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Critic’s Choice

Critic's Choice (1963) starring Bob Hope and Lucille BallCritic’s Choice (1963) starring Bob Hope and Lucille Ball

Critic’s Choice is the final film collaboration between Bob Hope and Lucille Ball and is a comedy/romance dealing with the stress introduced in their characters’ marriage when Lucy’s character (Angela Ballantine) writes a play, and Bob Hope’s character (drama critic Parker Ballantine) dislikes it.  There are several subplots:

  • Dealing with the couple’s infertility
  • Bob’s son from a previous marriage
  • Bob’s ex-wife (played by the lovely Marilyn Maxwell) – who’s still interested in him.
  • Rip Torn (Dion Kapakos) as the producer of the play who’s trying to steal Lucy away.

Critic’s Choice is a romantic comedy, with most of the comedy being verbal.  The only real slapstick comedy in the film is with Bob Hope’s recurring back problem.  He throws his back out whenever he bends over at an inopportune time.  Also, towards the end of the movie Bob Hope’s character become drunk on the opening night of Lucy’s play.  There are fine performances by Marilyn Maxwell, Jim Backus, and a very minor appearance by Richard Deacon.  Jim Backus’ character is both Hope’s neighbor and a psychiatrist.   He helps Bob Hope initially with his bad back, and later on “on the couch”.

Critic’s Choice deals with the subject of marriage, remarriage, merged families, self-respect and what is truly important in your life.  It’s done in an entertaining manner, and I recommend it strongly for fans of Bob Hope and/or Lucille Ball.

Editorial review of Critic’s Choice, courtesy of Amazon.com

With a light touch of New York sophistication, Critic’s Choice is a smartly grown-up vehicle for Bob Hope and Lucille Ball, making their fourth appearance as an on-screen duo. Adapted from the Broadway play by Ira Levin, it’s a fitting follow-up to the pair’s previous comedy (1960’s The Facts of Life), with its upscale story about top-ranking theater critic Parker Ballantine (Hope) and the trouble he gets into when his second wife Angela (Ball) decides to write a play. Given Parker’s snobbishly influential reputation for writing scathingly negative reviews, it’s only a matter of time before he’s forced to confront the issue of reviewing “Sisters Three,”€ the comedy that Angela has written, rewritten and polished with the help (and romantic advances) of Dion Kapakos (Rip Torn), one of Broadway’s hottest young playwrights.

Complicating matters even further is Parker’s touch-and-go friendship with his ex-wife (Marilyn Maxwell) and the disapproval of his young, intelligent son John (Ricky Kelman), who serves as his father’s much-needed voice of conscience. Add it all up and Critic’s Choice is an easygoing comedy that occasionally falls flat (veteran TV director Don Weis can’t decide if he’s directing an all-out comedy or a marital melodrama), but Bob & Lucy make it surprisingly enjoyable, and Levin’s source material has a lot to say about marriage, divorce, and the foibles of playwrights and critics in the high-pressure world of New York theater.

It’s also interesting to see Rip Torn so early in his long-running career, and the fine supporting cast includes such 60s stalwarts as Jim BackusRichard Deacon, and John Dehner. Also available in The Lucille Ball Film Collection, this DVD includes two noteworthy short subjects from the Warner Bros. archives: Calling All Tars is a 19-minute Vitaphone comedy short from 1936, starring Bob Hope in one of his earliest screen appearances, and Now Hear This is an Oscar-nominated “Looney Tunes” cartoon from 1962, directed by the great Chuck Jones in the kind of innovative, abstract design style that was in vogue among animators in the early 1960s. —Jeff Shannon