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A Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour send up of the hardboiled detective film, My Favorite Brunette (1947) comes complete with an unbilled cameo by Alan Ladd. The film was preceded by Hope's My Favorite Blonde (1942), which lampooned the traditional spy thriller, so audiences had a good idea of what they were in for.
The story begins as former baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Hope), on death row for a murder he didn't commit, tells assembled reporters about his incredible misadventure. It's a perfect fish-out-of-water scenario for Hope, mistaken by Baroness Carlotta Montay (Lamour) for private detective McCloud (Ladd), who has an office next to the photo studio. Gumshoe wannabe Ronnie is not about to let on that he's not who the beautiful Carlotta thinks he is. After all, he did promise McCloud he'd keep an eye on the office. So, in his blissfully inept way, Ronnie finds himself in the middle of a complex case. Carlotta's uncle has been kidnapped by a business associate who is trying to get ownership of a valuable piece of his land. In the process of helping Miss Montay, Ronnie meets up with sinister Kismet (Peter Lorre), whom he nicknames "Cuddles"; his walnut-cracking muscle, Willie (Lon Chaney, Jr.); and a host of other great faces, including John Hoyt, Charles Dingle and Reginald Denny.
My Favorite Brunette was the first production of Hope Enterprises, Inc., and since Hope had a financial stake in the film, he apparently goofed off less than when Paramount was footing the bill. No-nonsense but good humored Lamour, a victim of Hope's off and onscreen antics in the eight films they'd done together to that point, is said to have turned the tables on her costar in this one. She apparently aped Hope's habit of chewing gum to soothe his vocal chords, even blowing a bubble just before a big screen kiss, covering them both with the mess. Still, Hope was hardly staid. As relayed in Lawrence J. Quirk's Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled, Bob's wife witnessed the mayhem on one of her set visits: "Dolores watched while Bob's on-set shenanigans drove Dorothy to distraction, commenting only, 'Be glad you don't have to put up with him at home too,' which Dorothy found small comfort."
My Favorite Brunette came at a time in Peter Lorre's career when roles were few and he was facing financial troubles. By many accounts, Lorre was a generous man and made a point of helping friend and stranger alike, picking up the tab even when he had to borrow to do it. Unfortunately, such kindness, joined with an inability to manage money and a lavish lifestyle, meant that he was in the red. With a continued struggle against drugs and the decline in his popularity, Brunette foreshadows the downward slide of Lorre's film roles.
Lon Chaney, Jr., who had perhaps his greatest role in Of Mice and Men (1939), had become a monster movie mainstay by the early '40s and would remain one for the rest of his career. He was reportedly bitter and felt overshadowed by his father's success. Feeling sympathetic toward the actor, Brunette director Elliott Nugent took pains to give Chaney good material and the screen time to develop it to his best advantage.
Alan Ladd isn't the film's only uncredited cameo. Bing Crosby appears to comic affect as the executioner who is disappointed when Carlotta shows up at the jail to clear Ronnie's name. Crosby also appeared as a cameo in My Favorite Blonde, further confirming for audiences that neither of the duo was ever far from the other.
Shot on location in San Francisco, My Favorite Brunette also made use of the Crocker Mansion in Pebble Beach, then owned by millionaire Paul Fagan. According to FilmMonterey.org, producers recreated the mansion's front door and used it on a soundstage where additional scenes were shot. Studio publicity of the time reported that one of Lamour's costumes in the film was a 14-karat gold gown that Edith Head made out of the last of the gold-plated cloth in Paramount's pre-war stock.
Producer: Daniel Dare
Director: Elliott Nugent
Screenplay: Edmund Beloin, Jack Rose
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Film Editing: Ellsworth Hoagland
Cast: Bob Hope (Ronnie Jackson), Dorothy Lamour (Baroness Carlotta Montay), Peter Lorre (Kismet), John Hoyt (Dr. Lundau), Charles Dingle (Major Simon Montague), Reginald Denny (James Collins), Frank Puglia (Baron Stefan Montay/Nicholas), Ann Doran (Miss Rogers), Willard Robertson (prison warden), Jack La Rue (Tony).
by Emily Soares