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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (1962)

A decade after Paramount pulled the plug on the Hope/ Crosby Road pics, Bob & Bing tried to revive the old self-mockery, casual surrealism & knockabout self-referential charm in this indie one-off. And their film is no toss-off but a legit offering with top-flight talent from top to bottom: Producer/ writer/directors Melvin Frank & Norman Panama; Jimmy Van Heusen & Sammy Cahn songs; Jack Hildyard lensing (with camera operator Gerry Fisher, no less); even Maurice Binder for snazzy title credits; with a space age story that kids the Cold War, sends the boys to the moon, and finds use for Joan Collins & Robert Morley along with a gaggle of cameos (Frank & Dean; Peter Sellers, et al.). What’s missing are laughs. We get the shape of a joke, but something’s off in the rhythm. (And a big demerit for stealing Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES/’36 mechanical auto-feed gag.) Collins is certainly a main culprit; watch how things pick up near the end with a tankful of fish and old gal pal Dorothy Lamour showing up to toss the ball back. And then there’s Der Bingle, born the same year as Hope (1903), he looks a decade & a half older, his soft-shoe comic timing now an odd fit for Hope’s jokey sparkplug manner. It’s really not a bad film of its sort, just a little bit sad.

DOUBLE-BILL: Very much ‘of their time,’ none of the Road Pics live up to past reps. Top-of-the-year grossers in their WWII heyday, without grim war news in the background, something goes missing. ROAD TO MOROCCO/’42 probably holds up best, with the funniest title song.

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