Bob Hope was the finest comedian-turned-film-actor of his generation. While revered for his well-nurtured characterization of the vain, wisecracking coward in more than 50 tailor-made vehicles across 35 years, he exhibited remarkable command in dramatic interludes, too. Sadly, from the late '50s on, Hope's pictures grew increasingly slapdash and wanting, yet his pomp and pluckiness never wavered.
For every title on this list, there are worthy films not mentioned. I've opted to share those which have served me swell. By a nose, the wackiest is this superior sequel to one of Hope's biggest hits, "The Paleface" (1948). Looney Tunes animator Frank Tashlin directs the live-action cartoon, a western spoof jingle-jangle-jiggling with Jane Russell, Roy Rogers, and -- Bob's bedmate -- Trigger!
Bob Hope's fortuitous teaming with Bing Crosby led to six more "Road" treks: "Zanzibar" (1941), "Morocco" (1942), "Utopia" (1946), "Rio" (1947), "Bali" (1952), and (so-so curiosity) "Hong Kong" (1962). Throwaway plots delight with the pals adlibbing, chasing skirts, and breaking scenes to speak to the audience. Frankly, I can't keep these goofs straight, so start here and laugh happily ever after.
Billed tongue-in-cheekily as "Mr. Robert Hope" for the role of a snooty, two-bit actor mistaken to be an English butler, Bob gets into swirling complications to please rich girl Lucille Ball. The western-draped remake of "Ruggles of Red Gap" is glossy entertainment with ample quips, sidekick Eric Blore, and a dizzy fox hunt finale. And, please, no munching popcorn during Mr. Hope's performance.
A heartwarming tale based on the true story of Eddie Foy, a popular entertainer of the vaudeville era. He finds himself with the unavoidable task of raising the children. Eventually, all ends well with the kids joining Dad's act. Far from Bob Hope's funniest, but arguably his best overall film and most Oscar-worthy performance (with a showstopping dance number opposite James Cagney).
Sumptuous swashbuckler produced by Samuel Goldwyn. As Leonard Maltin notes, it's "the first of many period pictures brightened by Hope's anachronistic, contemporary references." Sea scalawags try to kidnap a beautiful princess, so reluctant "Sylvester the Great" Crosby bumbles to her rescue and holds the Virginia Mayo. With Walter Brennan, Victor McLaglen, Walter Slezak, and Ye Goldwyn Girls.
A popular Broadway comedy comes to the screen with the political satire muted to avoid lawsuits, so welcome to the mythical state of Louisiana, where young stooge Bob is targeted by unscrupulous lawmakers to take the rap for graft during a Congressional investigation. Memorable for its singing legal disclaimer, plus a hilarious filibuster sequence. Also starring Victor Moore and Vera Zorina.
Hope's exuberance of youth (age 44) and mastery of cinematic presence propels this film noir send-up, stuffed with sharp gags woven into the tale and narration. ("When I came to I was playing Post Office with the floor. I had a lump on my head the size of my head.") Bob is never better than when he's in danger and this vintage private eye caper is proof. "Road" squeeze Dorothy Lamour is the title.
For the record: Bob Hope often named this seldom shown film, considered quite racy in its day, to be his favorite. Circumstances among two middle-aged couples place one's husband and the other's wife (Lucille Ball) into potentially compromising positions. Will they or won't they? Want action? Watch MTV. This is a stodgy affair, laced with some occasional Hope banter. You'll loathe Lucy.