Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Road to Morocco (1942)

Director: David Butler

#95 on AFI’s Top Songs for “(We’re off on the) Road to Morocco”

It is the third Road to… film, but for the first time its plot would not be based off any preexisting story idea… not that it really makes any difference. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope return for yet another adventure to some far off land where their antics cause issues as the two friends take advantage of each other along the way. Yet another financial success, Road to Morocco was a relatively cheap and quickly produced motion picture in a string of films that made Paramount quite a bit of money. Along the way it helped make its stars a pair of the most recognizable faces in show business. Not to mention, it is just a plain whacky, comical movie.

The Road to Morocco is a comedy of two fast talking Americans vying for the affection of a Moroccan princess. Jeff (Bing Crosby) and Orville (Bob Hope) are two survivors from a shipwrecked on the shores of Morocco, which is portrayed as mysterious and full of peril to these two uncultured Americans. For his own selfish gain to possibly get home Jeff sells Orville into slavery, but it turns out Orville finds himself in the service of the most beautiful woman in all the land, Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour), which makes Jeff jealous. The two friends compete for the affection of the princess, which is further complicated by her former lover, the deadly sheik Mullay Kasim (Anothony Quinn), and mistaken prophecy over the doom of the princess’ first husband. Through dangerous encounters with the sheik our heroes along with the princess and a beautiful handmaiden (Dona Drake) escape and sail for America, where irony sneaks its way in as they are shipwrecked again. Luckily they are not far off from New York City for the close of this last joke and the film.

This zany screwball comedy returns two of Hollywood’s most popular entertainers in yet another madcap adventure where they play the fish-out-of-water scenario. Filled with over-the-top villains, plenty of creative adlibbed humor, an abundance of politically incorrect stereotypes, and of course the beautiful Dorothy Lamour as the film’s straight character and eye candy, we see the third installment of the popular Road to… series of movies. Never meant to be taken seriously, do not come looking for cinematic art or anything ground breaking in the world of motion pictures when you watch this film. It is simply a comedy meant for comedy’s sake, intended purely to entertain.

After the success of Road to Singapore and Road to Zanibar in 1940 and 1941 respectively it was becoming clear that the teaming of Crosby and Hope in this formulaic style of movies was a cash cow for Paramount Pictures. Crosby was one of the nation’s most popular singers with a growing list of motion picture credits to his name which one day would land him the title of one of the Hollywood’s all-time box office draws. Bob Hope through the 1930s rose from a small stage comedian to a Hollywood figure that now hosted the annual Academy Awards ceremony, as well as entertained vast audiences, including his famous volunteer shows for the armed forces that would make him a legend.

These were two of Hollywood’s elite stars and they were still on the rise. For Paramount to partner them and be such a grand success was a huge victory for Paramount in the beginning, but now these pictures, which were relatively cheap and quick to produce, allowed the studio to basically print money with their continual success.

Quinn with Lamour listening to the prophecy that dooms her fist husband.
The first two Road to… features were lightly inspired by prior properties and storylines, but here the story was original, although serving only as a vehicle to allow for jokes and other crazy action to happen around the film’s two stars. Both Hope and Crosby ham it up for the camera, including breaking down the fourth wall while talking or singing straight into camera about the usual plot structure of their films.

For director David Butler there is not much to say about his style or contribution to the picture. His cinematic style is average to slightly above average, but there is nothing spectacular to note about the camerawork or editing. The few special effects in the picture are crude and silly, obvious cheap optical tricks to more contemporary audiences. However when it comes to capturing the antics and jokes of Crosby and Hope as performers Butler left it simple. He allows for both stars to be themselves for the most part, simply cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. Some of these adlibbed moments would make it into the picture, such as the time where the camel spits in the face of Bob Hope much to the delight of Bing Crosby. It was just too naturally funny to cut out.

As for the setting of the feature Morocco’s representation is absolutely appalling to anyone who may have known anything about the actual country. For what was in reality a bustling nation on the northern peak of Africa with heavy influences from nearby European countries just a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean, in this picture Morocco is made up vastly different. Here Morocco appears more like the lands in the tales of Arabian Nights mixed with the mystery of the “dark continent” of Africa. Stereotypes abound greatly throughout the feature. From princesses, sheiks, pristine palaces, mirages, to human slavery this picture presents itself as if the filmmakers know nothing about the nation it is supposed to depicting, even if it is only a comedy. Even the aspect of slavery is poked fun at in a carefree manner, likening it to American slavery of the 1800s and referring on a couple of occasions to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Now stepping off the soap box of motion picture as an art or science, this movie is just plain fun. Crosby and Hope are a natural pair on screen. Both are funny and take their turns cracking wise about each other, dishing out the verbal lumps as well as taking them. Their female co-star Dorothy Lamour returns to be the point of affection for both men, the object in which send our heroes down this crazy journey with danger.

All in all the film is so entertaining to so many that it was a box office success then and remains a critically beloved comedy by manner cinematic historians, numerous times appearing on top all-time comedy lists. If anything is to be said about this picture it is that it was the ideal Road to… movie in the series. The stars were in their prime, the jokes come fast, the plot is amusing and wild, and after several years it still feels fresh enough to enjoy for the first time or the one hundredth time, because it is just all in good fun.

So for those that want to see a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope movie, sit down and watch Road to Morocco. Baring the possibility of an uptight viewer being possibly offended or the picture’s lack of “art,” it remains as one of America’s more amusing features from the 1940s.

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