't discover that her part had been given to Ekberg until the plane ride over to London just before principal photography was to begin. Being a good sport, Adams conceded with the promise that the writers would create another part for her. Shooting began without a finished script and without Adams knowing what sort of a character she was playing. "I tried to read my lines in an offhand, noncommittal way," Adams says. "When I saw my double throwing gangsters over her shoulder and doing karate chops, I discovered I was a CIA agent." After the film was completed, Adams asked to go back and re-dub her lines now that she knew who her character was. "So back we went," Adams says, "and if you ever see the picture, you will see me with an innocuous face barking out lines like a marine sergeant."
The gags in Call Me Bwana are plentiful, random and funny. One scene that director Gordon Douglas staged has Bob Hope inside a cage with a rather overzealous ostrich. "The animal started giving me the beady eye," recalls Bob Hope in his 1977 book The Road to Hollywood, "and I knew I was in for trouble. He started beating on my head with his beak. `What's the matter with this bird?' I yelled. `Did he see my last picture?'"
Another enjoyable gag has Hope bumping into golfing legend Arnold Palmer, who just happens to be playing a few holes in the middle of the African jungle. Palmer was already a good friend and golfing buddy of Hope's. He had appeared as a special guest star on The Bob Hope Show several times as well as on various Hope television specials. When Hope asked Palmer to appear in Call Me Bwana, he jumped at the chance. "An invitation from Bob Hope was like an audience with the pope," says Arnold Palmer in his 2004 book Arnold Palmer: Memories, Stories and Memorabilia. "You said, `Yes, sir,' and showed up on time." Though no one in Hollywood suggested that he give up his day job, Palmer had a wonderful time shooting his cameo. "If I did entertain movie hopes," says Palmer, "that's perhaps because making my little part of Call Me Bwana was so easy and such fun."
Veteran British character actor Lionel Jeffries rounds out the cast as the eccentric Dr. Ezra Mungo. Don't miss the amusing opening title sequence that makes monkeys out of the cast and crew.
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli, Harry Saltzman
Director: Gordon Douglas
Screenplay: Johanna Harwood, Nate Monaster
Cinematography: Ted Moore
Film Editing: Peter R. Hunt
Art Direction: Syd Cain
Music: Muir Mathieson, Monty Norman
Cast: Bob Hope (Matthew Merriweather), Anita Ekberg (Luba), Edie Adams (Frederica Larson), Lionel Jeffries (Dr. Ezra Mungo), Arnold Palmer (himself), Percy Herbert (First henchman).
by Andrea Passafiume