Movie Review: Road to Zanzibar

RoadToZanzibarThumbby Brad Nelson   12/3/13
The follow up to The Cat and the Canary, on my Bob Hope retrospective, was Road to Zanzibar, the second of the seven “Road” movies.

I’ve seen four of the seven Road movies: Road to Morocco, Road to Bali, Road to Utopia, and now Road to Zanzibar. It could be that I have caught bits and pieces of Road to Singapore, Road to Rio, and Road to Hong King, but I don’t remember exactly. And they do all tend to blend together. It’s Hope, Crosby, gags, shtick, and a beautiful lady or two. Rinse and repeat.

But Road to Zanzibar certainly stands out as a movie that has at least the bare bones of a story. Hope and Crosby are two carnival barkers who keep ahead of their latest scandal or failures by Crosby constantly thinking up new, bizarre, and usually dangerous acts for Hope (aka, the ironically named, “Fearless”) to be the brunt of. Their last idea, the human canon ball, ended by burning down the circus they were performing at, so both have to hightail it out of town.

And in probably the biggest spoiler, along the way they (close your eyes if you want to be surprised), run into Dorothy Lamour. Lamour and her cohort have a similar philosophy: work your way through life via clever scams and schemes. And this time, Hope and Crosby (always softies for a pretty face) fall for the scams and schemes of Lamour to take them where she wants to go, under false pretenses, of course, through the heart of Africa.

Intermixed in the adventure are some fine tunes sung by Bing Crosby. Of special note is a song he sings interwoven with a kind of African chant. It’s a marvel. And there is a memorable scene of Crosby and Lamour in a boat as Bing finds a clever way to break the fourth wall and does a spoof of movie tunes themselves as he summons an orchestra out of nowhere and Lamour strings the harp by dancing her hand in the water.

All in all, this is a movie (unlike a couple other Road Shows) that hangs together well. I consider the crème de la crème of the Road movies to be “Road to Morocco.” But this is a close second.

road-to-zanzibar-1941

The first “Road to …” movie, “Road to Singapore,” was originally written for George Burns and Gracie Allen. When they turned the parts down, it was suggested Bob Hope and Bing Crosby – who had great chemistry – be paired and Dorothy Lamour was signed on and one of the most famous franchises began.
The “Road to …” movies contained musical numbers, gags, and ad-libbed banter. Hope frequently addressed the audience in these films with comments such as, “[Crosby]’s gonna sing folks. Now’s the time to go out and get the popcorn.” This is known as breaking the fourth wall, an imaginary boundary between the movie and audience.

They were conmen who vowed they wouldn’t let women interfere – though their vows would become null and void when a woman (aka Dorothy Lamour who co-starred in this series of movies) caught their eyes. Naturally, Crosby almost always ended up with the girl except in “Road to Utopia” and “Road to Rio.” More »

Available on DVD ($0.01 new, $0.01 used) or Amazon Instant Video ($2.99 rent, $9.99 buy). Not available for streaming on Netflix.

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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6 Responses to Movie Review: Road to Zanzibar

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    I’ve seen some of them, but it’s been a long time and I don’t remember which. I think this is one of them; it sounds vaguely familiar. I also recall one (I think it was Morocco) that ended with Crosby getting Lamour and Hope calling unsuccessfully for assistance from special effects.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I just read that Hope did end up with the girl at the end of two of the pictures. But otherwise it was always Crosby. They have some great back-and-forth in some of these. And even in pictures where they don’t appear together, they often take hilarious shots at each other.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The Road Show continues with “Road to Rio.”

    These Road movies are probably an acquired taste to begin with. Or, to put it another way, they either tickle your funny bone or they don’t. Still, the basics of cinema hold even to the hijinks of Hope & Crosby.

    “Road to Rio” comes off as a hodgepodge of vaudevillian shtick. Someone has thrown spaghetti at the wall in hopes that something sticks. Well, not much sticks. The songs are not all that good. The Wiere Brothers are ponderous. And the story itself is dull and cliched.

    The problem is, you could say the same thing about the Road pictures that do work (such as “Road to Morocco” and “Road to Zanzibar”). In the best of times, these movies are not very deep and are full of vaudevillian hijinks built around a thin plot.

    But even in this highly specific genre of film, plots can become too thin, the shtick too cliched, the musical numbers too out-of-place. And that’s how I would describe “Road to Rio.” Skip this one and proceed to the other two that were mentioned.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    TCM recently had The Road to Utopia, and I was able to see most of it. (It was Friday night, and I missed a good bit because of our bookstore trip.) What I saw was interesting but not great. This was one of the cases where Hope got the girl.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      You’re a real sport giving those old ones a chance. But sometimes what choice is there? Better old mediocrity than new travesties.

      But I do think “The Road to Morocco” is a must-see for this genre. In fact, does this genre extend past Hope and Crosby? Is there anything like this today? Has there been since? (Maybe Martin and Lewis.)

      • Timothy Lane says:

        MAD Magazine had a scene in one of their movie reviews (it may have been for Easy Rider, where such a scene would have fit well) in which the main characters run into several others looking for something. It included Don Quixote from Man of La Manca, who was looking for the Holy Grail. And it had Bob Hope asking them who they thought started such movies to begin with.

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