– Summary –
Director : Victor Schertzinger
Year Of Release : 1940
Principal Cast : Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, Charles Coburn, Judith Barrett, Anthony Quinn, Jerry Colonna.
Approx Running Time : 85 Minutes
Synopsis: Two friends, on the run from committing to their responsibilities, end up in Singapore after their money runs out.
What we think : A classic Hollywood comedy/musical, teaming Bob Hope and Bing Crosby for the first time, is amusing, fun and cheeky, all within the frame of pre-war American social expectations. Hope and Crosby are a dream cinematic team, while Dorothy Lamour is luminous (although that could have been the lighting and vaseline-smeared lens!) as their love interest. It’s a throwback to vaudevillian whackiness, as the two lads concoct a plan to spend their lives living large and free from obligation and responsibility – overlooking some minor era-specific laughs, the film holds up well.
Women. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.
You have to hand it to Hollywood. They don’t make ’em like they used to. Old school charmers Bob Hope and Bing Crosby were well before my time, but their legacy and status as icons of entertainment remains as sharp now as it did back in their heyday. Road To Singapore, the first of the seven Road To… movies made by Paramount (and Universal) was their first official “team up” film, co-starring screen beauty Dorothy Lamour; Singapore is a comedy of circumstance and showmanship, swaddled in 40’s-era social correctness and pre-war enthusiasm, and delivered with a delightfully sharp camaraderie by both leading men. Hope’s constant mugging and back-street swagger is a nice counterpoint to Crosby’s more refined sensibility, with the pair of one-time vaudeville performers managing to not only skewer everyone else on screen with them, but elicit some measure of sympathy for their – franky, staggering – buffoonish and selfish behavior. It’s a testament to the status of both men that Singapore isn’t as dated as it could be, considering its vintage, and I have to admit to chuckling more than a few times at the comedy routines they go through; Singapore isn’t a risque film, nor does it stretch the boundaries of good taste, rather, it’s a simple, easily accessible buddy-flick that puts Hope and Crosby center stage, and lets them do their thing.
Synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Josh Mallon (Bing Crosby) and Ace Lannigan (Bob Hope) are best friends and work aboard the same ship. As their ship returns to the US after a long voyage, they see all the other sailors being mistreated by their wives and girlfriends, and the two friends pledge never to get involved with women again. Unfortunately, this vow is tested almost immediately. First, Ace is confronted by the family of a former lover, Cherry, who insist he marry her. Then Josh, who is the son of rich shipping magnate Charles Coburn, has to fend off his fiancee, Gloria (Judith Barrett), and his father’s wishes that he settle down and take over the family business. Things get worse when Josh and Ace get caught up fishing and turn up late for a party to celebrate Josh’s engagement. Gloria’s hostile drunken brother starts a fistfight and a news reporter takes photographs that cause a scandal. Josh and Ace flee to Hawaii and then head for Singapore. However, the pair only get as far as the island of Kaigoon before their money runs out. They rescue Mima (Dorothy Lamour), an exotic local (but not native) from her abusive dance-partner, Caesar (Anthony Quinn), and she moves into their hut. Soon Mima is running the two men’s lives, much to their chagrin. The trio try to make money in several different ways, including trying to sell a spot remover that is so bad it dissolves clothes.
The nutshell version of Singapore’s thin script is this: two men who don’t want to inherit responsibility scarper to Singapore before they are forced to settle down from their carefree, vagabond ways. The above synopsis is almost too explanatory for just how non-complex this film is. When you watch it with a post-millennial eye, the film’s gaping flaws and staggering sexism, racism and classism are rampant, but as a product of its time, Road To Singapore is charming, effortlessly amusing and, just on the odd occasion, damn funny. As a studio-bound film, the majority was shot on sound-stages at Paramount, while location footage “sets the scene” of actually being in 40’s Singapore, which is nowhere near the skyscraping metropolis it is today. Driven by dialogue, and a rapacious lust for slapstick and foolin’ about, Road To Singapore’s main ingredient it the chemistry between Hope, Crosby, and the utterly captivating Lamour, who comes between the men as only a good woman can.
Hope and Crosby are effortless; they light up the screen whenever they’re on it (which, is all the time, practically) and the film doesn’t hide the fact that its existence is purely to showcase their act, while Dorothy Lamour positively radiates sex appeal and Screen Goddess beauty. Road To Singapore is a slight film, one which asks little of its audience other than to laugh, have a good time, and not think too much. With the wafer-thin plot, and complete lack of character development, there’s no fat on this thing at all – it’s entirely built around the premise, with no surfeit of story other than Hope and Crosby’s arc to Singapore. This allows the humor to fly thick and fast, the verbal witticisms and ironic, deadpan style employed by Crosby’s crooner-caricature Mallon bringing the film to life time and again. It’s little wonder the film was a success; it’s star-dependent, and works a treat.
Road To Singapore’s vintage notwithstanding, there are times when it does show its age. The representation of women as objectified porcelain breakables is typical of the era (hell, that didn’t start changing until the late 60’s, at least!) and, if you’re open minded about it all, actually is kinda charming; from a time when men were gentlemen and women were treated with respect, unlike nowadays, when you can trawl porn sites for all manner of degradation. The dialogue will most likely confuse some younger viewers, those who might be unfamiliar with the slang and usage of English of the time, but on the whole any keen film fan will appreciate the delightful cadences and use of then-hip references as part of the humor, and not feel to alienated. The comedy involved ranges from slapstick (an early musical number, Captain Custard, is charming, if not entirely amusing for it’s vaudevillian style) to the sublime, and I guess they threw everything at the film in this regard just to make sure that at some point, somewhere, everyone was bound to have a good laugh. It’s a scatter-shot approach that works even now, albeit in reduced capacity, and is held together by the winning smiles and charming repartee from the three leads. Best not to think too hard about it all, and just let it all wash over you.
My typical reaction to older films of this vintage is to regard them with a mild disdain – I’m not a huge fan of catalog films pre-1970. It’s a problem I’m working to overcome, since I consider myself a film fan, and so I approached Road To Singapore with as much open-minded-ness as I could generate. I’m pleased to say that, a few bugbears aside, I was left with a smile on my face and a warm, kinda-fuzzy feeling in my heart. Road To Singapore is superficial, sugary-sweet fluff, a film with little lasting impression other than Crosby and Hope having a blast (which they do). It’s dispensable, disposable nonsense in only the best way Hollywood can manage, and I thought it was terrific.