Road to Morocco (1942) by matthew c. hoffman

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Road to Morocco was the third of seven “Road” movies that Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made together between the years 1940 and 1962. Dorothy Lamour was their co-star and romantic interest in all of them except the last in which she only had a cameo appearance. Hope and Crosby were two of the biggest entertainers in the country, so it comes as no surprise that the series was extremely popular during the 1940s. Though they were not comics in the traditional sense—Leonard Maltin does not list them in his Great Movie Teams—they nevertheless were a team that made the ultimate “buddy movies” while also laying the foundation for later comedy acts like Martin & Lewis.

Road to Morocco is the quintessential Road picture combining elements of comedy, music, adventure, and genre satire. The films had a successful formula they didn’t deviate from. Bing Crosby elaborated, “The basic ingredient of any Road picture is a Rover Boys type plot, plus music. The plot takes two fellows, throws them into a jam or as many jams as possible, then lets them clown their way out.”

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In Road to Morocco, Bing (as Jeff Peters) and Bob (as Turkey Jackson) are shipwrecked off the African coast and must make their way through the Arabian desert on a camel. Once in the city, Jeff sells poor Orville into slavery in order to cover a restaurant bill. Later, the ghost of “Aunt Lucy” prompts him to go looking for Orville. The twist is that Orville was purchased for a princess played by Dorothy Lamour and is now being pampered in a harem. The Princess, a believer in astrology, has her own motivations for wanting to marry Orville. The love triangle is further complicated by the arrival of Kasim, a jealous Arab sheik played by Anthony Quinn. Along the way Der Bingle serenades the princess with “Moonlight Becomes You,” one of the most beautiful ballads Crosby ever sang in a movie. The Johnny Burke-Jimmy Van Heusen songs are some of the best in the series.

Road to Morocco benefits from the high production values that only a major studio like Paramount could provide. The art directors dressed up the studio lot to approximate the Arabian Casbah. The competent direction of studio pro David Butler, who first started directing films in 1929 with the Fox studio, gives the film the proper, lightweight tough.

However, there was one moment on the set when Hope & Crosby were not particularly thrilled by their director. A scene early in the film called for the boys to be chased down a market street by Arab riders. They could not see the pursuing horsemen but could hear them getting closer. Not waiting for the cue from Butler, they finally jumped out of the way—Hope into a doorway and Crosby through a window, just missing the charging riders. “You almost killed Bob and me,” Crosby scolded. “Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” Butler said. “Not until the final scene, anyway.”

When they performed live, Hope and Crosby knew how to improvise onstage with an audience. This carried over into their movies as several bits of business were ad-libbed on the set—to a degree; this was still the era of the studio system when scripts had to be followed. The fact that the film gives the impression of being spontaneous is because of the naturalness and ease of both performers. One gag that was definitely improvised came from the camel no less. In a scene early in the film where the boys turn to discover a grouchy camel, the animal spits in Bob’s face! The camera take was left in the movie and their reactions you see were absolutely genuine.

The screenplay, which was nominated for an Academy Award, wonderfully captures the charm and energy of these characters. Written by Frank Butler and Don Hartman, this was the first screenplay in the Road series that was specifically tailored for them. Especially colorful is the jazzy dialect– the Bingo lingo that makes Crosby’s character sound more like the real Bing. In these films, he was usually cast as the cool-under-pressure, easy-going con artist while Bob played the nervous, unheroic schnook who nevertheless got our sympathy. The fun of the Road movies is always their interplay and the timing and delivery of their one-liners. What wasn’t ad-libbed or written in the original screenplay was usually contributed by one of the writers of their respective radio programs. A hallmark of their films is the self-reflexive humor, the breaking of the fourth wall where they seem to be talking to us, the audience.

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Hope and Crosby were two of the most recognizable performers of the 20th century, having emerged from radio and vaudeville to become multi-media stars. They made a lasting mark on American culture. Lesser-known to audiences today, however, is the third member of the movie trio: Dorothy Lamour. She was born in New Orleans in 1914. She quit school at an early age and became a secretary. At this time she also competed in beauty pageants. She was crowned “Miss New Orleans” in 1931. With her mother, Dorothy moved to Chicago where she was discovered by orchestra leader Herbie Kay, whom she married in 1935. At the time, Kay hired her as a singer. This would lead to work in radio. In 1936, she headed West to Hollywood and was put under contract to Paramount. Her first break-through role was as a native in The Jungle Princess. She would soon be typecast in this genre, often playing island girls. She was later dubbed the “Sarong Queen.” During this time she worked with director John Ford in 1937’s The Hurricane. In 1940, she made The Road to Singapore, the first of her Road movies with Hope & Crosby. It would be the beginning of a lasting partnership that would carry into the 1960s.

Road to Morocco was the fourth biggest hit of 1942. It was the last Road movie released until after the war when the series resumed in the forties and early fifties. In 1962, Road to Hong Kong became the last of the series, but by then the magic was gone. In 1977, there was talk of yet another Road movie to be called Road to the Fountain of Youth, but Crosby’s death that year was truly the end of the road. In 1996, Road to Morocco was deemed culturally and artistically significant and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

In 1942, war-time audiences had simply wanted escapism from the horrors of the real world. It’s become a familiar road that new generations have taken over the years. Road to Morocco is one of the most popular and fun movies Hope & Crosby ever made. It was a trip to a Hollywood make-believe land of white suits and fez hats, beautiful princesses played by American girls, and talking camels commenting on how screwy the movie was. For audiences, then and now, the Road movies offer us a retreat from our world—a retreat to an exotic place where we can once again forget our troubles and just enjoy the banter of two great entertainers. It’s not a movie intended to make us think but rather to laugh, and that’s what this series was all about.

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