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In the comedy My Favorite Spy (1951), Bob Hope plays a dual role as a third-rate comic named Peanuts and an international spy named Eric Augustine. When federal agents discover Peanuts' resemblance to Augustine, they convince him to go to Europe and pose as the spy in order to retrieve some valuable microfilm. Hedy Lamarr co-stars as Augustine's girlfriend, and comic hijinks ensue.
Though she had recently scored a big hit in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), Lamarr was at the beginning of a career decline from which she would not recover. She was still gorgeous, and perhaps, she thought, Hope's star wattage would rub off a little. In her ghost-written "autobiography" Ecstasy and Me, Hope is presented as quite aggressively wooing her to play the role, showering her with gifts and attention. Lamarr was worried about being too inexperienced in comedy to play opposite him, but Hope reassured her, "No one's going to laugh at you. You play it straight. You're perfect for the part."
Lamarr was also, at this point, anxious about the direction of her career and her personal life; she wanted another husband (she'd already married and divorced three times). As she is quoted, "I was beginning to get tired. Really physically tired. The emotional strain, plus the hours and the pressures, were taking their toll. I still looked good because I had the bone structure, especially facial; but I had to confess I wasn't a kid anymore. My ambitions were as strong as ever, but the strength to push them wasn't.
"Another annoyance to me was that while I was happy making My Favorite Spy, I had ambitions of doing a picture that was really worthwhile, something with a message. I was beginning to feel that making a movie for entertainment purposes only wasn't enough... I resolved to do My Favorite Spy, and then concentrate on finding a husband and one good picture."
Hope told Lamarr constantly that she had to "project sex." Wardrobe women, Lamarr wrote, "spent hours trying to show my breasts and yet not show my breasts; to show the outline of my backside yet not show the outline of my backside. 'I can project sex with my face,' I explained to Bob. But he thought that was too subtle... He would constantly reiterate his point, 'I supply the comedy, you supply the sex.'" As it turned out, Lamarr did show a flair for comedy, and according to some sources she even stole the show in the final slapstick sequence - so much so that Hope had the scene re-edited so that he would be the funnier one. Be that as it may, the duo never worked together again. "We didn't look right together," Lamarr later said.
Soon after making this film, Lamarr did find another husband, the womanizing big band leader Teddy Stauffer. Like the first three marriages, this one ended in divorce, as did two further marriages in the years to come. Unfortunately, she never did find that elusive "one good picture," instead appearing in a string of duds and a few TV episodes before retiring in 1958.
This was the third feature that Hope made with director Norman Z. McLeod, after Road to Rio (1947) and The Paleface (1948). Two more collaborations lay in the future. McLeod also directed the comedy classics Monkey Business (1931), Horse Feathers (1932), It's a Gift (1934) and Topper (1937).
Producer: Paul Jones
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Screenplay: Edmund L. Hartmann, Lou Breslow, Jack Sher, Hal Kanter, Edmund Beloin
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: Roland Anderson, Hal Pereira
Music: Victor Young, Robert Emmett Dolan, Jay Livingston
Cast: Bob Hope (Peanuts White/Eric Augustine), Hedy Lamarr (Lily Dalbray), Francis L. Sullivan (Karl Brubaker), Arnold Moss (Tasso), John Archer (Henderson), Luis Van Rooten (Rudolf Hoenig).
by Jeremy Arnold