Steve Bennett (Bob Hope) is an up-and-coming Investor who makes a bet with his newcoworkers that he can tell the absolute truth for twenty-four hours. Only trouble is, it’s not hismoney he bets, but $10,000 he’s asked to invest by his new boss’ niece, Gwen Saunders (PauletteGoddard). Those twenty-four hours are spent aboard the family yacht, and Hope’s bet might justcash-out big, IF he can outwit all the hot water his unwavering honesty gets him into!
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In this continuing retrospective of Bob Hope’s Top Five Movies (at least in this reviewer’sopinion), I thought I’d follow The Ghost Breakers with Hope’s and Goddard’s next (thoughunfortunately final) helping together – and this one a wide change from the ghouls and gags modeof their first two – the sit-com shell-game of the wonderfully witty Nothing But The Truth.
Released just a year after Ghost Breakers in 1941, Nothing But The Truth once again reunitedProducer Arthur Hornblow Jr. and Director Elliot Nugent (who had done The Cat And TheCanary with the team; and Nugent would later direct My Favorite Brunette). The script, by DonHartman and Ken Englund is once again based on a hit play, from 1916 by James Montgomery;and that play was based on a novel, from 1914 by Fred Isham. Like Canary and Ghost Breakersbefore it, our 1941 version of Truth was not the first time the story was filmed, as there are boththe 1920 and 1929 versions proceeding it. (The other films or TV works with the same title arenot the same story.) I say in the Ghost Breakers review how, even then, Hollywood enjoyed agood remake. And why not? When it works, it works. And here it works just splendidly.
Speaking of what works, an aside about pedigree. If you’ve been reading all of these Bob Hopereviews – so far there’s My Favorite Brunette, The Cat And The Canary and The Ghost Breakersas well as this one (and bless you, dear readers, for putting up with me through them) – you knowI’m working my way through this five-part review; my five favorites Hope made in those specialeight years that spawned ten monstrous hits (the Canary review has an easy list to reference, ifyou’d like). Do yourself a favor and take a look at the talent involved in those. How manyHornblow Jr. produced. How many Nugent directed. How many Lamour costarred in. Howmany Goddard co-starred in. How many their respective writers worked on! The overlappingwill astound you. Well, that overlapping isn’t so surprising, really. Especially then, but eventoday. (As I also mention in the Ghost Breakers review, it’s similar to how the McKay-Ferrelland Apatow camps work now.) And, if you’ll indulge me a moment, I’d like to spotlight ourTruth writers, Don Hartman and Ken Englund.
Don Hartman has the best list. Not only did he write these other Hope hits – The Road ToSingapore (BEGINNING that great Road series, mind you), The Road To Zanzibar, My FavoriteBlonde, The Road To Morocco and The Princess And The Pirate – but he also wrote these greatDanny Kaye hits – Up In Arms and Wonderman. (And if you think I’m jesting what a pedigreeTHAT is, try getting a pint of Prospect Park out of old Cuddles Sakall sometime!) As for KenEnglund, well, he might not have done another Hope, but he did do MY favorite Danny Kayemovie – and, interestingly enough, completely separate from Hartman doing the two of his own –The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty. And in my book, for that alone he can retire proudly. (I stillwish Steven Spielberg and Jim Carrey would get on THAT remake. They’ve been talking aboutit forever! But, yes, I digress.) Point is, if you look up a few titles, a few names, you’ll bepleasantly surprised what you’ll find. For instance, just think about Cary Grant in His GirlFriday saying, “Listen, the last man that said that to me was Archie Leach just a week before hecut his throat!” I’ll leave you to make the Archie Leach connection.
Now. Getting back to Nothing But The Truth.The basic plot is so simple it’s no wonder it’s been done so many times. Our lead swears to tellthe absolute truth for a given amount of time, which he or she does, albeit causing shenanigans allaround. (By the by, never pass up an opportunity to use the word shenanigans.) The originalnovel was so successful it birthed a play and three film versions. And do you remember the ILove Lucy episode where she swears to tell the truth for twenty-four hours (ep72, Lucy Tells TheTruth)? Not to mention Jim Carrey makes a second cameo in this review with his hit Liar, Liar(though more on that in a moment). Where this Hope vehicle in particular shines is in those veryshenanigans. Having to tell the truth is one thing, but the sit-com shell-game it leads to is quitefunny indeed.
Mainly because of – quelle surprise – the once again wonderfully charismatic Hope and Goddard,who are so easy to root for. (And I hope I’m not getting near fisticuffs here, but, for my money,even more so than Hope and Lamour.) It really is a shame they didn’t get to do more together,but, if all we get are Ghost Breakers and Truth – for while Canary is a personal treasure, the othertwo shine – I’m happy. And speaking of shining, it’s the almost Shakespearean game of mistakenidentity and mix-matching on the yacht that really makes this movie. The triangle between Hope,Goddard and her suitor, Hope’s valet (the great Willie Best reprising his Ghost Breakers role), thesuitor’s parents, a visiting Psychiatrist, and of course Hope’s coworkers who try desperately tocatch him in a lie, and win the $10,000 bet. Add to that the gentleman from whom Goddardoriginally got that $10,000 plus a blonde actress who it appears has something on the side withone of those coworkers, and Hope indeed has his hands full of desperate truths.
I mention it being Shakespearean because, like his great comedies, it’s one of those plots thatcould so easily be convoluted (and fall apart) if it weren’t for the wonderful handling of it. I’venever read the book or seen the play (though, again, if anyone knows of a revival happening in oraround L.A. please let me know), but I like to give them credit. And we must certainly praiseHartman & Englund’s script thereof, plus Nugent’s wonderful telling of that script. And above itall, after all, we remember it as a Bob Hope movie. And does he shine here? You bet. Justwatch him hit his stride, especially in the early office and hotel scenes, and when he’s movingaround the yacht in that negligee. Brilliant. It’s no wonder the hits – big hits – Zanzibar,Morocco, Utopia and Brunette would shortly follow.One final aside, if I may. Before when I talked about the oft-used plot, I mentioned the great(and, frankly, very funny) Jim Carrey hit Liar, Liar. Reason I wanted to touch on it again, justbriefly, is that it can’t help but occur to me how times have changed since Truth in 1941 (or eventhat Lucy episode in 1953) and 1997 when Liar premiered. Where all Hope or Ms. Ball had to dowas say they’d tell the truth for twenty-four hours, people believed them. We the audiencebelieved them. But forty (fifty!) years later, it took a magical element to ensure Carrey’scharacter would tell the truth. No one – and no audience, for that matter – would believe he wastelling the truth without that magic! How times have changed indeed. Alas.
But what hasn’t changed over the past almost-seventy years is how great a movie Nothing ButThe Truth is. How well it holds up. I’ve seen it a handful of times, always remembered reallyenjoying it, but (admittedly) had to watch it again before writing this review. And there was justenough I’d forgotten to where I laughed out loud several times throughout. Once again thisreview hardly does justice to the supporting cast, especially Edward Arnold (for whom this,perhaps neck and neck with Dear Ruth, is my favorite of his). Or Glenn Anders (perhaps bestknown for The Lady From Shanghai) who, even when bordering on dislikable, has some greatoff-the-cuffs here. But what would CERTAINLY be an injustice is if you missed this film. Somany friends I’ve mentioned Truth to say, “I’ve never even HEARD of that one!” Well, that’sone of the reasons I wanted to put it in here. It holds up just fine as a Top Five. But it also,hopefully, will finally get a little bit of the recognition it deserves.
Trust me on this.
After all, why would I lie?