Road to Zanzibar (1941)
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The plot revolves around boyhood pals Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and Hubert "Fearless" Frazier (Bob Hope), working in a carnival where Chuck is a smooth talking con man and "Fearless" the daredevil who gets shot out of a cannon flying through a hoop of fire at a distance. Using a dummy in Frazier's place (is there a difference?), the act comes to a halt when the dummy obtains the fire, lands on one of the tents, and burns down the carnival, causing our heroes to make a run for it. Traveling on the road to Mugabund, Kipungo and Molanda, Frazier, after five years of traveling with his pal through sideshow acts, wants to break with the act and return home to Birch Falls. There's one thing standing in his way, and that's Chuck. Having paid Charles Kimball (Eric Blore) $5,000 of his pals savings for the map leading to a diamond mine, it is discovered the map is worthless. Fearless decides to get his money back by passing the map over to Le Bec (Lionel Royce). Discovering he's been tricked, Le Bec and his henchman (Buck Woods) go after them, forcing our heroes to make another run for it, this time on a boat to Zanzibar. While there, Chuck and Fearless meet up with Julia Quimby (Una Merkel), a woman in distress who asks the boys for money to rescue her abducted friend, Donna Latour (Dorothy Lamour) from a slave auction. With all that done, the boys further assist the girls by teaming up in a safari to help Donna locate her long lost brother, who, in actuality is only using the boys to help her meet with J. Theodore Brady, a millionaire whom she plans to marry. Realizing they've been tricked by a couple of American showgirls from Brooklyn, Chuck and Fearless break away from them, getting themselves lost in the jungle and ending up in the middle of a hostile native tribe. Paging Tarzan!
In spite of Dorothy Lamour now being part of the Hope and Crosby teaming, her scenes, though prominent, are actually secondary. While her character as well as Merkel's appears mid-way to limited results before disappearing during another long stretch before reappearing, the film overall belongs to Hope and Crosby from start to finish. Song numbers are at a minimum this time around, with new songs by James Van Husen and Johnny Burke, including: "You Lucky People You" (sung by Bing Crosby during opening titles and story introduction); "African Etude" (sung by natives chanting "Ba-toom-bomba"); "The Road to Zanzibar" (sung by Crosby); "You're Dangerous" (sung by Dorothy Lamour); and "It's Always You" (sung by Crosby). Interestingly, Hope doesn't get to sing any songs this time around. Although some sources credit "Birds of a Feather" to have been scored for the film, this, along with a cameo by Leo Gorcey, do not appear in circulating prints.
With Hope supplying much to the comedy and one-liners, Crosby also demonstrates his flare for comedy as well. Aside from their their traditional "paddy cake" routine, other highlights include Hope's wrestling with a gorilla (guess who wins), and their encounter with natives (with subtitles translating to what they're saying). Others in the cast include Douglass Dumbrille (The Slave Trader); Joan Marsh (Dimples); and Luis Alberni, Paul Porcasi and Leigh Whipper in smaller roles.
In spite of its fine slapstick and gags keeping the story moving at a brisk pace, ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, has become one of seven "Road" movies not be as well known or revived as the others, namely SINGAPORE (1940), MOROCCO (1942) and UTOPIA (1946). ZANZIBAR, along with the others in the series, have been readily available on home video and DVD, along with occasional cable TV broadcasts on American Movie Classics (1995-2000) and Turner Classic Movies(2005-2006, 2010-present). As a satire on jungle movies, ROAD TO ZANZIBAR is as good as it gets, you lucky people you. Next installment: ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942), hailed by many to be the wildest and funniest yet. (***)
That being said, I can't hold up Road to Zanzibar for that kind of criticism. It's a comedy and a funny one. With the success of the Road to Singapore and the obvious chemistry between Bob and Bing, the boys could now unload their monkeyshines on the audience full blast.
This film marked the beginning of a long association between composer James Van Heusen and Bing Crosby. Van Heusen was replacing Jimmy Monaco as partner to Johnny Burke, lyricist, and this was the first of many Crosby films they would score.
And the songs followed the usual Road picture pattern. Bing starts the movie off by singing You Lucky People You under the opening credits and continuing it in the opening scene at a carnival sideshow, a nice patented Crosby philosophical number. Dotty sings You're Dangerous while trying to vamp Hope the schnook. But then Bing croons to Dotty It's Always You another ballad and finally Hope and Crosby have a patter number Birds of a Feather sung in up tempo as the law is closing in. In that same scene is Eric Blore, better known for Fred Astaire films and he contributes to the clowning with a nice touch.
In a sense this is the first real Road picture because Singapore didn't have a lot of the spontaneity the others do because no one figured it would be such a hit. So get out and hit the Road.
Abbott and Costello were usually silly. Their movies seemed aimed at an audience of children, although some, like "Meet Frankenstein", are outrageous. There was an element of sadism too, with Abbott (always the humorless straight man) slapping the helpless Costello around and snarling at him, a standard relationship left over I guess from vaudeville where clowns batted each other over the head with bladders.
Martin and Lewis were clearly differentiated. Martin was the parent and Lewis was the twelve-year-old child. It all seems a bit much, now.
But Hope and Crosby were the most nearly equal. Crosby was the smooth-talking crooner. Both were cowards but Hope was a braggart too, a stock figure in the comedies of Ancient Rome and afterward. I think the figure was called miles gloriosus. What they had that the other teams didn't, and what's on good display here, is a kidding quality that consists of trying to outwit one another, competition for the girl (Dorothy Lamour), inside jokes, and a kind of comfortably relaxed unspoken friendship that draws the audience in.
In many ways the funniest scene is when Hope and Crosby realize they've been double crossed by Lamour and set out to find her and tell her off. They discover some shreds of her clothing and conclude, mistakenly, that she's been eaten by leopards and carried off. (Hope: "They didn't even leave an ear. What hogs those leopards are.") The two men try to mourn her passing in a sincere and dignified way but their anger at her keeps simmering to the surface. They interrupt their weeping to recite some poetry over her buried clothing but they don't know any poems. Hope starts off with, "A bunch of the boys were whooping it up/ in the Malamut saloon..." Crosby chides him and instead begins to recite "Casey at the Bat." The scene simply cracks me up. Crosby: "She was just a kid." Hope: "We'll miss her. Even though she was WRONG!" When they realize she's still alive they sneer and kick away the dirt from her "grave."
I don't think of "The Road to Zanzibar" as necessarily their best Road picture, although it's right up there with "Utopia" and "Morocco." It was basically their first though. The earlier "Road to Singapore" lacked the lazy improvisational impression that this one has. "Singapore" seems, in retrospect, too well plotted, if you can imagine. You've gotta give these guys a little room to kick out.
The plot's absurd anyway. Africa on the Paramount set, with phony drums and "natives" and a guy in a gorilla suit engaged in a professional wrestling match with Hope. Actually, Hope's pretty amusing. Woody Allen has said that he picked up quite a few of Hope's comic mannerisms to use in his own performances. (See also Hope's "They've Got Me Covered," a classic of its kind, so to speak.) And Crosby is a necessary counterpart to Hope's physicality. The two work very well together.
I'll have to throw in one of their exchanges. The pair find themselves broke and stranded in a small African town.
Hope (gloomily): "This must be the nowhere that people say they're 500 miles from."
Crosby: "Well don't blame me. We wouldn't be here if you hadn't sold the map to that diamond mine."
Hope: "Hah! It's your fault! If you hadn't bought it I wouldn't have had it. And if I didn't have it I couldn't sell it. So if I couldn't sell it, then we wouldn't be stuck here, would we?"
Hope (looks doubtful for a moment, thinking hard): "I don't get it."
Their movies also produced a number of popular songs, some of which have become standards. This one has "It's Always You." Others have songs like "Moonlight Becomes You."
You'll probably enjoy this one. If you're in the proper mood, it will crack you up.
The photography is moody, diffuse, reminiscent of von Sternberg's films. A real treat for comedy and cinema fans!
Starting with this film, Hope and Crosby begin treating each other a lot worse and this dog eat dog style of humor worked well. A great example is when the film begins we find that Crosby has convinced Hope to become "Fearless Frazier"--a daredevil who is always risking his life in a variety of schemes thought up by Crosby.
Although the film begins in the States, it somehow manages to end up in Africa--with all the usual expected clichés and fun. Not surprisingly, they find cannibals and a gorilla (who is the usual "guy in a gorilla suit"--something seen in practically every jungle picture of the era). And, even less surprisingly, we find Dorothy Lamour (along with her pal, played by screen veteran Una Merkel) in Africa--falling for you-know-who! While none of this is fantastic or inspired, the film is very pleasant and fun. The only serious negative is that there are too many songs, plus none are particularly memorable. A decent follow-up to ROAD TO SINGAPORE, though not one of the very best of the series.
SYNOPSIS: Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and Fearless Frazier (Bob Hope) are American sideshow artists in darkest Africa. Chuck is always figuring out some wild money-making scheme while Fearless wants only to get back home. Two stranded girls (Dorothy Lamour, Una Merkel) persuade the boys to take them on a long safari. They run into cannibals, wild beasts, and other hazards.
NOTES: Number two of Crosby/Hope's seven Road pictures. The first six were produced by Paramount. The last, Road to Hong Kong (1962) was a United Artists release. Zanzibar became a top box-office grosser in the U.S.A./Canada, and number 25 at Australian ticket windows for 1941.
COMMENT: The second of the "Road" films. Like the first, Road to Singapore (1940), it will be a disappointment to viewers who are expecting the lively wit, the crazy asides to the camera, the side-splitting "in" jokes, the pungent satire and amusingly pell-mell situations of the later entries in the series. True, there are maybe six or seven attempts at wild spoofs, including an on-screen reference to orchestras suddenly blooming in the middle of the jungle, and the wacky use of sub-titles - one of them deliciously censored - in the madcap scene with the cannibals.
But many of the gags, alas, are rather weak. And they are not made any funnier by the often too-strenuous efforts of Hope and Crosby to put them over. Aside from a few mildly amusing quips, it's painfully obvious that the principals are being made to work too hard to raise laughs. The strain shows in their exaggerated, top-of-the-voice portrayals.
Shertzinger's often colorless direction with its long takes and routine camera placements, must also take its share of the blame. In fact, Schertzinger doesn't really come to life until halfway through, when he suddenly introduces an off-camera commentary. The action that follows, capped by that great scene in which the boys beat the graveyard drums that inadvertently summon the cannibals, is much more inventively staged and far more lively.
Oddly, Lamour comes off best in the acting stakes. Her performance is light and charming and not overdone. Miss Merkel is okay. She is forced to spend the film in Lamour's shadow. The support players, however, - Douglass Dumbrille, Iris Adrian, the lovely Joan Marsh, Eric Blore, - have remarkably little to do. Production values are often helped out by spectacular stock footage (the circus fire, porters winding through the jungle, the massed attack of warriors). Photography and other technical credits are smooth as they come.
Don't get me wrong. There's plenty that's funny here, not the least of which is the carnival scam at the beginning of the film, and the gorilla wrestling match with Bob Hope. And there is a different sort of role here for Una Merkel that's interesting. And Bing's song "It's Only You" is a very nice ballad. But I tend to agree more with the Variety review which said, in part, "The story framework is pretty flimsy foundation for hanging the series of comedy and thrill situations concocted for the pair. It's a fluffy and inconsequential tale...Comedy episodes generally lack sparkle and tempo of 'Singapore'...."
But, it's still a decent comedy pic, and one that any fan of Hope or Crosby will probably enjoy. And, it was in the top ten grossing films of 1941. But it's still probably my least favorite Road picture.
This picture has more of the familiar Hope and Crosby camaraderie that we expect with the 'Road' pictures, that concept hadn't been fully worked out yet with the debut of "Road to Singapore" which came out the prior year. Ben Mankiewicz, host of the Turner Classic Movie channel mentioned that both actors hired their own writers to punch up their parts in the script, sometimes leaving Dorothy Lamour at a loss when expecting her cues. Their ad-libbing often discarded original lines in the story, but knowing that, it didn't appear to me that Lamour was all that bothered by it. She rolled with the punches pretty well if you ask me.
Interestingly, the Bingster doesn't share any tunes with his partner in this one, although ex-slave girl Donna (Lamour) gets up close and personal with Fearless Frazier (Hope) while doing the 'You're Dangerous' number. Can you imagine how uncomfortable she could have made him if she were wearing a sarong? Because she didn't, I had to create that mental image myself.
I guess it was pretty standard for jungle movies to introduce a gorilla at some point, so with that in mind, Fearless gets locked in a cage with one and has to wrestle his way out. I could be wrong on this, but to my mind, this is the first time I ever saw a monkey get monkey flipped. Hope looked pretty good in his cage match, leading me to conclude that he might have made a pretty good pro-wrestler himself. He'd have to pack on a few more pounds though.
As they did in all their Road pictures, Hope and Crosby get the most mileage they can out of being con men with pretty funny results here. One of their staples was the old patty cake routine, which didn't work the first time here against a hulking guy named Solomon (holy cow - that was pro-wrestler Jules Strongbow!), but later on they used the gimmick to become a big time hit with the natives.
The screenplay can be usefully divided into several segments, the first of which finds the boys(Bob Hope and Bing Crosby) associated with a circus(in equatorial Africa?). Bing is the barker and Bob is the performer of various very daring stunts. Bob has had it when Bing suggests he wrestle a giant octopus. Unfortunately, their pyromania burns down the Big Top, sending them running for cover. Thus begins the second segment when they buy the worthless deed to a gold mine, then unload it on another. Next, they get involved with two footloose women who con them out of some money buying the freedom of one, supposedly being sold as a slave. These two women(Dorothy Lamour and Una Merkel) will be involved with them for most of the rest of the film. They get the boys to agree to finance a safari into darkest Africa, not telling them that actually they are heading for Dorothy's wealthy boyfriend. When they discover that they are being used, they quit the safari and head back. The next segment mainly has them interacting with a huge population of natives, who debate whether they are gods or scoundrels, fit to be boiled in their huge cauldron. The final, all too brief, segment has the boys and girls reunited, apparently where they began the Safari, anxious to return home, but in need of money to purchase two more tickets for the 4 of them.
There is a huge gap in the story where the boys somehow escape from being boiled alive and make it back to safety. At the same time, somehow the girls make it back to the same spot, lacking any money to pay the porters and other workers of the safari. I understand that the desired run time was being approached, and a quick ending was needed.
One of the more hilarious scenes is when Bob is made to wrestle a supposed gorilla as a test of whether the boys might be gods.
The circus tent fire looked realistic, with people and circus animals running around screaming.
Incidentally, Zanzibar is a group of small islands off the coast of Tanzania. I never had the impression that we were there. Oh well, the boys never made it as far as Singapore in "The Roald to Singapore".
Some neat sets, pretty tunes and racy (as well as racist) humor follows. The parody starts here, with one intended victim of the patty cake game "obviously having seen the movie". When they encounter an African native tribe, one of them quips, "Who's got the dice?" Some of the jokes work. A few others don't, and a few bring groans. Una Merkel has a rather small part as Dorothy's pal. Spoofs of nature documentaries of the time is obvious. This would really hit it's height of the series in the next film where the three went off to Morocco.
Hope and Crosby play circus performers on this trip with Hope playing Fearless Frazer, Human Cannonball, Monster Wrestler and High Flying Daredevil Extrodinaire and Crosby plays his smooth talking promoter who forces his pal to risk his life on whatever highly dangerous, life threatening feat of death, his perverse mind can conjure. As our story opens Hope and Crosby are fleeing justice after their last money making stunt burns down an entire circus camp.
On a chance meeting with an eccentric if not completely GaGa millionaire, they become the proud owners of a deed to a diamond mine, which turns out to be false. Having been thoroughly swindled they sell the deed to a gang of cutthroats and barely escape with their lives.
Lost in the wild, but at least for once rich, they come across Una Merkel and now permanent "Road To.." love interest and stalwart, Dorothy Lamour, who are about to be sold into slavery.
Rescuing Una and Dotty is but the beginning of this Tarzanesque adventure as they promise to take the two damsels in distress across Africa on safari, so Dorothy can find her missing, ailing but stinkingly rich father...supposedly!!!!
Of course its a con as for once it is Dorothy Lamour who is working the racket and Hope and Crosby, taken in with false promises of wealth and riches, are suckered to a tee.
Lions, Tigers, Jungle Drums, restless and hungry natives and a rather playful gorilla set the scene in this second "Road To" adventure, where the characters, humour and feel of the series was finally perfected.
Hopes one liners are second to none, Bing spars with Hope wonderfully and sings as good as ever and if Dorothy Lamour was as beautiful in any other film then I sure as hell haven't seen it.
It was clear that with this formula in place the "Road To..." films could only get bigger and better from here on in.
The Road to Zanzibar was also the Road to Success.
When they've finally saved enough money to go home, Chuck (Crosby) goes to buy the boat tickets and returns, the owner of a diamond mine sold to him by a man (Eric Blore) who turns out to be nuts. Fearless sells it to two thugs, and then the two jump any boat they can to escape. Once in the "nowhere everyone says they're 500 miles from" they encounter two con women, Lamour and Una Merkel, who attempt to bilk them out of their money. Merkel is determined to get Lamour into the arms of a wealthy man named Bradley, so they make up some story so that Chuck and Fearless will finance the caravan through the jungle.
Very funny movie, with Fearless fighting with a gorilla being one of the funniest scenes. When Chuck and Fearless think the Lamour character has been eaten by a wild animal (she's swimming and they find her clothes on land), they bury her clothes and say words over her grave. Then there's "patty cake," which the natives love.
Classic Hope and Crosby, with Crosby taking his usual terrible advantage of guileless Hope, Hope falling in love with Lamour, who loves Crosby, and Crosby singing.
This film leaves you with a smile on your face. I never can get over how cute Bob Hope was.
Bob Hope has some of his best moments in this picture, including tickling a lecherous bidder at the slave auction at opportune moments, so the bad guy won't be able to increase his price for Dorothy Lamour; shrieking over a an obviously rubber snake he finds in his bed, wisecracking with Crosby as he 's about to be shot out of the cannon at the carnival as " The Living Bullet". Crosby is the usual smooth talking con artist, who persuades Hope to attempt such risky endeavors as being the Human Bat, flying on man made wings, the Human Dynamo, strapped in an electric chair with a light bulb in his mouth, etc. By the time Crosby tries to persuade Hope to wrestle an octopus, Hope has figured out it's better to turn down these great ideas.
Romantic complications ensue when the boys get entangled with a couple of female sharpies on their way to marry a rich man. Una Merkel is the brains and Dorothy Lamour the beauty as they scheme their way across Africa. Hope is reluctant to join the safari, until Crosby points out that they're already on the lam from both the police for accidentally burning down the carnival, and a couple of menacing characters they sold a phony diamond mine to.
Music, sight gags, ad libs and sheer silliness provide lots of entertainment. The parts with the natives are stereotypical, but already spoofs in 1941 of the serious clichés found for years in Tarzan movies. At one point, the native witch doctor argues with the chief, with subtitles in English, debating the possibly divine origins of the two explorers. The shaman points at Bob Hope and announces via subtitle " If he's a god, I'm Mickey Mouse!" Sit back, relax and enjoy some old fashioned movie fun, with Hope Crosby and Lamour in their prime.
*** Road to Zanzibar (4/11/41) Victor Schertzinger ~ Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Una Merkel