Sunday, January 22, 2012
MOVIE REVIEW: ROAD TO UTOPIA
Most of the Road movies consisted of Bing and Bob fighting over Dorothy Lamour on some remote island. However, I think the bets movie os the series is one that does not take place on an island at all - it takes place in Alaska of all places! Road to Utopia, filmed in 1943 but not released until 1946, is the fourth film of the "Road to …" series.
After the credits we see Sal and Chester Hooton, (Lamour and Hope) an old married couple. They are visited by an equally old Duke Johnson (Crosby) and the three reminisce about their previous adventure in the Klondike.
The film flashes back to the turn of the century. A man is murdered and two thugs, McGurk (Nestor Paiva) and Sperry (Robert Barrat), steal a map to a gold mine. The map and mine belonged to a man named Van Hoyden and the dying man tells Sal (Van Hoyden's daughter) the mine is in Alaska and to find a man named Ace Larson. Sal manages to get on the last boat to Alaska before McGurk and Sperry.
To evade the police, the thugs duck into a theater, where Duke and Chester are performing vaudeville. They proceed to work the crowd with a "ghost scam" into to "gambling" their money in hope of doubling it. As the police find the thugs, they escape onstage and reveal Chester hiding under the table with the crowd's money. Duke and Chester are forced to flee the angry mob.
As Duke divides their money, Chester is fed up with having to jump from town to town. Duke convinces him to head north to Alaska to prospect for gold. Chester refuses on the grounds that every time Duke gets a "great idea", Chester is the one that gets the runaround. He even pulls out a black book with a list of every time Duke has taken advantage of him. Chester then takes all the money and tells Duke to go on without him.
As McGurk and Sperry get on the boat bound for Alaska, Duke and Chester prepare to part ways. As they bid a solemn goodbye, and picking each others pocket, Duke steals the money. Chester waves goodbye until he sees Duke counting the money and changes boats at the last moment. He's about to throttle Duke when he realizes the boat has left the dock, for Alaska. In Duke's cabin, Chester takes the money back and goes to put it in a safe, which turns out to be a porthole. With no money to pay for passage, they are forced to scrub the deck and shovel coal.
Sal arrives in Alaska and meets with Ace Larson (Douglass Dumbrille), a saloon owner and friend of her father. Instead of going to the police, Larson assures Sal that he'll take care of things. He gives her a job performing in his saloon, an act which infuriates Larson's girlfriend, Kate (Hillary Brooke). Larson tells Kate how he really plans to take Sal's gold mine for the two of them and passionately kisses her.
While doing housekeeping duties in a cabin, Chester finds the map to the gold mine. As the thugs enter behind them, Duke and Chester realize they've found the Van Hoyden map and the occupants are the killers. They overpower the thugs and take their place(and their beards) to get off the boat, only to find the entire town is terrified of the real thugs. Thinking they can get anything they want, Duke and Chester adopt the tough persona and head to the saloon. They argue over who gets to hold the map and decide to tear it in half and each man keep his for safe keeping.
While enjoying "free" champagne and lots of dancing girls, they see Sal's singing routine and are both instantly smitten. Thinking they are McGurk and Sperry, Sal plays up to both of them and sends a note to Chester. She doubts they are the real killers, but Ace's lackey, Lebec, reminds her that the map is the most important thing and to get it at all costs.
Chester(as Sperry) falls head over heels for Sal and confides in her about the map, even telling her how Duke hid his half in his hat. Sal sends him away but tells him to return at midnight. Meanwhile, Duke receives a note from Sal, and thinking he's McGurk, Sal plays up to him, allowing Lebec to take his hat and the map. She also sends him away telling him to return at midnight. Duke and Chester are at first shocked to be on a date with the same woman, but the night is cut short when the real McGurk and Sperry burst into the hotel. As they make a hasty exit, Sal learns she only gave half of the map to Ace. Duke and Chester manage to escape by dog sled.
Meanwhile, Ace is furious to only have half a map, and sends Kate to the get the other half, with Lebec as a backup plan. Kate tries to pull the "stranded girl in the snow" routine to attract Duke and Chester, but is interrupted by Sal's arrival. The four of them head to a nearby cabin. Kate tells Sal that they need to get the other half or the men will be killed.
After a failed attempt to get the map, Sal gets "McGurk" (Duke) to reveal "Sperry" (Chester) has hidden his half in his undershirt. She plays to "McGurk" and tells him that "Sperry" wants to steal his half and they should run away together. Duke then reveals his true identity and says he'll take care of "Sperry" as Kate walks in. Sal, now realizes how much she loves Duke, refuses to go along with the plan. But Kate warns her that only Ace can keep them from being killed and the only way to get to him is to give up the map. Sal reluctantly agrees to steal the map while the men sleep, and the two girls leave the next morning with Lebec. Duke and Chester are confronted by the real McGurk and Sperry and they realize the girls had stolen the map. They still manage to escape and the after a merry chase through the mountains head back to town.
Sal tells Ace she'll only give up the map if he refuses to kill Duke and Chester, but instead he forms a posse to dispose of them. Somehow they managed to steal the map back, rescue Sal, scare away the mob and get rid of McGurk and Sperry. They escape by dog sled with the mob after them but the sled overturns. The ice splits, leaving Sal and Chester on one side, and Duke on the side of the mob. He throws them map, wishes them well and turns to face the mob.
The movie flashes back into the present with aged Duke telling Sal and Chester how he escaped the mob. He is then surprised to hear Chester and Sal have a son. They call for him, and ironically he bears a striking resemblance to Duke. Chester looks into the camera and says, "We adopted him."
The film is the only Road to … film without a real place in its title though Alaska with its gold mines is referred to as "Utopia" several times in the film. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour starred, as they did in all but one of the series. The film is also the only "Road" film that did not take place in contemporary times though the film begins and ends with the cast made up to look older who flashback to the past.
As a “narrator”, humor essayist Robert Benchley provides some wry commentary that is interspersed throughout the movie. Benchley's drinking, already a problem ruined his health, and Benchley died in a New York hospital on November 21, 1945 before the movie was released.
There are also jabs at Paramount Pictures (the studio that originally released the film) and a reference to Frank Sinatra, not to mention many instances of "breaking the fourth wall" and general wackiness. In her autobiography, Dorothy Lamour said that the release of Road to Utopia may have been delayed by Paramount to not jeopardize the public's and Academy Awards committee's acceptance of Crosby as Best Actor for playing a priest in Going My Way.
If you want to watch a fun movie and are a fan of just good comedy, I recommend Road To Utopia. Watching Bing Crosby and Bob Hope at the top of their careers are definitely a type of utopia for me at least...
my rating: 10 out of 10