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American comedian Bob Hunter, on a luxury liner to France with French counterpart Fernandel, takes an interest in blonde diplomat Ann McCall while pursued by an even shapelier blonde, the mysterious Zara, who seems to be after something in Bob's possession. But he's only going to France to obtain rights to a new play...so what are Zara and her sinister boss after? The pursuit, amorous and larcenous, continues in Paris and escalates into a full-fledged comedy thriller. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It had the right cast: Bob Hope in the sort of part he could believably play, that of clever, self-aware, ham entertainer "Bob Hunter"; Grace-Kelly-esque Martha Hyer as his classy, hard-to-get love interest "Ann McCall"; shapely Anita Ekberg as "Zara," a mysterious spy whose strange interest in Bob complicates (among other things) the hapless comedian's attempts at romancing Ann; and funny-faced Frenchman Fernandel as "Fernydel," Hunter's Gallic counterpart/rival/friend in the story's adventures.
And the plot had potential. There was mystery (why does a spy ring seem determined to keep Bob Hunter from acquiring a script from a famous French playwright?), romance (as endearingly un-suave Hunter slowly wins his sophisticated lady), and comic relief (in the exchange of one-upmanship between friendly rivals Fernydel and Hunter). Throw in the classic cruise-ship setting which begins the film, plus several car (and other vehicle) chases through Paris and its environs at the film's climax, and you have a diverting hour and a half of film, right?
Well, more or less. The film's comic potential is never *quite* realized, in large part because the scenes with real screwball potential simply move too slowly. Case in point: a courtroom scene in which non-Anglophone Fernydel is called to testify to Bob Hunter's sanity. The trial is conducted in English, and as the Frenchman "defends" his American friend by proudly trotting out all the "hep cat" slang the latter has taught him ("crazy," "out of this world," "the living end"), he only makes things worse. But the sort of snappy pace that gives that crucial edge to linguistic-confusion routines (think "Who's on first?") is utterly absent. And in another scene, in which the baddies chase Hope, Hyer, and Fernandel through an amusement park, it's just too dark to properly make out their antics.
Still, the film served its purpose for me: I bought it to see the celebrated Fernandel in his only American movie role of which I am aware. Without English, the Frenchman could not have played many parts accessible to a mainstream American audience, and in this movie his role is perfectly designed to get around that difficulty. He essentially plays a broad caricature of himself, with the usual stereotype of the Frenchman-as-eternal-romantic thrown in for good measure.
Oh, and there's a funny "in joke" for those who know a little bit about Fernandel. The role for which he is best remembered in Europe is that of "Don Camillo," the fiesty priest in a series of well-loved films based on Giovanni Guareschi's stories. And when, in "Paris Holiday," his character dons a cassock in an attempt to sneak into a place where Hope's being held prisoner, it's as if Don Camillo is making a brief cameo here.
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