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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

NEVER SAY DIE (1939)

Bob Hope was still taking second-billing to Martha Raye in this early Paramount programmer, but he’s already outdistancing her. As a millionaire hypochondriac with a murderous fortune-hunter hot on his tail, Bob weds Martha to get himself out of the marital market and to save Raye from marriage to some Euro-Royalty. After all, she’s pining for hayseed Andy Devine and Bob’s been (mis)diagnosed with some fatal disease. Once he goes, she’ll be free . . . and rich. Only problem, they might be falling in love with each other and Bob doesn’t seem to be getting sicker. Farcical doings, but also pretty funny. Especially the half apparently written by Preston Sturges, just off one of his best screenplays (IF I WERE KING/’38) and about to write & direct for the first time (THE GREAT MCGINTY/’40). With his philosophical servants, sputtering fathers and silly foreign names (we’re at Bad Gaswassen spa), the Sturges fingerprints are all over the place. And his stuff is even easier to spot when it’s next to formulaic comic routines (kissing lessons; pistol duels) from staff writers Don Hartman & Frank Butler. (Those two probably supplied the early version of the ‘Pestle with the poison’ tongue-twisting routine Danny Kaye would use in THE COURT JESTER/’55.) And look fast to spot Hans Conreid working a concertina in a band.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hope’s hypochondriac might be a sketch for the roles Sturges perfected for Eddie Bracken in THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN’S CREEK/’44 and HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO/’44.

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