When I met Carley from The Kitty Packard Pictorial at the Egyptian Theater last night for the Hope/Crosby “Road” film double-feature, she asked me if I had ever seen these films. I said no, to which she replied, “They’re ridiculous.”
I would totally agree. They’re ridiculous in the best way. Ridiculous in the sense that the experience of watching both of these films, Road to Morocco and Road to Utopia was one of over-the-top hilarity and craziness. Ridiculous because that’s probably the best way to describe a movie that I simultaneously enjoyed and wondered what the heck was going on during the entire length of the film. And ridiculous because these films included exotic (aka, soundstages with rear projection of mountains and desert) landscapes, animals that were made to talk by animation, and virtually the same plot starring the same love triangle twice. That being said, I can honestly say I loved every minute of it.
The double-feature began with a thirty minute talk by Maureen Solomon, who has worked in different capacities with the Hope and Crosby families. She gave some background history on both Crosby and Hope, their careers together and the Road film franchise. She alluded to the in-jokes inserted into the films about Hollywood and the franchise itself, references to other events or culture of the day and the frequent ad-libbing of both stars.
Road to Morocco was screened first followed by Road to Utopia. Both appeared to be film prints in really nice condition, so that was a treat. I won’t go through the plots of each because the a lot of the fun comes from just watching the movie and going along with whatever is onscreen. Basically, Bing and Bob find themselves in some remote area, run into Dorothy Lamour, and end up vying for her affections. There’s danger in the form of some sort of villain, the aforementioned animal encounters, and a lot of self-reflexivity.
I can’t really say which film I liked best. I thought I laughed more during Morocco, but in a lot of ways Utopia is more over the top. In the latter, Robert Benchley appears throughout the film to “explain” the plot or make little references. I felt the address to the audience, or “breaking the fourth wall” in Utopia was used to great comic effect as well.
Then there are the songs. Morocco features Bing singing my favorite song from both films, a laid-back swing tune called “Ain’t Got a Dime to My Name.” He also croons “Moonlight Becomes You,” which is definitely swoon inducing. Utopia also has the beautiful “Welcome to My Dream.” Dorothy Lamour has a gorgeous voice and has features on “Constantly” in Morocco, and “Personality” in Utopia. Perhaps the most fun song of both films was “(We’re Off on the) Road to Morocco,” sung by Crosby and Hope while riding a camel. The song references the basic repetitions in the plots of the Road films, as well as their contracts at Paramount.
Road to Morocco and Road to Utopia were the third and fourth films of the seven film franchise, with Morocco released in 1942 and Utopia coming in 1946. They spoofed the exotic adventure film genres of the time, and were highly successful for Paramount. Having seen these for the first time just last night, to me the are the perfect example of a well-put together comedy film. It’s a fun experience. The cast is great and both are well-crafted films with witty lines, jokes and good music. I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to be entertained by two of the greatest entertainers we’ll ever see.