TCM Classic Film Fest: Road to Utopia (1946)
My first screening of the festival, and I quickly learned it’s sometimes great to see something that may not be on everybody’s hit list. The theatre was half full as festival-goers jammed in to see “Funny Girl” and “The Killing” and “Ninotchka.” The vibe was relaxed and anticipatory.
The guest host, comedian Greg Proops, was a seemingly strange but ultimately applicable choice. He was pretty hilarious, while also dropping some fun facts, such as the three-way battle that constantly waged between Crosby, Hope and Lamour over screen time. All three were titans of Paramount, Lamour no slouch in the demand department ever since coming to Hollywood after winning Miss New Orleans 1931. Proops also had the experience of seeing Bob Hope perform live, and instead of the usual jokes about his stale performance, revealed how impressed he was at Hope’s timing and command of the stage.
This was a friendly room, and the audience in attendance was ready for Hope & Crosby hijinks. The 35mm print was excellent, but it was apparent the projectionist was not used to the antiquated 2 projector system, not nearly as adept at switching reels as those who manned the booth maybe 5 years ago. Man I am old.
Road to Utopia is my wife’s favorite Road To, and it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. There’s a more traditional plot line for this outing, set in the 1890s Alaskan gold rush, dealing with a stolen goldmine map and our two heroes being mistaken for ruthless (and unbelievsbly guileless) killers. While I’m relieved the festival didn’t resort to the overplayed “Road to Morocco”, seeing “Rio” or “Zanzibar” would’ve put me in seventh heaven for their postmodern comedy and unending contemporary references. Speaking of which, some of the references to Hope & Crosby’s personal lives, jokes that would land well when I first watched them, have lost their relevancy for today’s audiences. Hope tells Crosby to throw a saddle on a dog, it couldn’t be worse than one of Crosby’s horses, which is a reference to several racehorses Crosby owned that were well-known losers. When Crosby makes mention of Hope losing all his teeth, Hope quips, “Please, my sponsor,” referring to toothpaste maker Pepsodent which sponsored his radio show.
Some jokes to this day, however, work with perfection. Hearing Crosby singing outside, Hope asks Lamour who that could be, it’s too late for the fish salesman. And the best gag of all is at the end when Lamour and Hope reveal their son who is a spitting image of Bing. Hope looks to the camera and says, “He’s adopted,” but delivers the line with such aplomb that it’s obvious he’s stepping beyond the fourth wall to intimate that it’s obvious Lamour and Crosby had an affair, but the line is dropped in to appease the censors. This is meta-comedy at its finest.
It’s really exciting to see Hope & Crosby can still deliver the goods some 70 years later. While other comedy teams have faded from our memory, these two are a testament to their enduring ability to perform and connect to the audience, even if some of the references no longer do.
Gallery of Images from Road to Utopia