Five Top Five of December — Dorothy Lamour

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Hey, lovely readers! It’s finally nearing the end of the year, and I’m starting off the holiday season with the first installment of my Five Top Five series for December! I must admit I enjoy writing these, and they’re an especially good respite in between blogathons, so I’m happy to announce that the series will continue for as long as my typing hands can hold out! Today I’ll be talking about Dorothy Lamour’s stunning career in films on what would have been her 102nd birthday. While I usually write exclusively about a star’s best roles, I think this list would be better if I focused this time on her best films, as she nearly always played second banana to the likes of Crosby, Hope, and many other leading men. So without further ado, on with the post!

5. Johnny Apollo (1940)

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Dorothy Lamour and Tyrone Power in a publicity photo for Johnny Apollo (1940).

While I’m sure that I caught at least one of the great Road movies in my youth, Johnny Apollo (1940) is the first Dorothy Lamour film that I distinctly remember watching, and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I’m sure you know the reason: it also stars none other than my all-time favorite actor, Tyrone Power. Power is really the star of the story as Robert Cain Jr., son of wealthy Wall Street broker Robert Cain Sr. (Edward Arnold), who at the start of the film gets arrested for embezzlement. The man gets a hefty sentence of thirty years per charge despite everyone (even the judge) believing that he doesn’t deserve it, while notorious gangster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan) gets a measly five years the very same day, as it was the maximum sentence for his current crime. Robert Jr. is distant towards his father at first but soon has the desire to set him free, so he tracks down the attorney of Mickey Dwyer, Emmett T. Brennan (Charley Grapewin), who bent the law in Dwyer’s favor to already get him released from prison on parole. In an effort to get the same treatment for his father, Robert Jr. changes his name to Johnny Apollo and gets himself caught up in Dwyer’s life, becoming his partner in crime and winning over the affections of his girlfriend, Lucky DuBarry, played by our star of the day Dorothy Lamour. Despite the forced chemistry between Lucky and Johnny towards the beginning and no real explanation for her to be with Mickey in the first place, I thought this was a fine film, and Dorothy’s array of songs held my attention throughout the duller parts, especially the endearing “Dancing for Nickels and Dimes”, for which she’s dressed in rags and wearing her best smile. I would definitely recommend this picture if you’re into gangster films and want to catch Dorothy in one of her lesser-known roles.

4. My Favorite Brunette (1947)

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Frequent costars Dorothy and Bob Hope getting close on the set of My Favorite Brunette (1947).

I could never leave off this marvelous spy comedy that paired frequent costars Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in a film that wasn’t part of the Road pictures. The film’s events are told in flashback by Bob Hope’s character, who is on death row at San Quentin awaiting his execution, and Dorothy portrays Baroness Maria Montay who appears to be in the middle of a great conspiracy as she attempts to find her uncle (or husband?) who has gone missing. She pleads for help from the man whom she thinks is private detective Sam McCloud (the real Sam is played in a great cameo by Alan Ladd), but she’s really getting help from baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Hope), who has set up shop across the hall from McCloud and is looking after his office while he’s away on a case. However, Jackson has always aspired to become a detective himself and sees this mistake as his golden opportunity to step into the detective’s shoes. Soon he gets caught up in a convoluted web of deception and intrigue, and like any amateur detective (especailly one played by Bob Hope in a heavily typecast buffoon role), he has no idea what he’s doing and the enemy ends up leading him exactly where they want him to go, including straight into a frame-up for murder. I adore this lighthearted comedy, and there are many humorous references and ingenious cameos throughout. Of course Lamour and Hope couldn’t do a film without Bing Crosby, and I was so delighted to see him at the very end of the picture. Bob Hope wanted him to appear in the film so badly that he paid Crosby $5,000 out of his own pocket to do so, and Crosby proceeded to donate the money to charity. If you haven’t seen this public domain classic and are a fan of the famous Road trio, you certainly should!

3. Road to Singapore (1940)

Finally I include the first of the seven Road films with Dorothy, Bing, and Bob. In this particular gem, Crosby and Hope play Josh and Ace, two playboys with a love of the sea. Josh comes from an illustrious family who used ships to create their enormous wealth, and his father (Charles Coburn) wants him to pick up where he leaves off. Everything’s been planned out for him, including his home, career, and even his fiancé, but Josh wants no part of it. All he cares about is being on the ocean and exploring the world with his best friend Ace, who’s in a jam himself when the family of his previous fling insists that he marries her. Rather than face their problems head on, the two flee onboard a ship to the South Sea Islands, ending up in (where else?) Singapore. At first things seem to be going well for the two of them as they find a comfortable home and get by for weeks without employment. However, when they run out of food and their home becomes a mess, they find that they need the help of Mira (Dorothy Lamour), a local dancer who is attempting to flee an abusive relationship. Mira is more than happy to tag along and help Josh and Ace survive, but troubles begin when they reach the end of their financial rope, when three becomes a crowded love triangle, and when Mira’s former beau Caesar (Anthony Quinn) goes on the hunt for her. This is a comedy for the ages, and almost a perfect one as far as classics go. As I watched it I prayed that some of its delightful gags would be repeated in the other films, and luckily many of them were. It has been and will always be one of my favorites, and the only downsides that come to mind are that this film doesn’t include nearly as many fourth wall breaks that make the rest of the series so funny, and I always found it sad that Bob never got the girl. Despite these drawbacks, I strongly recommend watching every film in this series if you like adventure, laughs, and these three.

2. Road to Morocco (1942)

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Dorothy and Bob looking glamorous in a scene from Road to Morocco (1942).

The second and final Road film to appear on my list is actually the third, Road to Morocco (1942). Originally there weren’t supposed to be three Road pictures, there wasn’t even supposed to be one, but this trifecta of comedy was such a smash that it had to be continued, especially in this film that was the first especially written for the series. In it our heroes are in the roles of Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby) and Orville “Turkey” Jackson (Bob Hope), two friends stranded on a raft in the Mediterranean who eventually end up in Morocco. Once again the two find themselves struggling to get by, starving after spending weeks adrift as castaways. Jeff takes matters into his own hands, selling Turkey as a slave to a stranger to pay for their meal and planning to find and rescue him later on. Little does he know that Turkey needs no rescuing, however, as he has been sold to the alluring Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour) as her soon-to-be husband. Jealous of his friend’s new position, Jeff attempts to woo the princess himself, singing to her and quickly getting her to fall for him. It is soon revealed, however, that a soothsayer has told her that her first husband will die a horrible death within a week, and she plans to go through with her marriage to Turkey so she can get rid of him and presumably marry her true love, Mullay Kasim (once again played by Anthony Quinn, making him the only other regular actor to appear in the Road films). But can Turkey be saved? Is Kasim her true love after all? So far this is undoubtedly my favorite film of the series, as it has the most memorable songs and seamlessly blends both the older bits of the previous two films and the newer and funnier fourth wall breaks throughout. The ending also makes this film stand head and shoulders above the rest, and I couldn’t recommend a better picture among the seven. If you watch only one Road film in your life, make sure this is it.

1. The Hurricane (1937)

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Dorothy and Jon Hall in The Hurricane (1937).

I admire Dorothy Lamour for so much of her work, and I wanted to make certain that my number one choice wasn’t a Road film, as I believe I have talked about her role in the series enough. Luckily I admire one of her more dramatic parts more than enough to give it the top spot. In this film Dorothy plays native Polynesian girl Marama, who marries fellow islander Terangi (Jon Hall), the best sailor on the island of Manukura, and quite possibly the world. As quickly as they wed, however, Terangi has to leave as first mate on a voyage to Tahiti. In a lovable chain of events Terangi tries to smuggle his new bride onboard in a potato sack, but the captain quickly threatens to demote him if Marama doesn’t swim back to the shore. Wanting the best for her husband she agrees, patiently waiting for him back on land, but unfortunately fate has other plans. Meanwhile in Tahiti, a wealthy bully picks a fight with Terangi in a pub, leading the young sailor to fight back and knock the man out. He gets a six month jail sentence, which almost everyone involved says is extreme, but Terangi, not knowing much about first world law practices, attempts to escape from jail every chance that he gets, adding more and more time onto his sentence and eventually increasing it to sixteen years. Finally after eight years Terangi escapes for good, taking a canoe and rowing nearly four hundred miles back home to Manukura, where his wife and daughter have been waiting patiently for his return. But will it be happily ever after, or will those who want to keep Terangi confined have their last laugh? If we’re being honest, leading man Jon Hall really carries the picture, withstanding real flogging, practically real hurricanes, and even changing his name to highlight the fact that he was the nephew of the author of the original novel for his role, but Dorothy Lamour’s performance certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. She expresses a wide variety of very real emotion, from adorable newlywed to despondent mother and wife. In all honesty, I always felt sorry that Dorothy has been remembered only for the roles in which she dons her trademark sarong, but if all of those pictures are half as good as this one, it makes me wish that she appeared in it more often.