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A returning moon capsule with vital information goes off-course and lands in Africa, where the little-known Ekele tribesmen find it. Washington orders African expert, Matthew Merriwether - an utter fraud and authority only on feminine pulchritude - to go find it.Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Someone forgot to tell old ski nose that non-authentic African locations just weren't going to cut it any more. Not after King Solomon's Mines and The African Queen right up to Howard Hawks's acclaimed Hatari. What was good for the Road to Zanizibar wasn't going to cut it any more with a Sixties audience.
Call Me Bwana other than establishing background shots got no closer to Africa than London where the film was made. The plot such as it is has Hope as a Robert Ruark type author who has used his uncle's African diary as material for some successful books. This in fact was the same plot device that was used in the very funny Man's Favorite Sport where Rock Hudson was a fishing expert.
But all Rock was asked to do was enter and win a fishing tournament. In Call Me Bwana, the Kennedy administration wants to have the CIA hire Bob Hope to lead an expedition to recover a lost satellite before the Russians get it. The Russians in turn are sending Gina Lollabrigida in a ridiculous blond wig to help their man in Africa, Lionel Jeffries.
I do realize this is a comedy, but are we to believe that the Central Intelligence Agency didn't do some background check on Hope and found his credentials weren't all that good? Lord, they were non-existent. Helping Hope in his quest is CIA agent Edie Adams who I'm sure was personally hired at the agency by Allen Dulles.
Hiring Edie, I'm sure was either an act of charity or it's possible that Lionel Jeffries's part was originally meant for her late husband Ernie Kovacs. If the latter was the case it's a good thing Ernie checked out when he did.
There's a whole sequence when in the jungle Hope finds a golf course with Arnold Palmer playing on it. It's about 10 minutes and what might have been funny in a surreal road picture lays a Vermont volleyball of an egg in Call Me Bwana. The golf allows Hope however to get his obligatory Crosby jokes in the script.
The real problem is that by 1963 the American public had increased its knowledge of Africa. Sub Sahara Africa was in the news then, the Congo was in civil war, apartheid was being challenged in the Union of South Africa, there were wars against the Portugese in Angola and Mozambigue, and both Northern and Southern Rhodesia were in turmoil. Bob Hope was way behind the times in trying to sell Call Me Bwana.
Anita Ekberg was a most beautiful and fetching Russian spy. But she's Russian in the tradition of Janet Leigh in Jet Pilot rather than Greta Garbo in Ninotchka. Of course the charm of Bob Hope forces her to defect as per the American script has. I often wonder though did the Russians make films where charming spies get Americans to defect to them?
Call Me Bwana was doomed from the start in its release. What was funny in 1943 couldn't be sold in 1963.
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