Call Me Bwana (1963) starring Bob Hope, Anita Ekberg, Edie Adams, Lionel Jeffries
Call Me Bwana begins with Bob Hope as Matthew Merriwether. He’s supposedly a famous African game hunter living in a luxurious penthouse in Manhattan. Where, despite the Africa-themed decor, the audience soon realizes that he’s a fraud. He writes best-selling novels based on his dead uncle’s diaries, who was the authentic thing. And the uncle was a friend of the little-known Ekele tribe. This quickly becomes important when federal agents show up on his door. They seek to recover a top-secret space capsule that has accidentally landed in Africa, in Ekele territory.
While Bob Hope is pressed into doing his patriotic duty, in the Communist USSR (remember, this was released back in 1963) the beautiful Luba (played by Anita Ekberg) is a Soviet agent. She’s sent to recover the valuable space capsule as well … With the reluctant help of Soviet agent Ezra (played by Lionel Jeffries, the grandfather in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang). He’s upset that another agent is in charge of “his” area.
Off to Africa
Meantime, Bob Hope is in the air bound for Africa, with some spy gear along (cyanide pills, grenade, and a poison-tipped needle). And he’s looking for his contact, Fred. Which turns out to be Frederica (Edie Adams). Ekberg and Jeffries attach themselves to the supposed safari (the cover for the search). Since Ezra’s cover of missionary supposedly involves knowledge of the Ekele. And gives Hope a chance to try and romance the lovely Soviet spy Luba.
Along the way, there’s a fair amount of comedy. Examples include:
- Bob Hope’s incessant quips.
- Bits with a baby elephant (who shows up again at the conclusion).
- A not-so-baby elephant.
- Anita Ekberg innocently sewing Bob Hope’s torn pants with the poisonous needle (see the poster).
- Interaction with the tribe once they arrive (such as them refusing to sell the capsule. Not because it’s a holy object, but because it brings in the tourists).
- Ending with a zany ending worthy of Frank Tashlin.
In short, Ezra and his minions have stolen the capsule with Bob Hope and a reformed Anita Ekberg inside. They accidentally ignite the rocket, propelling the truck loaded with the capsule in a Looney Tunes-style sequence. It flies through the air, ending with the bad guys getting their just desserts. And our heroes safe return to the U.S.A.
In all, Call Me Bwana is an enjoyable Bob Hope comedy — not great, not terrible, but enjoyable.
Cast of characters
- Bob Hope (The Ghost Breakers; The Facts of Life) … Matt
- Anita Ekberg (Way … Way Out; The Alphabet Murders) … Luba
- Edie Adams (The Apartment; Li’l Abner) … Frederica
- Lionel Jeffries (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) … Dr. Ezra Mungo
- Percy Herbert (Mysterious Island) … First Henchman
- Paul Carpenter … Col. Spencer
- Orlando Martins (The Hasty Heart) … Chief
- Al Mulock … Second Henchman
- Bari Jonson … Uta
- Peter Dyneley (The Manster) … Williams
- Mai Ling … Hyacinth
- Mark Heath … Koba
- Robert Nichols … American Major
- Robert Arden … 1st C.I.A. Man
- Kevin Scott … 2nd C.I.A. Man
- Arnold Palmer … Arnold Palmer
Trivia for They Call Me Bwana
- This is, to date, the only film produced by Eon Productions that is not part of the James Bond franchise.
- A poster for this film is featured in From Russia with Love (1963). It shows an Anita Ekberg headshot on the side of a building when 007 and Ali Kerim Bey are about to assassinate Krilencu. A window opens (appearing to be Ekberg’s mouth) and Krilencu exits the building on a rope and is shot. After the assassination, 007 makes one of his inimitable quips as he says: “She should have kept her mouth shut”. Both films were from United Artists. Note, however, that the relevant chapter of the Ian Fleming novel was titled “The Mouth of Marilyn Monroe”.
- Edie Adams thought that she was actually going to Africa and had painful inoculations.
- Spoofing a scene from Dr. No, Hope’s character is asleep in a tent when a tarantula begins crawling up his leg. A similar thing had happened to James Bond in the first 007 film, played seriously, rather than for laughs.