|Trust me -- this is how you want to|
Fortunately for his family but not the rest of us, Hope arrived at Heathrow Airport safe and sound to start his 47-year freefall into mediocrity and beyond. It was an experience both Hope and co-star Katherine Hepburn would eventually pretend never happened. If only.
|These two aren't nearly uncomfortable|
as you'll be while watching
The Iron Petticoat.
Where to begin? Well, you can blame the script, but that's a tricky thing. Ben Hecht, who wrote the original version of the screenplay, was no hack. He and his former writing partner, Charles MacArthur, were responsible for The Front Page, one of the all-time great Broadway shows, as well as two of the most underrated movies of the 1930s, The Scoundrel and Crime Without Passion. Hecht wrote The Iron Petticoat specifically for Katherine Hepburn. It might have made a fine movie for she and Spencer Tracy, but Ol' Ski Nose got his fingerprints on it first. Or rather, his gag writers' fingerprints.
|Kate thanks Bob for his|
contributions to the movie.
One-liners that might have worked elsewhere drop like Wurlitzers off a rooftop here. (When he asks a Russian with a large fur hat, "Who does your hair?", your first thought is Why did he say that?) His response to a spy who calls him "dog nose" -- "Oh, so you've got Crosby blood in you" -- not only makes no sense in context of the film, but calls attention to just what was wrong in hiring Hope to begin with. His dated references to Estes Kefauver and the like further harm the movie. Hecht's script -- presuming the gag writers didn't touch anyone else's dialogue -- isn't perfect to begin with. A cliched Southern senator and some badly-directed slapstick with the Soviet spies aren't as funny as they might have appeared on paper. But without a doubt, Hope's awful one-liners further spoil an already questionable brew.
|Bob turns to drink when |
discovering he has to pick up the check.
Katherine Hepburn is game, but dialect comedy isn't her forte. Her stern looks certainly resemble those of a Russian officer, and she actually looks good in her military uniform. But once she switches to "capitalistic" feminine items -- negligees, gowns, lacy underwear -- she's, frankly, unattractive. Maybe it's the fashions of the day, maybe it's the fact that Hepburn was never particularly feminine to begin with. Whatever it is, it puts to lie, as do her movies with Spencer Tracy, the idea of Hepburn as an icon for liberation. Because by the final reel in these movies, all she wants to do is give up her career and make breakfast for hubby. And in The Iron Petticoat, she wants to do it in Indianapolis, Indiana for no better reason than Hecht thought it would sound funny in a Russian accent.
|Really, don't you want to slap him silly?|
Despite The Iron Petticoat's flaws, Ben Hecht had an
otherwise good track record and a reputation to go with it. Once he saw
what happened to his script, he demanded, quite loudly in the press, that
his name be removed from the credits. Neither Hope, Hepburn
nor critics were happy with the result. Hope, in fact, pulled the
movie from circulation in the mid-60s, while Hepburn never mentioned it again.
That TCM helped to recently engineer The Iron Petticoat's first TV
airing in well over 40 years (with Hecht's writing credit intact) was
something of a coup. But as we saw with Russia, coups
aren't always what they're cracked up to be.
|No matter what the language,|
The Iron Petticoat is appalling.
|Bob Hope winds up his career in|
The Road to Zombieville.
His TV specials were even worse, with titles like Bob Hope's Pink Panther Thanksgiving Gala. And his writers were still force-feeding increasingly stale jokes into pathetic scripts hoping for foie gras. What ultimately emerged at the other end, instead, was something far more odious.