Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940)
The film that kicked off the popular Hope & Crosby Road series, Road to Singapore tells the story of two happy singing sailor buddies (you guessed it, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby) as they fuck around in Singapore, and I honestly can’t tell you more than that or I’ll have nothing to talk about in the section where I discuss the plot. Let’s go!
First of all, I’m pleased as spiked punch that this isn’t a musical about Broadway performers. Nope, it’s about two sailors with lady problems. One fooled around with a gal and her family demanded they marry, and the other is late for his own engagement party and starts a brawl, so they decide to swear off of dames forever and run away to Singapore. While there, they meet a dame and they both dig her. Uh oh!
“Can ya believe this shit?”
I, uh, usually do a couple more paragraphs on the story, but that’s really all we’ve got here. The rest of the movie is songs and snappy dialogue and Hope and Crosby repeatedly beating the everloving fuck out of people.
It’s not slapsticky. It’s full-on berserker rage.
So yeah, it’s a bunch of gags with Singapore as a backdrop. The boys get in trouble, they schmooze or scheme their way out of it, on to the next bit. It’s sort of like the cinematic equivalent of candy; very little nutritional value, but good for a quick tasty buzz.
May lose flavor over time.
Road to Singapore‘s wafer-thin plot is saved by Bob and Bing’s incredible teamwork. No one scene is particularly hilarious, but the two of them playing off of each other makes for some real belly laughs. Most of the physical comedy and quick wit doesn’t really flesh out their characters, but also, they don’t really have characters. Sure, their names are different (Bob is Ace Lannigan and Bing is Josh Mallon, if you must know) and Bob is the doofier one and Bing is the more romantic one, but overall, we’re just here to watch these two extremely chummy sailors perform wacky skits and funny songs that they definitely must have practiced for hours on end.
You know, typical guy stuff.
Dorothy Lamour, who can also be seen in all of the Road movies but doesn’t have her name or picture on the cover of the box set I picked up, plays Mima, a dancer that lives in Singapore and is trying to get away from her nasty whip-wielding partner. Her dancing and singing are great but as a character she doesn’t have much more to do than nag Bob and Bing or sigh at the moon.
“They’ll love me as soon as they finish rehearsing songs in their bedroom together.”
Everybody else in the movie has a pretty stock role with only a few lines (Anthony Quinn is a crazed ex-lover! Charles Coburn is the angry dad! Judith Barrett is the smoking hot fiancée!) but I can’t wrap up this section without mentioning Jerry Colonna as Achilles Bombanassa, who, as near I can tell, is in several scenes simply because of his gigantic mustache and weird eyes.
I have no idea what his character is or does.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
I’m a little hard-pressed to call this a true musical, as 3/5 of the tunes have fuck all to do with the plot and the other 2/5 are generic romantic ballads that anybody could be singing, but hey, people break into song and the music comes from nowhere, so count it. First up is “Captain Custard,” a goofy number Bob and Bing perform to liven up a party. As near as I can decipher (after replaying it four damn times), it’s about ice cream vendors at a movie theater pretending they’re military generals.
Okay. Sure. That’s one idea for a song.
Dorothy Lamour then gets her own moment to shine with “The Moon and the Willow Tree,” a song about how those two objects represent her conflicting positive and negative outlooks on love. It’s very solid conceptually and Dorothy’s voice is lovely, but musically it’s not too memorable.
Points for cinematography.
Step right up! Step right up! Bob and Bing and Dorothy are selling soapy water as miracle cleaner to the locals, and that’s as good a time as any to sing “Sweet Potato Piper,” a ridiculously catchy song about a guy hollowing out a tuber to use as a musical instrument! Okay, the lyrics themselves have zero connection to the story, but they are trying to get a crowd to gather, and I can think of no better way to do that than with A TRIPLE OCARINA SOLO.
METAL AS FUCK.
Later on, Bing croons a tune about how he’s too romantic, called… “Too Romantic.” It becomes a duet with Dorothy approving of Bing’s humblebraggy amorous ways. The song is just so-so, but it comes back as a solo reprise that changes the context a bit, so I’m all for it.
“And now, a song about how I’m just too darned handsome.”
And finally, when the trio paints their skin and sneaks into a natives-only ceremony (yeesh), there’s a massive group singalong called “Kaigoon.” There are too many voices for me to make out the words or even the language, but the brief dance (consisting of standing belly-dancing women and seated arm-waving men) is pretty mesmerizing.
No, this isn’t the precursor to the lap dance world record.
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
I’ll be honest, all of “Captain Custard” is filler, but if I have to single out one weird, lazy rhyme…
“He knows all their wishes, they’re waiting for dishes.”
Okay comedy, lame musical. I’m told it’s one of the weaker entries in the Road series and I should have picked Road to Morocco, but as Julie Andrews taught me in that musical I’ve seen on TV a few times, let’s start at the very beginning. If Bob ‘n’ Bing are consistently this great together, I’m sure I’ll venture further into the box set I picked up.
Anchors Aweigh (1945)