THE FACTS OF LIFE reteamed Bob Hope and Lucille Ball in 1960 and gave Hope, 57, his biggest earner since The Seven Little Foys five years back. It was a return to features for Ball, 48, who’d been occupied with her TV empire. Dated, of course, but still funny thanks to the star’s commitment to the material, the rom-com was written, directed & produced by Melvin Frank & Norman Panama. Fans saw that it placed 27th for the year, grossing $9,100,000. Then it scooped an Oscar for Edith Head’s costume design and pulled nominations for the script, the art direction, cinematography (neat work from Charles Lang), and the title song written by Johnny Mercer, brightly sung by Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme. *
Three couples take vacations together. On a trip to Acapulco, the respective spouses of ‘Larry’ (Hope) and ‘Kitty’ (Ball) can’t come along, and then the third couple are food-felled. Larry & Kitty make the best of the situation and have a blast, but it turns to something deeper when they realize how much they are each missing from their stifling marriages. Trip over and back home, they can’t avoid taking the risk plunge but arranging amour gets increasingly complicated.
Both old pros were somewhat guarded initially: Hope worried that “It’s a little straight, isn’t it?” and Ball telling the writers “I don’t want it to be the ‘Road to Infidelity'”. Irony got its six bits: Lucy’s marriage to Desi Arnaz was ending due in large part to his philandering, while it was no secret in show biz circles that Bob did more than entertain troops, he played the field on a par with Errol Flynn (and Dolores dealt with it). On screen, illicit liaisons of one sordid sort or another were rife in the 1960 crop, including a serious take on suburban sexcapades, Strangers When We Meet. But however much real life mirrored this comedic scenario, the end results were buoyant, witty, well-observed and even a bit touching. For a welcome change, Hope actually puts some gravitas into his characterization and Ball, striving to avoid “Lucyfying” the material, is even better. Of course, since it’s a ‘family’ movie (mixed message time: take the kids to a flick about unhappy parents) the consummation angle is played for laughs, but they’re smartly put over, especially the subtle ‘throwaway’ gags.
With Ruth Hussey (as Bob’s wife), Don Defore (as Lucy’s hubby, nicely done), Louis Nye (a funny bit), Philip Ober, Peter Leeds, Robert F. Simon, Louise Beavers, Mike Mazurki, Addison Richards, Vito Scotti. 103 minutes.
* Though several of the 11 movies Hope would star in after this before calling it a day in 1972 would make comfortable money, this was his last good one. Ball only did a handful more (Yours, Mine and Ours a big hit, Mame a hefty flop) then sallied back to TV. Bob & Lucy first paired up in 1949 for Sorrowful Jones, followed by Fancy Pants in 1950. Their last go-round was 1963’s Critic’s Choice.