Sunday, April 23, 2017

Chris' #83: Road to Utopia (Hal Walker, 1946)

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Robert Benchley
Director: Hal Walker
Writers: Norman Panama, Melvin Frank
Release Date: February 27, 1946

Quick Synopsis: At the turn of the century, Duke and Chester, two vaudeville performers, go to Alaska to make their fortune.

First Time
I didn't see any mention of this film on my old CR5FC blog, but I have to imagine it was sometime in 2012. Jeff has that On the Road with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Collection on DVD, so I watched his copy.

Why it's on the List
I'll be honest; I took a stab in the dark here by listing Road to Utopia ahead of The Paleface. When I made my list, I hadn't seen either in years and based the order off of memory alone. I also assumed that Bing and Bob would outrank Bob and Jane Russell, and I have to admit now that this was the wrong call (for me). After rewatching both this weekend, I enjoyed The Paleface more.

Don't get me wrong, Road to Utopia is also a lot of fun and I do enjoy it. It's not as if I'll move this down my list; rather, I'll probably move The Paleface, Gremlins 2, and Big Trouble in Little China up.

A big reason why The Paleface works so well is due to the audience's investment in both Bob Hope and Jane Russell. When Bob isn't in a scene, Jane carries the film (and vice versa). For most of Road to Utopia, Bob and Bing share the screen. In the moments when only one is on screen, it obviously still works. But when neither are featured, I tended to get distracted during my rewatch this morning.

I also don't mean to offend Dorothy Lamour in this way; I do like her quite a bit. She's great in the other Road pictures and My Favorite Brunette as well. Her talent as an actor and a singer are unquestioned. And there's no reason to compare Lamour and Jane Russell, but after pulling off this double-feature, it feels difficult to avoid. Jane Russell is so much more dynamic, though Lamour does have that double-threat quality.

This is an unorthodox write-up; I shouldn't spend too much time talking about how I like other movies more, especially since there is a lot to appreciate about Road to Utopia. This is the only Road representative on my list, and of the ones I've seen, it is my favorite (though I'd be nice to truly confirm that with a marathon). If memory serves, this is definitely the zaniest and most meta of the franchise. I love in the inclusion of Robert Benchley as the narrator. That kind of call seems way ahead of its time.

As I wrote yesterday, Hope plays off of other actors so well, and the partnership of Bing and Bob is one of the best on-screen pairings of all-time. The banter is top-notch, and I love that they frequently take shots at each other's characters and real-life personas. Bing and Bob movies ooze competition, and because they both have very different qualities to offer, it's always captivating.

Bing Crosby's voice is so soothing and melodic. Last year, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Thankfully he's still with us, but whenever I see or hear Bing Crosby, I'll think of my grandfather for the rest of my life. Bing is his favorite singer. These old movies are a great way to bridge the gap between generations. When I told my grandfather that I liked the Road movies a few months back, his face lit up. My dad's side of the family is of Irish descent, so of course they have more love for Bing than Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. (I don't have the heart to tell them that Dean is my favorite of the three, ha.)

And speaking of Sinatra, I love the joke about him in this (at the expense of Bing Crosby). I also how big they go with this script - talking animals, references to the studio, etc. Unless I'm missing something, there were three more Road movies after this one (none of which I've actually seen, I'm pretty sure), but Road to Utopia has that kitchen sink vibe to it. The film is jam-packed, and it feels like a fitting culmination of the franchise.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • I'd like to add more Bob Hope to the next iteration of my top 100. Brandon brought up The Princess and the Pirate in the comments section of my Paleface write-up; I want to rewatch that and many others, in addition to seeing more in general.
  • This is it for Bing Crosby. Holiday Inn stands out in my mind as another one of best. But feel free to send me other deep-cut recommendations.

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