"Is that the plot of the picture so far? Then I better hide you…[From the killers?] from the critics."
It's the end of the road for the comedy team of Hope and Crosby. The seventh and final film in the "Road To" series proves it's better to quit while you're ahead.
Facts of the Case
Harry Turner (Bing Crosby) and Chester Babcock (Bob Hope) are con men working over the locals in the furthest reaches of Asia, this time selling the opportunity to be the first on your block to see the wonders of outer space. Of course, the demo of their super fantastic rocket pack goes awry, leaving Chester injured and without his memory. To undo the damage, our heroes head to Tibet for the mysterious healing skills of the sequestered monks. What they find is a potent herb that grants the user incredible powers to remember anything put before them. Smelling an opportunity to accelerate their revenue generating potential, the two abscond with the herb. On the run, through a case of mistaken identity, our two bumblers run afoul of a mysterious woman (Joan Collins) and a worldwide terrorist organization bent on—what else?—world domination. Having used and destroyed the organization's recipe for super-duper rocket fuel, in a test of Chester's high-octane memory, Harry cuts a deal with the bad guys—cash in exchange for the formula. When the Tibetan monks secretly replace the stolen herb with ordinary tea leaves, the boys' plan backfires, leaving the terrorists no choice but to retrieve the formula by any means necessary. And we're off on the Road to Hong Kong.
Hollywood has seen its share of great comedy teams—Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen, The Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, The Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, The Pythons, and many more. Often overlooked, Hope and Crosby should rank toward the top of any such list. Highly successful in their own respective careers, this unlikely pairing proved a huge hit with audiences around the world. Their effortless and witty repartee rivals any comedy duo that came before or after. Even after the Road series ended, each would make the occasional cameos in the other's films, as a gentle jab at themselves and an in-joke for the audience.
As earlier stated, The Road to Hong Kong was the final picture in the popular series. Coming ten years after its predecessor The Road to Bali, the project seemed more like a nostalgia piece than a serious attempt to resurrect the franchise. With both men rapidly approaching the age of 60, their physical presence appears as tired as some of the gags. With regular heroine/love interest Dorothy Lamour relegated to a cameo appearance in Act Three, the boys are paired with British hot commodity Joan Collins (Dynasty), a woman 20 years their junior. In fact, there are a number of Brits in the picture, having been filmed at the famed Shepperton Studios outside London. Character actor Robert Morley (Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?) co-stars as The Third Echelon's version of Fearless Leader, Walter Gotell (James Bond's Russian adversary/ally General Gogol) as the evil Dr. Zorbb, and Felix Aylmer (Henry V) as the Tibetan Grand Lama. The entire cast seems well aware of the paper-thin plot and simply enjoys being part of the Hope/Crosby zaniness. Writer/director Norman Panama (White Christmas) is having fun as well, entertaining the audience with numerous cameo appearances by Peter Sellers (one of the funniest moments in the film), David Niven, Jerry Colonna, and as Crosby says, "the grape and the twig."
What gives the film and the series its heart is its self-referencing and self-deprecating humor. Breaking that much talked about fourth wall on a regular basis, Hope and Crosby are fully aware they are actors in a film, conscious of all the pictures and gags that came before. While you might think breaking character so often would be disorienting for the audience, it actually serves to let us all in on the joke. The added enjoyment of being part of their inner circle makes the film more intimate and ultimately more entertaining. However, it's clear from the start of the picture (and punctuated at the very end) the series has run its course. While some of the gags are still very funny, the formula has lost its potency. It's almost as if they made the picture just to put a bookend on the series—a way of saying "thank you" to audience.
The black and white 1.66:1 widescreen transfer itself looks good, albeit non-anamorphic. Not a great deal of dirt or grain, but you will catch some on occasion. The blacks fall on the softer side of solid, but trust me you won't be focusing on the image quality with this film. The Dolby 1.0 mono track is not at all surprising and sounds best with your receiver configured as such. The fun animated title sequence, combined with the standard formula Hope/Crosby "Teamwork" and "Road To" numbers, along with Bing's duet with Joan Collins ("Let's Not Be Sensible"), and Bob's plot driven duet with Dorothy Lamour ("Warmer than a Whisper") all sound good, but experience the occasional snap crackle and pop in the higher registers. If you're looking for bonus features, you'll be disappointed. The only extra is the original theatrical trailer, which isn't that impressive anyway.
While not as inventive or entertaining as The Road to Morocco or The Road to Utopia, the Hope/Crosby chemistry continues to shine through. Do yourself a favor and watch the other films first, as the appetizers and entree. This is definitely the dessert and not the best one on the menu. At $19.99, it's a potential buy for fans of the series and a rental for fans of the dynamic duo.
This court dismisses any criminal charges against The Road to Hong Kong, leaving Hope and Crosby fans free to indulge of their own accord. This court now stands in recess.
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