Comedy

Bob Hope, Swashbuckler

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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33 thoughts on “Bob Hope, Swashbuckler

    1. I first saw this as a kid, too, and loved it. However, at the time I didn’t fully appreciate the surprise ending.

      Isn’t this a beautiful film in terms of the sets and costumes? Poor Virginia Mayo – some of those dresses look really heavy.

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  1. I’m so glad you shared this interesting–and revealing!!–definition. Hope indeed fits that description in this film, which I enjoyed a lot (don’t always like Hope’s stuff either). In fact, I think we need to start applying the word to those swaggering musicians boasting about themselves in dubious ways, don’t you?

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    1. Ha ha – yes, I definitely think “swashbuckler” could apply to certain musicians.

      I love how MGM spared no expense for this film. The sets and costumes are every bit as genuine as they would be for a “real” pirate movie.

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  2. Braggadocio – now that’s a word that’s not used in everyday conversation often enough! 🙂

    Look forward to watching this – to echo Leah’s comment above, I’m not always a fan of Bob Hope, but you’re very persuasive. After all, swashbucklers do always seem a bit silly, they’re just disguised with heroism and hi-jinx… so why not make one that’s all-out fun?

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    1. Isn’t Braggodocio a terrific word? I’m a little afraid, in our world of 140-character tweets and text messages, words like that will disappear.

      As for the movie, I hope you get a chance to see it. It does collapse into silliness near the end, but the last scene has one of the best punchlines. I never tire of it.

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  3. Love this! I enjoy Bob Hope a lot — he’s silly and cowardly, but he always underestimates himself, and I think we can all relate to him, even if we’re aren’t as witty. And how about Virginia Mayo? That lady is seriously underappreciated.

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  4. So that’s the definition of “swashbuckler!” THE PRINCESS AND THE PIRATE is a fun outing for Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo was a perfect complement to Hope’s comedic style.

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  5. Oh, I am all over this film, why did I not know it existed? For Shame! It sounds wonderful, you have completely sold me, thank you for making your posts so charming and enticing! Love Love Love them!

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    1. Like all Bob Hope films, this one gets a bit silly, but the sets and costumes are gorgeous, and there are lots of witty lines. (The punchline at the end is one of my fave parts of the film.) Virginia Mayo is really good in this. I hope you have the chance to see it!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love any spoof by Bob Hope, so I hope I’ll like this one! I see he even got the color palette of swashbuckling adventures right!
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

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  7. That was wonderful, matching Bob Hope with the original definition of swashbuckler. Like others, I first saw this when I was a kid and loved it. I still do. I learned a lot about making people laugh from studying Bob Hope’s speaking and moving.

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    1. Oops! Premature send! Hope received a lot of criticism in later years for his “outdated” comedy, but I disagree. He was never afraid to make fun of himself and he understood what audiences wanted. Like you pointed out, a person can learn a lot about comedy by studying his movies.

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  8. Sounds like a lot of fun! I guess being an unlikely hero is part of Bob Hope’s charm. I love your line, “All that and a piece of cheese.” I am definitely incorporating that into my vocabulary as soon as possible. I’ll have to check this out. Thanks, Ruth!

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