RoadtoHongKongcoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes, but young ones may not “bite”
1962, 91 min., black and white
Olive Films
Not Rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Bonus features: None
Trailer

In May 1962, theatergoers saw two movies about the space race and secret organizations intent on world domination. One was the first James Bond film (Dr. No), and the other was The Road to Hong Kong, the last “Road picture” with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour.

Ironically, Hong Kong, the first of the Road pics to make it onto Blu-ray, is also the weakest. My 17-year-old son watched this black-and-white comedy with me and was surprised to hear that. He gave it a solid B. “It had some stupid parts,” he said, pointing a finger at the ending, especially, “but it was also pretty funny.”

He’s right. While Road to Singapore (1940), Road to Zanzibar (1941), Road to Morocco (1942), Road to Utopia (1945), Road to Rio (1947), and Road to Bali (1952—the only one in color) are all better, The Road to Hong Kong is still entertaining.

Comedian Bob Hope and crooner Bing Crosby struck gold in the ‘40s playing a pair of vaudevillians slash con artists who somehow got involved in dangerous situations, with Crosby always duping Hope and the two of them always running into the singing siren Dorothy Lamour along the way. In each installment there were corny song-and-dance numbers, plenty of jokes and one-liners, at least one opportunity for Crosby to sing, and running gags about how Crosby always gets the girl and the best of his partner.

Hong Kong was the equivalent of a reunion show, and Crosby and Hope have clearly lost a little of their comic edge. In fact, a younger Peter Sellers doing a cameo as an Indian doctor reminds us that the two stars used to be much faster and glibber with their banter. Yet, they weren’t that old. Crosby and Hope were 59 at the time the movie was made, so it’s more likely that the 10-year-hiatus since they last worked together was responsible for the jokes not being as rapid-fire as usual. And while previous Road pictures were largely ad-libbed, this one felt mostly scripted.

Is that bad? No . . . unless you’re Dorothy Lamour, who was relegated to a cameo nightclub scene. Instead, then-hot Joan Collins was given the female lead. She does a decent job, but the chemistry just isn’t the same as it was when Lamour heated up the screen . . . and both of her co-stars.

RoadtoHongKongscreenIn Hong Kong, which spoofs ‘60s spy films before many of them had even been made, Hope and Crosby play a couple of cons selling “do-it-yourself interplanetary flight kits” that ends up giving Hope’s character amnesia. They go to a monastery for a cure, but along the way they end up mistakenly picking up a suitcase from a Third Echelon agent and are mistaken for the spies who are to give them a Russian rocket fuel formula. The plot thickens when Hope’s character receives a memory boost at the monastery and he can rattle off the entire formula from pages that his partner sticks in front of him as a test. The result is that they soon become entangled with a Third Echelon agent (Collins) and end up at the secret underwater base where the Third Echelon leader (Robert Morley) and his chief scientist Zorbb (Walter Gotell) are preparing to launch a rocket into space carrying chimps. But what better way to dispose of an “inconvenience” than by substituting them for the apes?

A space gag about forced feeding of the apes goes on a bit too long (which will make it the only funny part for very young viewers), and yes, if you don’t know the history of the Road pictures and how they break the fourth wall with almost every ending, the finale can seem hokey. But as a spy spoof and a Road reunion, The Road to Hong Kong does a pretty decent job.

And Olive Films, which has been producing a nice catalog of oldies on Blu-ray, did a very nice job on the transfer. They’ve quickly become a name you can trust for old movies on HD.

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