Road to Rio & Road to Bali (Blu-ray Reviews)31 Jul, 2017 By: Mike Clark
$14.95 DVD each, $24.95 Blu-ray each
Stars Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour.
By the time the “Road” pictures’ two superstar leads and their writers got to the later series entries, the fourth wall and all other pretenses of conventional storytelling hadn’t merely been shattered but blown to smithereens by a nuclear device. Even in No. 4 at the exact midpoint (my personal series favorite, 1946’s Road to Utopia), things had gotten surreal enough. That one featured a talking fish, a dialogue exchange with the real Santa Claus (bookended by babes) and an oft-referenced fantasy gag involving home studio Paramount’s famous starred-mountain logo. There were also, of course, the requisite Bing-Bob asides to the audience — including my favorite Hope putdown of Crosby ever (his crestfallen reaction to Bing showing up at his door early in the movie: “And I thought this was going to be an ‘A’-picture”). Previous comedy stars, including Groucho Marx, had at times directly addressed the audience and, in a way, turned them into co-conspirators. But never to this degree.
When it came time for Rio and Bali (both of them the Paramount money-printing Christmas pictures for their respective years), Crosby and Hope also signed on as co-producers — sharing some of the box office fruits but also straining their relationship with an increasingly bitter co-star Dorothy Lamour, who was left out of the deals. This also means that in Bali’s case, at least, the picture fell into something pretty close to Public Domain Hell, due to the fact that it was something of a hybrid release jointly owned by both studio and stars. When it finally showed up on TV showings and home video, the prints were predictably PD shoddy — not what you want when it comes to the only “Road” pic shot in color (and Paramount Technicolor at that, which was Hollywood’s best).
So whatever else one can say about Bali, which is part of Kino Classics’ new package devoted to Hope-produced comedies from 1947-52, someone has put the plug back into an the socket when it comes to the movie’s electric pigments, which look mostly spectacular here. As far as I can guess, Kino’s must be the same Hope-owned prints that graced a large 2010 Shout Factory standard DVD package of the comic’s mid-career screen work — which is OK because most (though not quite not all) of those looked good or better, with Bali, Son of Paleface and Technirama Paris Holiday leading the way cosmetically. Thus far, Holiday isn’t part of this new Kino grouping, but Amazon is listing Son as a coming Aug 29 release.
All of this is a long lead-in to note that of the two new Kino “Road” releases, I much prefer Rio — even though it’s in black-and-white against relatively drab settings. It’s also quite funny for maybe 75% of the time, supporting the thesis that the three best movies in the series came smack in the middle of the run: Morocco, Utopia and Rio (of the three, I’d place Rio third but against very tough competition). As Rio’s stowaway vaudevillians hired by an unusually forgiving ship’s captain to become part of the entertainment staff, Crosby and Hope rekindle their respective series personas: slick, conniving cheat and his hapless victim. Also up to no good here is onetime “Spider Woman” Gale Sondergaard (did her Republican producers/co-stars know that before too long, she’d be Blacklisted?), who, for her own nefarious reasons, keeps hypnotizing Lamour into changing romantic allegiances. Sondergaard provides exceptional bench strength here, and Rio also has the series’ most ticklish guest shots until (ironically) the otherwise geriatric The Road to Hong Kong (1962). In fact, for me, Rio’s high point is Crosby’s duet with the Andrews Sisters on You Don’t Have To Know the Language, which is not only sung but also choreographed to perfection. Better than anyone, Bing could make with the “moves” while still managing to seem relaxed or anxious to hit the links.
Bali, as mentioned, is lovely to look at while also boasting some funny walk-ons of its own — one with brother Bob Crosby (best of the movie’s bunch) and other cameos which, when combined, featured four of the biggest stars of the day. But even by “Road”-picture standards, the sunken-treasure plot is thinner than the ’40s Frank Sinatra, which Blu-ray commentators Michael Schlesinger and Mark Evanier aren’t skittish about conceding; a lot of the jokes are clunky as well, though certainly not all of them. This is also a predominantly outdoor picture confined to a soundstage (though on that level, the fakery is highly professional), as one gets the sense that Bing and Bob didn’t have to touch too much of their mad money until perhaps some more elaborate later scenes, which include a production number with dancers who presumably had to be fed. Schlesinger and Evanier are appropriately full of their own banter and can also tell us which of the stock footage is from Lamour’s Aloma of the South Seas, which had been part of her sarong oeuvre a decade earlier. A more obvious library giveaway is the few snippets we get from Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind (whose Blu-ray availability would be unequivocal top five material when it comes to my wish list) because Paramount didn’t make all that many Technicolor movies featuring giant squids.
By the time all involved got to Bali, Crosby and Hope were pushing 50 long before 50 was the new 30, and one wonders if there were a sense that the guard was about to change. Indeed, this was the same year that Dean Martin and a never-more-unhinged Jerry Lewis treated their Paramount seniors as (to use Andrew Sarris’s description) “rotting royalty” on a famous and YouTube-able encounter on a TV special to raise funds for the 1952 Olympics — a madcap dust-up so intimidating to Crosby, who feared for his toupee, that he and Lewis reportedly never spoke again. Martin remained friendly, forever, with one of his obvious singing mentors — through TV specials, golfing, in Robin and the 7 Hoods and, yes, even The Road to Hong Kong.
In case you forgot, he, Frank Sinatra, two bookending babes and their ice shaker ended up on an alien planet with Crosby and Hope in that final “Road” comedy after the latter two blasted off into space. By this time, the guys were pushing 60 (still too young, they apparently thought, for Lamour, who was shunted off with a cameo appearance). Though fairly lame, it was still on the higher side of Hope’s ’60s movies, and the shaker was an inspired touch. But Time (I think it was) wasn’t wrong when it said that looked like a college reunion involving the only two surviving members of the class.