The Beach Party Blogathon: ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940)

This post is part of The Beach Party Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy fame and by Ruth of Silver Screenings.  You can find all the other entries here so surf on over and take a look!

When I think of a beach movie I don’t just think of white sandy beaches, swaying palm tress, and Annette Funicello in a two piece.  I think of a movie the is easy, enjoyable, and fun.  The sort of film that I can just sit back, relax, sip my iced tea, and laugh myself silly.  And ROAD TO SINGAPORE is just that.

Directed in 1940 by Victor Schirtzinger and starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour, this was the first film in what would become the wildly popular and successful Road Movies series.  The series would total seven movies following the exploits of Bob and Bing and Dorothy (who appeared in all but one film as the primary love interest) and would bring much success to not only the stars, but Paramount studios as well.

As anyone who has seen a Road movie knows, the plot is pretty simple and is mostly there to help Bob and Bing get from point A to point B with little to no trouble while having time to make plenty of jokes along the way.  Bing is Josh Mallon and he, along with his buddy Ace Lannigan (Bob Hope), works onboard an American ship.  They are having a fine old-time until the ship docks at port one day.  While enjoying watching the other suckers head off to home with their wives and kids, Josh and Ace are gleefully recounting how lucky they are to be free and clear of all that responsibility when they are met by three glowering men.  They have come to extend a wedding invitation to Ace, as it seems that one of his former flames by the name of Cherry is getting hitched and she would like Ace to be there as he is going to be playing the part of the groom.  Not wanting to get roped into a shotgun wedding, Ace and Josh fight their way free and start a waterfront brawl in the process.  The fight makes the front page, which is bad news for Josh not only because it embarrasses his father, a rich shipping magnate (Charles Coburn), but also because it alerts his fiancee Gloria that he is back in town.  Gloria is, how shall we say, a bit of a bulldozer and is quite willing to overlook Josh’s behavior and design them a fabulous apartment to live in just as long as Josh remembers his promise to marry her.  Josh is not that thrilled at the prospect but finally agrees, especially after the words “family honor” are thrown around.

The night of Gloria and Josh’s engagement party arrives but Josh is nowhere to be found.  That is because he is visiting Ace, who has taken up refuge on his boat on what we can only assume are international waters.  Originally planning to just drop off some groceries and run, Josh suddenly becomes involved in his own version of The Old Man and The Sea and spends the next several hours wrestling the fish into Ace’s boat.  This of course makes him terribly terribly late to his party, a fact which isn’t helped much when he and Ace show up with the fish in tow.  Some time later, after the fish has been cleared from the deck, Ace and Josh are enjoying the evening by singing some songs and doing some routines for the delight of the crowd.  Gloria’s brother, who happens to a class A jerk, decides this is the right moment to throw some insults to the two which results in yet another brawl that makes the front page.  But this one is on the front page of a gossip magazine which is less than thrilling to Josh’s father and his prospective father-in-law.  Even worse, no one can find Josh as he has fled along with Ace and is somewhere in the region of Singapore.

More precisely, Ace and Josh are hiding out on the island of Kaidu.  Living the high life and throwing cigarette butts wherever they darn well please, the pals head out one night to the local watering hole with their entire fortune (a whole $1.26) to get some drinks.  While there they are treated to a show which stars a brooding latin type (Anthony Quinn) and his beautiful dancing assistant, Mima (Dorothy Lamour).  Ace takes a shine to the pretty woman and this leads to some jealous whipping from her partner.  Ace and Josh won’t take that lying down and they start, you guessed it, another brawl.  This time however, the two men make their escape quickly and take Mima with them.  What follows from there is the typical nonsense Road movie plot which all leads up to the question, who will get the girl?

ROAD TO SINGAPORE was a script that had been kicking around Hollywood for years but had never been picked up.  The original story was that of two bachelors who were trying to escape their ex-flames whom they had met in Singapore, when the both meet a beautiful woman.  This is clearly not what ROAD TO SINGAPORE is about.  In fact, the story goes that Bob and Bing threw out the original script and just tried to outdo each other in making the crew laugh.  This explains why the plot of most Road movies, especially with later entries in the canon, are pretty nonsensical.  Bob and Bing just riffed off each other, each one trying to get a bigger laugh from the cameramen and assembled crew. It is rumored that during filming Dorothy Lamour turned to camera and said, “Hey fellas, I haven’t had a line for ages!”  One day during the filming, the original screenwriters came to set to see how the movie was coming along.  They were shocked to find that nothing of their original script remained, prompting Bob Hope to quip that if they heard any of their original lines of dialogue to “yell bingo”.

But this nonsensical joking is exactly the thing that I love about the Road movies.  I first saw ROAD TO SINGAPORE when I was about twelve or so.  I was spending a few days at my grandparent’s house and I was watching TV in their bedroom when I stumbled upon AMC which was showing a Road movie marathon.  I had no idea what these movies were but I stayed up for hours past my bedtime watching one after the other, laughing hysterically.  These were some of the funniest movies I had ever seen, and they also were the movies that rekindled my love of classic films.  Are the Road movies perfect?  No.  Are some of the jokes a little dated or even not as funny to a modern audience who has no idea of the cultural in jokes of the time?  Maybe.  Are there some less than politically correct/slightly stereotyped gags and roles?  Yes, I mean there is a whole section of this film where the boys paint themselves tan to “go native”.  But none of this diminishes the appeal of the film to me.

On the whole, I feel like the Road movies get unfairly put down as lesser films.  This is the original buddy movie!  There is no greater chemistry than that of Bob and Bing.  The riffing, ad-libbing, and one upping each other makes these films super funny.  The Road movies also were clever send ups and spoofs of popular films of the day, such as Alaskan adventures, Arabian adventures, and high seas adventures.  They are also a great combination of action, adventure, romance, and musical, basically something for everyone.  One of the best running gags of the Road movies is that of Bob Hope breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience, usually leading to some overacting which Bing calls him out on.  One of Bob Hope’s most famous running gags throughout his career, that of wanting to win an Oscar, had it’s start in the Road movies.

ROAD TO SINGAPORE doesn’t have all the gags that would become staples of the Road series, but the pieces are there and we can see where it is going.  The chemistry between the three leads is bubbling under the surface and it already feels like a match made in heaven.  It is a more traditional and grounded film but still fun in it’s own right.  It holds a special place in my heart because it introduced me to the Road movies, to Bob and Bing, and to just how funny movies could be.  So excuse me while I go and stick my feet in the sand, and spend some time in Kaidu with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour.

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25 thoughts on “The Beach Party Blogathon: ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940)

  1. Patricia Nolan-Hall (@CaftanWoman) June 8, 2015 / 1:54 pm

    ” On the whole, I feel like the Road movies get unfairly put down as lesser films. ”

    Let’s you and me find those fools and pull the “Patty-Cake” routine on them!

    Great look at the Road pictures, and “…Singapore”. I’m also a big fan of the songs in the pictures, many of which went on to become standards. “…Singapore” always briefly inspires me to learn to play the ocarina.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging June 8, 2015 / 2:12 pm

      Yea! Patty cake punch! Glad to find another fan out there…and the ocarina routine is a classic

      Like

  2. BNoirDetour June 8, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    Enjoyed reading the background, seeing the pictures, and knowing why you love the film and the Road series.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Silver Screenings June 8, 2015 / 6:54 pm

    You’re right – the Road movies are put down as though they’re not important. Well, darn it, they are important: they’re an institution!

    I love most of these movies, and this is one of my faves from the series. Bing and Bob have so much on-screen chemistry. They are delightful to watch.

    Thanks for bringing this Road movie to the Beach Party blogathon!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging June 8, 2015 / 7:18 pm

      Thank you! Truthfully I like almost all the Road movies…except Road to Hong Kong 😦

      Like

      • Silver Screenings June 8, 2015 / 7:20 pm

        Me too! I don’t really care for that one. I’ve tried to like it, really I have, but just don’t have it in me.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nowvoyaging June 8, 2015 / 7:38 pm

        It felt like it was trying to hard to recapture the magic of the previous ones…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Movie Movie Blog Blog June 8, 2015 / 9:25 pm

    I never paid attention to Bob Hope’s “classic” period until reading Woody Allen’s effusive praise of him. He really was underappreciated and a fine comic. Thanks for giving the ROAD movies their due!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. girlsdofilm June 9, 2015 / 6:10 am

    I’m not sure why I’ve never got around to watching The Road movie series, but they sound charming. Bing and Bob look like they have wonderful chemistry!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Kristina June 10, 2015 / 2:00 pm

    Yes count me as another ROAD series fan, and it’s a good thing Bob and Bing had such talent and rapport that they could throw out the script and riff like this. There are even fun zingers in their other movies that refer to these films and/or each other, which is such a neat “meta” thing. Great pick and thanks so much for taking part!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Judy June 10, 2015 / 9:14 pm

    I like Bing Crosby a lot and have been meaning to get to the Road films for ages, but have failed to do so as yet. Must catch up with them soon – you make them sound like a lot of fun. I love buddy movies in general, so I am keen to see the joking you describe here between Bing and Bob!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging June 10, 2015 / 9:40 pm

      They are super fun! This one is a more traditional picture but the rest get very silly and lots of fun!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jennifromrollamo June 13, 2015 / 3:35 am

    Love Hope and Crosby’s Road Pictures. I was also 12 when I saw my first one, playing on a local affliate tv station, probably on a Saturday afternoon. It was so funny, I was immediately hooked. Thanks for your review!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Phyl June 14, 2015 / 4:51 am

    I thought I had seen all of the Road films but I don’t recognize this at all!! Or maybe it’s just been too long. I’ll have to check in the morning to see if we have it so I can watch it…

    Yeah, I don’t like Hong Kong either. Great post!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Phyl June 14, 2015 / 4:54 am

      Also, the Frankie Avalon/Dwayne Hickman relationship in their beach movies was based on the Road movies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • nowvoyaging June 14, 2015 / 11:01 am

        I didn’t know that! See Bob and Bing are essential!

        Like

  10. Constance Rose Metzinger June 17, 2015 / 1:47 am

    I love the Road pictures! And your post makes me want to re-watch Road to Singapore this weekend. If I ever have a problem or are stressed out, I just pop in a Road film and those worries fly away. I guess in comparison to the dilemmas Hope and Crosby get themselves into ( and out of so easily ) it seems silly to even think of my petty problems. I too didn’t know that the Frankie Avalon/Dwayne Hickman teamings were mimicking Hope/Crosby but come to think of it, Ski Party did play out a lot like a Road picture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nowvoyaging June 17, 2015 / 2:04 am

      The Road pictures are the best remedy for stress! Thanks for reading!

      Like

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