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Topic: 'Call Me Bwana': Pros and Cons

On the face of it, the question might well be asked: why open a post to review this obscure little film?

The answer, of course, is that 'Call Me Bwana'(1963) will forever occupy a footnote in the history of the James Bond films as the movie whose poster features in FRWL (1963), concealing the hatchway to villain Krilencu's hideout in Istanbul: the Bulgar assassin is shot dead by Bond's ally, Kerim Bey, as he emerges through the image of Anita Ekberg's mouth. It was Marilyn Monroe's mouth in Fleming's original novel - as the movie poster described by Fleming was for Ms. Monroe's 1953 movie, 'Niagara'. It's not for nothing that the Eon team behind FRWL substituted 'Niagara' with 'Call Me Bwana': 'Call Me Bwana' was itself an Eon movie, produced by Broccoli and Saltzman, edited by Peter Hunt, designed by Syd Cain, and co-written by Johanna Harwood; with cinematography by Ted Moore, special effects by John Stears, and with Monty Norman sharing a credit for the musical soundtrack!

'Call Me Bwana' is a screwball-ish espionage comedy, starring Bob Hope as a phoney adventurer, Matt Merriwether, who is co-opted by the CIA to retrieve a space capsule that's landed in an African jungle - before Soviet agents, led by Anita Ekberg, can get their hands on it and steal its secrets. The movie was shot at Pinewood, so the film's safari elements are provided through some use of stock footage and circus-trained animals passing for African wildlife.


Pros

Bob Hope's trademark deadpan delivery of semi-amusing one liners.

A passably exciting sfx climax, involving Hope and Ekberg huddled together in the space capsule as its rockets fire and it propels itself, and a truck to which it's attached, through mountain roads at speed - then off into the sky.

A sexy, but very short scene at the beginning of the film starring Mai Ling as Hope's semi-naked home help. Not exactly Sylvia Trench, or Matt Helm's Lovey Kravezit, but in similar territory. Mai Ling will be familiar to Bond fans as the attendant aboard Goldfinger's private jet, and as a 'bath girl' gracing scenes in YOLT including its title sequence. She's sexier than ever in her brief appearance in 'Call Me Bwana'.

Some moderately sexy frisson between Hope and Ekberg, and a breezy performance by Edie Adams as Hope's 'good girl' ally.

Edie Adams' brief scene doing some Cathy Gale-style ass-kicking.   

Err, that's about it...


Cons

'Call Me Bwana' has none of the magic of Eon's Bond fare, whatsoever. Director Gordon Douglas wasn't ever a Bond director, and the film has no one on the writing team in Richard Maibaum's league. Stretches of this film are undeniably tedious. It's mostly like a series of cheap comedy sketches performed on 1950s live TV, and it's wholly dependent on Bob Hope's skill to hold it together.

Racist and sexist tropes. Mildly mitigated by Hope's geniality, and of their time... but even still.

A god-awful score co-written by Monty Norman. Thank goodness that his dispute with Saltzman over money precluded him from further work on the Bonds.

Ekberg looks heavily set and tired in this film, with shadows under her eyes. She's dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl, who provides her customary sweet, girlish voice - not really suited to Ekberg's physical persona here.

Maurice Binder's title sequence. Think: the double-taking pigeon during the Venice chase in MR... but done repeatedly with footage of monkeys and apes, throughout the titles, and all set to comedy music!

I should add that the DVD I bought - it arrived today - is a Spanish language product but with an option for the original English soundtrack. A major problem is that the aspect ratio is out, slightly compressing the picture in a way that's distracting at first. I don't know if a better version is available.


Notable scenes of interest to Bond fans:

DN's tarantula-in-the-bed scene is re-staged here, virtually shot by shot, but with Hope's comic reactions instead of Connery's fear.

There's a golf scene of similar duration to the one in GF, with Hope playing against celebrity golfer Arnold Palmer (appearing as himself). This scene actively anticipates the GF scene - and as such it must have been sourcing Fleming's 'Goldfinger' chapters, 'All To Play For' and 'The Cup And The Lip', as GF itself obviously does. For example, Hope comically tries to put Palmer off his stroke, and there are shenanigans involving ball mix-ups between the rough and the fairway. Having watched this, it seems clear to me that the name-check for Arnold Palmer in the GF scene must have been, as much as anything else, an Eon in-joke nodding to Palmer's participation in 'Call Me Bwana'.

Just as Blofeld's 'party piece' in FRWL is stroking a white Persian cat, the faceless Khrushchev figure who instructs Soviet officials near the beginning of 'Call Me Bwana' has the oddball characteristic of rocking back and forth in a creaking rocking chair which he pauses to oil using an oiling can. (He also, like Khrushchev, slams his shoe on the table to emphasise his frustration.) Actor George Pravda (Kutze in TB) plays one of the bullied Soviet military officials.

Near the end of the film, Hope's and Ekberg's embrace in the space capsule tracked by U.S. officials perhaps anticipates similar romantic clinches in escape vessels such as at the end of TSWLM.

Now on to more problematic parallels:

There's a joke at the expense of the daughter of the black African chief encountered by Hope: the chief wants to match the girl up with Hope. Although she's keen, there's some fleeting comic business intended to make her natural facial features seem off-puttingly ugly. This is racist, and anticipates the "face like a pig" sĺur in YOLT, as a 'yellow face' Bond looks on unenthusiastically at a series of Japanese women during the wedding ceremony before setting eyes on Kissy Suzuki.

Various forms of menace to white folk presented by the dancing, ritually dressed, black African tribesmen of 'Call Me Bwana' anticipate Baron Samedi and the voodoo dancers in LALD.


I can't really recommend 'Call Me Bwana', unless you have a Bond fan's curiosity to see an Eon production of significant vintage which is, judged on its own merits, not at all a good film...

Last edited by Shady Tree (8th May 2020 06:49)

Critics and material I don't need. I haven't changed my act in 49 years.

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Re: 'Call Me Bwana': Pros and Cons

awesome Shady, thanks for enlightening us!
have you seen Road to Hong Kong?

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Re: 'Call Me Bwana': Pros and Cons

Research above and beyond the call of duty. Thanks, Shady.  ajb007/smile