Casanova’s Big Night (1954)

“What’s Casanova got that if I had, I probably couldn’t handle anyway?”

In Casanova’s Big Night Bob Hope plays Pippo Popolino, a humble tailor’s apprentice who tries to seduce the widow Francesca Bruni (Joan Fontaine) by ‘borrowing’ one of Casanova’s outfits and posing as the great lover. Francesca isn’t fooled for a moment–she sometimes entertains the real Casanova (Vincent Price).

When Casanova skips town leaving behind considerable debts, local merchants led by the widow Francesca camp out in Casanova’s kitchen hoping to be paid and avoid bankruptcy. The wealthy Duchess of Castelbello (Hope Emerson) arrives with her son Raphael (Robert Hutton) who is engaged to Elena Di Gambetta (Audrey Dalton). The Duchess wants to employ Casanova to test Elena’s fidelity, and she is willing to pay Casanova 10,000 ducats to seduce Elena and steal an embroidered petticoat as proof.

In a series of events, the Duchess mistakes Pippo Popolino for Casanova. The merchants decide the only way they’ll recoup their money is to coerce Pippo to pose as Casanova and collect the fee for seducing Elena. Pippo leaves for Venice–taking Francesca along to provide the incentive, and Casanova’s valet, Lucio (Basil Rathbone) to teach Pippo how to be a great lover.

At the beginning of the film, Pippo would love to be Casanova–rich, suave, and successful with women. Pippo quickly discovers that there are benefits and drawbacks to stepping into Casanova’s life. While women swoon at the mere mention of his name, wronged husbands draw their swords. Pippo is cowardly, and he’s certainly not made for court intrigues or duels, but he holds his own in this costume drama. Sheer nerve, bluffing, and buffoonery go a long way, and at one point, Pippo even dons women’s clothing and masquerades as a hefty Baroness. While Vincent Price and Basil Rathbone play their roles seriously, Bob Hope is full of asides and great lines. There are some big names here in small roles–Raymond Burr plays an evil courtier, and Lon Chaney Jr plays an incarcerated madman. Casanova’s Big Night is my favourite Bob Hope film. He’s at the peak of his career, and he’s at his funniest. Best scene: Bob Hope arrives in Venice in a gondola singing to all the besotted women. If you enjoy this film, I also recommend Monsieur Beaucaire. From director Norman Z. McLeod

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