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Screenings

September 2023
1min read

ON THE ROAD WITH BOB AND BING


“Maybe you have to have seen the Bob HopeBing Crosby Road movies when they came out,” wrote Pauline Kael in 5001 Nights at the Movies , “to understand the affection people felt for them, and to appreciate how casually sophisticated the style seemed at the time.” The cheesy melodramas the Road pictures spoofed, Kael pointed out, have long been forgotten. Maybe, but as the recent DVD incarnations of three of the most popular in the series— Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), and Road to Morocco (1942)—prove, you don’t necessarily have to have been there to get a good laugh today.

Though the Crosby-Hope Road pictures weren’t always taken seriously by high-toned critics, they had their serious fans. Gilbert Seldes, for instance, called them “the second great series of comedies with a group of stars made after sound came in,” the first being by the Marx Brothers. Unlike the anarchic comedy of the Marxes, though, the Road pictures are content to amble along at a relaxed pace while they snipe at every convention from class to Hollywood titans.

The formula is strikingly simple. Place Bob and Bing, out of work and usually on the dodge, in some exotic-seeming locale (on Paramount’s back lot), involve them in some absurd intrigue, introduce Dorothy Lamour, and watch the boys fight over her with one hand while fighting off the villains with the other. In between there are some songs (including a few of Crosby’s best, such as “Moonlight Becomes You” from Road to Morocco ) and some old vaudeville dance steps and comic bits from Hope.

Mostly there is a casual, ingratiating, unscripted feel to the proceedings, no doubt inspired by the fact that many of the wisecracks and snappy one-liners were improvised on the spot. In fact, not the least of the pleasures of the DVD releases is that they offer an excellent chance to watch two men who, though not formally trained actors at all, completely dominate the camera. Crosby in particular is a marvel, with his amiable white-hipster’s cadence and infectious rhythm. What other Hollywood straight man ever got as many laughs as the comic?

The Crosby-Hope Road pictures are being released as part of the “Bob Hope Tribute Collection,” a fact that, considering the boys’ longtime friendship and rivalry, must somewhat vex Crosby’s affable shade.

Allen Barra

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