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Bob Hope: The movies

Bob Hope perfected the role of reluctant hero

Bob Hope's first screen test in 1930 was not a success.

He complained afterwards: "My nose came on the screen 20 minutes before I did, and I couldn't wait to get out of there."

Nevertheless, this self-effacing Pinocchio would go on to enjoy a film career spanning more than half a century, the star of more than 70 films.

Already an acclaimed star of vaudeville and radio, Hope broke into cinema when he was asked to replace Jack Benny in The Big Broadcast of 1938!

On the road with Crosby and Lamour

But the film attracted only small praise - apart from its music. Hope co-starred with Shirley Ross, and the couple sang Thanks for the Memory.

Thanks for the Memory with Shirley Ross
This poignant and nostalgic song swept America and would accompany Hope down many a sweeping staircase for the rest of his life.

Hope struck gold again in 1939 with mystery-melodrama The Cat and the Canary.

The role of thriller-buff Wally Hampton, quipping his way out of perilous situations and into the arms of Paulette Goddard, would set the tone for Hope's enduring screen persona, the reluctant hero and unlikely ladykiller.

Cinema gold

Nowhere was this more evident than in the Road to... series, six films that teamed Hope with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, in unlikely circumstances and locations from Singapore to Hong Kong, via Zanzibar, Morocco, Utopia, Rio and Bali.

Let's get out of here before my knees beat each other to death
Hope in My Favourite Blonde (1942)

In each, Hope and Crosby were travelling performers, comrades in peril, rivals for the affections of the inevitably saronged Ms Lamour.

Hope was a bumbling, over-anxious lover, paving the way for the more effortless charms of the suave Crosby to win the heroine's heart.

Comic limitations

On the set, Hope and Crosby kept one another on their toes. As well as mercilessly stealing the other's lines, they ad-libbed wildly, referred to other films and insulted each other openly.

On the Road to Bali with Bing and Dorothy Lamour
On the studio floor, Hope once called to the chagrined author Don Hartmann, "If you recognise anything of yours, yell bingo!"

Cinema-goers could not get enough of this spontaneity.

Although the final Road to Hong Kong in 1962 was considered a weak climax to the series, all six films were a financial success and ensured Hope's cinema star burned brightly.

My Favourite Blonde in 1942 triggered a three-part spy series, while his role of the dentist Painless Peter Potter gave him his biggest solo triumph in the 1948 film Paleface.

This film displayed the best of Hope's comic talents, but he faced accusations of always playing the same role.

New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther, accused Hope of "having bunions on his bunions from the number of times he's run the course".

Chaplin's praise

The performer attempted to extend his repertoire by taking the role of hardened vaudeville performer Eddie in The Seven Little Foys in 1955.

"I'm taking my brother to the shrink. He thinks he's a horse"
The film was notable only for his dancing duet with James Cagney.

His realistic portrayal of City Hall rogue Jimmy Walker in the 1957 film Beau James earned Bob Hope praise, but this represented the critical peak of his career.

Hope's more recent work consisted of cameo roles in such films as the 1979 Muppet Movie and 1985's Spies Like Us.

At the age of 12, the aspiring comic Bob Hope won a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest in Cleveland, Ohio.

Years later on the set of The Cat and the Canary, he was approached by his old idol who had seen Hope's out-takes.

Chaplin heralded Bob Hope as "one of the best timers of comedy I have ever seen". It is a view few would dispute.