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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

THE FACTS OF LIFE (1960)

Bob Hope and Lucille Ball toy with infidelity in this painfully drab looking Melvin Frank/Norman Panama dramedy. (Visually, Frank/Panama desperately miss the layers of studio protection they’d grown accustomed to in their Paramount days.) Bored with their country club lives and taken-for-granted spouses (Ruth Hussey; Don DeFore), the duo unexpectedly spark to each other on vacation, then spend the rest of the film trying to figure out what to do about it. The surprise of the thing comes in how well Ball & Hope commit to the dramatic situation as actors. (Especially, Lucy who not only deflates Bob’s wisecracking ways, but even alters her look by working a good 10 pounds above her normal fighting weight.) The original idea must have started out as a So. Cal. suburban BRIEF ENCOUNTER/’45, with comic seasoning instead of Rachmaninoff. But the script pulls its punches, concealing rather than revealing itself with slapstick & misdirection whenever things get uncomfortable. Partly a sop to audience expectations (Bob & Lucy cheating?*), it’s also partly the fault of ‘60s Hollywood movie morality. (In Italy, the affair would have collapsed upon consummation. In France, manly dysfunction at the ultimate moment.) But still worth watching for the expert playing and a neat bit of marital diplomacy between DeFore & Ball at the finish.

DOUBLE-BILL: The third of four Hope/Ball movie pairings, they’re at their finest in SORROWFUL JONES/’49 (a dream Nathan Detroit/Miss Adelaide that never happened). But they also play beautifully together in the little-loved CRITIC’S CHOICE/’63 (see below) which aims lower, but perhaps scores higher than FACTS.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/READ ALL ABOUT IT: *Infidelity was something these two knew a bit about with Lucille having just sent Desi Arnaz packing over repeated wanderings, and Bob’s affairs the stuff of Hollywood legend as laid out in Richard Zoglin’s fine new bio HOPE: ENTERTAINER OF THE CENTURY which gives the man his due (and perhaps a bit more) without ignoring the precipitous decline.

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