On a visit to stuffy old England rowdy American heiress Agatha Floud (Lucille Ball) is courted by an unscrupulous, cash-strapped aristocrat who hires a company of actors to impersonate his family. However Aggie's mother Effie Floud (Lea Penman) is more taken with the Earl's butler Humphrey (Bob Hope). To bring a touch of class to the Floud family's New Mexican estate, Effie hires Humphrey as their new manservant unaware he is really an inept and accident prone American actor named Arthur Tyler. Already out of his depth in the rough and tumble Wild West, further complications ensue for Arthur when the townsfolk mistake him for the Earl. Which prompts Cart Belknap (Bruce Cabot), Aggie's menacing would-be boyfriend, to take steps to eliminate the fancy English earl.
Fancy Pants is a musical adaptation of Harry Leon Wilson's novel Ruggles of Red Gap which was brought to the screen three times before. Most famously in 1935 in a Leo McCary comedy starring Charles Laughton widely regarded as a classic. While not in that league, George Marshall's version remains a solid vehicle for Bob Hope (billed on-screen as Mr. Robert Hope (formerly Bob)) and Lucille Ball, two comedians then in their prime and equally gifted at verbal and physical tomfoolery. It is probably the funniest of the four films Bob and Lucy made together which include Sorrowful Jones (1949), disarming tragicomic romance The Facts of Life (1960) and the pedestrian Critic's Choice (1963).
Lacking the sophisticated satirical wit of the original Ruggles of Red Cap, Fancy Pants trades in broader laughs and musical high-jinks tailored to the more crowd-pleasing style of its two leads. There are a few amusing jibes about stuffy Brits putting an act on to leech off uncouth Yanks but for the most part this is another variation on Bob Hope's 'cowardly oaf goes west' routine. That formula yielded a big hit in The Paleface (1948) and did so again with Son of Paleface (1952) and Alias Jesse James (1959). Lucille Ball essentially plays a wackier version of Jane Russell's Calamity Jane. Only instead of being Hope's comic foil she matches him gag for gag. A year away from her big sitcom breakthrough she is an engaging presence as a buckskin-clad tomboy and cuts a fine figure in period gowns.
Justly celebrated for his rapid-fire wit, Hope peppers the script with his trademark zingers. He was also an underrated musical performer. The songs featured in Fancy Pants might not be true classics but are pleasant and performed with zest by Bob and Lucy. In particular the 'Home Cookin' number performed by the entire ensemble as they prepare a welcome banquet for President Teddy Roosevelt (John Alexander). As far as laughs go the film is happily more hit than miss although for every comic gem (e.g. the dinner party where the actors lapse into dialogue from their murder mystery play; Arthur/Humphrey's disastrous attempt to style Aggie's hair; the ridiculous monologue about his war experiences) there are a few laboured routines (like their attempt to mount a horse) that drag on forever. Fancy Pants maintains an agreeable laugh rate but does run out of steam towards the finale, substituting cartoon silliness for a more satisfying payoff. Still ol' ski-nose's portrayal of a stiff-upper-lipped Brit is truly priceless right from the opening credits: "No popcorn during my performance, peasants").