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Italy, 1757. Lowly tailor Pippo Popolino disguises himself as the great Casanova in order to romance attractive widow Francesca. He little suspects what he's getting into: locked into the incongruous role by the desperation of the real Casanova's creditors, Pippo must journey to Venice on a delicate mission far beyond his capabilities. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The "words" in the "summary line" were possibly the funniest line in the Bob Hope movie CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT. That really does not say much
but then CASANOVA'S BIG NIGHT doesn't say much either. In 1954 it was
becoming more and more difficult to find any project that showed Hope to advantage. His insistence on having a quip to end his every scene, although pleasing to his fans, ruined his film scripts. He had demonstrated in "My Favorite Spy" an unwelcome jealousy towards co-worker Hedy Lamarr regarding her own scenes of comic business. Although his two best "dramatic" roles (Eddie Foy Sr. in "The Seven Little Foys" and Mayor Jimmy Walker in "Beau James") and his best comic performance ("That Certain Feeling") were still to come, he was beginning to make blunders - his co-starring turn with Katherine Hepburn in "The Iron Petticoat" and his below-par "French" comedy with Fernandel "Paris Holiday". In 1954 he decided to do a type of remake of one of his best 1940s comedies, "Monsieur Beaucaire". It would not prove to be a good choice.
It is is not a total loss - Hope in costume pictures is as amusing to view as other comics (W.C.Fields in "My Little Chickadee" or Laurel & Hardy in "The Bohemian Girl") were. But they had funnier material in those films. It is not a total remake of "Beaucaire". First it has nothing to do with the plot of that film, dealing with thwarting the schemes of a military adventurer to start a Franco - Spanish War to seize the Spanish throne. Instead it deals with a plot seemingly lifted (for want of a better term) from Maurice Chevalier's "Love Me Tonight". Casanova (Vincent Price - reduced to a cameo, sadly enough), owes plenty of money as usual. He is taking a fast leave, avoiding his creditors (mostly tailors and small time merchants), and they include the hapless Hope. But Casanova has been offered a lucrative business deal in Venice, and Hope is forced to go in his place. It is the only way to get the money owed by the lover-adventurer to these businessmen. In "Love Me Tonight" Chevalier is sent by his fellow merchants to force Charlie Ruggles into paying his debts for clothing he bought, and ends up impersonating royalty at C. Aubrey Smith's château. But Chevalier plays the role winningly, and only reveals his real occupation by sheer accident (he repairs Jeanette MacDonald's dress too well).
This was Hope's third costume film, after "Beaucaire" and "The Princess And The Pirate". But those had a younger Hope to play with, who looked like he could be a lover of age 35 - 40 (Hope was in his 40s at the time. Here he is in his 50s (Price was younger looking!). He just does not have the pass-ability as a lover he had a decade earlier.
The plot line also creaks along. For some reason that is never explained, the Doge of Venice (Arnold Moss) is conspiring to assassinate or imprison Casanova. We never fully understand why. Presumably it has to do with some act of seduction that annoyed the Doge. Compare this with the scheming of Joseph Schildcraut's Don Francisco in the earlier "Beaucaire", with and without the assistance of Joan Caulfield. In the end of "Beaucaire", Don Francisco is somehow still around with Beaucaire and his girl Mimi, but reduced to a bootblack in Beaucaire's barber shop in America. There seems a good comeuppance there (though how the would-be dictator of Spain and destroyer of Beaucaire is willing to be a bootblack is never explained). Moss's antagonism never gets beyond tiresome plotting (with Raymond Burr as his assistant) and amazement at Casanova's escaping one plot after another.
Joan Fontaine is wasted. She is in the Caulfield role - Hope really likes her but she is less than charmed by him, because she figures she can do better (ironically she thinks Basil Rathbone - Price's valet - is a better catch, only to find him far more materialistic and selfish). Fontaine's best moment is a throwaway. She has to get to palace guards out of the way. She vamps both, so they knock each other out. That is the best moment she had. But Ms Fontaine made many far better films.
And "Farfel, Farfel, Pippick!"? Hope in desperation tries to get through the Doge's palace in Venice disguised as a diplomat (Fritz Feld's) tall, ugly wife. He keeps using the phrase "Farfel, Farfel, Pippick!" whenever he is asked a question by anyone (sort of like William Shatner's character Denny Crane on BOSTON LEGAL muttering his name whenever surrounded by reporters entering or leaving a courtroom). Finally, at the end of the scene, Feld trying to get the dress back for his real wife, kicks Hope and says "Farfel, Farfel, Pippick" to him as he does it. That particular joke was well developed and completed properly.
This film did something unique. It offered two endings. One was Moss and his friends pulling Hope to be executed publicly. The other was him triumphing over them. Hope is somewhat disappointed at the result of his audience support on the two different endings. He shouldn't have been so surprised.
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