Grade:  B/B-
Western comedy
Not rated (would be G)

Families that watch I Love Lucy reruns on TV will enjoy seeing Lucille Ball in this Western comedy—the fourth film to be based on Harry Leon Wilson’s popular 1915 novel Ruggles of Red Gap, and the second feature film Ball made with comedian Bob Hope.The humor in this film is certainly a cousin to the antics home audiences loved about that classic TV series, which began airing in 1951.

Fancy Pants(1950) is the costumed follow-up to Sorrowful Jones (1949), and both films are pleasant diversions. Hope and Ball click together with a natural ease. Maybe that’s why the fast friends co-starred in four feature films and a made-for-TV movie, and also hosted each other on their TV series and specials. Their first film is still their best, but Fancy Pants isn’t far behind. And children will undoubtedly prefer Hope and Ball in Western getup and giddy-up to the duo’s earlier Damon Runyon racetrack comedy.

In this one, Ball is brassy and uncultured, but not to the point of annoyance (I’m thinking here of Debbie Reynolds in The Unsinkable Molly Brown or Shelley Winters in Pete’s Dragon). And Hope is Hope, his vaudevillian shtick honed to perfection over a series of “Road” pictures with Dorothy Lamour and Bing Crosby. Director George Marshall (Destry Rides Again, The Ghost Breakers) gives them the reins, too, so they can create comic moments reflective of their strengths.

In 1950, only John Wayne was earning more money at the box office than Hope. Here Hope plays a bad American actor working in London as a butler in a play, and when the whole mediocre cast is hired to pose as upper-crust Brits for an event, he’s mistaken for a real Butler and sees the opportunity as the role of a lifetime . . . and a way to pay the bills.

The film opens in England, where the matron of a newly rich Western family (Lea Penman) has taken her tomboyish daughter Agatha (Ball) to learn how to be more cultured and refined. The starter pistol for an often-used plot of mistaken identity is the telegram Mrs. Floud sends home that she is bringing a “gentleman’s gentleman”—which the whole town interprets as British royalty. Suddenly, Hope is an actor named Arthur Tyler playing the part of a butler named Humphrey who’s also playing the part of the Earl of Brimstead. And the complication?  The town uses the Earl’s visit as a way to entice Pres. Theodore Roosevelt to make Big Squaw one of his very few stops on a tour of the West. Throw in a slow-building attraction between Agatha and Humphrey and a jealous cowboy (Bruce Cabot) who thinks Agatha is his “girl,” and the Western farce plays out better than anything Arthur Tyler had been a part of.

Know, though, that Fancy Pants contains some unfortunate outdated cultural stereotypes. Rather than sticking with Red Gap as the name of the town, the filmmakers changed it to the now offensive “Big Squaw,” where an early scene shows Indian Boys (white and Latinx actors) playing Indian the same way children all across America were doing. In the 1950s, comedies often went to the caricature/stereotype well for cheap laughs. Here there are two additional stock characters:  the Native American (“How!” “Heap big”) ranch hand played by a white actor (Joseph Vitale), and the Asian American cook (Joe Wong). Both are involved in a musical number with Hope, who does his own singing. Ball’s songs, “(Hey) Fancy Pants!” and “Home Cookin’,” are dubbed by Annette Warren, who was also Ball’s character’s singing voice in Sorrowful Jones.

The humor derives from one-liners, sight gags, slapstick, Hope and Ball’s interactions, a carousel of chases through multiple rooms (and doors), and the Earl-like things Hope’s character must do to keep up the charade. Everything builds to a fox hunt that tests Humphrey more than the fox.

Fancy Pants just narrowly misses being one of my top five Bob Hope costumed comedies and historical biographies. Here’s my list:

1. The Princess and the Pirate (1944)
2. Monsieur Beaucaire (1946)
3. The Paleface (1948)
4. Casanova’s Big Night (1954)
5. The Seven Little Foys (1955)
6. Fancy Pants (1950)
7. Beau James (1957)
8. Son of Paleface (1952)
9. Alias Jesse James (1959)

If movie fans think the actor playing Pres. Roosevelt is a dead-ringer, maybe that’s why John Alexander also played a character in Arsenic and Old Lace who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. And if the Floud family’s grand downstairs looks familiar, it’s the same set used in Sunset Boulevard, which was filmed in black-and-white earlier that same year. Here audiences got to see it in glorious Technicolor.

Entire family:  Yes
Run time:  92 min. Color
Studio/Distributor:  Paramount/Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio:  1.37:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features:  n/a
Amazon link
Not rated (would be G)

Language:  0/10—Some Western euphemisms, but nothing else that I caught

Sex:  0/10—Nope

Violence:  2/10—Some very mild comic violence and several moments of peril

Adult situations:  2/10—Some saloon scenes and drinking, again for comic effect

Takeaway:  Hope and Ball made their best films early and as opposites in attraction, while their later already-in-a-relationship films floundered by comparison; maybe they should have stuck with films suitable for the family