ROAD TO UTOPIA
(director: Hal Walker; screenwriters: Norman Panama/Melvin Frank; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editor: Stuart Gilmore; music: Leigh Harline; cast: Bing Crosby (Duke Johnson/Junior Hooton), Bob Hope (Chester Hooton), Dorothy Lamour (Sal Van Hoyden), Hillary Brooke (Kate), Douglass Dumbrille (Ace Larson), Jack LaRue (LeBec), Robert H. Barrat (Sperry), Nestor Paiva (McGurk), Robert Benchley (Narrator), Will Wright (Father of Sal); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paul Jones; Paramount; 1946)
“Has plenty of quips.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The fourth of the seven road films is the best and biggest box office hit of them all. It follows after The Road to Singapore, The Road to Zanzibar, and The Road to Morocco, following the same winning formula. It was completed during the war years in 1944 but not released until two years later because Paramount had a glut of films. It’s colorfully narrated by Robert Benchley and set at the turn of the 20th century, at the time of the Alaskan Gold Rush.
Chester and Duke (Bob Hope & Bing Crosby) are second-rate troupers performing in a vaudeville act in San Francisco and are forced to flee town in a hurry when involved in a gambling scheme gone wrong. They end up going by ship as stowaways and when caught are forced to scrub the deck for fare to Alaska, where they run into wanted killers Sperry (Robert H. Barrat) and McGurk (Nestor Paiva). They killed the father (Will Wright) of Sal (Dorothy Lamour) and fled with the map to a valuable Klondike gold mine. The bumblers steal the map from the killers and comically overtake them when they are discovered, leaving them tied up on the boat while they depart in Skagway disguised as the killers. Sal has arrived there and is singing in the Golden Rail saloon, following her dying father’s last words to get the saloon owner Ace Larson (Douglass Dumbrille) to help her get the map back. Sal does it by playing both Chester and Duke off, as they split the map in half pretending to be the killers. It turns out Ace and his moll Kate (Hillary Brooke) and employee LeBec (Jack LaRue) are trying to get the gold mine for themselves. Sal when she learns that the two are not the killers falls in love with Duke. But in the final act, they are all running from the mob and Sal ends up marrying Chester and cashes in on the gold mine. They adopt a son who looks like Bing. The film ends with a knowing wink and nod as the three meet again after 35 years and trade stories.
The breezy film has plenty of quips, ad-libs, Bing crooning some songs, some cheekiness and director Hal Walker ably turns it into a well-paced but uneven fun film. The writers Norman Panama and Melvin Frank had the most trouble trying to satisfy the three stars, all at the top of their game at the time, whose egos demanded the film revolve around their character. The writers tried meeting with the three, but had success satisfying all of them only when meeting individually and convincing each the film revolved around their character.
REVIEWED ON 12/13/2005 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/