HOW TO COMMIT MARRIAGE (ONLINE)
Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason, 1969
Another installment in my “Cinema ’69” series and this was not as bad a film as I thought it would be. Nightmare in Wax has been the least engaging of the 50-year-old movies I watched this year and John and Mary the best.
Hope and Wyman are married but don’t want to be. Their daughter shows up from school and surprises them with a fiancée so they decide to stay together and pretend all is well for her sake. The daughter’s intended has a father (Gleason) who’s a real jerk of a record exec who hates Hope from a past slight. The kids get hooked up with a hokey hippie band and a guru who preaches peace through protein. Hope and Wyman date other people until their daughter has a baby – and then all kinds of crazy stuff happens.
How to Commit Marriage was filmed in Cinerama and produced by Naho Productions, which I think was Bob Hope’s company. It was directed by Hope gag writer Norman Panama who had written White Christmas (1955) and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). It was written by Garson Kanin’s brother, Michael, who had won an Oscar for Woman of the Year (1942) and Ben Starr, screenwriter of Our Man Flint (1966) and writer of the catchphrase “What are you talking about, Willis?” for Gary Coleman on TV’s Diff’rent Strokes.
This is Bob Hope’s second-last proper film. He is engaging here but I generally don’t like his gag-based films. The Great One, Jackie Gleason, is excellent in this film; he just nails his creep of a character and delivers some funny lines with panache. Jane Wyman, playing Hope’s wife, wraps up her 100-credit film career in How to Commit Marriage.
Canadian Leslie Nielsen has little to do as Wyman’s beau. Tina Louise is 35 years old here and is stunning. It’s a bit hard to take her as Gleason’s squeeze, though. Tim Matheson made his film debut in ’67 playing a character named “Mark Harmon”. This is his fourth film but for me he is always “the Vice President” on The West Wing.
Joanna Cameron plays Hope and Wyman’s daughter but she’s barely an actress at all. She was friends with Hope’s daughter and is more known for her work in commercials and was for a time in the Guinness Book of Records for being in the most. Dishy Maureen Arthur dates Hope and is an eyeful but has no credits to speak of. The guru, the Baba Ziba, is portrayed by Irwin Corey whom I had never heard of before but he has been called by Lenny Bruce “one of the most brilliant comedians of all time”.
This film is notable for the appearance of the group The Comfortable Chair. They were a band that operated in California in the late ’60’s that put out an album that was co-produced by members of the Doors. They fit with this movie because the film is loaded with cliches and this band looks to be so “peace, love and meditation” that you could think they were created just for the movie.
Like most movies I’ve seen from this year, How to Commit Marriage is very colourful and – if you’re a mid-century type like myself – a feast for the eyes. Some of the outdoor locations, the records on Gleason’s office walls, the cars, the furniture… And it’s bright, very bright. The talents of Hope and Gleason carry the film. While the movie gets bogged down in it’s dopey portrayal of the “counterculture” or the way some adults viewed it, these two comedy giants – think about it; Bob Hope and Jackie Gleason – shine as they spar with each other, trading some pretty funny insults. I can recommend the film perhaps not for any cinematic triumph but for a simple, goofy, entertaining example of an adult comedy from an interesting year for film. Check it out, if you can find it.