Road to Rio (1947)

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My dad has been and forever will be a fountain of pop cultural knowledge. I learned the little I know from the best, the difference is, he lived through most of it. Still, I must admit, at times I didn’t believe some of these touchstones of yesteryear when I was a kid. How could anyone have actually written a song called “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and what in the world does “You’re in the Groove Jackson” mean? They can’s possibly be real.

Of course, for those more enlightened than I was back then, you would have already known that both these fantastical things were in fact true. Alan Sherman was quite the nut and the same goes for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In that roundabout way, we get to the Road Picture that I’ve always cherished at least a little bit because of one particular gag. But let’s start closer to the beginning.

The wonderful thing about the Road films is the very fact that their two bozos know exactly who they are and they never stray from those characterizations from one picture to the next, even if the schemes change as do their names. There’s the same self-referential jabbing and fourth-wall-breaking executed in a way that later films would pick up on too. People loved Hope and Crosby and they enjoyed their onscreen buddy-buddy just as much. By the looks of it, they always seemed to be having as much fun as the audience and that’s the key. It’s contagious comedy.

I’m inclined to think that some of the greatest comics are the ones who come up with the lines on the spot. But whether or not Hope and Crosby actually ad-libbed any of their verbal jabs, to their credit, they had a complete handle on their personas and so every phrase comes off as genuine.

They’re always trying to pull off some get-rich-quick scheme only to wind up in some wild locale completely broke.  We’re always provided the enjoyment of Crosby’s ever-present condescending pet name “Junior” for his partner in crime. Because he takes on the mantle of the idea man and Hope unwittingly ends up doing the dirty work, in this case, a circus bicyclist up on a trapeze.

Crosby is also always playing the easily duped gentleman — a real sucker for the ladies — who’s not above throwing his pal to the lions except when it really counts. Plus you have to throw a little crooning in there to make all the ladies swoon a bit. We get an appearance by the All-American songstresses The Andrew Sisters performing “You Don’t Have to Know the Language” with Bing.

Still, everyone knows all that is “happening” in the world circa 1947 is in Rio so there the boys go as stowaways, of course, after getting chased out of town by an angry circus promoter. That’s what all the great comics do. Namely, The Marx Brothers, who were consequently also directed by Norman Z. McLeod in Monkey Business (1931) and Horse Feathers (1932).

Our two bunglers now aboard a slow boat to Brazil meet the ever-present Dorothy Lamour, the bodacious beauty in all their movies, as a grateful knockout, a damsel in distress. But something dastardly is going on as the gorgeous woman is caught in the hypnotic clutches of Gale Sondergaard who has a couple hired cronies (one played by a personal favorite Frank Faylen).

There are some real laugh riot moments not least among them watching the pals don their stuffiest British accents as they sway on the ship’s deck to snag an easy meal from a seasick patron or our heroes dressed to the tee doing their best impression of the samba. Of course, you have some tried and true favorites like “Patty Cake” or Hope’s sardonic one-liners such as affectionately calling his trumpet “Grable-bait.” Look it up if you don’t get it.

But the showstopper is the formation of their groovy band Americain made up of our hapless heroes and three Brazilian street musicians who earn a crash course in English. Composed of three universally accepted phrases: “You’re in the Groove Jackson,” “This is Murder,” and “You’re Telling Me.” Presto they’re Americans in a pinch and what follows is “Who’s on First” light.

The final charade is to break up an ill-fated marriage with a bit of safecracking and they bungle it immaculately.  The greatest surprise of all is that Hope actually gets the girl (like Road to Utopia) except this time he gets a little help.

3.5/5 Stars

Road to Utopia (1946)

Starringc0cc6-roadtoutopia_1946 Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in this fourth Road picture, this film begins in the present with an old marry couple who gets a surprise visitor. Then the story flashes back to the turn of the century where two lowlifes commit murder in order to steal the map to a gold mine. However, the police are on their tails so they duck into a vaudeville show where Duke (Crosby) and Chester (Hope) are performing. Eventually the two con men decide to part ways, but they double cross each other only to end up heading for Alaska on the same ship as the two killers. Through a bit of luck they get the map and take the place of the two killers, but trouble follows close behind them. The daughter of the man who was killed (Lamour) is intent to get the map back and she is unknowingly working with some undesirables. As always happen both hapless adventurers fall head over heels for Sal, who wants to get close to them for the map. However, the map is in two parts and then Sperry and McGurk are on the loose again. Duke and Chester’s real identities are revealed to Sal and now the trio must hightail it, with two killers and a multitude of others looking for them. Miraculously they escape by sled, but only two can get away so Duke heroically holds off the pursuers. This Road film is probably one of the best and all the stars are in fine form in Utopia.

4/5 Stars

 

Road to Morocco (1942)

58f0c-roadtomorocco_1942Starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour in this third installment in the Road Series, this film has the boys floating towards Morocco as castaways. They finally reach land, hitch a ride on a camel, and just like that they are off on the Road to Morocco. They wander the streets looking for food at first then Jeff (Crosby) sells Orville (Hope) for money. Little does he know that Hope has been taken to the castle of a beautiful princess (Lamour) to be married in order to fulfill a prophesy. Jeff finds out soon enough and he tries to win the affections of the princess as well, but trouble arrives in the form of the jealous suitor of the princess. He takes the girl and the two lovebirds are left to chase after mirages in the desert. They are imprisoned, but after a daring escape they come up with a comedic solution to turn a visiting sheik against Kasim (Anthony Quinn). In the chaos both Jeff and Orville get away with a girl of their own. This has to be my favorite road picture. The title song is great, Hope has some great one liners, Crosby croons nicely, Aunt Lucy makes an appearance, there are talking camels, Hope tries to win an Oscar, and I love it when the three stars sing together in the desert.  Unfortunately the film is stereotypical, but as far as the Road pictures go it is a good one.
 
4/5 Stars

Road to Zanzibar (1941)

3bcc4-roadtozanzibar_1941This is the second installment in the Road Series and it follows two con men who must go on the run which leads them to Africa. Crosby is pulled into saving Dorothy Lamour from a life of slaver. Little do the hapless con men know what her true motives are. They travel on a safari together and a midst the song and comedy love creeps up. Both believe Lamour has her eyes on them but then they figure out what is really going on and they head off on their own. However, all too soon they are captured by cannibals and it looks like they will become shish kabobs. That’s when a little game of “Patty Cake” comes in handy and in the end everyone is reunited. There are some choice moments in this Road Film but I think it was one of the weaker ones.

3.5/5 Stars

Road to Singapore (1940)

2e545-roadtosingapore_1940This is the Road film that started all with the brilliant comic pairing of Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. The two bozos both skip out on obligations and relationships back home and together they hightail it to Singapore. There they both fall head over heels for the same girl despite having vowed to give up women.  Together the trio hide from their respective pasts. However, with barely any money  they must muddle through with cons. Everything comes to fruition at a native marriage ceremony where Mallon’s father and fiancee catch up with him. In the end everything works out as it always does and Singapore was only the tip of the iceberg. The film works based on the chemistry of the leading trio and the ad-libbing and various gags such as “Patty-Cake.”

3.5/5 Stars