On the "Road" with HOPE & CROSBY
Gehring, Wes, USA TODAY
Through seven audience-pleasing films, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made parody a staple of movie comedies.
THIS YEAR commemorates the 60th anniversary of the first Bob Hope and Bing Crosby "Road" picture--"Road to Singapore" (1940). During the next 22 years, the six additional installments of the series: "Road to Zanzibar" (1941), "Road to Morocco" (1942), "Road to Utopia" (1945), "Road to Rio" (1947), "Road to Bali" (1952), and "Road to Hong Kong" (1962), made the Road pictures what is regarded as the most acclaimed comedy series in the history of American motion pictures.
Besides being the ultimate spoof of the action adventure genre, the Road pictures are a parody of Hollywood itself. As one might assume, given the celebrated nature of the series, the magic of this parody was immediately recognized. In 1940, the Hollywood Reporter was probably the most perceptive in its praise of "Road to Singapore": "In pairing Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Paramount has created one of the greatest comedy teams in film history ... a demand for more of the same is an unqualified certainty."
The immediate critical and commercial success of the pictures was not lost on Hope, who used them as one more topic in his 1940s stand-up patter on stage and for radio. The subject also surfaced in the first of his numerous self-deprecatingly comic autobiographies, They Got Me Covered (1941): "I don't know what will happen in our next picture ... the `Road to Morocco' but anyway, [perpetual Road love interest Dorothy Lamour], Bing, and I are having a lot of fun ... besides I'm getting a salary for my performance in these `Road' pictures ... which, as one critic pointed out, is a perfect example of highway robbery."
That critic notwithstanding, the Road pictures helped bring an "A" film coolness to a genre (parody) which was often less than respected by the arbiters of cinema taste. Thus, in no time at all, America's favorite sometime team of Hope and Crosby had entertainingly mapped out what are still the same eight fundamental parameters of parody.
First, the spoof, an affectionately comic sideswiping of a genre and/or artist, should be funny even without viewer expertise on the subject under comic attack. For example, a pivotal source of Hope and Crosby's humor is their continual bickering at each other. Action adventure movies frequently have some sort of ongoing rivalry between male leads, such as the love-hate relationship of Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., in "Gunga Din" (1939), a movie not without its own parody components.
The Hope and Crosby bickering also draws upon a comic "feud" originating in their competing late-1930s radio programs. No doubt this was inspired by earlier radio feuds between Jack Benny and Fred Allen and/or W.C. Fields and Edgar Bergen's dummy, Charlie McCarthy. Period fans of the Road pictures would have had the added bonus of recognizing this shtick move from radio to screen. Nevertheless, the bickering, in and of itself. is funny, whether one knows the action adventure and radio connections or not. For instance, when the pair lose an amateur talent contest in "Road to Utopia," Bob says in an aside, "Next time, I'll bring [singer Frank] Sinatra." Ski-nosed Hope usually had the last comic word, but there were exceptions, such as Crosby's "Road to Morocco" quip after a steaming Lamour kiss straightened out the decoratively curled toe slippers Bob was wearing: "Now kiss him on the nose, and see if you can straighten that out."
While Bob's nose was often Bing's verbal target, Hope kidded a myriad of Crosby characteristics, from protruding ears to a modest paunch. Thus, in "Road to Rio," Bob refers to Bing as everything from "lobster ears" to "bean belly." Hope's favorite Crosby target was the crooner's voice. Besides the aforementioned examples, my all-time favorite quip on the subject comes from "Road to Bali," when Bob refers to Bing as the "collapsible Como," referring to Perry Como, a popular period singer with a Crosby-like style. …