Road to Morocco (1942)
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After teaming up for their first film together - Road to Singapore (1940) - and parlaying that success into a sequel, Road to Zanzibar (1941), the musical-comedy team of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby settled into a winning formula for Road to Morocco (1942), the third and often considered the best of their "Road" pictures by Hope-Crosby connoisseurs. A freewheeling spoof of the Arabian Nights genre, this entry finds our boys, Jeff (Crosby) and Turkey (Hope), shipwrecked off the African Coast. As they make their way toward Morocco, Jeff finds a way to make some quick money by selling off Turkey as a slave. A change of heart, however, motivates Jeff to rescue his friend, only to find him comfortably installed in a luxurious palace, betrothed to a beautiful princess (Dorothy Lamour). It's all part of a grand master plan, foretold by the court astrologer, and fated to end badly for Turkey, courtesy of Mullay Kassim (Anthony Quinn), the princess's jealous suitor.
By the time Hope and Crosby made Road to Morocco, their easy-going on-screen chemistry and comic rivalry were well established; Crosby's unscrupulous, self-promoting wise guy coupled with Hope's delusionary vain but unheroic bumbler. Equally distinctive was the loose, improvisational style of the film which often broke down the wall between the screen and the viewer whenever characters would directly address the audience. Hollywood in-jokes and a sense of self-parody were a key to the series' success and Road to Morocco doesn't waste any time poking fun at its own formulaic qualities in the opening musical number when the boys sing "I'll lay you eight to five we meet Dorothy Lamour" and "For any villains we may meet we haven't any fears; Paramount will protect us because we've signed for five more years."
Part of the film's goofy charm can be attributed to director David Butler who would work with Hope in several other comedies. "If anything happened that was out of the ordinary, I'd always let the cameras run," said Butler (in Road to Box Office: The Seven Film Comedies of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour by Randall G. Mielke). "And we got some of our funniest stuff after the scene was over. I'd let the camera roll until they got off the set, or walked out, or whatever happened." One of the funniest bits, which was completely unscripted, occurred when a camel spit in Hope's face after kissing him on the back. Hope's reaction was so unexpectedly funny that Butler decided to leave it in the final cut. Less humorous was a scene where Crosby and Hope were almost trampled to death by horses while fleeing down a narrow side street. "Great shot," said Butler as the two stars dusted themselves off and attended to any wounds sustained during the incident. "Great shot?" said an incredulous Crosby. "You almost killed us!" "Oh, I wouldn't do that," said Butler calmly. "Not until the final scene, anyway." (From Road to Box Office, McFarland & Co.) After this film, Hope would half-jokingly refer to Butler as "The Murderer."
Among the "Road" pictures, Road to Morocco contains some of the best sight gags in the series and includes a talking camel ("This is the screwiest picture I've ever been in!"), a desert sheik peace conference sabotaged by Hope and Crosby with exploding cigars and the 'hotfoot' treatment, and a mirage sequence in which the three leads lip-sync to each other's voices during a reprise of the film's romantic ballad, "Moonlight Becomes You."
Fans of Anthony Quinn will get an additional kick out of seeing the actor have fun with his stereotyped supporting role in Road to Morocco. Dorothy Lamour recalled in her biography, My Side of the Road: "Anthony Quinn played the villain. Old-time actor Monte Blue, who was also in the film, walked over to him [Quinn] one day and told him, "It's remarkable you look so much like Rudy Valentino. I've never seen such a likeness, and I should know - I worked with him." The writers obviously agreed, because they wrote one scene in which Tony kidnaps me and gallops away over the sand dunes, very much like Valentino and Agnes Ayres in The Sheik ." Quinn had previously played a villain in Road to Singapore, Hope and Crosby's first "Road" picture. Road to Morocco is also notable as one of Yvonne De Carlo's first film appearances.
For the most part, the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby "Road" pictures were critic-proof; audiences flocked to see them regardless of the reviews. But Road to Morocco garnered its share of positive notices. The New York Times stated, "It is, in short, a lampoon of all pictures having to do with exotic romance, played by a couple of wise guys who can make a gag do everything but lay an egg," while Variety proclaimed it "a bubbly spontaneous entertainment without a semblance of sanity." There were detractors of course like the Herald Tribune which accused the film of hitting a new low in vulgarity but the Academy obviously felt otherwise when it awarded Road to Morocco two Oscar® nominations - one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Sound.
Producer: Paul Jones
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Frank Butler, Don Hartman
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Art Direction: Hans Dreier, Robert Usher
Music: Jimmy Van Heusen
Cast: Bing Crosby (Jeff Peters), Bob Hope (Orville Jackson/Aunt Lucy), Dorothy Lamour (Princess Shalmar), Anthony Quinn (Mullay Kassim), Dona Drake (Mihirmah), Vladimir Sokoloff (Hyder Khan).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford