Category Archives: Comedy

Road to Morocco (1942) – Cutthroat Comedy and the Road To Movies

225px-RoadToMorocco_1942Whenever I read a biography about a movie star I always want to watch all their movies – the good, the bad. I was somewhat limited – after reading Hope: Entertaining of the Century – of only possessing a few of Bob Hope’s movies, so I watched Road to Morocco. It is the third of seven movies that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made – from 1940 to 1962 – that are known as the Road To series. Road to Morocco was made in 1942 and is often cited as people’s personal favorite.

The movie begins with a bang when a ship is blown up. Since this was made in 1942, the intended assumption must have been that the ship was attacked by a Nazi sub and that this movie therefore contained topical events related to the war. But it’s just a tease; there is nothing war related in this film. It turns out that there were two stowaways on board: Jeff (Bing Crosby) and Orville, also known as Turkey (Bob Hope). Orville went to the powder room to have a smoke and accidentally lighted up the powder.

The two friends make it to shore and they journey into Morocco on a camel singing one of the film’s great songs, “(We’re Off on the) Road to Morocco,” making allusions to everything from Paramount studios, cracks about the Hayes Code to the possibility that they will meet Dorothy Lamour. “Like Webster’s dictionary, we’re Morocco bound.”

When they can’t pay for their food, Jeff gets the idea that he will sell Orville and then rescue him after he pays for their dinner. But when he does manage to locate Orville weeks later, Orville is ensconced in the palace, all set to marry Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour). In true Road To tradition, Jeff decides to move in on Orville’s girl. Shalmar certainly falls for Jeff – and his song “Moonlight Becomes You” – but there are complications. The desert sheikh, Mullay Kassim (Anthony Quinn), wants to marry her, too. She also originally meant to marry Kassim, but her astrologer told her that it was written in the stars that her first husband would die within a week of their marriage and her second husband would live. In order to marry Mullay Kassim, she chooses Orville to marry first, since he’s expendable. When Jeff arrives on the scene and tries to get her to switch from Orville to him, she naturally refuses.


Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope

Her astrologers, however, made a mistake. There was a fly in the telescope. It seems that there is no reason for her not to marry the man she loves the first time around. But now she loves Jeff, so she and Jeff and Orville and a slave girl who loves Orville (Dona Drake) try to flee and are captured by Mullay Kassim.

Not that I blame Mullay Kassim. Shalmar did originally mean to marry him and unceremoniously dumps him for Jeff. And the fact that Kassim tries to kill Jeff and Orville doesn’t make him a villain, either, if you consider that all of the characters in the film try to kill each other at one point or another. These people are cutthroat. Jeff considers eating Orville when they are on a raft at sea and later sells him in slavery. When Orville learns that Shalmar is only marrying him because he’ll die, he tries to get Jeff to take his place. And Shalmar is perfectly willing to allow Orville to die as her first husband. But it’s all done with such good humor that no one takes it personally, except Mullay Kassim.

The Road to Morocco is the quintessential Road To movie. All the Road To jokes are present in hilarious fashion. Bing Crosby always gets the girl (Lamour – she was in the first six Road To movies and had a cameo in the last), always gets Bob Hope in trouble, always sings a romantic song, is always cool and calm. Bob Hope, on the other hand, is always eager, always chasing women with minimal success, always a bit craven, a bit gullible, the most victimized and the most willing to ham it up.

Bob Hope is reading a book called "How to Make Love" in preparation for his wedding

Bob Hope is reading a book called “How to Make Love” in preparation for his wedding

Lamour is there primarily as a foil, but she is an especially good one and can also sing. That’s one of the things that makes the Road To series so good. They can all sing, dance a little and perform comedy with ease and nonchalance. And they come from a background in live performance. Bing Crosby sang in big band and radio, Bob Hope came up through vaudeville and Broadway, and Dorothy Lamour began as a band singer and sang in cafes. The movies give off the vibe of a live performance with the audience in on the joke.

Between Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, there is also the much-celebrated sense of ad-libbing. They seem to be making it up as they go, though it was scripted beforehand (though sometimes only right before shooting – Dorothy Lamour eventually gave up trying to memorize her lines, because things changed so much). Their dialogue is often compared to jazz, improvisational riffing off each other. In author Richard Zoglin’s opinion, what they say isn’t all that funny, but how they say it and interact.

There are also some fun gags (the movies are sometimes more gags than actual plot) and pretty much anything can happen in a Road To film. One feature is the constant breaking of the fourth wall to address the audience. Even a camel has some bits of dialogue in Road to Morocco, wryly commenting on how ridiculous the story is. Near the end of the film, Orville summarizes the action thus far. Jeff says he already knows what happened.

“Yeah, but the people who came in the middle of the picture don’t.”

“You mean they missed my song?”

The costumes are also fun. Edith Head – who worked at Paramount Studios and did the costumes for most of the Road To films – loved working on the series. She would do a little research and have fun with it. She especially liked to design clothes for men, which she didn’t get to do as often. Bing Crosby preferred to dress a bit more conservatively, but Bob Hope was game for anything she gave him, which is why he always dressed more flamboyantly than Crosby.

The Road to Morocco has some of the series’ best songs, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. Below is “(Off on the) Road to Morocco”


Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Comedy


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Pardon My Sarong (1942)

11001879653_9d277517af_bOne of the things I always liked as a kid about Bud Abbot and Lou Costello movies was the ebullient mish-mash of comedy, music and even occasionally the dancing, all for less than 90 minutes. And the first twenty-five minutes of Pardon My Sarong has it all. It is my favorite twenty-five minutes in all their movies.

Abbott and Costello are bus drivers, Algy Shaw (Abbott) and Wellington Pflug (Costello), who have been hired by a rich playboy (Robert Paige) to drive him and his multitude of giggling female companions to his club, where he is going to enter a yacht race. Unfortunately, Algy and Wellington do not have the permission of the bus company to take their bus and the irate owners send out a detective to arrest them (if you look carefully, the meeting full of bus executives contains ubiquitous bit actors like Charles Lane and Chester Clute).

The songs at the club are provided by the Ink Spots, a quartet that was extremely popular in the 1940s. They sing “Do I Worry” and “Shout Brother, Shout.” The latter song is sung while Tip, Tap, & Toe – a tap dancing trio – perform a dance on a table, slipping and sliding and tapping on the well polished tabletop. I’ve always been a sucker for a tap dancing interlude in a movie and I particularly liked this one as a kid (I loved tap dancing so much I even took lessons for seven years – though I hardly recall a step now). If a tap dance were to break out in the middle of a film noir or horror movie I would probably still enjoy it.


William Demarest shows off his warrant for their arrest, while Abbott and Costello have a look

During the singing, the spoiled playboy discovers that his agent stole the crew of a rival yachtsman, whose sister is now extremely angry with him (played by Virginia Bruce). Algy and Wellington run into the private detective (played by one of my favorite character actors, the always cantankerous William Demarest), who chases them into the backstage of a theater, where Marco the Magician is performing (Sig Arno, a Preston Sturges regular). Algy and Wellington pretend to be magicians and the three men have a field day among Marco’s various props, such as the inevitable trunk with the trap door. Costello even makes an omelette in Demarest’s hat.

That is the first twenty-five minutes, but the rest of the film is even more ridiculous. Virginia Bruce manages to accidentally get herself aboard Robert Paige’s yacht, along with Algy and Wellington, and they run into a storm and get lost at sea until they happen upon an island in the south seas, where they run into the villainous Lionel Atwill out to steal the native’s jewels while the natives think Wellington is a great hero.

The movie is politically incorrect, ridiculously plotted (Lionel Atwill’s plan is rather strange) with seriously Hollywoodized and naive natives (though the villains seem pretty dense, themselves) who sing and dance and turn their song in praise of their god into a jive song (and they wonder why the local volcano god is angry).


The man with the headdress that looks like a white cake with candles on it is Leif Erickson. The chief’s feather headdress is also pretty wild

Another amusing visual gag in the second half is when Algy and Wellington are running away from Atwill’s henchmen and pose as statues while the henchmen mill about in perplexity. Every time the henchmen turn around, they are in a different pose. Abbott’s imitation of the blank and straight-faced look that many statues have is particularly good.

Lionel Atwill, that scion of classic horror movies, does hardly anything, but his very reputation as a horror actor lends suitable villainy to the proceedings. Leif Erickson has a role as a jealous warrior whose fiance is interested in Costello and gets to wear the most extraordinary hat you have ever seen. All the costumes are a riot, the music is lively (there was a craze for south seas music during the early forties), it’s fun to recognize all the different character actors and Abbott and Costello are in top form. Wacky, but I think one of their most entertaining films.



Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Comedy


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The Luck of the Irish (1948) – A Little Late on St. Patrick’s Day

0040553I meant to watch The Luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, but somehow I didn’t get to it. Last week however, I went on a Tyrone Power bender and watched the last few movies I hadn’t seen from the Tyrone Power Matinee Idol CollectionOne of the movies was Cafe Metropole and the other was The Luck of the Irish, released in 1948.

Starring Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Cecil Kellaway, Lee J. Cobb, Jayne Meadows, and directed by Henry Koster (the man who directed many of the Deanna Durbin musicals and movies like HarveyThe Bishop’s Wife, and The Inspecter General), The Luck of the Irish is an unpretentious and surprisingly low-key comedy.

Stephen Fitzgerald (Tyrone Power) is a reporter who has been freelancing in Europe and earning very little for his efforts. He’s been hired, however, by publisher David C. Auger (Lee J. Cobb), an extremely successful man known for his unscrupulous methods, who now wants to move into politics. Stephen’s friend, Bill Clark (James Todd), doesn’t approve. He thinks Stephen’s selling out his principles for a big paycheck and job security. While the two of them argue about it on vacation in Ireland, they drive over a rickety bridge that collapses and their car sinks into the creek, stranding Stephen and Bill in a small Irish village with an inn and not much else, though the inn turns out to be run by Anne Baxter as Nora.

When Stephen sees a man (Cecil Kellaway) sitting by a waterfall (that all the inhabitants of the village swear doesn’t exist), hammering shoes, he is told that the man is probably a leprechaun and that if Stephen catches him, the leprechaun must give him his pot of gold. Stephen doesn’t exactly believe this story – he thinks it’s a prank – but when he does catch the leprechaun and is offered a pot of gold coins, he is surprised and refuses to take it.

Cecil Kellaway and Tyrone Power

Cecil Kellaway and Tyrone Power look at the pot of gold

He returns to New York and starts work for Auger, writing speeches and articles. He discovers, also, that Auger’s daughter, Frances (Jayne Meadows), was instrumental in getting him hired and has clearly decided that Stephen is the man for her. He’s uncomfortable with the very modern apartment she’s decorated for him, and though he tells Auger that he intends to maintain his own principles, he soon finds out that in working for Auger his principles must be sacrificed. You can’t write speeches for a candidate whom you disagree with without sublimating your own opinions and endorsing his.

But just as he is settling into his new life, the leprechaun shows up, claiming to be from the employment agency. His name is Horace and he is determined to serve Stephen in every way he can (though he doesn’t really know how to mix drinks, but he chauffeurs pretty well). He doesn’t actively sabotage Stephen and his burgeoning romance with Frances. He is really more like Jiminy Cricket; he represents Stephen’s conscious, reminding Stephen of what is really of value in life. Horace is not, however, above a few machinations to ensue that Stephen and Nora meet again in New York.

What I really liked is that it’s not about trading your soul for success; it is a much more personal story. It is about Stephen, who is trading his soul for success. He has definite principles, but somewhat weak character. He badly wants to settle down and live a particular lifestyle and earn good money and is willing to suppress the things he believes in to do it. Horace points out to him that it is important who you serve (Horace is speaking of himself, serving Stephen, but it is a clear metaphor for Stephen working for Auger). The person you serve is who you end up being like, whose principles you end up living by, whose interests and concerns become your interests and concerns.

Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter with an Irish fireman in New York

Tyrone Power and Anne Baxter with an Irish fireman in New York who is a bit jealous

The film also manages to avoid the trap of demonizing Auger and especially Frances (who manages to come across as more than just a heartless schemer). The focus is instead on Stephen and his decisions in life.

Cecil Kellaway is delightful as the irrepressible leprechaun, with a little hop-skip in his walk and an impish twinkle in his eye. I was expecting a slightly more fantasy-ish film, but it’s surprisingly grounded, despite the presence of a leprechaun. The focus is less on any magical things he can do and more on his very presence and his friendship with Stephen. And Tyrone Power is good as the principled, but vacillating Stephen who is confused about what he really wants, but remains likable throughout.

It’s not a screwball comedy, with lots of slapstick (though there are a few falls on Stephen’s well-polished floor). It’s more the incongruity of having a leprechaun in New York that provides the humor. I had no particular expectations for the film, so I was agreeably surprised. It’s a fun and satisfying movie that doesn’t try to be anything more than what it is.

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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in Comedy, Fantasy


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