CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT is a consistently amusing period farce, from the now-distant era when Bob Hope was still funny. In this well-produced, lavishly costumed silliness out of 1954, Hope was on top of his game, energetically putting the kind of verve into his role that he’d hang up a few years later and start to lazily phone it in, taking laughs as a given and the audience for granted (one that steadily shrank). He’s good here, a sprightly showcase where we can thank him for the memories (while we still have our own…).
Venice, 1757. Cowardly but opportunity-clutching tailor ‘Pippo Popolino’ (Bob) finds his survival skills put to the test when he impersonates the great lover and swordsman in a dual plot to erase the noted rakes household debts and be used as a romantic ploy that will fit into a devious palace scheme to make war on Genoa. Can the preening putz Pippo pull it off ?
Hope’s on point (you can see where Woody Allen got some of his shtick), the jokes are clever, the costumes are a treat (Edith Head) and the choice supporting cast add extra fun. For beauty, there’s Joan Fontaine (in fine fettle: she looks like she’s ready to crack up) and Audrey Dalton, for syllable exercises you get Basil Rathbone (quite amusing) and Vincent Price (the real Casanova) and for extra dollops of goofiness, John Carradine and Lon Chaney Jr.
Written by Edmund Hartmann and Hal Kanter, running a quick 86 minutes, directed by old comedy hand Norman Z. McLeod. With Hugh Marlowe, Arnold Moss, John Hoyt, Hope Emerson, Robert Hutton, Raymond Burr, Primo Carnera, Frank Puglia, Henry Brandon, Natalie Schafer, Douglas Fowley, Nestor Paiva, John Doucette, Marla English, Kathryn Grant and Fritz Feld. It scored 29th place for the year, grossing $3,500,000. The inside lark is that Hope was one of Hollywood’s most notorious womanizers.