- Wally Hogan: "Connie, it may not show but I'm yellow."
- Connie Curtis: "It shows."
You'd think Bob Hope would've learned his lesson, having already gotten snookered in CAUGHT IN THE DRAFT. Here he gets bullied into enlisting in the U.S. Army again. Alternately (and more drably) titled as MILITARY POLICEMEN, OFF LIMITS is one of old Ski Nose's lesser known films. But it's got some good laughs, a song or two, and the sole teaming up of Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney on the big screen. On one hand, Mickey Rooney is no Bing Crosby. But, on the other hand, Bob Hope is no Judy Garland.
1953's OFF LIMITS is a minor hybrid boxing / military comedy; it finds Bob Hope at his most relaxed and Rooney back to his wholesome next-door-neighbor kid routine, kind of like as if Andy Hardy had enlisted. Bob Hope plays Wally Hogan, a womanizing boxing trainer who follows his champion prize fighter into the U.S. Army. But Wally is left holding the bag when his boxer is discharged on psychological waivers. Assigned to the Army's military police, Wally sort of by accident takes under his wing an enlisted private, Herbert Tuttle (Rooney). When you learn that Tuttle is also a lightweight amateur boxer looking for a trainer, well, it's not hard to connect the dots.
In this onscreen pairing, Mickey Rooney doesn't give as good as he gets, and partly this is ascribed to the two leads' differing approach. Rooney tends to roll with a more wholesome comedic style. Hope plays up his patented wiseacre screen image: conniving, smirky and launching a fast and furious barrage of one-liners, and his is the presence that looms larger, in more ways than one. Fact is, Hope's character probably wouldn't have given the time of day to an aw-shucks guy like Herbert Tuttle if it weren't for Tuttle's lovely aunt Connie Curtis (Marilyn Maxwell).
It's hard to take Hope and Rooney seriously as law-enforcing servicemen as they tool around town in their lumpy physiques, even though, in their song duet, they boast that a military policeman is "the only man in the world who can tell the U.S. Army where to go." But it's not really their credibility as MPs that counts. What matters are the gags they come up with, and are they funny enough? And, yeah, there's some funny stuff here, and director George Marshall keeps things moving. It's inevitable that Mickey Rooney ends up in the ring fighting Hope's former champion. But before that, we're treated to a song or two, Hope's hoofing on the piano and his wolf tactics on Marilyn Maxwell. That rivalry between the MPs and the Navy's Shore Patrol is dusted off. We chart Hope and Rooney's antics as, after a miserable start, they try to legitimize Rooney as a pugilist to make the Army proud.
Highlights for me, off the top of my head, are the brief shot of the bouncing jeep tossing Hope around like a rag doll, Rooney's crazed session on the heavy bag during the train ride, and the brawl in the club initiated by Marilyn Maxwell, and when stopped, initiated by her again. Legendary boxer Jack Dempsey cameos as a referee. Bing Crosby cameos as static. Mickey Rooney was in his early 30s when he took on this role, and he does look a bit too old to pass for a fresh-faced kid. But he certainly looks more believable with his boxing than does Bob Hope. Not that Rooney was the second coming of Sugar Ray Robinson, mind you.
I'm rating this film 3.5 out of 5 stars. It's a nice minor comedy, but, ultimately, OFF LIMITS doesn't rank up there with Hope's most memorable movies. It's still worth a look. And at least Phyllis Diller isn't in it.