There were buddy movies before and there have been since. There were road trip movies before and have been since. Bing and Bob weren't the first comedy double act, and certainly weren't the last. But it's hard to find a group of films which can match the Road series for pure fun. Put it there, Pal.
Bob Hope was a brash young vaudeville comedian, whose energy worked him into some short comedy films in the early 1930s. His movie breakthrough came supporting W C Fields in “The Big Broadcast of 1938”. It also introduced his (more than acceptable) singing, and the theme tune for the rest of his long life, “Thanks for the Memory”. His vaudeville background meant that he could dance a bit too.
Bing Crosby was a little older, and one of the recording industry’s earliest – and most enduring – stars. The original crooner began in the jazz world of Paul Whiteman and Bix Beiderbecke. He was soon a major star in his own right. Music stardom led him into the movies, initially in a series of short musical comedies produced by the erstwhile King of Comedy, Mack Sennett. Including one named after and featuring his theme tune, “Blue of the Night”. His dancing wasn’t up to much, but he became an Oscar winning actor.
There are many conflicting stories about who was originally due to appear in a one-off musical comedy, “Road to Singapore”. It might have been George Burns and Gracie Allen. But the theories don’t matter, because at the last minute Paramount drafted in Crosby and Hope, real life friends and golfing rivals. And so began a series that was to run for over 20 years.
Their easy cameraderie and friendly (?) rivalry shone through, and the film was an unexpected smash hit. The combination of one liners, songs, in jokes, sight gags and apparent ad-libbing was a winning one.
Especially when coupled with a loose sort of plot, a knowing wink to the audience, an exotic location, and Bob and Bing’s attempts to win the attention of their glamorous co-star, Dorothy Lamour.
And so was born one of cinema’s first and most successful franchises, as Bing, Bob and Dorothy headed off down half a dozen Roads over a dozen or so years. Maybe there wasn’t much difference between them, but that was no small part of the fun and their appeal. They visited Zanzibar, Morocco, Rio, and the Yukon (in Utopia). And they finally had the colour outing that their exploits demanded when they travelled the “Road to Bali”.
But that was the last Road, until the very final one eight years later. In 1962 they came to England to revive the series, shooting a typical tale loosely about spies and space travel on “The Road to Hong Kong”. Lamour only made a cameo appearance – their main love interest was Joan Collins, but everything else was exactly the same.
It wasn’t the best Road film, but it was still good enough for us to regret what might have been when Bing died at the end of a round of golf in 1977. The in development “Road to the Fountain of Everlasting Youth” died with him. Unlike the later films of some of cinema’s great comedians, you have a feeling that this one would have worked.