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Road to Singapore

Road to Singapore(1940)

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teaser Road to Singapore (1940)

From the effortless look of them, you'd think that the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby"road pictures" were destined to work like a charm from day-one. ButRoad to Singapore (1940), the first installment in the series, clearly showsthat it wasn't that easy. Though several of the components that audiencescame to know and love are there, including Dorothy Lamour as the romanticinterest, and the apparently free-form repartee between the sarcastic leads,something is a bit off about the timing. The fact is, Hope and Crosby (and,almost incidentally, their director, Victor Schertzinger) had no idea wherethey were heading with the dialogue, but blindly trusted their instincts -and their personal joke writers - to invent something worthwhile. Justhow worthwhile (i.e. profitable) these movies would finally becometook everyone involved by complete surprise.

There's a plot to Road to Singapore, in the sense that it features alot of things for Bob and Bing to mock. Even so, it's far more traditionalthan the rest of the films in the series. Crosby plays Josh, the son of awealthy shipping magnate (Charles Coburn). A carefree sort, Josh wantsnothing to do with his father's business, and basically avoids anything elsethat requires him to act like a grown-up. He even skips out on hisbride-to-be (Judith Barrett) the day before their wedding, and takes offwith his good buddy, Ace (Hope), to exotic Singapore. There, Josh and Acelaunch an ineffective money-making scam involving an equally ineffectivespot remover.

Eventually, both of the boys fall for a beautiful dancer named Mima(Lamour), who runs away with them to escape her violently jealous dancingpartner (Anthony Quinn). Mima admits to being in love witheither Josh or Ace, although, for much of the movie, she's strategicallyunclear about the particulars. Throw in a few songs, including onenon-legendary ditty entitled "Captain Custard," and everything gets paddedout to feature length. Audiences at the time didn't care about the skimpymaterial, though. The movie was a runaway smash, and Paramount quickly setabout duplicating, and perfecting, its newfound formula.

Road to Singapore took such a winding route to the big screen, no oneis really sure how it came into being. The most believable story is that aHarry Hervey adventure script called The Road to Mandalay wasre-tooled by Paramount into a comedy vehicle for George Burns and GracieAllen, who promptly turned it down. Then Fred MacMurray and Jack Okiesupposedly rejected it, although, in later years, neither one of them couldrecall that ever happening. Then the title location was changed tothe more exotic-sounding Singapore, and the script was given to Hope andCrosby. But that leaves out the very important detail of exactly whodecided to team them up in the first place.

In the long run, it doesn't matter. You can bet that executives all overthe Paramount lot were proclaiming their own genius when Road toSingapore became the highest grossing movie of 1940.

Hope and Crosby's disregard for the film's original shooting script is thestuff of Hollywood legend. Lamour later wrote in her autobiography that herfirst day on the set convinced her that there was simply no point inmemorizing her dialogue- Bob and Bing would say whatever popped into theirheads, or deliver gags that their writers had thought up the night before."What I really needed," she said, "was a good night's sleep to be ready forthe next morning's ad-libs. This method provided some very interestingresults on screen. In fact, I used to ask to see the finished rushes to seewhat the movie was all about."

She wasn't kidding. One day on the set, Hope actually yelled toscreenwriter Frank Butler, "Hey Frank! If you hear anything that soundslike one of your lines, just yell 'Bingo!'" Butler reportedly was notamused, although Schertzinger enjoyed his directing duties, which more orless consisted of shouting "Stop!" and "Go!"

It's interesting to note that Hope and Crosby were not the loving off-screenbuddies that press releases and carefully orchestrated public outingsimplied they were. Though both men knew a major cash-cow when they wereriding one, and thus were able to maintain a faade of deep friendship, theywere highly competitive egotists who never missed an opportunity to belittleeach other. And it wasn't always in good fun.

During the Singapore shoot, Hope took special advantage of Crosby'sself-consciousness about his balding head and somewhat flabby behind, whichgenerated the endearing nicknames, "Skinhead" and "Mattress Hip." Hopewould also get his writers to secretly come up with zingers that wouldcancel out Bing's supposedly off-the-cuff jibes during shooting. Crosby,for his part, repeatedly called Hope "Ski Snoot" and loved pointing out thathe was by far the better dramatic actor of the two. And he ribbed Hope mercilessly when he won a 1944 Best Actor Oscar® for Going MyWay. So much for a partnership made in heaven.

Producer: Harlan Thompson
Director: Victor Schertzinger
Screenplay: Don Hartman and Frank Butler
Editing: Paul Weatherwax
Cinematography: William C. Mellor
Music Director: Victor Young
Art Design: Hans Dreier and Robert Odell
Choreography: LeRoy Prinz
Principal Cast: Bing Crosby (Josh Mallon), Bob Hope (Ace Lannigan), DorothyLamour (Mima), Charles Coburn (Joshua Mallon IV), Judith Barrett (GloriaWycott), Anthony Quinn (Caesar), Jerry Colonna (Achilles Bombanassa), JohnnyArthur (Timothy Willow), Pierre Watkin (Morgan Wycott), Gaylord "Steve"Pendleton (Gordon Wycott), Miles Mander (Sir Malcolm Drake), Pedro Regas(Zato), Greta Granstedt (Babe), Edward Gargan (Bill)
B&W-85m. Closed captioning.

by Paul Tatara

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