Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
DVD Rentals: Road to Bali (1952)
The sixth Road picture was the last to be produced by Paramount and the only one budgeted for color (Technicolor, no less!). Not unlike later-period Elvis vehicles, the writers assume that audiences knew exactly what to expect going in and completely dispense with any pretense of character introductions.
The musical numbers, particularly Bing's flaccid, rear-screen rendition of To See You, also have something in common with The King: they match the visual panache of any of those found in Follow that Dream.
The picture kick-starts in backlot Melbourne with the boys performing a buck-and-wing to the spirited Chicago Style and it's pretty much downhill from there.
At one point during the opening, Hope, who is positioned stage left, is pulled into the wings by his soon-to-be-spurned fiance and her father. The cut to Hope offstage is clearly taken from the perspective of stage right. Hey, how 'bout that for violently insane screen direction, huh?
Both boys propose to the same filly and her father's shotgun is their cue to hop the Super Chief and skedaddle. As always, the duo play questionable colleagues in on the same two-bit racket. Of the pair, Bing was always the head bastard. He sits in the club car eating steak while passing donuts on a cane out the window to a rail-riding Hope.
There is a curse among the locals concerning deep sea divers, Bali, and the legend of Bogatan, the bone-crushing squid, so Bob and Bing quickly offer up each other's services. (Bob eventually does battle with the same rubber octopus that cut down John Wayne in Reap the Wild Wind, this time to less comedic effect.)
Scan through Princess Lala's (Dorothy Lamour) opening number and some exposition concerning her cousin Ken Arok's (Murvyn Vye) plan to kill the boys. The closest we get to exotic locales are a handful of second-unit establishing shots and Hal Periera's tropical sets, so bring on more dancing girls before the kilt-clad, bagpipe-laden boys entertain the locals with Burke and Van Heusen's toxic Hoot Mon.
Satire and wit take a backseat to Hollywood in-jokes and star-cameos. When confronted by a herd of sheep, the boys let go a verse of Bing's trademarked Whiffenpoof Song (complete with split-screen shots of actual lambs providing the "Baa, baa, baa's.") Stock footage of Charlie Alnut pulling the African Queen appears as a mirage while covetous Hope momentarily commandeers Bogie's "Best Actor" Oscar.
Hope and Crosby individually dream of scoring with Lamour, while Dotty has fantasies of Dean Martin hooking up with Jerry Lewis in drag. (Maybe Atom Egoyan was right.) A reference to Bing's baseball franchise, big-ear jokes, and crooner-bashing might have been funny ten years prior. Even the inevitable "Patty-Cake, Patty-Cake" reversal fizzles.
Off-screen they were amicable chums, but not the tight brothers press agents would have you believe. Even with Technicolor, a bigger budget and pretty much carte blanche to do as they please, their performances lack spontaneity; two well-prepared veterans punching a clock and swapping jibes. At this stage in their partnership, little, if any of the dialogue seemed natural. Hope would awake each morning to find cue cards reading "Good morning, Dolores" (or Marilyn, or Joey, never Phyllis, or Janis, or Jill, etc.) at the foot of his bed.
The only consistently inventive and laugh-out-loud funny 'Road' picture is of the Moroccan strain. Not know for inspired sight gags, the "Road" pictures were almost entirely dialogue driven. There are occasional visual gags -- Bob Crosby shows up in Bali to fire off a round of ammo because his 'brother' Bing promised him a shot in the picture -- but for the most part jokes, particularly the patented audience asides, are as stale as they are probable. Too many of the verbal jabs fail to connect and there's enough jarring dubbed-in dialogue to deafen a Belltone convention.
The one side-splitter arrives in the form of a chimpanzee wearing a Ski-Nose mask. (Later, a guy in a damn fine looking gorilla costume doesn't elicit one-tenth the laughter.) There are also a handful of ultra-fast motion shots (always good for a few cheap sneers), a svelt, shirtless Leon Askin, and dozens of unconvincing stunt doubles to arouse a few chuckles.
Dialogue like "he was drummed out of kindergarten for cheating at finger-painting" prefigure Bob's post-1960 television apocalypse, while the "death is his bread, danger his butter" line was filched by Woody Allen to describe Phil Moskowitz, amiable zany, in What's Up, Tiger Lily?
This was followed by the series' grievous finale, Road to Hong Kong, which one may safely assume the boys agreed to do strictly for the cash. Talk of a final made-for-TV installment (Road to Euthanasia?) was put to rest with Bing's death.
Another public domain casualty, the Treasure Box Collection DVD, with its vibrant color, makes for a more-than acceptable transfer. Some of the darker images, particularly nighttime sequences and close-ups of the gorilla suit, lack definition.
Paramount failed to copyright the picture and it wound up in the public domain. I found my copy at the 99¢ Only Store in Clairemont.
Paramount's last "Road" dead-ends with Jane Russell (still wearing her best Edith Head, Son of Paleface creation), and Dotty going off with Der Bingle. One can only imagine the stench of cheap perfume, bonded bourbon, ear-wax, and other vast and sundry body fluids the maid scraped from off the bed sheets the following morning.
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