Warner Archive has absolutely no 'splainin to do as to recently releasing the 1963 Bob Hope/Lucille Ball comedy "Critic's Choice" on DVD. This awesome follow-up to the (reviewed) Archive Blu-ray release of the 1974 Ball/Bea Arthur comedy "Mame" is highly evocative of '70s-era Sunday afternoon movie marathons on local independent stations.
This strong entry in the numerous film collaborations between real-life friends with comedic benefits Ball and Hope slightly falters only in showcasing the former in favor of the latter. This "fault" is not in the stars, but in the focus of this Ira Levin ("Deathtrap") screenplay based on his play of the same name.
Behind-the-scenes irony as to the uneven spotlight relates to real-life Ball spouse Desi Arnaz helping make "I Love Lucy" a beloved classic by allowing his better half to universally upstage him in that series. Irony as to "Choice" itself is addressed below.
The following HILARIOUS MUST-SEE theatrical trailer of "Choice" has Hope and Ball stepping out of their roles to ham it up equally for the enjoyment of the audience and themselves. One spoiler is that Ball never looked so glamorous as she does in this promo.
The simple but brilliant premise of "Choice" is that highly esteemed New York theater critic Parker Ballantine (Hope) proves that he is his own worst enemy when his arguably unduly harsh criticism of Broadway fare strongly contributes to second wife Angela Ballantine (Ball) trying her hand at writing a play. The rest of this story is that Parker and his audience delights in his witty negative take on virtually everything that he watches.
The aforementioned on-screen irony commences very early in "Choice." The opening scenes are of a play starring Parker ex-wife Ivy London (former sex kitten Mailyn Maxwell) that Parker and Angela are watching. Stating that he has seen and heard it many times before, Parker soon accurately predicts dialogue from the production.
Irony enters the picture (pun intended) as to "Choice" being environmentally conscious by regularly recycling Hope jokes. The most obvious example is Parker encountering an annoying small boy wearing a space helmet and asking which planet he is from. Not that there is anything wrong with that. (That irony is fully intentional.)
The tried-and-sometimes-true concept of the prose of Angela is a comedic take on "Mildred Pierce" as to Angela growing up with her interior-designer single mother of Angela and the equally off-beat sisters of Angela. An aside regarding this is that Ball and guest-star Joan Crawford fully extend their claws while filming a "Lucy Show" episode in which Crawford guest stars.
Angela is pure Lucy as she literally and figuratively looks over the shoulder of Parker while he reads her finished product. This comfort-food feast continues with Parker following up his cynical prediction that Angela cannot finish the play with the assessment that the end result is lousy.
Karma further catches up Parker as to Broadway producer/friend S.P. Champlain (John Dehner of "The Doris Day Show") agreeing to bring the play to the stage. The obvious intent here is to make Parker face raking his future ex-wife over the coals.
Champlain amps up this red-hot revenge by hiring playboy director Dion Kapakos (Rip Torn of "Men in Black" and "The Larry Sanders Show") to collaborate with Angela.
All of this triggers an existential crisis that involves Parker becoming an awesome hybrid between a Hope and a Jack Lemmon character. Fortunately for Parker, the doctor is in the house in the form of highly respected psychiatrist Dr. William Von Hagedorn (Jim Backus) being his downstairs neighbor. It is less fortunate that Von Hagedorn is an aspiring playwright with a finished product.
Things predictably heat up when Parker follows the pattern in films of this nature by surprising Angela during an out-of-town preview of her play. He catches her involved in what may be behavior that is banned in Boston. Ivy, who is in a league of her own, does not help matters by giving Parker possibly fake news that is part of her Lover come back strategy.
"Choice" continues staying true to form by centering the climax around the night of the Broadway premiere of "Sisters Three." The Parker/Angela relationship is a marriage on the rocks, Parker is a heartbeat away from ending up back in the bed of Ivy, and Angela seems ready to fully go Greek.
Continuing the true-to-life elements as to our real housewife of Park Avenue, the numerous moving parts of "Choice" come down to Angela deciding if she is happier with Parker than she would be without him. A nice aspect of this is that all our star players are assured at least a temporary happy ending regardless of the outcome.
Archive continues the focus on Hope by including one of his shorts, but no Ball fare, in the DVD extras. The Popeyeesque "Calling All Tars" (1936) has Hope playing small-town man Bobby on the town in New York on vacation with his buddy.
These aspiring wild-and-crazy guys having absolutely no game with the dames prompts renting sailor uniforms in an effort to get some play. This leads to being Shanghaied under the command of a CPO with whom they have a brief but negative history. Suffice it to say that "McHale's Navy" style hilarity ensues,
Archive supplements this with the highly stylized 1962 Looney Tunes cartoon "Now Hear This, which most likely is the theatrical opening act for "Choices." This very early '60s avant-garde short is a surreal adventure full of surreal images and accompanying sounds.