On the road again…
Few Golden Age comedy teams have worn better than Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Bob was the zany comic. Bing was the suave crooner who always got the girl. Whenever these guys were together they played off each other, they trolled each other, and they had a ball. Thankfully for those of us in the preceding decades, their unique dynamic is preserved in the Road pictures. Bing and Bob made seven in all, but the one we’re going to talk about today is 1942’s Road To Morocco.
The movie opens with news of a freighter that was sunk, and all are accounted for except for two survivors. One guess who those survivors are.
Jeff (Bing Crosby) and Orville (Bob Hope) on a raft with nothing but a couple of hard tack biscuits and their witty banter. Fortunately for everyone’s sanity, they sight land before Jeff can scare Orville too much with thoughts of cannibalism. Their luck continues on the beach when a camel nibbles on their shoulders and they decide to hitch a ride. To Morocco, natch.
Our heroes get caught up in the chaotic local scene, where a mysterious feminine hand reaches out of a litter and gets Orville all excited. Other needs and wants are more pressing, however, and since Jeff and Orville are desperate for food, Orville tries acting like a dope to win sympathy. When that doesn’t work, Jeff sells Orville. Yeah. Sells him. Orville takes it so well; read, he’s livid.
That night Jeff sleeps like a baby until Orville’s deceased Aunt Lucy visits him in a dream and pesters him to go after her nephew. Jeff doesn’t know where to look, but Aunt Lucy tells him he can raise Orville by singing, “Ho Hum.”
Okeydokey. Jeff walks the streets dutifully warbling, and finds Orville’s pocket watch and a dramatic “SAVE ME” letter, where Orville complains of being tortured night and day. He then comes to a palace, where he hears music and sees a dozen dancing girls wiggling around the court. In the midst of all of this is Jeff’s wandering parakeet Orville, blissfully in the arms of the beautiful princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour). They’re going to be married on Tuesday. Even though Orville’s not suffering in the least, he’s still ticked off at Jeff and tells him to shoo.
Orville and Jeff still have to bunk together because Orville’s not a married man yet, except that Jeff decides to take a walk in the garden and sing “Moonlight Becomes You So,” which draws the imperious Shalmar out of her bedroom. It doesn’t take long before she and Jeff are making moon eyes at each other and Orville is out.
What Orville and Jeff don’t know is that Shalmar’s real love is Mullay Kasim (Anthony Quinn), and Shalmar is trying to beat a prophecy which says her first husband will die within a week. Ergo, she needs a guy who’s easily disposable. Once Orville finds out about this key bit of fine print, he’s not at all opposed to Shalmar and Jeff putting a ring on it. And anyway, he’s got a beauteous handmaiden, Mihirmah (Dona Drake) waiting in the wings.
Since the course of true love never runs smoothly, things get more complicated when Kasim gets jealous of Jeff and Orville wants them out of the picture. Like, really out of the picture. Prophecy or no prophecy, Kasim is on the warpath.
Crosby and Hope do a lot of navel-gazing and fourth wall-breaking, poking fun at the “Road” formula that was already in place. Not all of it was scripted, either–these two were famous for ad-libbing, both on and off the camera. They poked so much fun at Anthony Quinn that he got tempted to beat them up. As it is, there are plenty of heads getting knocked together at various intervals throughout the movie.
Some of the comedy is definitely dated, like Aunt Lucy’s constant references to Mr. Jordan, or an Asian newscaster in the beginning wearing a giant button reading, “I Am Chinese,” because it was the beginning of America’s entry into World War Two and America was in the thick of the fighting in the Pacific. Unless viewers are familiar with the time period, the different pop culture references might be mystifying.
And there isn’t a single Middle Eastern face in this movie, but a lot of Hollywood actors of various races and ethnicities dressed up as Middle Eastern. It’s an American view of Morocco played for comedy, so accuracy is not in any way a thing.
A lot of times this comes across as odd, such as the decor in Jeff and Orville’s bedroom. The room is sumptuous enough, but along two walls are rows of nodding heads. As in real heads lined up like hunting trophies. They’re downright creepy and only serve as temporary camouflage later for our two rapscallions while they hide from Kasim. Not suprisingly, the nodding heads are not a thing in Morocco or anywhere else in the Middle East, and it’s safe to say plenty of Middle Easterners are probably weirded out by that bit of schtick.
The key with Morocco, and any of the “Road” pictures, is don’t take it seriously. None of it. Never ever, ever. No matter what it is, it’s there to be laughed at. Bing and Bob worked as a team because while they were different enough to be distinct individuals, their talents made them alike enough that they could meet in the middle, and the “Roads” wouldn’t have been half so memorable without them.
For more of Der Bingel and Der Bob, please see Kristen at KN Winiarski Writes. Thanks for hosting this, Kristen–I hope you bring this blogathon back.
Here’s what’s on the horizon in June, and if anyone’s interested in more information about these events, please click the images:
Thanks for reading, all, and I hope to see you on Thursday for our June “Page To Screen…”
Road To Morocco is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.
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