Monday, May 5, 2014

Road to Bali

Road to Bali
seen on TV @ TCM

When I was growing up, Bob Hope was just that funny guy on TV. He'd always appear in a star-studded special of some sort, crack a few jokes, and that'd be it. I never imagined that he had a career as an actor in Hollywood. I always thought he was just a TV comedian who entertained people at events. Of course, I couldn't have been expected to know more than that.

Then I learned more about who he was. I understood that he was a Hollywood big shot, but I don't think I ever thought of him as being funny the way I thought of more contemporary comedians like Eddie Murphy or Billy Crystal or Robin Williams as funny. 

I suspect part of it had to do with context: every time I'd see Hope, it was as part of some gala TV event with a bunch of old people I'd never heard of where he'd tell a lot of inside jokes which I rarely understood (and no joke, the number of TV specials he made was insane). He seemed less like a former movie star and more like some plastic TV personality. I couldn't relate to someone like him and I damn sure didn't think he was funny. Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live - now that was comedy!

I had planned to watch one of Hope's old "Road" movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour for this blog years ago. I had devoted a week to old comedy movies and was gonna do a sequel to that which would've included a "Road" movie, but plans changed and it never happened. (If you've followed WSW long enough, you have some idea of how often I change directions if I think something's not working.) So I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to rectify that when I watched Road to Bali last week.

Once again, I have Paddy to blame for this, though in this case, I honestly think I would've watched this even if she hadn't recommended it - though, of course, I'm glad she did. The "Road" movies strike me as a bit of an odd duck in the sense that the three principals appear in every installment, doing variations on more or less the same story premise, but they don't play the same characters. 

If these movies had been made today, in the era of the ongoing-story franchises, they'd be quite different, to say the least. I'm sure there'd be fewer song-and-dance numbers and more stunts and explosions mixed in with the jokes (see the Hangover movies by way of comparison) - although there's a fair bit of action in Bali too.

Long story short: I LAUGHED MY ASS OFF! This was terrific! How could I have ever thought Bob Hope was unfunny or unrelatable? You totally do not need to have been born during the Depression to get the humor here because the jokes, for the most part, revolve around the characters and the crazy situations they get themselves in - and indeed, Bali plays a lot like a cartoon at times, especially a Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck one, where there's a competitive spirit between the two, and the latter is always trying to one-up the former, who makes it all look easy (which would make Hope Daffy and Crosby Bugs). There are some inside-Hollywood jokes (the African Queen bit was truly inspired), but at least I understand most of them now.

Hope & Crosby had an extraordinary rapport with each other. It's such a shame that you almost never see comedy teams anymore - unless you count the likes of Jay & Silent Bob or Harold & Kumar or Bill & Ted (which I wouldn't). The bickering and competitiveness of Hope & Crosby's characters was lively and playful and even extended into their shared musical numbers. And while I'm sure it wasn't a conscious acting choice on their part, looking at them through modern eyes, it seems blatantly obvious to me that while they may be fighting over Lamour (a hottie), they're totally gay for each other - and I am so not the type to read homosexual innuendo into everything.

I admit to wondering at first how the movie would work with only one chick and two dudes. Who Lamour ends up with seemed like an arbitrary decision to me - not that I expected this to be like Design for Living or anything like that (although she was prepared to marry them both at one point!). It didn't bother me, though; I liked seeing Hope & Crosby compete for Lamour's affections. She, for her part, seems more amused by their bickering over her than anything else - and can you blame her?

Bali is quite a lavish production. Between the costumes, the sets, the musical numbers with loads of extras, the special effects, a live tiger, and an exploding volcano in the climax - and all in Technicolor - there's a lot for the eyes as well as the ears. And we never even see the characters make it to Bali in the end! I can only hope that the rest of the "Road" movies are this funny and this well-made.


  1. I love the Bugs and Daffy comparison. Wish I'd thought of that - it's perfect.

    Most fans have their favourite from among the "Road to" pictures. "Bali" might be it for you, but I'd be very surprised if the others didn't give you just as many laughs.

    A story. When I was a secretary at my last employer we had a student co-op placement. She and her brother were from a Greek immigrant family and one night they watched a Bob Hope movie on TV. Coming from Greece she had no preconceived notion about old guy Hope. She came to work raving about how much she and her brother enjoyed the movie, and wondered if I had any recommendations. She renewed my appreciation for the longtime laugh provider.

  2. It's remarkable that your example cited people from another country, because part of the reason why modern Hollywood turns out so many action movies now is because of the lucrative foreign market - and the studios believe comedy is a tougher sell in other countries. Maybe that's true - what's funny in one culture may go over the heads of audiences somewhere else - but as your example proves, it's not an absolute.

    1. It seems there are people on this planet who are just bound to pop any theory that goes around.

    2. The nerve of some people...!


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