Love and Death and Hope
Where there’s humor, there’s Hope. Comedy legend Bob Hope had a helluva screen career based on his tried-and-true dual persona of the simpleton/sharpie, womanizer/weakling, blusterer/coward, victim/unlikely hero and his influence on American laughter runs deep. If there’s anything resembling a Bob Hope picture in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray library, it’s one that opened 41 years ago today: Woody Allen’s shaggy but sly period spoof Love and Death (1975). Allen’s Boris Grushenko, a philosophy-spouting Russian nebbish caught up on world-shaking events involving Czarist repression and the threat of the conquering French Emperor Napoleon, is nonetheless a typical Allen character from his early big-screen years as a writer/director, what historian Richard Schickel called “a very simple type – a coward putting up a brave front, sexually voracious but essentially clueless around women.” But Allen was forthright in his admiration in Schickel’s 2003 career study Woody Allen: A Life in Film. He told Schickel: “I do Bob Hope all the time, I’m just nowhere near as good. But I do him all the time. If you look at a picture like Love and Death – when I put together film clips for the Lincoln Center tribute to Bob Hope [in 1979] I included some clips from Love and Death to, to parallel them with Bob Hope, to show what an influence he was on me. I mean it’s, it’s just shameless how I steal from him – I don’t mean steal the content of jokes, but I do him….He’s the genuine article, and I’m…you know, it’s the anxiety of influence. I’m trying to lean on him and yet anxious about it, but he’s all over my work in a shameless way.” Also all over Love and Death are Buster Keaton-eqsue sight gags, riffs on Dostoyevsky and Ingmar Bergman, Diane Keaton in peak comedy-sprite form as Boris’s amorous interest, plus Harold Gould, Jessica Harper, James Tolkan as a nutty Napoleon, a Prokofiev score, a village idiots convention and certainly the two promised conundrums of its title. What Allen and Schickel did not cover, but biographer William Robert Faith documented in his 1982 book Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy, was that not only was the Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute inspired when Film Society then-director Joanne Koch caught a Dick Cavett-Woody Allen TV interview but also that the gala’s clip tribute was a delightful 63-minute “compilation of clips from 17 Hope films from the 1938-1954 period” which Allen called My Favorite Comedian. Allen might have called his 1975 opus Love and Death and Hope, but it would have gone against his grain, although the thought of Monseiur Beaucaire crossing paths with Boris Grushenko is tantalizing. Love and Death spreads joy and laughter on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.