Call Me Bwana (MGM MOD)
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 102 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: June 2011
Review Date: July 9, 2011
By 1963, most of Bob Hope’s quality screen work was behind him. He’d still have occasional movie hits like Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number, but none of his films really registered as top notch comedies. Gordon Douglas’ Call Me Bwana is certainly one of his more forgettable outings. True to his usual formula, he’s got a voluptuous woman for a co-star (two, in fact, this time out), and he’s plopped his cowardly character into another exotic locale, but the writing is uninspired, and the laughs just aren’t there to any consistent degree. Without an able comedy cohort (and despite two beautiful co-stars, he doesn’t have that here – where are you, Bing Crosby?), the film simply lies there and dies there apart from an infrequently agreeable sight gag or ad-lib.
After a U.S. moon probe goes off course and lands in the heart of Africa, the government calls on the foremost expert on African lore the country has to offer - Matthew Merriwether (Bob Hope) – to lead a safari through the jungle to retrieve it. Trouble is, Merriwether is a fraud peddling his uncle’s old research as his own findings. Another wrinkle in the scheme is that Russia is well aware of the missing space capsule and sends its own spies, Luba (Anita Ekberg) and the disguised-as-a-missionary Dr. Ezra Mungo (Lionel Jeffries), to get to the capsule first. Assisting Matthew on the operation is an army liaison officer (Edie Adams). With the incompetent Matthew leading the team, anything might happen as he must sidestep the unknown environs as well as the spies out to kill him and his own tendency to goof up everything he touches.
The script by Nate Monaster and Johanna Harwood really is a lazy piece of goods with only one gag out of ten landing with anything other than a thud, and the studios and backlot of Pinewood feebly substituting for the real Africa. (Some overhead shots by director Douglas make it clear we’re not in African jungles with lovely tall pine trees and very sparse foliage all around.) Hope is once again playing his cowardly know-nothing placed in impossible situations he’d never be able to survive if there were any realistic intentions to the script, and while Edie Adams could be a fine comedienne when her late husband Ernie Kovacs was writing her material, she’s at the mercy of writers only looking out for Hope’s best interests here. But even she gets a moment or two to shine (a sequence where she beats up three spies using jujitsu is her one claim to fame here); Anita Ekberg gets no clever lines or business and remains only a prop whose voluptuousness allows Hope to crack wise and ogle. The film was produced by Eon Productions’ Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, famous at the time for their first James Bond picture Dr. No and who borrow the famous “tarantula in the bedroom” sequence from it. And one knows he’s really hit rock bottom when professional golfer Arnold Palmer comes playing through the campground which begins a completely unnecessary ten minute sojourn while Hope recycles old W. C. Fields golf gags and Palmer looks pleasantly vacant.
In his typical fashion, Hope needles both Republicans and Democrats at different points during the movie, and naturally Bing Crosby’s name gets dropped a time or two. Apart from the already mentioned comic deficiencies of Anita Ekberg and the waste of Edie Adams (who, Tony Award-winning musical actress that she is, doesn’t get to sing the title song over the closing credits; Hope gets that), Lionel Jeffries is the only other performer who gets anything like an adequate amount of screen time to score comic gold as the spy using missionary garb for his cover. He, too, has been let down by the writers, but he mugs and postures gamely to bring some sense of fun to the rather ramshackle production.
The film is presented in its theatrical 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and has been anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions (though on my screen, the entire image was slightly windowboxed throughout). Except for the final couple of reels, sharpness is average and color looks dated and very unimpressive. The jungles of Africa (shot by the second unit) and the backlot at Pinewood don’t boast any vibrant greens or browns, and everything looks rather faded. The last twenty minutes or so do show an uptick in color saturation and vibrancy, but it’s never better than average. There are dust specks and scratches on occasion, and there are moiré patterns to be seen as well. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 11 chapters on this disc.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound mix is decoded by Dolby Prologic into the center channel. Fidelity is lacking throughout with neither high ends nor low ends registering with any resonance but everything sounding rather tinny. There is some occasional crackle and a few pops. Anita Ekberg’s entire vocal performance seems to have been post synched as it sounds especially flat and unexpressive. Other ADR is also very noticeable when it occurs.
There are no bonus features on this made-on-demand disc.
2/5 (not an average)
Fans of Bob Hope might be happy to add another of his films to their collections, but Call Me Bwana certainly doesn’t approach the excellence of his work in the 1940s and 1950s. This made-to-order disc of the film features only passable video and audio, neither of which shows this fairly feeble comedy to much advantage.