Tuesday, February 1, 2011
FORGOTTEN FILMS: BEAU JAMES
Hope does very well as Walker. He does have a serious role where his flippant jokes match the character. He also shows the right degree of serious behavior, panicked when Betty is spirited away by Paul Douglas and Tammany Hall, or when he tells off the citizens of New York at Yankee Stadium for electing him. But the gaps in the script - the unwillingness to show the uglier side of the corruption - prevent one from taking it too seriously. Hope deserves recognition for his performance here, but he didn't merit (nor receive) an Oscar nomination for BEAU JAMES.
This is a celluloid version of Gene Fowler's valentine to his old chum Jimmy. It tries to make a case that Walker did not realize his taking the bribes/gifts was wrong. Walker knew it was wrong, but he never admitted it - he had been brought up in a city run by the Hall, and he was doing business there exactly as every boodling Mayor of New York had done since the 19th Century. Walker (a good Catholic, presumably) also knew that he was committing adultery when he took up with Ms Compton. Later, after he left City Hall, he divorced his wife and married Betty. Interestingly that marriage eventually failed, although Jimmy and Betty did adopt a girl. Compton died in 1941. Jimmy died in 1947.There was also terrific cameo appearances by stars that met and knew the real May James Walker including: Jimmy Durante, Jack Benny, and George Jessel. American prints of this film are narrated by Walter Winchell; in Britain, the film was narrated by Alistair Cooke. One of the most memorable lines is when Walker is asked at a baseball game of a personal conduct scandal was "my comment, and you can quote me is I hope the Yankees win."
While Bob Hope's acting is not really Oscar worthy in this 1957 film, it is his best acting effort. Bob is the star of the fim, but he shares the spolight with the City of New York as well. Jimmie Walker was New York City in the 1920s, and it really comes across here. The movie was not a box office hit, and although Dean Martin recorded the title song, not many people remember this film. It has not been released on video or DVD. Bob Hope, Jimmy Walker, and the City of New York deserve it to be released...