I’ve been on a serious kick lately with the Hope/Crosby ‘Road’ movies, so what better time to rank them than today?
For those of you not familiar with the franchise, the Road movies (referred to on/off as the Road to… movies or the “Road Pictures”) were a series of films that were equal parts comedy, romance, adventure, genre spoof and music.
Though the series was most prolific during the 1940s, seven films were made from 1940 – 1962 and they all starred two of the biggest entertainers of the era: Bing Crosby & Bob Hope. For the first six films, Dorothy Lamour c0-starred (and received billing over Hope for the first film) with Joan Collins co-starring in the series’ final entry while Lamour is relegated to a cameo role.
None of the films are direct sequels to the movies that came before it. Hope & Crosby basically play the same characters in each movie (Crosby is the smooth, girl-chasing con man and Hope is his not-so-smooth girl-chasing cowardly friend) but the names are always different. Dorothy Lamour is always the object of desire for both of the boys (except for the last one).
7. The Road to Hong Kong (1962, United Artists)
The only movie in the series not made for Paramount Pictures. Definitely the weakest in the entire series. By far. The guys had zero chemistry with Joan Collins, the age gap made for a creepy love triangle and it just doesn’t feel like a Road movie. I hate to say it but it was a sad, tired attempt to bring the franchise back to life. Despite spoofing the popular spy genre, Hope & Crosby seem a bit out of date here. They should have gone for a more classic Road feel rather than try to appeal to a younger generation with some of their jokes & gags.
For more of my thoughts on this movie, check out my review that I wrote back in 2010.
6. Road to Rio (1947, Paramount)
By 1947, four years had passed since the last Road movie was in production (yes, Road to Utopia was released in 1946 but more on that in a bit). With this one, I think it shows that maybe everyone had gotten a bit rusty from that layoff and maybe the studio & crew forgot why the series had been so enjoyable in the first place. Road to Rio is nowhere near as out of place as The Road to Hong Kong but it doesn’t really click.
On paper this has the makings of a Road movie but for me the series really depends on the snappy dialogue between Hope & Crosby (who both ad-libbed a lot throughout the series) and it’s just not there for the most part. You might be able to chalk that up to the fact that they hadn’t worked together in four years and hadn’t gelled fully together again.
It also seems like Lamour is featured less in this movie than she previously had been. Hmm… I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that this was the first in the series to be co-produced by Hope Enterprises and Bing Crosby Enterprises. Even though I like the movie just for the fact that it stars Hope & Crosby, it’s nothing special and the ending is a cop-out (most of the endings kinda were, but this one even more-so).
An interesting note, and I didn’t even realize this until watching it again last night, is that the movie was written by Ed Beloin. Along with Bill Morrow, Beloin co-wrote Jack Benny’s radio program from 1936-1943. That’s a great era for Jack Benny, so it’s surprising I wasn’t really feeling this movie because I know just how funny Beloin can be.
5. Road to Bali (1952, Paramount)
The first movie in the series to be filmed in Technicolor and the first Road movie I ever watched. It’s also the only Road movie in the public domain so I picked it up as part of a 2-disc collection featuring a few other public domain comedies. In fact, the print of the film used on the copy I have comes from the UCLA Library. I really don’t understand how Paramount could let something like this fall into the public domain but then I don’t claim to have some great knowledge of how copyrights work in the first place.
Road to Rio showed a rusty Road crew after four years of inactivity but, surprisingly, the five years of rest before Road to Bali doesn’t seem to matter a bit. Bali isn’t a classic Road picture but it is very good. It meanders about for a very long time while we wait for the film’s antagonists to appear but it’s during these plot-thin moments that Hope & Crosby start trading quips & insults like it was the 1940s all over again.
Lots of fun cameos in this one: Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother), Humphrey Bogart (via footage from The African Queen), Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis and Jane Russell (co-star of Bob’s for 1948’s The Paleface and 1952’s Son of Paleface).
4. Road to Singapore (1940, Paramount)
It doesn’t feature all of the running gags that would later become synonymous with the series and the comedy isn’t as slapstick, silly or over the top but Road to Singapore (the first film in the series) is a classic in its own right.
It’s much more of a traditional movie than what would later come: there’s some romance, some drama, some comedy, some singing. Nothing really out ordinary for the era. This one has the most solid plot out of all the movies too and probably features the most romantic drama. Plot is something that becomes less and less important with later releases when basically you’re watching an hour and a half of Hope/Crosby trading one-liners.
There is actually a story being told here but I have to agree with Turner Classic Movies’ online review where they state that something about the film feels “off”. They chalk it up to no one really knowing in what direction to take the movie by way of dialogue. Both Hope and Crosby were ad-libbing and had their own personal writers on the set to feed them lines as well. The legend goes that once Hope & Crosby read the script, they tossed it out and pretty much ad-libbed the entire movie (which caused frustration for Lamour, the crew and the script-writers).
Great movie featuring everything we love about classic Hollywood. It’s fun to look back at this movie to see a more grounded Road picture.
3. Road to Zanzibar (1941, Paramount)
The second film in the series and it really starts to kick off the great running gags of the series (“patty-cake”) and slapstick humor. Great songs and more great dialogue with Bob, Bing and Dorothy traveling through the jungle. What more could you ask for? Oh, how about the super cute & quirky Una Merkel (who was in The Mad Doctor of Market Street)?
2. Road to Utopia (1946, Paramount)
Okay, so here’s the deal from what I can gather online: Road to Utopia went into production in 1943 and wrapped in March 1944 but was not released to the public until 1946 for three different reasons.
Whether these are true or not, I don’t know but here are the reasons:
1. Road to Morocco was still a strong box office draw and Paramount rightfully wanted to get as much money out of it as they could and didn’t want Utopia taking away from that
2. Paramount also did not want to distract from Going My Way, which was released in 1944 and starred Bing
3. Road to Utopia was one of a number of movies made during WWII that was shown to U.S. troops before being release to the civilian public
I’m not sure how much of an affect the last reason should have to delay a movie by two years but the first two reasons about not wanting to take away from the box office of Road to Morocco and Going My Way completely make sense.
For the movie itself, it’s a great one and I liked it much, much better now than when I first watched it years ago. Most of the series features Bob & Bing in a warm or tropical climate but this one takes them to Alaska during the gold rush (the “Utopia” mentioned in the title) of the early 1900s. I’ve seen reviews state this as the best of the series and it’s hard to argue that. You can make a case for any of the top three on my list to be the best of the series.
The dialogue is great. Don’t believe me? The movie was nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1947 Academy Awards. There’s even some nice action and the whole thing really captures Bing & Bob in their prime and firing on all cylinders. After all, at the time of filming, this was their fourth movie together in as many years and everything was clicking.
1. Road to Morocco (1942, Paramount)
This is the one that’s generally accepted to be the best of the entire series. If someone asked me to show them a Road picture, this would be it. I think you can make a strong case for Road to Utopia or Road to Zanzibar as being the best of the series, but this is the quintessential Road film that really conveys best what the entire series is all about.
Like Road to Utopia, it received a nomination for Best Screenplay. It was listed at #78 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs list and was inducted into the National Film Registry in 1996.
So there you have it… All seven of the Road pictures ranked. The top four are absolute classics and I recommend them as essential viewing for anyone that is a fan of old movies. I also recommend Road to Bali but give only a mild recommendation for Road to Rio. Stay away from The Road to Hong Kong.