Hollywood did a terrific job of providing escapist fare for moviegoers during World War II, and some of the biggest laughs were provided by Paramount's "Road" series, which actually began in 1940 and continued intermittently until 1962. It teamed Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in a series of zany adventures enlivened by lots of gags, a little romance and songs. The films were fast-paced and unpretentious, and the breezy Crosby-Hope banter remains evergreen.
The UCLA Film Archives screens tonight at 7:30 the third in the series, "Road to Morocco" (1942), directed by David Butler and written by Don Hartman and Frank Butler, no relation to the director but, surprisingly, an Englishman and an Oxford graduate. Essentially, "Road to Morocco" is a hilarious spoof of "Arabian Nights" fantasies of the kind that Universal at the time was beginning to make in Technicolor with Maria Montez, who by all reports took her roles quite seriously.
With a wonderful disdain for exposition, "Road to Morocco" finds lifelong pals Crosby and Hope shipwrecked on a Mediterranean beach after their ocean liner is bombed. Making their way across a desert--"This must be where they empty old hourglasses," observes Hope--they end up in a studio back-lot fantasy kingdom of Karameesh. Without a second thought, Crosby sells off Hope to a local entrepreneur who in turn sells him to a beautiful princess (Lamour) as husband material--never mind that she's engaged to a Valentino-like sheik (played by the late Anthony Quinn with tongue firmly in cheek); she has her reasons. Not surprisingly, Hope, swiftly adjusting to living like an Arab potentate, is none too welcoming to Crosby, even if Crosby was the inadvertent instrument of his seemingly fabulous good fortune. But Lamour's pert handmaiden Dona Drake has designs on Hope, while Crosby's serenading of Lamour with "Moonlight Becomes You" has its impact on the princess. Many shenanigans ensue, to be sure.
Sets are suitably sumptuous in the grand old Hollywood make-believe manner, and Edith Head provided Lamour with a wardrobe that interpreted harem styles with sophistication and glamour. "Road to Morocco" is light and airy family entertainment, yet at a time when the Production Code was at its height of power, it is surprising what Crosby and especially Hope, of course, manage to suggest. An Archive Treasures presentation, "Road to Morocco" will be preceded by vintage short subjects, just as it would have been at theaters six decades ago. (310) 206-FILM.
The third annual Blockbuster series of recent German box office hits continues Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Goethe Institute, Suite 100, 5750 Wilshire Blvd. with Tommy Wigand's good-natured yet spiky comedy "Soccer Rules," which stars amiable Uwe Ochsenknecht as Hans Pollak, a soccer fan so rabid that he bets the house his wife inherited from her parents that his hero Dios (Oscar Ortega Sanchez), Argentine star of his beloved Schalke 04 team, will score a goal in the course of a season. What poor ne'er-do-well Hans doesn't know is that Dios, who has been slipping of late, has become a hard-living, coke-sniffing cynic about to move on to a Milan team.
A clever twist of fate both reveals the truth about Dios to Hans and finds the soccer star passed out on the couch in Hans' basement rec room. What if Hans and his soccer-fan pals hold Dios captive until he promises to shape up and win the day?
Even though the film feels as if it's heading toward an eventual happy ending, the filmmakers imaginatively pile up disasters for both Hans and Dios along the way. "Soccer Rules" has the right stuff for a Hollywood remake. (323) 525-3388.
"Celebrating Lesbian Film" presents Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, a revival of Philadelphia filmmaker Cheryl Dunye's 1996 "The Watermelon Woman." Dunye has such an easy touch both in front and in back of the camera that you're in danger of not noticing how deftly she raises serious issues of race and sexual orientation.
In her wry and exhilarating comedy, at once romantic and sharply observant and containing within it a "mockumentary," Dunye more or less plays herself. Her role is as a vivacious, beautiful young Philadelphia video store employee whose ambition to become a filmmaker leads to her determination to make a documentary on an obscure black actress who appeared in a number of Hollywood films in the '30s. Fae Richards is representative of countless African American actors who appeared in studio and "race" pictures and who virtually disappeared.
As a lesbian and an African American, Dunye is intrigued with the woman once billed merely as "the watermelon woman" and her rumored liaison with a famous woman of Hollywood's Golden Era (clearly based on Dorothy Arzner).On a personal level, she reflects on how one's work can undermine both love life and friendships and on her need, as a black lesbian filmmaker, to reclaim whatever heritage she can.