Monday, May 06, 2013

Movie Monday: Sometimes they aren't so good...

Last night I watched a movie that wasn't very good, that didn't do well at the box office in its initial release, and that the critics hated when it came out.

But, it is a curiosity, for at least a couple of reasons, and I was curious about it. So, when I discovered that it was available on OnDemand, I had to watch it. I'm not sure I'm glad I did.

The film was "The Iron Petticoat", from 1956, directed by Ralph Thomas, written by Ben Hecht (who had his name taken off the film, or at least attempted to; he's back in the credits for showings on Turner Classic Movies), and starring Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope. Which was why I was so curious about it. I don't think I can imagine a more unlikely film pairing.

I only found out that the Hepburn and Hope had ever done a film together about a week ago, during a discussion about films with an SCA friend of mine. So, when I discovered it listed for viewing, I decided I had best watch it before it disappeared again.

As it turns out, it disappearing was not such a far-fetched idea. It got lousy reviews, did dismal box-office, and then was unavailable, at least in the United States, for over 50 years until a showing in 2012 on Turner Classic Movies (it was on their OnDemand list when I found it last night).

The film is meant to be a Cold War comedy, with Hepburn playing a Russian military pilot who flies her MiG to West Germany not because she is looking to defect but simply because she's had a bad day. An American Officer (Hope) is assigned to persuade her to defect. He takes her to London with him to accomplish this, but he is also going to the UK to see his very rich fiancee (played by Noelle Middleton; yeah, I've never heard of her before either). Predictably, complications ensue, including Soviet agents who are determined to capture Hepburn and take her back to Moscow to put her on trial for treason.

One of the problems with the film is that Hepburn's Russian accent is nearly unintelligible for the first half hour or so of the film, and merely bad after that. Forgive me. The woman was a great actress, but accents, or at least a Russian accent, was not one of her talents. The other huge problem of the film was the presence of Bob Hope. I'm not a huge fan, especially after what he did to the land on which a major movie ranch stood for years and years (namely, bought it as an investment, subdivided part of it for tract homes and left the rest to rot...but that's another post for another time). The thing is, what apparently started out as a good script got turned into a "typical Hope comedy", to quote a trivia item on IMDB's page for the movie.

Which is why Ben Hecht, the screenwriter, wanted his name off the movie. Hecht was also a journalist and playwright, and had a hand in not only writing for the screen but in fixing, without credit, the screenplays for some pretty famous films, including "Gone With the Wind". One of the films he worked on without credit, by the way, was "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), which starred Tony Randall and Barbara Eden, and which you really should see because it is a great George Pal-produced and directed fantasy. Anyway, Hecht was not happy with what had been done to his screenplay and because Hepburn's role was reduced by half in the editing room. She reportedly wasn't happy about that either, and has been quoted as calling Hope "the biggest egomaniac" she had ever worked with.

So, I can't really recommend the film. On the other hand, it is a curiosity, and there were a few good lines. Still, by best recommendation would be to go see a good Katharine Hepburn movie. There are plenty to choose from.

Here, by the way, is the trailer for the film. I'm not sure why it is in black and white. The film was in color.

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