In San Quentin prison, Ronnie Jackson (Bob Hope) is on death row for a murder he was convicted of but didn't commit. As he awaits execution, a group of reporters bustle in and ask for Ronnie's story which he is only too happy to give to them. It all started when he was in his usual line of work as a San Francisco baby photographer and having finished with one tricky customer for the day he went over to the office next to his, which belonged to private detective Sam McCloud (Alan Ladd). Ronnie was always asking to be given a job by McCloud, but always turned down, so when the sleuth went out of town and asked him to answer his calls, Ronnie saw his chance...
My Favorite Brunette, scripted by Edmund Beloin and Jack Rose, was not a sequel to My Favorite Blonde, or a prequel to My Favorite Spy, but featured an unrelated plot altogether - why couldn't they have cast Maureen O'Hara or Deborah Kerr for a My Favorite Redhead? Anyway, while Blonde was almost a spoof on the Alfred Hitchcock spy thrillers, Brunette was a spoof on the hardboiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, only with an incompetent coward as its hero instead of a more capable investigator.
Being a Bob Hope movie, of course, the witty wisecracks remain, and this sort of comedy thriller often suited his style of clowning best: put him in a dangerous situation and listen to the jokes he fires off as he tries to get out of it. This particular dangerous situation starts with the old cliché of a beautiful woman walking into Ronnie's office (well, McCloud's office really - Ladd is never seen again after his quick cameo) and wanting help desperately. Always a sucker for a pretty face, Ronnie is only too glad to assist Carlotta Montay (Dorothy Lamour, familiar from Hope's Road pictures) who tells him her invalid husband is in grave peril and wishes Ronnie to hide a map for her.
But all is not as it seems, as Ronnie soon finds out when he follows Carlotta to her mansion home in the hills. One thing that Hope needs for successful laughs is a villain to fight against, and in this film he's up against a host of them. Chief baddie is Major Montague (Charles Dingle), a Southern U.S. military man who is not what he claims to be. Better than him is Kismet, Peter Lorre in full on slimey mode, a knife throwing, light-fingered henchman who Ronnie amusingly calls "Cuddles", and Lon Chaney jr as Willie, a hulking spoof of his Lenny character from Of Mice and Men who cracks walnuts in the crook of his elbow.
All these schemers try to convince Ronnie that Carlotta is schizophrenic ("And how is she mentally?") to scare him away from their plot, leading to a expertly judged scene where an oblivious Lamour chases Hope around the room while holding a knife. One car chase later and Ronnie has all the proof he needs that there's something sinister going on and ends up at a sanitarium to track down Carlotta, with a silly golfing sequence letting us know who the star of the show is (I suppose it's fair enough as Lamour gets to sing). Never pausing for breath, My Favorite Brunette is not often hilarious, but prompts chuckles pretty consistently as a sharp send up of the private eye genre, with Hope's narration a bonus and the indignities heaped upon him adding to the fun. But why didn't Carlotta interrupt Ronnie's trial? Plot convenience, I guess. Music by Robert Emmett Dolan.