Road to Morocco

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

14 October

Bing Crosby dies, 1977

On this day in 1977, Bing Crosby died. One of the most forward thinking entertainers of the 20th century, Crosby was one of the first singers to understand that the new system of electrical recording removed the need to sing as if shouting through a loudhailer. Along with stars such as Al Bowlly and Rudy Vallée, he perfected the crooning style, an up close and conversational way of singing, in Bing’s case most often caricatured as “buh buh buh boo”. He was also a pioneer multimedia artist, being hugely successful on record, on the radio (before there was TV) and in the movies, notably being the first singer to win an Oscar, for his portrayal of Father Chuck O’Malley in Going My Way in 1944. He would take top billing in 55 movies in his career but is now probably most fondly remembered for the ones he made with Bob Hope. He’d cannily teamed up with Hope, who could do all the things Crosby wasn’t so good at (dancing, quickfire gags), in 1940, essentially reinventing himself again as Frank Sinatra stole his seat at the head of the swoonsome croonsome list. An early advocate of recording technology (why perform a radio show twice, for different time zones in the US, when you could record it once, he argued), Crosby invested a lot of money in (and made a lot of money from) the Ampex corporation, pioneers of tape recording technology. He pulled off the same trick when video tape arrived, and it was Bing Crosby Enterprises that was responsible for the first demonstration of videotape in 1951. And, true to his itch to keep changing, Bing was singing with David Bowie only weeks before he died. Watch the video on YouTube and try to work out which of them looks more uncomfortable.

Road to Morocco (1942, dir: David Butler)

The third of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope “Road” films is considered to be the best, by almost everyone who has seen the series which started in 1940 and ran until 1962 (a Road to the Future was planned for 1977 but Bing Crosby’s death consigned it to the bin). And being number three Morocco is far enough in for everyone to know what they’re doing, not so far in that they’ve resorted to self-parody. As regards plot, of which there isn’t much, it starts with a shipwreck, then proceeds via a series of leapfrogs – Bing sells Bob into slavery, Bob becomes an honorary sheikh, Bing discovers Bob’s being set up for a nasty death, then the death threat switcheroos onto Bing. And so on. It’s knowingly cheesy, good-natured knockabout in other words, with Bob Hope doing the hard work – playing the good-natured, braggart and deep-down coward – while Bing stands around waiting to sing. Dorothy Lamour has even less to do except look exotic, which she does. And talking of exotic, none of the places in any of the films in the series corresponds to the real place – Zanzibar, Rio, Bali, Hong Kong and especially Utopia. But that’s not the point. The place-names are just there to provide a backdrop for fish-out-of-water humour and double-takes. In the case of Morocco that exotica included magic carpets, enchanted rings, talking camels, and a dangerous sheik (Anthony Quinn, still in his rent-an-ethnic years). It’s the Arabian Nights reworked as a cosy nightclub double-act and even now all these decades later it’s highly enjoyable. More recently the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost films capture some of that amiable faux-amateur nonchalance. But neither of them can sing or dance.

Why Watch?

  • The best example of the Hope and Crosby double act
  • Good songs – not always the case in the Road films
  • A classic and early example of breaking the fourth wall
  • Regularly turns up in “greatest film comedy” lists

Road to Morocco – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2013

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