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Monday, February 17, 2014

Bing and Bob On Another Road

Hope-Crosby Crash Fourth Walls in Road To Utopia (1946)

At a midpoint and perhaps peak of the long running Crosby/Hope series that was as surefire for Paramount as whatever DeMille was contributing. In fact, Crosby and Hope were Paramount insofar as reliability, singly or together, to keep their employer in profit. They could even joke about it on screen, Utopia's road passing the familiar logo mountain that Hope cheekily ID's as his "bread and butter." This team made their audience feel like show-biz insiders what with pokes at radio sponsors, narrative conventions, and the studio itself. A fourth wall is breached to point where "Making Of" Road To Utopia might be a more apt title. How funny is this after sixty-eight years? Being steeped in 40's pop culture helps, case I suspect for most who take time to watch now, but hold on, I played Utopia and Road To Bali plus other Bob Hopes to campus crowds, and there were crowds, some of better attendance we enjoyed ten or so years back when Greenbriar was heaviest in exhibition.

College kids may draw blanks at Bing/Bob cheese and toothpaste reference, but so would many of us outside OTR membership. Road To Utopia set well with postwar fatigue over movies made formula way, doing for (or to) Klondike actioners what R T Morocco had with desert exotica. WWII had been occasion for calling clich├ęs by right name, the boom audience realizing just how cookie-cutter movies had become now that they were seeing so many more of them. All this came to impasse when the war ended and a public began chucking theatres in favor of recreation less predictable. Pictures like Road To Utopia saw that coming and flattered viewers by acknowledging silliness that was the lot of genre filmmaking. If anything keeps these Roads in repair today, it's irreverence for filmmaking process embodied by Crosby and Hope, two who could afford to nibble at hands feeding them.


Blogger Batman said...

Fascinating. Thanks for the look back. I'd go as far as to say that the moviemaking process has stayed relatively the same, it's simply the cost of making them that has been drastically reduced. We could probably shoot a road picture today for the same amount of money they had back in the day, and NOT adjust for inflation....

9:38 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

My favorite line is Bob's bread-and-butter comment about the Paramountain.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Showed a Road picture to middle aged friends (their first) not long ago (it may even have been one of the lesser efforts like Bali or Hong Kong), and it was the breaking of the 4th wall that made it fresh for them -- and they're not fans of what they call "old movies."

"I can't believe they just did that" and "This is insane" were uttered more than once.

My 'best of' would have to be Rio; great opening, great score, great running gag with Colonna on the trail of "the papers," and a nice helping of 40's slang, as the boys teach their Brazilian hep-cats to pass as Americans. ("You're telling me?" "This is murder." You're in the groove, Jackson.")

Interesting that in the 1st picture, when the fact that it's a movie is acknowledged (an extra in fancy dress cadging a light from the boys as they stoke a steamer furnace and he's "taking a short cut to stage 12"), the boys are shocked and terrified. By the second Road, they're fully on board with the gag.

And is there anything better than the look on Dottie's face as she breaks up during the Sweet Potato Piper number in Singapore? She looks right at director/crew as if to say, "Do you really wanna keep rolling?" Absolute heaven.

Thanks for another great post, John!

10:55 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Back in the '80s, Bali and Utopia were tied for first place as the best Road picture, while these days Morocco seems to take the prize, probably because of Hope's "reefer" gag. For my money, Utopia's the funniest of them all.

Is it true that Utopia was on the shelf for a few years because Paramount deemed it too silly to be released during a particularly tough time for our troops?

2:14 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson remembers Roads taken by Hope and Crosby, and some cartoon impressions:

Especially love the fadeout gag on Utopia, when elderly Bob and Dorothy's adult son appears -- played by Bing. And then we get Bob telling the camera "We adopted him" in a shot barely long enough to humor the censors. Wonder if period audiences actually drowned that out?

As a boomer growing up with heavy exposure to Bob Hope movies and Loony Tunes on TV, I vaguely got wartime references and name-droppings just by repeated context. I laughed when an off-camera "Errol Flynn" howled "I can't stand it!" as a bevy of girls fawned over the duo, even though I didn't then know who Flynn was. I figured he was some kind of real-life ladies' man, and that was enough. Now that the airwaves/cables are flooded with recent content, do modern kids get even, say, references to Bogart?

Hope & Crosby semi-officially passed the torch to Martin & Lewis by appearing as skeletons at the end of "Scared Stiff". By then I think Crosby was mostly out of films and Hope's movie career seemed like force of habit. Wondering if they had any qualms about the implications of that oddball gag.

5:26 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon recalls highlights from the "Road" series:

John, I think the Crosby-Hope "Road" pictures are among the funniest ever made. I'm an absolute fan. Those guys seem to be having more fun than I am, and that's part of the fun too. I don't remember what bits are in what pictures, even though I've watched them over and over again. The one where Crosby is trying to talk Hope into his latest genius scheme to wrestle with a live octopus, and a semi-obvious rubber tentacle suddenly emerges and wraps itself around Crosby's neck and pulls him forward, and he's promptly squirted with "ink", is funny because it's good slapstick but mainly because Hope, even from behind, is obviously cracking up for real. Likewise, when the camel in "Road to Morocco" suddenly decides to spit point blank in Hope's face, Crosby's delight is not feigned, and he laughs, "Good girl!" Another one that kills me is when a "gorilla" lustfully attacks Bob in "The Road to Bali" and in delightfully 'straight' mode he gasps in mock horror, "Shoot ONE of us!!" I like his bit as a disembodied ghost of an Aunt pestering him in whatever one that is---also "Road to Morocco"? The songs are all fantastic, by the way, and as you know many of them later became standards, generally, including "Moonlight Becomes You" and "Personality". The composer of many (most?) of them, Jimmy Van Heusen, later became Sinatra's court composer, and he was a great songwriter without question. BTW, I've had trouble corroborating this, but I think his real name was Chester Babcock, AND, that the writers for the 'Road' pictures mischievously appropriated his real monicker for either Bob or Bing's character in one of the films. I'm almost loathe to search the cast listings on the IMDB (to read the character names) for fear of finding out that this ISN'T in fact true.

I carried my DVD of "The Road to Morocco" TO Morocco when I worked there on the Disney picture "Hidalgo" about 13 years ago, and those of us from America watched it on a small DVD player and laughed our a...uh, our camels off!


5:45 AM  
Blogger iarla said...

Can't stand them, though I do like Crosby's singing.

4:23 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

The cheese reference always makes me laugh, when Bob sings to Bing, "You've got that something in your voice so right for selling cheese."

5:47 PM  

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