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Bob Hope using Bing Crosby’s Dumbo ears to pin back his ankles

Two from the comedy duo

Where the Truth Lies: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon play Martin & Lewis fast and loose.
Where the Truth Lies: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon play Martin & Lewis fast and loose.

This week brings a pair of comedy duos: one legendary, the other with plenty of Hope (and Crosby) in their soul.

Where the Truth Lies (2005)

Video:

Where the Truth Lies (2005) trailer

A fictionalized account of a murder that may or may not involve showbiz royalty directed by Atom Egoyan, whose cold, clinical and frequently nasty films (Calendar, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter) reflect a similar sensibility to that of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg. While Cronenberg is a master of psychological horror, Egoyan excels at dysfunctional relationships best viewed from a distance; what better subjects than Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, comedy’s most publicly divorced duo?

It’s America in the fifties and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) are the country’s comedic pulse. A classic duo — Lanny is the crazy schtick comic, while British Vince is his cool and collected straight man. The boys seem equally at home wetting the eyes of adoring nightclub patrons as they do Telethon viewers. They are at the top of their game: wealthy, powerful, and popular beyond comparison — until the day a young hotel maid inexplicably turns up dead in the boys’ suite.

The project presented Egoyan with several new hurdles to conquer. Budgeted at $25 million, it was his biggest, most commercial film to date. It was also his first film to be shot on American soil. But perhaps the leading challenge was in the production design. This is the director’s first period — make that periods — piece; half of the film takes place at the scene of the crime, a flashback to the 1959 Annual Veteran’s Day Polio Telethon. Intercut is a distanced ‘70s perspective, where we look back on the events through the eyes of a young journalist (Alison Lohman) wanting to clear their names.

A scandalous sex scene earned the film its NC-17 rating; I can see Bob Hope using Bing’s Dumbo ears to pin back his ankles, or Costello bent over a sink really screaming, “Hey Abbott!” — but Martin tailgating Lewis while the funnyman/humanitarian is in mid-hetero hump? Is nothing sacred, pally? (Anyone who reads Lewis’s Dean and Me (A Love Story) after seeing Egoyan’s film is guaranteed to glean new insight from the passage where the older, more experienced Dean checks freshman Jerry for crabs.) Surprise and a little disappointment set in when the film strayed in the direction of a whodunit, as opposed to a continued meditation on celebrity demystification.

Road to Bali (1952)

Video:

Road to Bali (1952) trailer

The sixth Road picture was the last one produced by Paramount and the only one budgeted for Technicolor. As with the later-period Elvis vehicles, the writers, assuming that audiences knew exactly what to expect going in, completely dispensed with any pretense of establishing character or setting. That goes triple for formal finesse. We hit the ground singing in backlot Melbourne with the boys performing a buck-and-wing to Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s catchy “Chicago Style.” Hope, who is positioned stage left, is pulled into the wings by a soon-to-be-spurned fiancé and her father, but the cutaway shot is clearly taken from the perspective of stage right. Isn’t that wild? This was the second Road picture directed by Hal Walker, who had apprenticed as an assistant on two of the seven Bob Hope and Bing Crosby vehicles before taking his place behind the camera. (Between Road to Utopia and Road to Bali, Walker helmed a quartet of preliminary Martin & Lewis vehicles.)

It seems both boys proposed to the same filly, and her father’s shotgun is their cue to hop the Super Chief and skedaddle north to Bali. As always, the duo play questionable colleagues, working the same ethically-challenged 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 rail-rider Hope. There is a curse among the locals concerning deep sea divers, Bali, and the legend of Bogatan, the bone-crushing squid. Who better than our star scam artists to offer their services as professional ink eradicators? (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.) Feel free to 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 production designer 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.”

The pair were never known for their inspired sight gags, so the series was almost entirely dialogue driven. (Like any later period Hope television extravaganza, who needs satire and wit when you can pack the show with in-jokes and star-cameos?) Still, Bob Crosby showing up in Bali to fire off a round of ammo because “brother” Bing promised him a shot in the picture is a very amusing visual pun. And 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, baas.”) 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 amour with Lamour, while Dotty has fantasies of Dean Martin hooking up with Jerry Lewis in drag. (Maybe Atom Egoyan was right!) Bing’s baseball franchise, big-ear jokes, crooner-bashing, and the inevitable “Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake” reversal all appear in due course. Saving the best for last, the Road to Bali dead-ends with Jane Russell (still wearing her best Edith Head, Son of Paleface creation), dumping Bob in favor of jamming with Dotty and Der Bingle.

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 of the laughs.) There are also a handful of ultra-fast motion shots, a svelte, shirtless Leon Askin, and dozens of unconvincing stunt doubles to draw a few sneers. Dialogue like “he was drummed out of kindergarten for cheating at finger-painting” prefigures 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? And there’s enough jarring, dubbed-in dialogue to deafen a Belltone convention. (Hey! This nutty Hope stuff is infectious!)

Off-screen, the two were 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 awaken and find cue cards reading “Good morning, Dolores” (or Marilyn, or Joey, or Miss Beauty Pageant contestant, but never Lucy or Phyllis) at the foot of his bed.

The film was another public domain casualty; for years, I had to make due with the ninety-nine cent Treasure Box Collection DVD. With its vibrant color, it made for a more-than acceptable transfer, though some of the darker images — particularly night-time sequences and close-ups of the gorilla suit — lack definition. Not anymore, thanks to Kino Lorber’s impeccable bluray pressing. 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.

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Where the Truth Lies: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon play Martin & Lewis fast and loose.
Where the Truth Lies: Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon play Martin & Lewis fast and loose.

This week brings a pair of comedy duos: one legendary, the other with plenty of Hope (and Crosby) in their soul.

Where the Truth Lies (2005)

Video:

Where the Truth Lies (2005) trailer

A fictionalized account of a murder that may or may not involve showbiz royalty directed by Atom Egoyan, whose cold, clinical and frequently nasty films (Calendar, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter) reflect a similar sensibility to that of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg. While Cronenberg is a master of psychological horror, Egoyan excels at dysfunctional relationships best viewed from a distance; what better subjects than Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, comedy’s most publicly divorced duo?

It’s America in the fifties and Lanny Morris (Kevin Bacon) and Vince Collins (Colin Firth) are the country’s comedic pulse. A classic duo — Lanny is the crazy schtick comic, while British Vince is his cool and collected straight man. The boys seem equally at home wetting the eyes of adoring nightclub patrons as they do Telethon viewers. They are at the top of their game: wealthy, powerful, and popular beyond comparison — until the day a young hotel maid inexplicably turns up dead in the boys’ suite.

The project presented Egoyan with several new hurdles to conquer. Budgeted at $25 million, it was his biggest, most commercial film to date. It was also his first film to be shot on American soil. But perhaps the leading challenge was in the production design. This is the director’s first period — make that periods — piece; half of the film takes place at the scene of the crime, a flashback to the 1959 Annual Veteran’s Day Polio Telethon. Intercut is a distanced ‘70s perspective, where we look back on the events through the eyes of a young journalist (Alison Lohman) wanting to clear their names.

A scandalous sex scene earned the film its NC-17 rating; I can see Bob Hope using Bing’s Dumbo ears to pin back his ankles, or Costello bent over a sink really screaming, “Hey Abbott!” — but Martin tailgating Lewis while the funnyman/humanitarian is in mid-hetero hump? Is nothing sacred, pally? (Anyone who reads Lewis’s Dean and Me (A Love Story) after seeing Egoyan’s film is guaranteed to glean new insight from the passage where the older, more experienced Dean checks freshman Jerry for crabs.) Surprise and a little disappointment set in when the film strayed in the direction of a whodunit, as opposed to a continued meditation on celebrity demystification.

Road to Bali (1952)

Video:

Road to Bali (1952) trailer

The sixth Road picture was the last one produced by Paramount and the only one budgeted for Technicolor. As with the later-period Elvis vehicles, the writers, assuming that audiences knew exactly what to expect going in, completely dispensed with any pretense of establishing character or setting. That goes triple for formal finesse. We hit the ground singing in backlot Melbourne with the boys performing a buck-and-wing to Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s catchy “Chicago Style.” Hope, who is positioned stage left, is pulled into the wings by a soon-to-be-spurned fiancé and her father, but the cutaway shot is clearly taken from the perspective of stage right. Isn’t that wild? This was the second Road picture directed by Hal Walker, who had apprenticed as an assistant on two of the seven Bob Hope and Bing Crosby vehicles before taking his place behind the camera. (Between Road to Utopia and Road to Bali, Walker helmed a quartet of preliminary Martin & Lewis vehicles.)

It seems both boys proposed to the same filly, and her father’s shotgun is their cue to hop the Super Chief and skedaddle north to Bali. As always, the duo play questionable colleagues, working the same ethically-challenged 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 rail-rider Hope. There is a curse among the locals concerning deep sea divers, Bali, and the legend of Bogatan, the bone-crushing squid. Who better than our star scam artists to offer their services as professional ink eradicators? (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.) Feel free to 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 production designer 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.”

The pair were never known for their inspired sight gags, so the series was almost entirely dialogue driven. (Like any later period Hope television extravaganza, who needs satire and wit when you can pack the show with in-jokes and star-cameos?) Still, Bob Crosby showing up in Bali to fire off a round of ammo because “brother” Bing promised him a shot in the picture is a very amusing visual pun. And 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, baas.”) 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 amour with Lamour, while Dotty has fantasies of Dean Martin hooking up with Jerry Lewis in drag. (Maybe Atom Egoyan was right!) Bing’s baseball franchise, big-ear jokes, crooner-bashing, and the inevitable “Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake” reversal all appear in due course. Saving the best for last, the Road to Bali dead-ends with Jane Russell (still wearing her best Edith Head, Son of Paleface creation), dumping Bob in favor of jamming with Dotty and Der Bingle.

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 of the laughs.) There are also a handful of ultra-fast motion shots, a svelte, shirtless Leon Askin, and dozens of unconvincing stunt doubles to draw a few sneers. Dialogue like “he was drummed out of kindergarten for cheating at finger-painting” prefigures 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? And there’s enough jarring, dubbed-in dialogue to deafen a Belltone convention. (Hey! This nutty Hope stuff is infectious!)

Off-screen, the two were 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 awaken and find cue cards reading “Good morning, Dolores” (or Marilyn, or Joey, or Miss Beauty Pageant contestant, but never Lucy or Phyllis) at the foot of his bed.

The film was another public domain casualty; for years, I had to make due with the ninety-nine cent Treasure Box Collection DVD. With its vibrant color, it made for a more-than acceptable transfer, though some of the darker images — particularly night-time sequences and close-ups of the gorilla suit — lack definition. Not anymore, thanks to Kino Lorber’s impeccable bluray pressing. 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.

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