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

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

The Paleface (1948)

2007 #109
Norman Z. McLeod | 87 mins | DVD | U

The PalefaceBob Hope and Jane Russell star in this Wild West comedy, in which Calamity Jane (Russell) has to stop a group of men smuggling rifles to the Indians. It’s clearly designed as pure entertainment, mixing styles in a way no film would dare attempt today — there’s broad comedy, gunfights, horse chases, and even a song or two!

It works too. OK, so the direction may be a little flat and some of the comedy old fashioned… but it was made in the ’40s and there’s still a good number of laughs, so it seems churlish to complain.

4 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