Referred to on the back of the DVD case as “bedlam in the boudoir”, this costume farce, Casanova’s Big Night, is thoroughly silly and a great deal of fun because of that. And it also has rather an amazing cast that stars Bob Hope but also includes Joan Fontaine, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and a young Raymond Burr, among numerous others.
Bob Hope plays Pippo Popolino (I love the name), a humble tailor (actually a tailor’s assistant). As it turns out, he is tailor to the famous lover Casanova (the uncredited Vincent Price). Due to cash flow problems (Casanova’s), Hope’s Pippo ends up impersonating the great lover and is enlisted to help Casanova’s greedy creditors to torpedo a marriage.
However, the plot is unimportant for the most part except for the sake of establishing the situation: the bumbling and cowardly Bob/Pippo as the world’s greatest lover and swordsman. It’s sheer farce, as well as something of a send-up of the costume dramas of the period.
And it’s vintage Hope. While some argue it’s not in the top tier of Bob Hope films, it’s close and this is partly due to the silliness and fun they manage to get into the movie. But it’s also due to the pacing, which is pretty tight for a movie of this kind. Often, this kind of movie could kill the comedy by extending a scene long past its welcome. But here, for the most part, they enter and leave scenes with the kind of alacrity this kind of humour requires.
In fact the only time the humour doesn’t work, or at least fails the movie, is when it is deliberately self-conscience, although this was one of the trademarks of Hope’s films. By “self conscience” I mean the times in a Hope film when the movie itself is acknowledged as a movie, and a nod or overt remark or question is put to the audience. Here, I’m thinking particularly of the ending. Perhaps at the time (1954), it may have worked. I don’t know. But I would have preferred a more traditional wrap to the movie, even if it might not have had the humour.
As someone elsewhere mentioned, Casanova’s Big Night isn’t going to challenge the viewer. But then, that’s not its intention. It is light. It’s fluff. That’s all it wants to be and it achieves that remarkably well, and it’s entertaining as such. Like the Road movies Bob Hope made with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, it is fun and light, a perfect anodyne to a crappy day when all you want to do is turn off your brain for a while and laugh.
The more I see of the Bob Hope canon of movies, the more impressed I am by them. In someone else’s hands, these probably could have been dreadful. But Hope’s quick wit and light touch comes through in them and, I think, the sense of fun seems to be infectious. The other actors seem to pick up on it and communicate it as well. (I’m thinking here particularly of Joan Fontaine in Casanova’s Big Night.)
I think for something that amuses and has more than a few laughs, you can’t really go wrong with this one.
2½ stars out of 4.