Road to Rio (1947)

2010 #101
Norman Z. McLeod | 97 mins | TV | U

Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour return for the fifth film in the Road to… series.

If you’ve seen one Road to film then you’ve a fair idea what to expect from any other: lots of comedy, a few songs, a bit of romance, as well as some general hijinks. The differences, in all of these aspects, lie in the specifics: which songs, which gags, and so on. Even the plot’s largely the same, though transplanted to different settings. Not that the story really matters — it’s a post on which to hang jokes, slapstick routines, musical numbers, and whatever else the stars and filmmakers felt like throwing into the pot. One might say it’s a variety show with a framing device, though there is a little more to the narrative than that.

In this particular entry, my personal preferences largely extend to the comedy scenes, though the musical side is noteworthy as the only film Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters appeared in together. But my preferred trio here is the Wiere Brothers, as three Brazilian musicians who enable a couple of good comedy routines. It’s awkward to list specific favourites when it comes to such sequences — there’s a danger of either ruining the joke or not conveying why it’s worth mentioning — but Rio has its share, I promise.

To relate it to the other Road to movies I’ve seen (and reviewed), in terms of quality Rio falls ahead of Singapore but behind Morocco. The three stars I’ve awarded to each belies how much I enjoyed them, with Morocco in particular worth a fourth. But I think it’s also fair to say these films are a rather dated style of entertainment. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — as noted, I still think they’re fun, and I’m sure many others do and would too — but plenty of modern viewers would find them (to be polite) too quaint.

3 out of 5

High Society (1956)

2009 #54
Charles Walters | 107 mins | DVD | U

High SocietyCole Porter-scored musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, which is probably most famous for featuring Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and being star Grace Kelly’s final film before becoming a princess.

Despite rarely singing, Kelly is by far the film’s standout element — it’s easy to believe three different men would be vying for her affection, but she also gets the chance to show the greatest range of any cast member. Admittedly it’s shades of comedy rather than a full awards-worthy display of ability, but she carries the film beautifully. It’s no wonder her husband-to-be, Prince Rainier of Monaco, objected to her appearing in movies when she played roles such as this: a divorcee who at one point allegedly sleeps with another man on the eve of her wedding to a third is surely no role for a princess. (Turns out she didn’t sleep with him, mind.)

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are more-or-less themselves as the male leads, though the sole song they perform together, Well, Did You Evah!, is one of the film’s best — despite being a late addition from a previous Cole Porter musical after it was realised Crosby and Sinatra didn’t have a number together. Louis Armstrong also plays himself, literally, and brightens up the screen whenever he appears. His band’s duet with Crosby, Now You Has Jazz, is another of the film’s highlights.

Despite being adapted from an acclaimed play and film, the plot feels like a relatively slight contrivance to link together a couple of songs — alternately of the Romantic and Comedic variety — and some farcical humour with a romance-based thread. That the right people end up together is no surprise — so little surprise, in fact, that the story doesn’t even bother with such trivial things as making the final entanglements come together believably.

No matter. It’s the journey to the inevitable conclusion, through a few comical scenes and a few decent tunes, that makes High Society a perfectly pleasant dose of entertainment.

4 out of 5

High Society is on TCM UK today, Saturday 4th April 2015, at 4:15pm, and on Sunday at 9:35am.

White Christmas (1954)

2008 #97
Michael Curtiz | 115 mins | DVD | U

White ChristmasWhite Christmas is surprisingly un-Christmassy. Yes, it’s set at the right time of year, and the plot concerns itself with do-gooding and charity and other such vaguely seasonal themes; but, crucially, there’s a distinct absence of snow (until the very end) and little else actually inspires much Christmas feeling.

The plot winds its way to a moving finale, but, baring a few memorable numbers — Sisters, for example; and, particularly, a rendition of it by the male leads — most of the path there is quite average. One wonders how much of its renown is actually based on the titular song.

3 out of 5

White Christmas is on Film4 today, Monday 24th November 2014, at 12:50pm.

Road to Singapore (1940)

2008 #61
Victor Schertzinger | 85 mins | VHS | U

Road to SingaporeBob Hope and Bing Crosby star as a pair of young(ish) playboy sailors who run away from responsibility and family expectations in this comedy that launched the perennially popular Road to… series, which would spawn six sequels over the next 22 years.

Rather than a “comedy”, Road to Singapore might best be described as a “variety film” — it offers a mix of comedy, excitement, romance and song, a selection of entertainment that is more often provided by a few hours of TV these days. While it’s predominately light-hearted, the overall air is still more serious than that of the one other Road to… film I’ve seen, Road to Morocco: the plot seems to have been the film’s starting point, rather than an afterthought to connect the appropriate set pieces, and a couple of fight scenes are not wholly comedic in their choreography.

Unfortunately, in spite of this, there’s nothing here that’s as memorable as in Morocco. Bob and Bing are a great double act, undoubtedly carrying the film, but while it starts well enough it loses it as it goes on — even at a brief 85 minutes, it begins to drag early in the second half. It’s also worth noting that much of it is incredibly dated now, peppered with things like blacked-up natives (and our heroes blacking up to fit in) and the “good little housewife” routine. This is more an observation than a criticism — it’s very much a film of its time.

It might also be worth noting that, while I found Singapore reasonably entertaining, the friend I was watching with — who has enjoyed several other entries in the series, but had yet to see this — found it lacking. The score, however, is solely my own.

3 out of 5

Road to Morocco (1942)

2007 #56
David Butler | 78 mins | VHS | U

Road to MoroccoGentle, silly humour abound in this comedy, the third in the Road to… series. If you remember those plays that Morecambe & Wise used to do you’ll have a fair idea what this feels like, although with a couple of added musical numbers (and pretty good ones at that). It’s not ‘great cinema’ and it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it makes for a light, fun way to spend not much more than an hour.

3 out of 5