The Bootleg Files: That Certain Feeling

BOOTLEG FILES 577: “That Certain Feeling” (1956 comedy starring Bob Hope, Eva Marie Saint and Pearl Bailey).

LAST SEEN: An unauthorized video dupe is on YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: A possible problem with rights clearance.


During the early 1950s, a sense of staleness began to permeate Bob Hope’s film output. Movies like “My Favorite Spy,” “Off Limits,” “Here Come the Girls” and “Casanova’s Big Night” were burdened with a mechanical indifference, and even a reteaming with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour in “Road to Bali” carried a sense of been-there/done-that. Yes, there were flashes of inspiration here and there, especially when Hope was paired with co-stars that matched his vibrancy – most notably in his instant-classic song-and-dance routine with James Cagney in “The Seven Little Foys.” But, for the most part, the fun was deflating and Hope’s star ranking at the box office was taking a slide.

Hope’s studio, Paramount Pictures, clearly sensed that their prized comedy star needed something different, which may explain why they agreed to adapt “The King of Hearts,” a mild situation-driven Broadway comedy by Jean Kerr and Eleanor Brooke. Alas, Hope and his collaborators were not confident in the source material, with co-directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank collaborating with writers William Altman and I.A.L. Diamond on an extensive rewrite that resulted in a weirdly quotidian affair.

At first, it seems that “That Certain Feeling” is going to be something different, especially when Pearl Bailey establishes herself as the story’s narrator. Although playing a maid named Gussie, Bailey’s character is clearly the sharpest person on the screen, and the four screenwriters give her a generous supply of prized lines – which is no mean feat in a Bob Hope film, where almost no one except the ski-nosed star gets the funny remarks.

Gussie’s employer is Larry Larkin (George Sanders), the cartoonist behind the “Snips and Runty” comic strip. Larkin has been obsessed with raising his visibility on television and hobnobbing with political power brokers, but as a result the comic strip has suffered and its popularity begins to wane. But dealing with Larkin is not easy, as witnessed by the trail of ex-wives and ghost artists left in his wake. “Remember when Ghost Number Six ran off with Wive Number Three?” Gussie recalls.

Larkin’s lovely young secretary, Dunreath Henry (Eva Marie Saint) recommends that he hire Francis X. Dignan (Hope), a down-on-his luck cartoonist who has been seeking mental health care for his problems, as a ghost artist. “I hope psychiatry can help – bicarbonate hasn’t done anything,” Dignan deadpans to his shrink.

Dunreath and Francis have their own history – back when she was still known as Ethel Jankowski, they were married. Francis is shocked at his ex-wife’s new name. “Dunreath?” he asks. “That’s not a name, that’s a housing development.” But the cash-strapped Francis agrees to the job, and when he visits Larkin’s duplex apartment he is astonished at the surroundings. “Everything is done in contrasting shades of money,” he exclaims.

Larkin agrees to hire Francis, and is immediately impressed with his work. But Larkin has a couple of surprises that are not expected: he plans to adopt an orphan (Jerry Mathers) and to marry Dunreath. But the adoption is being done for publicity purposes, and Dunreath is in line to be Larkin’s fourth wife – a point that aggravates Francis and alarms Gussie, who is aware of Dunreath’s history with him.

Gussie takes it upon herself to play matchmaker with Dunreath and Francis. One night when Larkin is away on business, she prepares a fancy dinner for them and serves generous portions of wine. Realizing that it will take a bit more to make a connection, Gussie calls on her “off-the-cuff emergency vocalizing” and turns on a stereo with an instrumental record of “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” It is a wonderfully ridiculous moment, and Hope gets the biggest laugh in the film when he looks with astonishment at Gussie’s behavior and declares, “What is this, a floor show?” More wine is served and by night’s end Dunreath and Francis are in matching Chinese-style red pajamas – he is in a canoe on a couch (don’t ask) wearing a straw heart and playing an uptempo version of the Gershwin tune “The Certain Feeling” on a ukulele while she dances a recklessly frenetic Charleston.

Will Dunreath and Francis get back together? Will Larkin be exposed as a pompous jerk trying to elevate his way to political power? Well, what do you think?

Part of the problem with “That Certain Feeling” is the strange lack of chemistry between Hope and Eva Marie Saint, who made this film after winning the Academy Award for “On the Waterfront.” The nearly 20-year age difference between the pair doesn’t help – quite frankly, they look like father and daughter rather than contemporaries – and, to be cruel, Saint did not have a gift for comedy. George Sanders, playing Larkin, appears to fill the void left by Saint by significantly overplaying his part. But he reads his lines with such campy gusto that he creates a further imbalance in the production.

As for Hope, “That Certain Feeling” finds the funnyman littering the screen with one-liners while making a half-hearted attempt to capture the character’s neurotic personality. He is seriously off his game, and the only time that he ever shows a spark of creative energy is when he supports Pearl Bailey in singing “Hit the Road to Dreamland” as a lullaby to young Jerry Mathers. It is a strange moment, too, with the usually front-and-center Hope deferring to the vivacious Bailey, whose warmth and sass is the only constant energy source here.

“That Certain Feeling” was the last film that Hope made at Paramount. He continued starring in films through the late 1950s and 1960s, but the quality of the work became weaker with the passing years. Hope and Saint worked together again in the 1972 “Cancel My Reservation,” and that flopped so resoundingly that he never had a starring role in another feature while she stayed off the big screen for 14 years.

“That Certain Feeling” was never released in an official home entertainment edition. Most likely, there are problems in clearing the rights to the original “King of Hearts” source material or to the three classic songs performed in the film. But it has turned up on television and a dupe based on one of these broadcasts is posted on YouTube; several collector-to-collector DVD sites also offer the title. However, the film is such a disappointment that perhaps it is best to leave it in obscurity – in this case, that certain feeling is mostly numbness.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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