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In the mid-1940s, longtime Paramount contract star Bob Hope was loaned to the Samuel Goldwyn Company for two pictures. The first was a wartime comedy about spies, They Got Me Covered (1943), which also brought along Hope's frequent costar at Paramount, Dorothy Lamour. Hope's second film for Goldwyn was a much more elaborate affair - The Princess and the Pirate (1944). For this, Goldwyn provided Hope with an A-film budget, Technicolor photography, a platoon of scriptwriters and gagmen, and plenty of Goldwyn Girls - including Virginia Mayo as costar. The result was Hope's glossiest film of the 1940s, and one of his funniest comedies.
The Princess and the Pirate originated with an old Hollywood story; it was related in The Road to Hollywood: My Forty-Year Love Affair with the Movies by Bob Hope and Bob Thomas: "It all started with an idea of Sy Bartlett's. He had heard a supposedly true story about a photographer assigned to shoot a famous novelist. The two got drunk together, and the novelist committed suicide by jumping out of the window of his hotel. When the photographer woke up from his drunk, he found himself accused of murder. He cleared himself when police discovered the novelist had written his will on the photographer's chest in red pencil. Sy switched the idea to having a pirate's map tattooed on my chest."
Opening titles introduce us to the notorious pirate Captain Barrett, aka The Hook (Victor McLaglen), saying "his soul was black with foul deeds." (At this point, Bob Hope pops in over the onscreen words to tell us, "That's not me folks I come in later I play a coward.") Hook has buried three years worth of plunder on an island and taken the only map (after shooting the mapmaker in cold blood). On the seas, Princess Margaret (Virginia Mayo) is running away from her father so that she can marry a commoner. In a cabin next door, a ham actor calling himself Sylvester the Great (Bob Hope) is making a racket rehearsing his act he is "The Man of Seven Faces." Hook and his crew attack the vessel, abduct the Princess, and make all of the men from the destroyed ship walk the plank. Sylvester escapes this fate by dressing as an old gypsy woman. (When the Princess asks why he doesn't just "die like a man," Sylvester quips, "I'd rather live like a woman.") Hook insists on having the "gypsy" walk the plank with the men, until the ship's crazed tattoo artist, Featherhead (Walter Brennan) pleads to have the old woman for his own. Featherhead steals the treasure map and gives it to Sylvester to deliver to his cousin on a nearby island. Sylvester rescues the Princess, although he doesn't believe her story. Hook goes in pursuit, as the coward Sylvester protects the Princess and tries to stay a step ahead of Hook especially when he learns that the treasure map has been tattooed onto his chest!
The director of both of Hope's movies for Goldwyn was David Butler, who had already helmed Road to Morocco (1942), one of the best of the "Road" pictures Hope made with Bing Crosby. Butler later told Hope biographer Lawrence J. Quirk (in Bob Hope: The Road Well Traveled), "Bob was such a skilled comic that you didn't have to direct much just put him in front of the camera and cut him loose!" Walter Brennan also had high praise for the film's star. As quoted by Quirk, Brennan said, "I'd go so far as to call him a genius. The timing, the rhythm, it all couldn't come from just his training, great as it was; it was native to him."
The strong supporting turns by both Brennan and by Victor McLaglen help The Princess and the Pirate immensely. Both previous Oscar® winners, the toothless Brennan steals almost every scene he is in, while McLaglen plays his larger-than-life character as a perfect counterpoint to the comedy. David Rose's strong music score was nominated for an Oscar®, as was the film's intricate Art Direction (an unusual nod for a comedy). The film also featured the song, "How Would You Like to Kiss Me in the Moonlight," by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.
Hope later wrote that "The Princess and the Pirate was a lot of fun to do, especially because I got to appear in a lot of disguises. Of course, I had used many disguises in my vaudeville days, mainly for leaving town. This time I got paid for it."
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Associate Producer: Don Hartman
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Everett Freeman, Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson, Story by Sy Bartlett
Cinematography: Victor Milner, William Snyder
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Art Direction: Ernst Fegte
Music: David Rose
Cast: Bob Hope (Sylvester the Great), Virginia Mayo (Princess Margaret), Walter Brennan (Featherhead), Walter Slezak (La Roche), Victor McLaglen (Captain Barrett), Marc Lawrence (Pedro).
by John M. Miller