31 July, 2009
Nothing But The Truth
Steve Bennett (Bob Hope) is an up-and-coming Investor who makes a bet with his new coworkers that he can tell the absolute truth for twenty-four hours. Only trouble is, it’s not his money he bets, but $10,000 he’s asked to invest by his new boss’ niece, Gwen Saunders (Paulette Goddard). Those twenty-four hours are spent aboard the family yacht, and Hope’s bet might just cash-out big, IF he can outwit all the hot water his unwavering honesty gets him into!
In this continuing retrospective of Bob Hope’s Top Five Movies (at least in this reviewer’s opinion), I thought I’d follow The Ghost Breakers with Hope’s and Goddard’s next (though unfortunately final) helping together – and this one a wide change from the ghouls and gags mode of their first two – the sit-com shell-game of the wonderfully witty Nothing But The Truth.
Released just a year after Ghost Breakers in 1941, Nothing But The Truth once again reunited Producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. and Director Elliot Nugent (who had done The Cat And The Canary with the team; and Nugent would later direct My Favorite Brunette). The script, by Don Hartman and Ken Englund is once again based on a hit play, from 1916 by James Montgomery; and that play was based on a novel, from 1914 by Fred Isham. Like Canary and Ghost Breakers before it, our 1941 version of Truth was not the first time the story was filmed, as there are both the 1920 and 1929 versions proceeding it. (The other films or TV works with the same title are not the same story.) I say in the Ghost Breakers review how, even then, Hollywood enjoyed a good remake. And why not? When it works, it works. And here it works just splendidly.
Speaking of what works, an aside about pedigree. If you’ve been reading all of these Bob Hope reviews – so far there’s My Favorite Brunette, The Cat And The Canary and The Ghost Breakers as well as this one (and bless you, dear readers, for putting up with me through them) – you know I’m working my way through this five-part review; my five favorites Hope made in those special eight years that spawned ten monstrous hits (the Canary review has an easy list to reference, if you’d like). Do yourself a favor and take a look at the talent involved in those. How many Hornblow Jr. produced. How many Nugent directed. How many Lamour costarred in. How many Goddard co-starred in. How many their respective writers worked on! The overlapping will astound you. Well, that overlapping isn’t so surprising, really. Especially then, but even today. (As I also mention in the Ghost Breakers review, it’s similar to how the McKay-Ferrell and Apatow camps work now.) And, if you’ll indulge me a moment, I’d like to spotlight our Truth writers, Don Hartman and Ken Englund.
Don Hartman has the best list. Not only did he write these other Hope hits – The Road To Singapore (BEGINNING that great Road series, mind you), The Road To Zanzibar, My Favorite Blonde, The Road To Morocco and The Princess And The Pirate – but he also wrote these great Danny Kaye hits – Up In Arms and Wonderman. (And if you think I’m jesting what a pedigree THAT is, try getting a pint of Prospect Park out of old Cuddles Sakall sometime!) As for Ken Englund, well, he might not have done another Hope, but he did do MY favorite Danny Kaye movie – and, interestingly enough, completely separate from Hartman doing the two of his own – The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. And in my book, for that alone he can retire proudly. (I still wish Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey would get on THAT remake. They’ve been talking about it forever! But, yes, I digress.) Point is, if you look up a few titles, a few names, you’ll be pleasantly surprised what you’ll find. For instance, just think about Cary Grant in His Girl Friday saying, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before he cut his throat!” I’ll leave you to make the Archie Leach connection.
Now. Getting back to Nothing But The Truth.
The basic plot is so simple it’s no wonder it’s been done so many times. Our lead swears to tell the absolute truth for a given amount of time, which he or she does, albeit causing shenanigans all around. (By the by, never pass up an opportunity to use the word shenanigans.) The original novel was so successful it birthed a play and three film versions. And do you remember the I Love Lucy episode where she swears to tell the truth for twenty-four hours (ep72, "Lucy Tells The Truth")? Not to mention Jim Carrey makes a second cameo in this review with his hit Liar, Liar (though more on that in a moment). Where this Hope vehicle in particular shines is in those very shenanigans. Having to tell the truth is one thing, but the sit-com shell-game it leads to is quite funny indeed.
Mainly because of – quelle surprise – the once again wonderfully charismatic Hope and Goddard, who are so easy to root for. (And I hope I’m not getting near fisticuffs here, but, for my money, even more so than Hope and Lamour.) It really is a shame they didn’t get to do more together, but, if all we get are Ghost Breakers and Truth – for while Canary is a personal treasure, the other two shine – I’m happy. And speaking of shining, it’s the almost Shakespearean game of mistaken identity and mix-matching on the yacht that really makes this movie. The triangle between Hope, Goddard and her suitor, Hope’s valet (the great Willie Best reprising his Ghost Breakers role), the suitor’s parents, a visiting Psychiatrist, and of course Hope’s coworkers who try desperately to catch him in a lie, and win the $10,000 bet. Add to that the gentleman from whom Goddard originally got that $10,000 plus a blonde actress who it appears has something on the side with one of those coworkers, and Hope indeed has his hands full of desperate truths.
I mention it being Shakespearean because, like his great comedies, it’s one of those plots that could so easily be convoluted (and fall apart) if it weren’t for the wonderful handling of it. I’ve never read the book or seen the play (though, again, if anyone knows of a revival happening in or around L.A. please let me know), but I like to give them credit. And we must certainly praise Hartman & Englund’s script thereof, plus Nugent’s wonderful telling of that script. And above it all, after all, we remember it as a Bob Hope movie. And does he shine here? You bet. Just watch him hit his stride, especially in the early office and hotel scenes, and when he’s moving around the yacht in that negligee. Brilliant. It’s no wonder the hits – big hits – Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia and Brunette would shortly follow.
One final aside, if I may. Before when I talked about the oft-used plot, I mentioned the great (and, frankly, very funny) Jim Carrey hit Liar, Liar. Reason I wanted to touch on it again, just briefly, is that it can’t help but occur to me how times have changed since Truth in 1941 (or even that Lucy episode in 1953) and 1997 when Liar premiered. Where all Hope or Ms. Ball had to do was SAY they’d tell the truth for twenty-four hours, people believed them. We the audience believed them. But forty (fifty!) years later, it took a MAGICAL element to ensure Carrey’s character would tell the truth. No one – and no audience, for that matter – would believe he was telling the truth just because he SAID so! How times have changed indeed. Alas.
But what hasn’t changed over the past almost-seventy years is how great a movie Nothing But The Truth is. How well it holds up. I’ve seen it a handful of times, always remembered really enjoying it, but (admittedly) had to watch it again before writing this review. And there was just enough I’d forgotten to where I laughed out loud several times throughout. Once again this review hardly does justice to the supporting cast, especially Edward Arnold (for whom this, perhaps neck and neck with Dear Ruth, is my favorite of his). Or Glenn Anders (perhaps best known for Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai) who, even when bordering on dislikable, has some great off-the-cuffs here. But what would CERTAINLY be an injustice is if you missed this film. So many friends I’ve mentioned Truth to say, “I’ve never even HEARD of that one!” Well, that’s one of the reasons I wanted to put it in here. It holds up just fine as a Top Five. But it also, hopefully, will finally get a little bit of the recognition it deserves.