Critic’s Choice

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Parker Ballantine: For the record, Sisters Three was written by Angela Ballantine, directed by Dion Kapakos, and produced by mistake.

Director Don Weis‘s Critic’s Choice pairs Bob Hope (my all-time favorite!) and Lucille Ball as Mr. and Mrs. Ballantine in a movie about critics. It is somewhat ironic though that while the movie is about critics, it apparently wasn’t for critics, as it received mostly negative reviews when it came out in 1962. But that was a long time ago, and the film has had time to ferment (which is always good thing).

One thing is a given with Bob Hope and Lucille Ball: it’s going to be funny, and Critic’s Choice certainly has its moments. Most of these laugh-inducing scenes come by way of witty one-liners from the king himself. Hope stars as Parker Ballantine, the most influential drama critic in the world. He’s been writing reviews for years and takes a certain pride in closing plays down with his pen. The editor of the newspaper Parker writes for even tells his wife, Angela (Ball), that Parker has a much easier time writing bad reviews. He says he always looks like he is in agony when he is writing a good one.

Everything seems to be going well for Parker, Angela, and their son (Parker’s from his previous marriage), John, until Angela decides she’s going to write a play. The play is called Sisters Three, and is based on the comical happenings of Angela and her sisters growing up. That’s probably the worst news Parker could hear as he immediately says she’s unqualified to write one. As Angela begins to take her play very seriously, and writes constantly, the tensions rise in the family with Parker constantly putting her down.

It’s an interesting side of Bob Hope; generally he’s the unsuspecting dupe who makes fun of his own situation, but instead he plays the high-handed character. I found myself wincing at some of his putdowns as he became more and more harsh to Angie. Sure they were funny, but they really started to hurt her. I will say it’s good to see him experiment with his versatility a little. Speaking of which, Lucille Ball goes back to her pre-I Love Lucy-screwball-comedy days and takes on a rather dramatic role. If you ever get a chance to watch one of her older drama roles, please do (she was also very attractive in the early years).

At it’s heart, Critic’s Choice is really the story of the conflict between Parker’s egotistical feeling of his necessity to write a review of Angela’s play (which he insists will not be pleasant), and Angela’s desire to really do something for herself. This conflict erodes the Ballantine’s marriage as Parker’s refusal to let up leads Angela to leave the house as she continues work on producing her play. Parker expresses his arrogance quite clearly to his son John who asks, “Dad, do you really think you aughta review Angie’s play? You don’t care if you hurt Angie and make her angry?” to which Parker replies, “Never sell off a piece of yourself just to avoid hurting someone.” Great advice for a kid isn’t it?

The film has a great supporting cast with a very young Rip Torn as director Dion Kapakos, John Dehner as producer S.P. Champlain, and Jessie Royce Landis as Charlie Orr (Angela’s mother). And several other familiar faces show up throughout the movie, which adds to the entertainment factor. Surprisingly, the film isn’t as predictable as it first seems; it goes about resolving itself in a distinctly unpredictable way. It’s a good mix of comedy and drama and just the right amount of romance. Critic’s Choice is a good movie, and a great look at the other sides of two comedic legends.

The Reel Rating: 5.8

Critic’s Choice Trailer: Click Here

References: http://www.tcm.com, http://www.imdb.com, http://bit.ly/RelLH2, http://bit.ly/LoL36I, http://bit.ly/MYfkWU, http://bit.ly/L0JcU5

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