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A recent biography of Hope on Channel 13 mentioned that his perennial
joke at the Oscars about not getting the Oscar) was actually based on
the truth. After 1944, when his close friend and partner Bing Crosby
won the Oscar for GOING MY WAY, Hope was bothered by his inability to
get nominated. One of his writers explained the problem: Hope could not
read a straight speech in a script without fearing he was losing his
audience. He had to always have a good one liner to leave 'em laughing.
Unfortunately, this type of script doctoring prevented him from giving
the type of performance that would have merited an Oscar.
Yet in the middle years of the 1950s Hope came close to achieving a balance of comic and dramatic possibilities. In three films (two biographies and one comedy) he played central figures with actual problems. They were THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS, THAT CERTAIN FEELING, and BEAU JAMES. All three films are his best films. THAT CERTAIN FEELING deals with a man with major psychological problems competing with a superior,successful man (George Sanders) for the woman they love (Eva Marie Saint). THE SEVEN LITTLE FOYS gives a history Eddie Foy Sr.'s marriage to an Italian lady, and their children, and how (when his wife died) his sister-in-law tried to have the children taken from him. And BEAU JAMES (based on a biased, but well written biography by Gene Fowler)is about the Mayor of New York City from 1926 - 1932, James J. Walker.
Walker was a very popular mayor in the 1920s, re-elected by a majority (over Fiorello LaGuardia) of half a million votes (a considerable achievement then). But his administration was corrupt, and he was abandoning his wife for his girlfriend, Broadway actress Betty Compton. Judge Samuel Seabury tore the Walker administration apart in a series of hearings from 1930 to 1932. They culminated with Governor Franklin Roosevelt holding hearings involving Walker in Albany that showed he accepted "gifts" from people doing business in the city. Walker could not really explain away this behavior and he resigned. The handling of the scandal by Roosevelt assisted him in getting the Democratic nomination for the Presidency in 1932.
Hope does very well as Walker. He does have a serious role where his flippant jokes match the character. He also shows the right degree of serious behavior, panicked when Betty is spirited away by Paul Douglas and Tammany Hall, or when he tells off the citizens of New York at Yankee Stadium for electing him. But the gaps in the script - the unwillingness to show the uglier side of the corruption - prevent one from taking it too seriously. Hope deserves recognition for his performance here, but he didn't merit (nor receive) an Oscar nomination for BEAU JAMES.
This is a celluloid version of Gene Fowler's valentine to his old chum Jimmy. It tries to make a case that Walker did not realize his taking the bribes/gifts was wrong. Walker knew it was wrong, but he never admitted it - he had been brought up in a city run by the Hall, and he was doing business there exactly as every boodling Mayor of New York had done since the 19th Century. Walker (a good Catholic, presumably) also knew that he was committing adultery when he took up with Ms Compton. Later, after he left City Hall, he divorced his wife (playedwell by a coldly calculating Alexis Smith here) and married Betty. Interestingly that marriage eventually failed, although Jimmy and Betty did adopt a girl. Compton died in 1941. Jimmy in 1947.
Historians generally rank Walker among the worst Mayors of New York, and in the major cities of the U.S., in the twentieth century. However, recent scholarship has suggested that Walker was maligned. Nobody suggests that the corruption was not there, but it was to the interest of FDR and Judge Seabury (who had unrealistic political hopes of his own) to go after the Hall and Jimmy. Interestingly enough, Walker's old adversary Fiorello LaGuardia was more forgiving and pragmatic than FDR was. Walker went to Europe for a number of years with Betty (where did he have the money for this move - the film ignores this matter). When he returned (a Federal tax investigation decided there was nothing to go after), LaGuardia appointed Walker to be labor mediator in the garment industry. He did that job well. Also, some recent scholars seem to support what Darren McGavin's character says in the film. McGavin tells Hope that although he works only four hours a day he does more work each day than the last four mayors did working full days. The reason is that he's bright. There is evidence that he was remarkably adept at thinking out quick, to the point solutions on his feet.
As a Democrat, Walker had the constant problem of working under Republican federal administrations in Washington (Presidents Coolidge and Hoover). In his first term, Cunard and other oceanic lines announced plans for building bigger and faster steamships. This meant their current piers would be too short for them. Walker contacted the Department of Commerce (under Hoover during Coolidge's administration) for permission to extend the piers into the Hudson River. The problem was that this would interfere with transportation in interstate commerce on the Hudson (longer piers mean less room for boats sailing on the river). Coolidge and Hoover said no. When told this, Walker immediately asked if there was any problem of blasting into the granite bedrock of the island of Manhattan to extend the piers into the island. His engineers said it could be done. There was no further problem about the extension of piers. If Walker could think that clearly on such a problem he probably could do his job half-well. But his moral lapses can't be easily dismissed, as this film tries to do.
I was a teenager when James J. Walker was the Mayor of New York. Bob Hope
doesn't look anything like him but catches the essence of his exuberant
spirits and lack of responsibility very well. The narration by Walter
Winchell adds just the right touch.
Paul Douglas is perfect as the Tammany boss. Hope is especially terrific in the dramatic conflict and emotional scenes with both Alexis Smith and Vera Miles. It makes me wish Hope did more straight-up dramas. It is especially a shame in retrospect, because after Beau James, Hope really never had the opportunity to make a good movie again (unless you count Critic's Choice which I don't).
If you enjoy nostalgic sad-and-funny movies about New York, this is one for you.
I believe it was Walter Winchell who coined that nickname for James J.
Walker, Mayor of New York from 1926 to 1932 and the subject of this
biographical film starring Bob Hope. It was Hope's last stab at a
serious dramatic part. While he does well in it, Hope never tried as
serious a role again in his career.
Jimmy Walker was the Majority leader of the State Senate and was the personal choice of Governor Alfred E. Smith to be Mayor of New York. Then as now, Republican mayors of New York City were a rarity, the Democratic nomination was sufficient guarantee to be elected.
Al Smith had dreams of being the Democratic presidential candidate. He almost was in 1924, but could not get past William Gibbs McAdoo that year in the famous 103 ballot convention that eventually turned to compromise dark horse candidate John W. Davis who went down in November to Calvin Coolidge. Smith wanted to secure his home base, but the mayoralty of New York and the patronage of the office was controlled by Smith's arch enemy, publisher William Randolph Hearst and his stooge Mayor John F. Hylan. Smith ran Walker in the 1925 primary and beat Hylan and then Walker handily won the General Election.
Smith knew Walker was a lightweight and he took the unusual step of having a gubernatorial office put in City Hall where he would be at least once a week, keeping tabs on Jimmy. Smith became the Democratic presidential candidate in 1928 and lost to Herbert Hoover. No longer governor, Smith was not around to keep Walker on a short leash. That's when he got into trouble.
Walker was a colorful figure during Prohibition. He and Smith were both unalterably opposed to the idea and Smith even served notice that the law enforcement arm of New York State would not be wasting its time on policing the drinking habits of New Yorkers. Walker got the nickname the Night Mayor of New York because as often as not he'd sleep all day and be partying all night at the famous Central Park Casino.
It was there that Walker met showgirl and began a long term affair with her. His marriage to his wife Allie was long over, but for appearance's sake, for the millions of Catholic voters in New York he kept the facade up.
Times have certainly changed. We now have a former Mayor of New York, named Rudolph Giuliani running for president with three marriages to his credit and a nasty divorce that got spread out in the tabloids.
Nobody ever mentioned Walker and president in the same breath. It was trouble enough to keep him paying attention to his job as mayor. The cronies he had from Tammany Hall ran wild, especially when Smith was no longer governor to keep them and him in line. During the boom times of the Twenties, people laughed at his colorful antics, but come the Depression and the stories of graft became routine newspaper stories, public opinion turned against Walker overnight.
Bob Hope made a fine Jimmy Walker and the two women in his life, Vera Miles as Betty and Alexis Smith as Allie give him good support. In one of his last films, Walter Catlett makes a brief appearance as Alfred E. Smith, and the rest of the cast is headed by Paul Douglas as a Tammany boss and Darren McGavin as Charles Hand, Walker's press secretary and conscience.
Beau James is a colorful account of a colorful era. It certainly as a film version of his life one that Jimmy Walker would have approved of.
Over all the many times I've seen this film, it never once occurred to
me that it might actually be historically accurate. Nor did it occur to
me that it would matter much either way. This is the perfect glossy
1950s Hollywood 'biopic'... a totally charming film, yet with more
emotional depth and dramatic substance than most that were cranked out
in this politically-delicate period.
For starters, there's a totally charming performance by Bob Hope. This was the perfect part for him: the chance to seriously play a character who was never quite serious. Hope makes the good times effervescent, and the sad times not quite so sad. He makes the central love affair between a man and a city seem completely believable. (Where in real life, obviously things could never be so simple.)
But the real star of this film is the City of New York itself. Not the 'real' city... the fabulous city of myth, as only Hollywood can spin that myth. Resonant with names that are familiar even to people who've never been within thousands of miles of New York, and evocative of a history that even New Yorkers probably recall only vaguely. Just as The Untouchables etched out a stark black-and-white portrait of 1920s Gangland Chicago, Beau James paints a fond, Technicolor memory of 1920s New York.
It's true that Bob Hope's performance, while perfect for the film, was perhaps not Oscar-worthy. (The question would be moot if the Academy had the brains to give out occasional Oscars for the great art of Comedy!) But no matter... Beau James is a well-polished gem of a movie for more reasons than just Hope. Yes, it's corny, and commercial, and formulaic... but in the best way. It romanticizes something that really deserves it.
I wish I was watching it right now...
Based on the charmingly cleaned up biography of a minor but colorful
figure in New York history, sometime songwriter/Mayor James J.
("Gentleman Jimmy") Walker, this unjustly neglected Paramount film was
a healthy success in its day but has not (as of this writing) been made
available on DVD despite an outstanding cast and ties to truly
remarkable figures in entertainment and history. One of Bob Hope's
warmest, most thoughtful performances, it should be rescued from the
occasional "fool screen" broadcast and made available in a good
VistaVision release reflecting the original.
The no less fictionalized musical biography of Walker's successor as Mayor of New York, Fiorello H. LaGuardia (the sadly unfilmed FIORELLO), won a Pulitzer Prize and tied with THE SOUND OF MUSIC for the Tony as Best Musical of 1959, but Fowler's biography of Walker with Hope in the lead (looking nothing like Walker, but beautifully capturing Fowler's idea of Walker's character) was as good as it got for Gentleman Jimmy - the less well cast 1969 musical (JIMMY, inflicted on Broadway by movie mogul Jack L. Warner) suggested by the same book but with far less skilled hands writing (BEAU JAMES' director, Melville Shavelson was one of the writers) died a painful death in just over two months (October 23, 1969-January 3, 1970, at the Winter Garden Theatre after a tryout at Philadelphia's Forrest Theatre; a long out-of-print Broadway Cast Album of the enjoyable but uneven score on RCA LSO 1162 is all that survives.) In the movie, the glamorous Alexis Smith (Tony Award, Best Actress in a Musical for 1971's FOLLIES) furthered her reputation as Hollywood ice princess as Walker's unappreciated but sympathetic wife, Allie, and had to work hard to allow audiences to believe that Bob Hope's finely layered but (on screen anyway) naive Walker would leave *her* for Vera Miles higher billed chorus girl, Betty Compton.
The film does make New York at the end of the "Roaring Twenties" almost a co-equal character in the piece, and appearances of several real life characters from the era (Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny and others) add to the impression beautifully - as does the deft narration from Fowler's book appropriately read by Walter Winchell.
It isn't great history or even great Hollywood, but it is a very warm, enjoyable film well worth a look - and a great example of how "bad" casting (Hope's lack of *physical* resemblance to Walker) can be brilliant if it gets the *psychology* right. When they tried to musicalize the idea a decade later, the production was probably dead the moment they cast the skinny impressionist/actor Frank Gorshin (who actually did bear a passing resemblance to Walker) in the Hope role. All the qualities Gene Fowler infused in his book (to MAKE the reader and later, viewer of the movie, feel "warm and forgiving all day long") disappeared. The movie understood this - and you will.
This is the closest thing to a good dramatic performance Bob Hope ever gave...and its pretty good. Of course, the film soft pedals and simplifies: Walkers great antagonists, Seabury and LaGuardia, barely appear in it. In fact, there is a great dramatic and tragic film waiting to be made of the Jimmy Walker story, with terrific roles for the actors who would portray the "little flower' LaGuardia, and the incorruptible, if cold -hearted, "man who rode the Tiger", Seabury, as well as Jimmy Walker ( not to mention his wife and mistress). Maybe Scorsese could do it someday.
In Beau James, Bob Hope does a great job of depicting how the enormity of New York courses through its Mayor's blood and at least partially takes over every aspect of his life. Politics, in general, makes it difficult, if not impossible some times, to actually have a private life. When New York is your wife, you have no time for mistresses. Bob Hope did a great job of illustrating this in Beau James. He neither looked nor spoke like the tall, angular, thick-accented Jimmy Walker, but Hope captured his spirit and his joie-de-vivre. Paul Douglas is superb as Chris, the Tammany Hall boss. Alexis Smith is marvelous as Walker's pragmatic spouse and Vera Miles is gorgeous and winsome as ingénue Betty Compton with whom Walker had an affair. There is a great cameo by Jimmy Durante while Darrin McGavin and James Flavin both resonate in strong supporting performances. This is an enjoyable film that never forgets that New York is its actual star.
Bob Hope turned in a great performance as N.Y. Mayor James Walker in
this 1957 film.
While the film did not delve into the exact intricacies of the corruption of the Walker Administration, we do have Judge Seabury heading the investigation prompted by Gov. Roosevelt, who wanted that nomination in 1932 and would use Walker's alleged corruption to get it.
Remember the song- the little tin box? That best describes what was going on when Walker, a really decent not-too bright guy, let corrupt officials run the show at City Hall.
Adored by the people at first,(Will You Remember Me in December is sung with zest), he can't accept the booing he encounters at a baseball game, once the corruption details start coming out.
Adding fuel to the fire is Walker's abandonment of his wife for actress Betty Compton, played by Vera Miles. Walker eventually resigned and went with Compton to Mexico.
Having watched this movie many times -- it's in my library, I firmly believe that the role could only have been played by Bob Hope. To my mind, this is his best performance. That coupled with an excellent cast, highlighted by the duet with Jimmy Durante (and Jack Benny's cameo) make this a thoroughly enjoyable movie to watch -- just for fun. >
I saw this movie on TV about 30 years ago. In it Bob Hope plays the mayor of New York. The city that he truly loved. But, although he was married, he became involved with another woman. In the end he had to choose between his wife and New York and his mistress. It has been so long since I have seen it that I am not sure about the end. I do believe he chooses his girl friend and loses everything else but I am not sure if that is where it ends. I wrote to TCM and they replied that whoever owned it has not released it. I am afraid that the film itself will dry out and not be usable. Is there anyway that I can get a copy of it? I have written to several movie catalog companies and they have all replied that they do not have it but will let me know if they can get it.
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