The “Dot” Blogathon: ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)

This post is part of The “Dot” Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock.  Be sure to check out the other posts here!

Dorothy Blogathon

One wintery evening, elderly married couple Sal (Dorothy Lamour) and Chester (Bob Hope) Hooten are spending a quiet night by the fire when they are interrupted by the arrival of an old friend.  Duke Johnson is a friend that the Hootens have not seen for years and they immediately being reminiscing about their time in the Klondike.

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At the turn of the century a man has been murdered by two thugs, McGurk (Nestor Pavia) and Sperry (Robert Barrat, yes I know!!) and his map to a gold mine has been stolen.  With his dying breath the man tells his daughter, Sal, that the mine is in Alaska and to seek out a man called Ace Larson.  Racing to the dock Sal manages to get the last boat to Alaska just ahead of Sperry and McGurk.  The two men spot Sal but can do nothing to stop her especially as there are police nearby.  In order to avoid suspicion the two men duck into a nearby theater where a vaudeville act is going on.

Duke and Chester are putting out all the stops in their performance and are currently working a “ghost scam” and encouraging the audience to gamble their money in an effort to double it.  As the police enter the theater, Sperry and McGurk rush onstage upsetting the set and revealing Duke and Chester for charlatans.  As the two thugs rush to avoid the police, Duke and Chester beat a hasty retreat.  The two begin to divide up the money and Chester says that he is tired of running from town to town.  Duke tries to convince him to come along to the Klondike to search for gold, but Chester isn’t having it.  At the dock the two part ways, and pick pockets, until Duke is onboard and Chester is waving on the dock.  At least he is until he sees Duke counting all his money onboard.  Chester runs onboard ready to throttle his partner and notices that the boat has departed so whether he likes it or not, Chester is on his way to the Klondike.

Sal arrives in Alaska and meets up with Ace Larson (Douglas Dumbrill).  Rather than going to the police, Larson assures her that he will take care of things.  He also gives her a job as an entertainer in his saloon.  Larson’s girlfriend, Kate (Hillary Brooke), is less than thrilled with this development but she cheers up considerably when Larson reveals his plan to steal Sal’s mine and keep it for the both of them.  Meanwhile, Duke and Chester have run out of money to pay their passage aboard ship so they are now being put to work as the cleaning staff.  While cleaning a cabin they come across the map to a gold mine.  They realize that the occupants of the cabin are the thugs who killed Sal’s father (which was in the paper) and that they are right behind them.  After a brief scuffle Duke and Chester emerge victorious.  They take the map and the beards of their foes and exit the boat.

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Now in Alaska, Duke and Chester argue about who should get to hold the map.  They finally decide that the best plan is to tear it in half and have each man keep his own piece.  Once that is settled they adopt a tough persona consistent with their beardy reputations and enter the nearby saloon.  The saloon just happens to be owned by one, Ace Larson and amidst free champagne and female companionship the two men are treated to the main act.  The curtain rises and who should emerge but Sal and that is where things get complicated.

First of, let me say that I love the Road series.  I would watch them all day, every day on repeat if I could.  Well, except for ROAD TO HONG KONG…we don’t mention that one.  I think the fact the Dorothy Lamour has only a cameo in it is one of the reasons that it doesn’t work for me as a Road movie because honestly, who else could keep up with Bob and Bing and still be beautiful, feminine, and sassy?  No one but our Dot, that’s who!  She is just as quick and funny as either of her male co-stars and manages to hang on for the ride gamely when the schemes get zany or the al-libs whizz by.

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ROAD TO UTOPIA is unique in that it is the only Road movie not to have a real place in the title and to not take place in a contemporary setting.  I love the Robert Benchley narration, the breaking of the fourth wall, the craziness, the fact that Robert Barrat is in it.  I also love the Alaskan setting.  Most of the Road movies seem to take place in decidedly warmer climates and I do love me some mountain adventures.  But there is also a slightly more adult feeling to this film.  Sal is not some shrinking violet, nor some wide eyed innocent, nor an elegant princess.  She is an average woman who takes control of her life and her situation and even sets a few plans of her own into motion.  I really enjoy the fact that Sal is a tough and smart woman who speaks her mind.  Also there are some jokes, especially at the end, regarding Sal and Chester’s marriage and offspring that are a bit sharper than the usual Road movie wackiness.  Of note, ROAD TO UTOPIA is also unique for being one of only two films in the series where Bob Hope ends up with Dorothy Lamour, with the second one involving hypnosis…so maybe that one doesn’t count.

I love Dorothy Lamour.  I love Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  I love The Road movies and I loved having an excuse to watch ROAD TO UTOPIA.  If you are having a bad day do yourself a favor and get a mug of your favorite warm beverage, cuddle up on the couch, and pop this movie in.  You won’t regret it…tell them Sal sent you!

 

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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.