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A returning moon capsule with vital information goes off course and lands in Africa where the little-known Ekele tribesmen find it. Washington orders the great African Authority Matthew Merriwether (Bob Hope), an utter fraud and authority only on feminine pulchritude, to go find it. A foreign power sends Secret Agent Luba (Anita Ekberg) to go after Matthew and stop at nothing - absolutely nothing - to get it from him. Dr. Ezra Mungo (Lionel Jeffries) is peeved that Luba superseded him, and is sent along posing as her father but has plans of his own. All meet and form a safari but there is time out for a golf match between Merriwether and Arnold Palmer (Himself). After reaching their destination, with Merriwether madly in love with Luba, they find that the Ekeles believe the capsule is a holy talisman and won't give it up. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A poster for this film is featured in From Russia with Love (1963). It shows an Anita Ekberg head shot on the side of a building when 007 and Ali Kerim Bey are about to assassinate Krilencu. A window opens (appearing to be Ekberg's mouth) and Krilencu exits the building on a rope and is shot. After the assassination, 007 makes one of his inimitable quips as he says: "She should have kept her mouth shut". Both films were from United Artists. Note, however, that the relevant chapter of the Ian Fleming novel was titled "The Mouth of Marilyn Monroe". See more »
When Matt boards his flight for Africa it's a 707 jet but after he lands at his destination and disembarks, it's a propeller driven aircraft. See more »
For years Bob Hope was one of cinema's most engaging presences, as classic comedies like "My Favorite Brunette/Blonde" and "The Princess And The Pirate" make clear even today. The lack of similar scripts in the 1960s didn't stop Bob from working, however, and the results were films like "Call Me Bwana" that diminished his legacy in a small but annoying way.
As the politically incorrect title suggests, this is a safari-themed picture, with Bob playing Matthew Merriweather, a writer who palms off his uncle's memoirs of African adventure as his own while loafing around his Manhattan bachelor pad in a leopard-print bathrobe. Only everyone thinks he's on the level, which is a problem when a capsule crashes down in Africa and both the U.S. and the Soviets figure Merriweather's the only man to find it.
The story is flimsy on many levels, but that's really not what's wrong here. Hope's not making "Out Of Africa," and the fact that the Frank Buck era of the Great White Explorer in Africa kind of ended by World War II is a minor nuisance, as is the fact its unlikely NASA couldn't find its own capsule with all the high-tech stuff they had even back then. No, you're supposed to enjoy this film as a vehicle for jokes. Only someone forgot the jokes.
Hope just moseys through the film, his timing solid but firing blanks. "I'm here on a mission for the President of the United States," he tells a hostile-looking group of tribesmen. "You know, President Kennedy?" No reaction. "Bobby Kennedy? Teddy Kennedy? Jackie Kennedy? Caroline? Boy, these guys must be Republicans!"
The attitude toward native Africans in this movie is not that bad. Hope's the buffoon, and for most of the film the black people around him are not targets as much as witnesses to his embarrassment. About the worst excess, other than the title, is when Hope makes a couple of porters carry his luggage on their heads, instead of toting them the normal way, because its more like what he's seen in "National Geographic."
What's more off is the threadbare plot and a cast of supporting players who don't want to be there. Anita Ekberg and Edie Adams play rival spies in a sort of dull-eyed way. If it wasn't for Hope's joking about it so much you wouldn't know they were supposed to be sexy, but of course he does joke, and joke, and joke, about it. Lionel Jeffries is awkward in bad makeup and adds nothing as a nasty Soviet spy pretending to be a pious missionary who'd rather kill Merriweather than find the capsule. The best supporting performance is probably that of golfing legend Arnold Palmer, just for the way he enters the picture, a supremely silly but classic moment revisited in the Dan Ackroyd/Chevy Chase film "Spies Like Us." Unfortunately, the producers then have Palmer and Hope do ten minutes of random club-swinging in the middle of the picture, Hope making in-jokes about Bing while trying to cheat his way into looking respectable against Arnie. It's one thing to tack on a quick cameo; but the padding here really shows.
Except there's nothing to pad. The whole movie is padded. Things happen, Hope makes a wisecrack, the scene changes, and everything we saw up to then is forgotten. At least a film set in Africa should be beautiful, but this is shot in such a cheap, offhanded manner it's almost distracting; its clear where the movie ends and the stock footage begins. The ending is particularly slipshod, which I couldn't spoil if I tried given I really have no idea what happened.
Any Bob Hope comedy has the potential to be great, so when one fails to deliver as persistently as "Call Me Bwana," it really leaves one flat.
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