Road to Zanzibar (1941)
The plot, as usual in this series, is little more than an excuse for Hope and Crosby to do their seemingly improvised vaudeville return, sing a few songs, and ogle the charms of Lamour (who, inevitably, falls for Crosby). The appeal of this movie, as with all the other Road flicks, lies largely in the in-jokes, the knowing spoof of action-adventure movies, and the meta-cinematic way the actors often talk to the audience and reveal their awareness of being in a movie. As one reviewer said at the time of its release, this picture "is nonsense, but it is nonsense of the most delightful sort."
The Road movies came about as a result of some personal appearances Hope and Crosby made in the 1930s. The two first met briefly on the streets of New York in 1932 when Crosby was a national singing sensation and Hope an up-and-coming vaudeville star beginning to make a mark in radio. That year they performed together for the first time on the stage of the city's Capitol Theater as part of a live show before the screening of the Boris Karloff picture The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Several years later, remembering the success of their routine, Crosby asked Hope to appear with him at the opening of the Del Mar racetrack near San Diego. A Paramount studio executive was in the audience, and he quickly began searching for a film project to showcase the easy-going humor arising out of their public personas and joking rivalry. The studio found a script originally meant for Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie and retooled it to become Road to Singapore (1940). For feminine interest they added sultry Dorothy Lamour, who received billing over relative movie-novice Hope.
Singapore was such a hit, the studio quickly set about finding another project for their stars. They had a script called "Find Colonel Fawcett" about two adventurers trekking through Madagascar, which had been shelved because the studio thought it seemed too similar to the MGM hit Stanley and Livingstone (1939). They reworked it for Hope and Crosby, copying the winning formula from the first film with a changed locale, and a hit sequel was born.
Paramount went all out for the second picture, employing more than 300 African-American extras for the slave auction scene. Some of the extras were deemed not dark enough for their roles and 15 additional make-up artists were brought in to apply "black face" to them. Set decorators needed so many plants for the jungle scenes they ran through the stock in the studio backlot greenhouses and had to import greenery from as far away as Arizona. The publicity department spared nothing as well in promoting the film. One hyperbolic press release claimed dance director LeRoy Prinz had scoured Africa for months looking for authentic tribal rituals and costumes and boasted that "the original conga as danced in the heart of Darkest Africa is shown in one sequence."
As with the first film, Lamour was driven to distraction by Hope and Crosby's constant improvisation on the script. She would learn her lines, then wait with increasing impatience for her cues, which were often altered beyond recognition. The screenwriters weren't any happier about this situation, especially when Hope told them in front of the entire cast and crew, "If you hear one of your lines, yell 'Bingo!'" Hope and Crosby were not, however, the skilled improvisers they wanted everyone to believe; the "ad-libbed" gags were actually written by their radio comedy writers after being given copies of the script by the stars. But director Victor Schertzinger loved the added comedy and encouraged the pair to be as free as they wanted with the dialogue.
The friendship between Hope and Crosby was also reportedly not all it was cracked up to be. According to several sources, the rivalry between the two was not always good-natured. Hope often acted out his jealousy of Crosby's personal and professional success. Crosby could also be a difficult and cruel person and regularly taunted Hope about his lack of sex appeal to women. Lamour grew increasingly disenchanted with her involvement in the series, resenting the frequently condescending and disrespectful treatment by her two co-stars and her diminishing stardom. By the second picture she was reduced to third billing beneath Hope, and when the three were reunited for the last time in The Road to Hong Kong (1962) - the only one not produced at Paramount and the only one with "the" in the title - Lamour, who was 11 years younger than her co-stars, was judged too old for the part. She was deeply hurt to find her role was reduced to a cameo while Joan Collins got to cavort with the nearly 60-year-old male stars.
There was talk for a time of an eighth Road movie; even after Crosby's death in 1977, the possibility of another in the series was suggested with a potential teaming of Hope and Red Skelton. Nothing ever came of it but something of the tone and style of the Road movies was attempted with disastrous results in the Warren Beatty-Dustin Hoffman vehicle Ishtar (1987).
Director: Victor Schertzinger
Producer: Paul Jones
Screenplay: Frank Butler, Don Hartman
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Editing: Alma Macrorie
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Original Music: Jimmy Van Heusen
Cast: Bing Crosby (Chuck Reardon), Bob Hope ("Fearless" Frazier), Dorothy Lamour (Donna Latour), Una Merkel (Julia Quimby), Eric Blore (Charles Kimble).
BW-92m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon