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Road to Singapore Here's the first trip in what would become one of Paramount Pictures' most profitable film series of the '40s. When this comedy was released in 1940, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope had separately achieved stardom, though Crosby was an established power and Hope still a hot comedian new to movies. In fact, Hope is billed third in Road to Singapore, below Der Bingle and Dorothy Lamour. The script establishes what would be a constant in the Road series: a ramshackle plot, a handful of songs, and plenty of irreverent banter between the two boys. Crosby plays Josh Mallon, scion of a wealthy family, who prefers the vagabond life to his stuffy family; his pal Ace Lannigan (Hope) is only too happy to escape. They end up sharing a waterfront shack in Singapore and vying for the affections of a sarong-clad local (Lamour), amidst stabs at conning the natives with a dubious elixir variously known as "Spot-O" (stain remover) and "Scram-O" (cockroach killer). Singapore isn't as loose as some of the wacky subsequent entries in the series, but it already shows Crosby and Hope grooving to each other's perfectly timed burlesque rhythms in scenes that clearly depart from the script. They specialized in muttered asides, show-biz in-jokes, and gratuitous insults--and this one's got a song and dance number with an ocarina. Road to Zanzibar The second Road movie from Paramount Pictures finds barnstorming con artists Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and Hubert "Fearless" Frazier (Bob Hope) at liberty after their act goes haywire. (In these movies, Crosby generally lures the suckers into the tent, while Hope is always stuck getting shot out of the cannon.) A phony map to a diamond mine brings our boys into the middle of Africa, which means there's a good chance they'll end up sitting in a cauldron while natives perform a cannibal dance around them. These stereotypes would be offensive if the movie wasn't actively parodying the kind of jungle movie popular in 1941 (just as Road to Morocco would satirize the Arabian nights picture). Dorothy Lamour is along for the ride, of course, and her scene in a tight clinch with Hope established a tradition of steamy comic exchanges through the series (as she croons a love song to him, he checks to see if his wallet is still in his pocket). This is the first Road movie to actively wink at the audience; in one scene, Lamour mocks the way movies always have characters break out into song in the middle of nowhere with a full orchestra backing--which is exactly what happens next. The chatter between Crosby and Hope already feels improvised, and it should be noted that the secret of their chemistry is not a sentimental friendship but a cheerfully hostile rivalry between the two characters, a cheeky approach that must've delighted audiences used to the Andy Hardy niceness of most Hollywood movies of that era. Road to Morocco Number three in the series of breezy comedies teaming Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, may be the funniest of the bunch. Bing and Bob find themselves Morocco-bound ("like Webster's dictionary"), caught in an elaborately faked-up world of harems, palm trees, and other Arabian Nights bric-a-brac. Naturally, Dorothy Lamour is also there, as she was the customary target of male rivalry in the Road scenarios. There is something so loose and ingratiating about the patter between Hope and Crosby that it doesn't ultimately matter if half the jokes don't land; these guys had their own comfortable rhythm, fueled by cheerful one-upmanship. Their sense of spontaneity broke the fourth wall between movie and audience in a way only the Marx Brothers had really accomplished before, and audiences--feeling in on the joke--ate it up. Road to Utopia This is the fourth in the series, and has the boys masquerading as the killers Sperry and McGurk, from whom they've stolen the map to a gold mine, but which really belongs to Dorothy Lamour, but which... and you know it really doesn't matter anyway. The point is they've got this thin plot on which to hang a series of hit-and-miss jokes, coming fast enough to make it just all right and a certain amount of time to see who gets Dorothy Lamour, while maintaining their fierce and friendly and wisecracking rivalry. They're in the Klondike this time around, which doesn't stop the film from working in a glimpse of Dorothy in her sarong.

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MC21521 Bob Hope The Road Show Series DVD (The Road to Morocco / The Road to Singapore / The Road to Utopia / The Road to Zanzibar) $19.98