I’ll admit: it’s been a long week. My brain is fried, my allergies are killing me, and all I want to do is veg out. What’s the perfect movie for this? “My Favorite Brunette,” made in 1947, starring Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Peter Lorre, and Lon Chaney, Jr.
It’s a parody of the film noir and hard-boiled detective movies that were so popular at the time and features Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney, Jr. in tongue-in-cheek versions of past roles and also features Alan Ladd and Bing Crosby in two very sneaky cameo roles.
The film starts out with Ronnie Williams (Hope), baby photographer and wannabe detective, giving an interview to journalists as he sits on death row for murder. Ronnie’s office was right across the hallway from that of private detective Sam McCloud. Ronnie, ever eager to work at Sam’s side, shows Sam his new invention of a camera with a keyhole-size lens, something that might be helpful to Sam. Sam declines once again and heads off to Chicago, leaving Ronnie to answer the phone while he’s gone.
While Ronnie is keeping an eye on Sam’s office, a prospective new client comes to him for help. Carlotta Montay, believing that Ronnie is Sam, pours out the story of her uncle’ss kidnapping and begs for Ronnie’s help. She leaves a mysterious map with Ronnie and begs him to conceal it. The next day, Ronnie drives out to the address Carlotta gave him. The plot thickens as Ronnie meets Major Simon Montague, who states that he’s helping the Baron to care for Carlotta during her time of mental illness, the symptoms of which include delusions that she is somehow related to the Baron. Carlotta insists otherwise; she claims that Major Montague is holding her and her uncle against their will so that he can gain control of Baron Montay’s uranium minds. Ronnie has no choice but to believe Major Montague and the Baron. But just before he leaves, he sees the Baron, who is supposed to be an invalid, walking, and he uses his keyhole camera to take a picture of it. One of Major Montague’s henchmen, Kismet (Lorre) follows Ronnie back to Sam’s office and manages to destroy the negative, but unbeknownst to him, Ronnie has already developed the film.
Ronnie brings the police out to the house, but they find that it’s deserted, and that only the gardener (Kismet in disguise) has been there. Later in the day, Ronnie follows a clue he believes Carlotta left him to the Seacliff Lodge, which isn’t a hotel, but a hospital for mental patients. He soon finds himself held prisoner along with Carlotta, but is able to convince physically strong but not-so-bright orderly Willie (Lon Chaney, Jr., in a very Lenny-like role) to help in their escape. After that, it’s a race against time to track down the man who helped to design the map and rescue Carlotta’s uncle from the clutches of Major Montague.
While the movie does play on stereotypes, particularly when it comes to gender roles, it’s important to realize that this is a spoof of the film noir and hardboiled detective movies that assigned such roles to characters. Carlotta herself isn’t necessarily a damsel in distress or femme fatale, but still needs Ronnie’s assistance to figure out how to get out of the mess she has found herself in. Perhaps the most amusing part of the film is Hope’s narrative, which mimics that of the hardboiled detective, but is an extreme contradiction to his behavior as a man who wants to follow in Sam McCloud’s footsteps but really lacks the guts and the know-how to do so. But still, the movie is funny, and very easy to follow, which is perfect for the times when you just need something funny – but with a little bit of crime drama – to help you wind down from the arduous work week.