Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo ...

Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo are attacked by pirates. Image: Forgotten Films

Swashbuckling movies are always lots of fun, but… let’s face it. Sometimes they’re just begging to be spoofed.

Come on – swashbuckling movies revel in men with floppy hair, swishy clothes and impractical footwear. These guys are our first line of defence against evil highwaymen and pirates?

It can be a bit of a stretch, no?

That’s why we enjoy The Princess and the Pirate (1944), a glorious Technicolor affair by MGM. It stars Bob Hope as a self-deluded and unsuccessful impersonator, and Virginia Mayo as a princess draped in record amounts of fabric.

The pair meet on a ship that is sailing to America. (The 16th-century galleon in this movie functions much like a cruise ship, with spacious, well-appointed cabins.) Mayo is bolting to America to escape an arranged marriage. Hope’s reason? “My act is known all over Europe,” he says. “That’s why I’m going to America.”

However! The ship falls under attack by the dreaded pirate, the Hook (a growly Victor McLaglen in a swell beard and gleaming hook). Luckily, Hope and Mayo are able to escape in a small boat.

When the two arrive in the port of the fictional island of Casa Rouge, they discover a rough town full of mean, dodgy characters, and a governor (Walter Slezak), who isn’t quite what he seems. It falls to Hope, and his clever impersonation skills, to outwit the villains and save Mayo from a Fate Worse Than Death.

Bob Hope may seem like an unlikely hero, as he does in all his movies. Here he is, a Grade-A scaredy cat spouting corny jokes and scampering around luscious sets in the swashbuckling tradition of, say, Errol Flynn.

Only more so. Because when you analyze it, Bob Hope’s character is a swashbuckler, in the truest sense of the word.

Walter Slezak brags about his head-shrinking talents. Photo: Forgotten Films

Walter Slezak entertains his guests. Photo: Forgotten Films

What’s this? You’re skeptical of Hope’s swashbuckling prowess? We can see why. After all, this is a man who uses Virgina Mayo as a human shield when pirates hijack their 16th-century cruise ship.

But, here, take a look at something interesting we found. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the original meaning for Swashbuckler is:

a swaggering bravo or ruffian;
a noisy braggadocio

Hmmm… a man who endlessly boasts about his accomplishments and his appeal to the ladies? Someone who thinks he’s All That and a piece of cheese, too?

Sound like anybody we know?

Now, we can’t be too dismissive of Hope’s character. He may not be as smart or as brave as he thinks he is but, by the end of the film, he manages to become a Hero. Despite himself, he saves the princess Mayo and outmanoeuvres McLaglen’s burley gang. (Oops – spoiler!)

In the final analysis, Bob Hope really is a Swashbuckler, in the best possible way.

The Princess and the Pirate: starring Bob Hope, Virginia Mayo, Walter Slezak. Directed by David Butler. Written by Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson & Everett Freeman. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1944, Technicolor, 94 mins.

This post is part of the Swashathon! hosted by Movies, Silently. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.

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Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

33 Comment on “Bob Hope, Swashbuckler

  1. Pingback: Bob Hope, Swashbuckler | Rogues & Vagabonds

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