Bob, Bing, and Dottie take the... Road to Rio (1947)
With the exception of 1962's Road to Hong Kong, the "Road" movies starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour are some of the funniest, weirdest comedies that ever came out of classic Hollywood. Brimming with inside jokes, delightful musical numbers, and plenty of decadent costumes and sets, the series always features Hope and Crosby as a pair of pals who find themselves in the worst situations as they travel to such places as Morocco, Bali, and Zanzibar. To be honest, not all of the films have aged well thanks to racist jokes and occasionally sexist attitudes, but one of the best entries, as I discovered this year, is Road to Rio.
From the moment the opening credits started, this movie had me hook, line, and sinker. (I'm an absolute sucker for animated credits.) The plot follows musicians Hope and Crosby as they're forced to flee every gig because of one woman or another, finally winding up on a ship bound for Rio after they accidentally burn down the circus that was their latest source of employment. On the ship, they encounter Dorothy Lamour's glamorous heiress, who, unbeknownst to them, is being hypnotized by her ominous guardian, Gale Sondergaard, so she will marry Sondergaard's fortune-hunting brother.
It's a nutty premise, but that's part of the beauty of the "Road" movies. Things don't make sense -- and the filmmakers know it. That is kind of the anarchic nature of the series. It points out the artifice of moviemaking, as exemplified by its hilarious meta jokes, brazen fourth-wall breaking, convenient plot developments, and gimmicks like Robert Benchley popping up throughout Road to Utopia to comment on the action, a truly bonkers decision that I have to applaud every time I see that film. They also play with the idea of cinematic romance; you're often unsure who Lamour will choose, and even if it seems obvious, there could be something that will upend it, such as Road to Rio's ending. You know that Lamour wants Crosby, but Hope has figured out how to hypnotize her so the film fades to black with our leading lady in the arms of the wrong leading man.
That isn't to say that there can't still be some magic in the series' depiction of romance. That occurs whenever Bing croons a love ballad to an entranced Lamour. With his velvety voice and the starry night sky that frequently serves as the background to this moment of seduction, you can't blame Lamour's character for swooning.
To me, Road to Rio has one of the best and most interestingly staged of these ballads. After saving a sobbing Lamour from jumping overboard, Bing hears her tale of woe and tries to cheer her up as they sit behind a giant screen on deck that is projecting a movie. (He even hilariously reveals that he and Hope were actually extras in the movie.) With the film's smiling, dancing couple behind them, Bing begins to sing the lovely Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke standard "But Beautiful." As the projected film ends with the couple embracing, the lights come up and reveal Lamour and Bing's silhouettes embracing as well.
"But Beautiful" is just one in a string of musical numbers that are so excellently executed that I sometimes have to rewind and watch them a second time after the movie is over. The Bob and Bing duet "Apalachicola, Fla" is exactly the kind of vaudevillian routine that the duo clearly loved doing, and Lamour's solo "Experience" has a funny gag involving Hope's trumpet and bubbles. Possibly my favorite number, though, is Bing's duet with the Andrews Sisters, "You Don't Have to Know the Language." The combination of Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters is irresistible to me and this song is such an earworm. I also have to say that this number made me realize that we don't talk enough about Bing's hilarious physicality. The way he moves here -- and in his routines with Hope -- is so silly and so unique to him and I just love it.
While there are many reasons to watch a "Road" movie, my main one is Hope and Crosby, without a question. Nothing makes me happier than when they are together and that's especially true for Road to Rio. I can't tell you how many times their fast-flying dialogue and zany antics make me outright snort with laughter, and the addition of the very talented, very funny, very odd Wiere Brothers takes things to a whole 'nother level. I'm sad to say I haven't found out much about the Wiere Brothers nor have I ever seen them in anything else, but they are hysterical here. I wish they had more of a full-blown number because the two brief snippets we get of them performing are terrific.
Also elevating the film is the divine Ms. Lamour, of course. She doesn't get much to do in this particular "Road" entry, which is a shame, but she is still great. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her stunning Edith Head wardrobe.
Although my favorite "Road" movie is without a doubt Road to Utopia, Rio is a pretty close second. Gale Sondergaard, unsurprisingly, is perfect as sinister Aunt Catherine, and Frank Faylen is wonderful as her menacing henchman. (Side note: there must have been some error somewhere because Faylen's character is called Harry throughout the film, but the credits list him as Trigger...?)
Honestly, just writing about Road to Rio has me itching to see it again. It is exactly the kind of escapism I cherish -- and you just can't go wrong with Bob and Bing!
This is my contribution to the First Annual Bing and Bob Blogathon, hosted by Kristen of Hoofers and Honeys of the Classic Movie Era. Check out the other tributes to these two talents here.