The Road Show Series

1940 to 1946:

(The Road to Morocco / The Road to Singapore / The Road to Utopia / The Road to Zanzibar)

A great deal of storytelling is about repetition. We want to see the same stories over and over again because they strike a chord with us that not only bears repeating but even needs it.

The truth is there are really only a handful of stories and they get recycled in different forms and with different presentations, with new people.

What we think of as “a sequel” differs in the way that it aknowledges itself as repetition – even celebrates it. This is especially true of the Road Show Series starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.

Following the success of the first film, Road to Singapore, a series of sequels followed characterized by obvious winks to the audience that said, “This is SO much a sequel we aren’t even going to pretend there’s a real storyline.”

Oddly, it worked. And still does.

There is so much goofing around in these films that often the stars can’t even keep a straight face. The appeal, I think, is in the sense the audience gets of being a part of, or in on, the goofing around and silliness. In many ways the movies play like vaudeville shows – over the top, exaggerated and with that constant winking to the audience. You rarely, if ever, believe in the reality of the situations but this is part of their charm. You’re not supposed to.

In the context of the period the films were made, beginning with the first film in 1940 and the core group of films that played through the war till the fourth in 1946 (just following the war), the movies legitimately assume a relationship with the audience that is almost familial. It’s very like watching siblings or children performing in the living room for the rest of the family. The enjoyment is not so much in how well they perform, or how convincing the story is, but in the fact of who is performing.

The war provided a reason for people to come together – united to combat a threat. These Road movies succeeded because they assumed that unity and joined with it – not overtly perhaps, but certainly in the sense that they assumed an audience with common values, cultural touchstones, and similar sensibilities. In doing this, and using this commonality, they weren’t simply a part of the cultural unity; they became touchstones themselves.

This all sounds pretty high-falutin for a handful of comedies and perhaps it is. The movies now, I think, are in the process of moving from cultural touchstones to simply historical documents. The generations that grew up with these films (either immediately or through a generation following them) are fading. In another generation or two, will anyone know or even care who Bop Hope, Big Crosby and Dorothy Lamour are? Will they even recognize the names?

I’m not sure it matters. I do think, though, that films like these will be more than simply records of a period in history. While not high art by a long shot, there is a comedic skill and sense of fun in these films that is undeniable and continues to work for anyone willing to give them a chance.

The Movies:

3½ stars out of 4.

2 Responses

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