The Road Films of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour.


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I encourage everyone not to plagerise, because if you do? you're only cheating your self. Use this as an example of a semi-decent paper lol. Dont mind the spelling.... anyway.. here you go.

Michael-Anthony Pxxxxxx

FMST211/3History of Film to 1959
Section B

The Road Film and the People on it.
An analytical paper on the road films of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour.

Presented to:
Dave Dxxxxx, Ph.D.

Monday, April 3, 2006

The “Time magazine summed it up best: ‘The road shows were rummage sales of stuff out of vaudeville, burlesque − marvelously shoddy masterpieces of farce and fantasy, stitched together with clichés and ad libs.’”(Mielke 10) In all of the seven films, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour play the same type roles but with different names and locations. This winning formula, that created the first three road films ,developed into something more then a war and pre-war era series. The films fallowing Road to Morocco1942 had most of the same formulaic elements, but with some fundamental changes in their production values and raciness in their jokes. As for the last of their films in the series, The Road to Hong Kong1962 concluded the end of the road films by supplying the same old tricks with a different generation audience expecting more from the standard formula. Through out the entire life span of the road film series, various leaps and bounds were made in comedy. The road film series is an effect of changing times of war, and the need to display less conservative values to the American people outside of their own country. Not only did these films test the limits of the M.P.P.D.A. production code, but it also gave a new direction to studio film making. The road film was successful due to their unique formula, combination of actors, and production values set within this low B-movie setting.

The birth of the road film began at the Del Mar Race Tracks in 1939. William LeBaron and other Paramount executives thought that it would be a good idea to have Bob Hope and Bing Crosby together in a feature film. Although when it was pitched for the first time, the idea was turned down. “Hope needs a straight man. And Crosby isn’t going to be a straight man for anybody.”(7) Later on, Paramount came into possession of a script entitled The Road to Mandalay. They had approached various actors for the roles, including Bing Crosby, but either their schedules conflicted with production dates or the actors just plainly turned them down. Still Harlan Thompson, a producer for Paramount pictures, liked the idea of pairing up Crosby and Hope. After discussing the idea, the writers of the original script had reworked it from a serious film to a comedy. “Now everything started to make sense. Combine Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in one movie and add a girl. It all seemed like a winning combination: a foreign land, natives, music, a sexy starlet, Hope being a clown, and Crosby singing the ballads.”(8) Two accounts are known about the inclusion of Dorothy Lamour into the road films. LeBaron, for one, claimed to have reasoned Lamour into the role of the sexy starlet; Lamour claimed to have run into two writer friends, at the Paramount commissary, and they asked her why she was laughing. She told them it was due to Crosby and Hope’s antics; she had also expressed an interest in making a film as a trio with the two men. Thus, either of these events created the threesome that we would all know from the road film series. Also by that time, the title of the scenario had taken on a different name to avoid confusions with an already existing song, Al Jolson’s song “Mandalay”, and according to the writers, it did not sound treacherous enough.(8) As a result a new title was adopted and Road to Singapore1940, the first of the famous series, was born.

The typical road film begins with the two friends, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, leaving their lives behind to embark on an adventure into foreign domain. In any case of the road film, the initial reason for leaving their lives behind is due to their previous confrontations with a rough neck brother or father of a girl, or multiple girls, to which both Crosby and Hope have had the pleasure of wooing. A good example of how they get around is in the opening sequence of Road to Rio(1947). A map of the lower United States is shown with two pairs of shoe prints traveling the map. Every time they land on a new state the Crosby character says, for example, “there’s no girls prettier as the girls in Texas.” Then we see a short clip of armed men trying to catch Hope and Crosby; the map returns to normal and two boys run away to another state and try again until they are fed up of being chased and proceed by get steady gigs. As the various characters played in each of the road film, they always display a camaraderie which is sometimes dismissed and discarded due to their attraction to a striking woman. Once this exotic woman, played by the lovely Dorothy Lamour, is introduced into the equation their friendship is put through the test. This happens, without fault, in each of the road films. Some of the key elements which give a comedic chemistry between Hope and Crosby derive from this double crossing friendship. The girl, in each case of the typical road film formula, always falls for both the character played by Bing Crosby and the character played by Bob Hope. The Lamour character might have a genuine attraction for both the Hope and Crosby’s characters but, the Crosby character often succeeds in getting the Lamour. To keep face with the M.P.P.D.A. both men propose to the girl even though at the beginning of the picture they both usually swear off women to give the impression of swinging hipsters who get a lot of action. The films usually end off with the boys saving the day of some insurmountable injustice, with just enough time for Hope to pass off one last gag.

During this pre-war and war period, the studio system progressively changed. In the case of Paramount Pictures, it “typified the studio’s shift to moderately priced contemporary comedies and dramas−an obvious departure from the stylish exotica and high-cost spectacles turned out in the 1930s”(“Boom and Bust” 55). The shift from the A-class feature to a B-movie, as the road films are categorized to be, at Paramount resulted in higher revenue. If a comparison is drawn between Warner Brothers, whom was producing still a larger amount of A-class films, and Paramount you would notice that in 1940 Paramount released 48 pictures, grossed revenues of 96 million dollars, and generated a profit of 6.4 million dollars. Warner Brothers, on the other hand, released 45 pictures, had revenues of 100.3 million dollars, and only made a profit of 2.7 million dollars.(47) These figures prove the change in the public’s demand for films. No longer did they want A-class features, but B-movies with a “formulaic product, and typecast stars.”(“Genius of the System” 300) In Warner Bros. case, they had made the foolish choice to stay with higher production values and lower film output. Simply, the math displays the poor choice where Warner Bros. invested roughly 10 million dollars more then Paramount and accomplished in getting a lower profit margin as a result. The B-movie was the pinnacle of studio production, at the time, and became the development of what would be know today as the standard Hollywood practice. Although, today’s films are not known as B-movies but they do share a lot of the same core production ethics and practices as their predecessors.

The road films clearly pushed M.P.P.D.A. regulations to their limits and back. According to the production code implemented by the M.P.P.D.A. in the year 1930, the road film played along the categorical border of Sex, Vulgarity, Obscenity, Costume, and Dances. The sexual aspect of the films clearly dealt with the segment dealing with scenes of passion and “excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures”(Moley 106). For example, in Road to Morocco in the opening song, Hope’s character, Turkey Jackson, and Crosby’s character, Jeff Peters, sing and allude to sexual reference. At approximately 00:08:19, they suggest that the women are really sexual in these parts of the world when they dance and if they were to say more they “would have the censors on their tails”. Then at 00:09:08 they reference their crotches in a non offensive manner, yet obscene if the audience was to understand the reference. They express numbness in their body due to the camel ride, yet they look in every which way but their crotch not to elude that it is that which is really numbing them. What is funny in the road films is that what ever reference is done, is done quick and with a lot of wit. One such witty and quick joke which references Turkey, after being married, having sexual intercourse with Lamour’s character, Princess Shalmar. The reference this time is seen at 00:28:58 where Hope says that he’ll be a Pasha putting an accent on the ‘Pash’, and then he proceeds to breathe heavily. Further more, at 00:29:42 Turkey asks Shalmar to lay a “king size kiss” on him, the shot cuts a second into the kiss to Jeff, then cuts to Turkey’s Arabic style shoes which unroll straight and firm. Another sexual reference, if properly analyzed or just a cartoon like response. These elements are what kept most of the jokes from being cut. The fantastic and absurd possibility that it would happen in real life is inconceivable. It is proved that a cartoon like element kept this joke from being cut based clearly on another joke which occurs at 01:19:00. The joke I refer to is the one that fallows the outbreak in the Desert Sheik’s tent near the end of the film, due to all the mystifying events, where a female camel states that it is times like these that she is happy being a camel, and then a male camel states that he is happy she’s a camel too. The camel rolls his eyes in a loopy manner indicating that he’s a horny camel and is going to take advantage of this female camel. Although the road films had a script written for each, much of the time they would improvised, or be spontaneous with the scenes. For example, in Road to Morocco:

In one of the opening scenes, a despondent Hope and Crosby sit on a sandy beach analyzing their fate. From behind some bushes, a camel ambles up and licks each of them on their faces. The two travelers turn around to find a dromedary standing there, and they move towards it, planning to catch a ride on the beast. But as Hope approaches the animal’s head, the humpbacked creature turns and spits in the comedian’s face. Stunned by the unexpectedness of the spit and its foul odor, Hope loses his footing and stumbles out of the scene. ‘Print that,’ said David Butler, the director. ‘We’ll leave it in.’”(Mielke 35)
At the time of the M.P.P.D.A. production code, all scripts had to have the green light by Joseph Breen, head of the production code administration. If you had any changes made to the scenario, conferences with the writers and others were to be held to effect any changes. What naturally happened with the production code and the road films was normal for the pre-war time experienced by America.

A more relaxed hold was ascertained due to the foreign situation and the members of the M.P.P.D.A were forced to drop their monthly preview Selected Motion Pictures on November 7, 1939.(Moley 139) It almost seems as if there was a blind eye by the Production Code Authority (PCA) in the script of Road to Utopia(1945). Accordingly, all songs and lines in the script was passed by this on site PCA and some how the lyrics of the song Personality which was to be sung by Crosby did not even get flagged for their rules under Obscenity. “A glance at the lyric of Personality, if it doesn’t prove an indictment of the PCA, is worth the time for the laughs involved.”(Ulanov 246) The song suggests additional meaning to a woman’s “personality” and refers to their feminine looks in a subjective manner. I am under the impression that an editorial decision was taken in the regards of this song, since it never seems to present its self in the final cut of the film.

Not all road films were successful. During the same time that the road films started to appear, another similar travel series came to be, Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels(1941) that is. The reason why this film did not succeed like the road film was due to a lack of “narrative cohesion and the tightly integrated dramatic structure.”(Horton 167) Thus, it is not to say that and such road film was to be successful, but the formula in place for the film would make it so. The formula for the road films was simple. Ski nose, Bob Hope, makes fun of lard hips, Bing Crosby, fallowed by evil men trying to hurt Dotty Lamour, which intern encourages the boys to play “patty cake” to save the dame. Alright, maybe an over simplified formula, but the events in all the films justify them selves.

Briefly, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour all contributed to the success of these comedies. By providing interesting content for viewers which is quick passed, smart humor, they were able to produce the same film over two decades. Thanks to these films, new road films have started to emerge and become popular with audiences once again. For example, Euro Trip(2004) showcases the same ideals as their predecessors by having characters leave their home to find something new in them selves. Much like the road films played on the idea of finding a new understanding through exotic settings and understanding how this new world operates, this film share some of the basic characteristics. More importantly, these new “trip films” create a new formula for today’s generation. Now with a new rating system in place, and the possibility to release films without rating on DVD, more of the quick jokes and interesting content is included and less time is dealt with appeasing to the censors rules and regulations. Unfortunately, today’s audience could care less if they had a type cast of usual actors, like Hope, Crosby, and Lamour, but now care more about the direction of the film. The same old joke is fresh, only if a fresh face can accompany it. But, due to the strides taken by the road film series, the development of the studio system improved to operate on a multi level machine. No longer is the studio system vertically integrated since the road films. Due to this, higher profit margins are reached by employing cast, crew, and personnel on short term contracts. Thus this long affair of a vaudevillian, a singer, and a sexy co-starlet is forever captured on the silver screen as proof that the right team makes it work. As for the future, no one knows if any one will be able to step into the shoes of these great performers. But all comedians and comedy related performers for the screen are all indebted to these fine people for providing the work environment of today’s Hollywood.

Works Cited

Cubitt, Sean. The Cinema Effect. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004.

Horton, Andrew., ed. Comedy/Cinema/Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Mielke, Randall G. Road to box office : the seven film comedies of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour, 1940-1962. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997.

Morella, Joe. The amazing careers of Bob Hope; from gags to riches. New York: Arlington House, 1973.

Moley, Raymond. The Hays Office. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1945.

Schatz, Thomas. Boom and bust : the American cinema in the 1940s. New York: Scribner, 1997.

Schatz, Thomas. The genius of the system : Hollywood filmmaking in the studio era. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988.

Ulanov, Barry. The Incredible Crosby. New York: Whittlesey House, 1948.