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Monday, March 15, 2021

Belatedly Back On The Road


The End Of The Road Is Hong Kong

Ten years was a long time off the Road for Bing and Bob, this their first trip together since 1952's Bali. It would also be the last of Roads they'd take, despite gratifying $4.2 million in worldwide rentals. The spilt was three ways between Crosby, Hope, and writer/producer/directors Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, United Artists in for its distribution fee off the top. Panama/Frank were trustworthy comedy constructionists, Hope having lately clicked in The Facts Of Life for them. The scribes told Variety readership, in amusing terms, how tough it was to organize a project for one-man corporations that were Hope and Crosby. Mood of their piece is light, but you get a feeling Panama/Frank found it barely worthwhile getting into bed with two such elephants of the biz. Making a film about making this film would have been more compelling, said the writing/directing team. "Writing" may be debatable, Panama/Frank claiming few of their words survived avalanche of ad-libbing by Hope/Crosby.

That part I question from reading of how the duo kept respective gagman teams from their radio shows on alert to supply jokes for previous Roads, meaning "ad-libs" were as much ghosted as what from scripts was cast aside. But here's the rub: neither Hope nor Crosby had radio programs by 1962, and while Bob kept his TV and personal app crew on retainer, Bing would have needed to dig up gagsters for this occasion of protecting his interests on The Road To Hong Kong. Did Crosby/Hope so blithely toss aside a well-crafted Panama/Frank screenplay in favor of off-cuff stuff? Doesn't seem likely, especially as the two were bound to be rusty as a team after a decade apart (though there was, and continued to be, frequent TV spotting for them). The Road To Hong Kong stretched to four months shooting at Shepperton, much of Hope/Crosby families travelling to join an expensive party. The boys had at least shaped up for the shoot, Crosby's waistline down to a svelte 32" if Variety's Army Archerd was to be believed.

Hope and Norman Panama wanted to call it "The Road To The Moon" as indicator of sci-fi elements in the pic, but Crosby and Melvin Frank preferred Hong Kong. Did UA marketers cast a deciding vote? Casting favored a young replacement for Dorothy Lamour, in mid-forties now and past sarong-age. She balked at the demotion and took bigger money and a featured number as salve. Joan Collins would be femme foil and object of Crosby/Hope rivalry. The Road To Hong Kong was salted with cameos in case this wasn't enough: Peter Sellers as a Hindu medico, David Niven a glimpse, Jerry Colonna for sentiment, plus Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as a moonscape capper. Those last were got as result of Crosby "picking up the phone" to request they fly over. He and Hope promised to return the favor in a next Rat Packer. Such was show biz then. Filming was captured by David Wolper's crew for an NBC special that would, "for the first time," follow a major motion picture from conception to completion, a DuPont "Show Of The Week" set for 5/6/62 broadcast.

The Road To Hong Kong
got rhapsodic reviews in hosting UK, the venture having pumped plenty into a needy economy. For US release, there was innovation of "Premiere Showcase" bookings, which was United Artists skipping Broadway preem in favor of day-and-date open at thirteen houses in greater area of Gotham. Such had not been tried before, and not everyone supported it. First day receipts were $21,123, which was called good, but what figures did they have to compare this with, the plan untested till then? Admission prices were up and so was cost of advertising thanks to Premiere Showcase, which needed widespread word to grab customers unaccustomed to the fresh format. Saturation runs had been common in Los Angeles, where The Road To Hong Kong did a "smash" first day in 24 situations, more than half the cume coming from eight drive-ins that were running the feature. Here was proof again that biggest cash was often collected outdoors in LA, especially in balmy months like June when The Road To Hong Kong came to town.


Blogger James Abbott said...

I'm sure many of us know that Hope/Crosby STRONGLY petitioned for The Sunshine Boys, and that Neil Simon was the stumbling block. It is one of the great tragedies of 'unmade cinema,' and would have been their only 'real' movie. And what they would've brought to the table! A great shame.

I'm second to none in my appreciation of both Hope and Crosby, either alone or in tandem. They are magnificently talented.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

But -- is it a good movie? I've always been leery of any post-1960 Hope project, whether in cinemas or TV.

"Sunshine Boys" would have been interesting for sure, but Simon likely conceived their characters as more ethnic.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

It's not a good movie. Always fun to see these guys...well, almost always...and Peter Sellers' cameo is fun, but it's by far the least of the Hope-Crosby pairings.

It is the only one of the ROAD movies I ever got to see in a theater, however.

Neil Simon supposedly said, very bluntly, that he didn't want THE SUNSHINE BOYS to be "another ROAD movie."

11:09 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Television replaced the road movie style of comedy, just as it replaced the let's-put-on-a-show kind of musical. I remember Hope specials that would play as one long sketch, each scene being a short routine with one of a mob of guest stars. Those were full of the audience asides and mock ad libs that filled the road pictures, and were usually topical in a safe and careful way (spy movies, women's lib, and censorship were themes). Faintly recall one titled "The Road to Lebanon" with Danny Thomas doing a song-and-dance title number; don't remember if Crosby was involved.

I recall "Road to Hong Kong" as an okay film, dodging the too-long-at-the-fair bullet but not by much. The bit with Peter Sellers is amusing, but at the same time it's a bit startling to see him sharing the frame with comedians from another universe.

Still enjoy the old Bob Hope, but share Mr. K's leeriness about the 60s onward. It's not so much a matter of growing old or even being Relevant, but of existing in a certain kind of world. Some performers just don't look right in color, or away from an obvious soundstage set, or trying to do their usual thing in a different world. Unless, like Crosby, they choose to shed their old persona and fit into a contemporary movie. Hope made a nice stab with "Beau James", but ultimately decided he'd rather keep being Bob Hope on TV and on tour, where the old act still worked.

1:36 AM  
Blogger tmwctd said...

Always great to read another Hope blog, John. I have not seen "Hong Kong" in a while but remember it as an ok movie. Certainly not one of the later-Hope embarrassments. And it starts off with a great number ("Teamwork").
H&C in "The Sunshine Boys" - I have never heard that before. I can see Crosby seguing into Al but Hope as Willy - I don´t know whether he would have been willing to play such a rather cantankerous character. (I am assuming that´s how the roles would have been split up).
It´s an intriguing idea with box office appeal but I can understand Simon´s apprehensions. The last thing a book/script of his needs are additional laugh lines.

5:02 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Joseph J. McGrenra has some fascinating further information on THE ROAD TO HONG KONG:

A couple of bits of information from my research over the years:

-Although “Road to the Moon” is often cited as an early version/title of “The Road to Hong Kong”, that is not the case. “Road to the Moon” was a planned seventh Paramount Road film. I have a screen treatment that is at least the second (an earlier draft is referenced) from September 1952 that was done by the same writer that did “Road to Bali”. My guess as to why it wasn’t made was that before it could be scheduled Crosby and Hope’s contracts expired-it took five years after Rio to get Bali ready. The film (“The Road to Hong Kong”) was actually based on a story called “The Bamboo Kid” that Danny Kayne had tried to turn into a film, but that he eventually sold to Bob Hope.

-Some sources list a cameo by Zsa Zsa Gabor (as a nurse). At least in current existing prints, it is not in the film, but I have a promotion still from the original release that shows the scene.

-Crosby and Hope had wanted to do another film. As early as 1964 there are indications of them trying to put one together. In the fall of 1976, Ben Starr completed a script called “Road to Tomorrow”. Not much is known about it, but in early 1977, they reached an agreement with Melville Shavelson to write and direct the film, which was to be called “The Road to the Fountain of Youth.” They had lined up a producer (Sir Lew Grade) and the week Crosby died, Dorothy Lamour signed for the film, which was expected to film in summer/fall of 1978.

Joe from Virginia Beach
Joseph J. McGrenra

7:45 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Hearing that Hope and Crosby could have been in THE SUNSHINE BOYS is as scary as learning that Ronald Reagan was proposed as Rick in CASABLANCA. (Some say it wasn't a serious suggestion.)

9:16 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

What annoyed me about "Road to Hong Kong" was Dorothy Lamour being dumped in favor of Joan Collins, because heaven forbid that two sixty-year-old men should have to have a love interest who isn't half their age.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Hope and Crosby's screen ages are presented by means of a close-up of their police file during the scene set at the police station in Hong Kong at the beginning of this film - that file states both to be 39 years old. I was a bit surprised, as that's simply not credible. Rather vain of them, I thought.
But they do make jokes about their age later in the film, so they too must have known that either of them claiming to be 39 was a bit of a stretch.

2:11 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

Filmfanman: That's a classic comedy trope. Saying you are 39 when you are clearly older has been around since Hector was a pup. Everyone knew two things about Jack Benny-- that he was cheap and that he had been 39 for forever. (If you're just having us on, never mind.)

9:53 AM  
Blogger Filmfanman said...

Beowulf: Old jokes are always brand new - for those who haven't heard them before.

After posting my comment above, the thought did occur to me that any concern about credibility as to story elements might be misplaced while considering a movie about two "ex-vaudevillians" (so-called in the movie itself) defrauding their way through East Asia promoting bogus stock investments, who wind up replacing the monkeys on a rocket to the moon financed by a secret and criminal international organization headed by Robert Morley.
I really did enjoy both Robert Morley and Walter Gotell's supporting turns in this - the former is good in everything I've ever seen him in, this no exception, and the latter (also good in anything else I've seen him in) as Morley's henchman made me at times feel like I was watching some long-lost black and white James Bond movie.

12:33 PM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

A preacher, a priest, and a rabbit walked into a bar. The bartender asks the rabbit what his blood type is. "I think I'm a Type O," the rabbit replies.

2:22 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I like the movie but it should have been in color.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Cheez Whiz said...

The 2nd volume of the Crosby bio by Giddens goes into great detail on how Hope and Crosby had writers on the movie set, each conferring with their own writers between takes on those "ad-libs".

7:20 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Just pointing out to Cheez Whiz that the 2nd Giddens installment ends in 1946 — over a decade before RTHK was even conceived. John is questioning whether they still had on set gag writers once they were well past radio shows that had kept writers handy for such.

I think Bali, despite being in color, is the weakest of the Road pictures (and still pretty good at that). Don’t like that the Dottie was done dirt in Hong Kong by the boys, she being considered too old for them, while they aren’t too old for Joan Collins, and agree, it would be more enjoyable in color. That said, the Road pictures would be my desert island series pick. Any chance to spend more time on the road with Bing, Bob and Dottie is welcome.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Cheez Whiz said...

I only wanted to point out that the use of writers for ad-libs was established by Hope and Crosby long before Road to Hong Kong, and that they were writing them in "real-time" on set. And kudos to our host here for catching that detail of Crosby needing to put the band back together for that movie. I never would have thought of that.

And yeah, give me a Road picture and I'm happy, though like the Marx Brothers the Road vehicle got pretty creaky toward the end.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Neely OHara said...

Cheez Whiz — agree absolutely. And here’s hoping we (and Giddens) live long enough to see volume 3 published — so looking forward to it. So far it’s one of the best written, most thoroughly researched bios I’ve encountered.

2:19 PM  

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