Just in time for Bob Hope's 90th birthday (May 29), MCA/Universal Home Video has issued a quartet of the comedian's most celebrated film work--four road pictures with Bing Crosby--in "The Road to Collection" ($100).
When the duo embarked on that journey five decades ago, audiences couldn't wait to come along for the ride, and these crisp, freshly minted prints show why. Hope and Crosby were the masters of planned spontaneity, sight gags, topical, self-mocking humor and, yes, they broke down "the fourth wall" before today's hot comics were even born.
Hope and Crosby may not have been the first casting choices--Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie had that honor; George Burns and Gracie Allen were second--but once Bing & Bob made the first film, "Road to Singapore," their own, there was no way back. Paramount got sequelitis as it just kept looking down that long, lucrative road.
In all, the pair made seven "Road to . . . " films. The plots were all basically the same: vagabond entertainers get into trouble in some exotic locale far from home, meet up with a gorgeous dame (Dorothy Lamour) and somehow lampoon their way home. Writers then didn't worry about stereotypes, or much of anything else, but the film's basic framework. They certainly never knew where Hope and Crosby were going to take their ideas. One of Hope's classic lines to his writers summed up their modus operandi: "Hey . . . if you recognize any of yours, yell, 'Bingo!' "
Offered here are "Road to Singapore" (1940), " . . . Zanzibar" (1941), " . . . Morocco" (1942) and " . . . Utopia" (1945). Traveling the "Roads" one after another makes for a nice little comedy history lesson. MCA helps out with helpful liner notes in an attractive, if sometimes-hard-to-read-the-typography brochure, which comes complete with stills and lobby cards.
Unfortunately, the roughly hour-and-a-half films all extend onto more than one of the three standard-play, CLV, discs. Chapter stops are a bit confusing. They continue numerically through three sides, so that there are 43 chapters between the "Road to Singapore" and the "Road to Zanzibar." Then, another 44 from sides four through six, taking you across "Morocco" and "Utopia." The design of the brochure makes it difficult to spot where chapter stops for each film start, but if you look hard enough, favorite chapters can be found.
This package is essentially the same one available on videotape, but the lasers sound and look so much better--the sound is digital--that it's the only way to really watch any classic black-and-white film, especially these quick-paced comedies. (MCA says it has no plans at this point to release the remaining "Roads" in a laser package.)
New Movies Just Out
"Trespass" (MCA/Universal, letterbox, $35); "The Distinguished Gentleman" (Hollywood, letterbox, $40); "Leprechaun" (Vidmark, $35) and "Dr. Giggles" (MCA/Universal, letterbox and pan & scan, $35).
Paramount's "Enchanted April," featuring best supporting Oscar actress nominee Joan Plowright, is due June 9, at $35. On the same release date: Warner's "Forever Young," with Mel Gibson, at $35. LIVE's "The Crying Game," the best picture Oscar nominee, is due June 30 at $35. MCA/Universal's "Matinee," with John Goodman, comes out July 7 at $35.
Old Movies Just Out
"The Glass Key" (Encore, 1942, $35), Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake in a murder mystery. "The Loved One' (MGM/UA, 1965, $40), director Tony Richardson's satire, with Robert Morse and Rod Steiger. "Monsieur Verdoux" (FoxVideo, 1947, $70), Charlie Chaplin's black comedy.
"The 400 Blows" (Criterion, 1959, $50), the first of director Francois Truffaut's masterful autobiographical tale of a Paris youngster.