Stars Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joan Collins, Dorothy Lamour, Robbery Morley, Walter Gotell, Felix Aylmer, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Jerry Colonna, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra.
By now, the formula behind Bob Hope and Bing Crosby “Road To” pictures called for the action to kick off on a vaudeville stage with the boys singing and hoofing their way through a contemptuously choreographed introductory tune — “Goodtime Charlie” opened Road to Utopia, “We’re on Our Way” intro’d Road to Rio, “Chicago Style” began Road to Bali. The Road to Hong Kong in 1962 was paved with Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn’s toe-tapping “Team Work.” It wouldn’t hurt to point out some of the similarities between this and the 007 series that would reach American screens the following spring. Designed as a revival for the overripe comedy team, the story of a madman plotting to gain world dominance shared uncanny overtones with Dr. No and many secret agent films to follow. In this instance, the fate of the world dangled by a screenplay so thin only Hope and Crosby could support it.
Credit visual designer Maurice Binder with the opening credit array of chopsticks, Chinese dragons, and fortune cookie fonts. The last of Hope and Crosby’s 7 “Road To” vehicles, and the only one to begin with “The,” the United Artists release, produced at London’s Shepperton’s Studio, was the sole installment not to come out of Paramount’s Bronson Gate. The studio was magnanimous enough to allow Binder use of the six previous titles for his intro. His subsequent contributions to the Bond pictures are legendary. Binder’s sophisticated title sequences began with Dr. No and continued to the time of his death in 1989 with Licence to Kill. Hope would follow this up two pictures later with Call Me Bwana. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, it was the only non-Bond Eon Production of its period. And years before the world was introduced to Pussy Galore, Bob was being wooed by Poon Soon.
Were it up to Bing, “Road” staple Dorothy Lamour wouldn’t have made the trip. Crosby was pushing 60 at the time and wanted a young chippie to help make it feel realistic for his character. Joan Collins was half his age, but Bing and Bob were guaranteed plenty of exercise between takes by playing catch with the two footballs hidden in the actresses’ spacious bouffant wigging. It was Hope who remained loyal to their old co-star by insisting they include a lengthy bit and musical number for her. The picture takes a turn for the surreal the moment Lamour (as “Herself”) appears onscreen draped in a trademark sarong. It’s Lamour who gets the biggest laugh when a weasley Hope pleads for her help with, “You can’t forget all those pictures we made together.” “Neither can anyone else,” she fires back. “That’s why I’m working over here.” The dozens of live fish Bing previously dumped down Bob’s back reappear to delight during Lamour’s showstopper.
Written by Melvin Frank and directed by his frequent collaborator Norman Panama, it’s safe to say that as filmmakers, the duo were great gag writers endowed with a license to steal. The fast-motion gag with Bob and Bing being fed by a machine gone amuck was a direct lift from Chaplin’s Modern Times. And Bob’s sudden ability to memorize the formula for top secret rocket fuel at a rate that would make Evelyn Wood dizzy is a direct descendant of Malcolm Smith, Jerry Lewis’ character in Frank Tashlin’s Hollywood or Bust who inexplicably, and with no provocation, spouts military secrets in his sleep.
So why the need for a new Kino Lorber Studio Classics pressing when there’s already an Olive Blu-ray edition of similar quality and equally priced? Why else than the hilarious commentary track by historian Stan Taffel and the Dean of Film Distribution, Michael Schlesinger.