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Monday, March 7, 2016

THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE -- Movie Review by Porfle

Bob Hope winds up his craven yet imminently self-satisfied persona once again for the sumptuous period comedy THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE (1944), a Technicolor splash of frolicsome fun that's as raucous and irreverent as a live-action cartoon.

After being introduced to the most lethal, ruthless pirate of them all--Victor McLaglen (THE QUIET MAN) as a Bluto-like Captain Hook--we find Bob as Sylvester the Great, a luckless stage performer on a ship from England to America. 

A fellow passenger is the lovely Princess Margaret (Virginia Mayo), traveling incognito to escape from the rigid routine of a royal for awhile.  Unfortunately, Hook and his bloodthirsty crew attack the ship, kill all the men, enslave all the women, and hold the princess for ransom.

Here, the film maintains the gallows humor of Hope's earlier YOU GOT ME COVERED (also directed by David Butler) but to an even greater degree, while also allowing co-star Walter Brennan to revel in one of his most grotesque characters ever (played, needless to say, "without 'em").  As Hook's nuttiest crewmember, a toothless, google-eyed old coot known as "Featherhead", Brennan is an absolute hoot and makes Popeye look like Gary Cooper.

Hope's character, of course, must rely on his dubious wits and even more dubious talents, disguising himself as an old gypsy woman to escape execution.  When Featherhead gives him Hook's secret treasure map and helps him and the princess escape in a dinghy if he promises to split the treasure with him, they make their way to a rough waterfront town where Sylvester gets a job performing in a tavern.

Not surprisingly, the princess is the main draw as his "supporting" act and we get to watch Virginia Mayo lip-synch "Kiss Me In The Moonlight".  Bob's own act is delightfully inept, incurring the wrath of the tavern's motley patrons.

Things are further complicated when the town's governor, La Roche (Walter Slezak), develops an interest in the princess and abducts her to his fortress-like mansion.  Bob summons his courage--what little there is--and attempts a rescue, encountering not only La Roche but his cohort in crime, Captain Hook, along with his men.  Hope's usual comedy antics ensue amidst a frenetic battle between sword-slinging factions when La Roche and Hook have a falling out that results in comic chaos.

McLaglen, as you might guess, is ideally cast as the monstrous pirate whose greed is exceeded only by his bloodlust.  Walter Slezak also excells as a more sophisticated monster, the corrupt governor La Roche, while the unspeakably gorgeous Virginia Mayo turns every scene she appears in into a visual feast.

The cast also includes (in some cases, fleetingly) Marc Lawrence, Tom Tyler, Francis Ford, Tom Kennedy, Mike Mazurki, Ray Teal, Mickey Shaughnessy, and a very familiar face who shall remain nameless here.  Blink and you'll miss none other than Rondo Hatton as the pirate in the window.

As usual, Hope is sharp as a tack at doing what he does best, playing the quick-witted, self-centered coward with an endless supply of comic panache.  THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE may not be on the top shelf of the comedy store, but for Bob Hope fans it's a real bargain. 

Read our review of the SAMUEL GOLDWYN COLLECTION VOL.2


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