The Road to Hong Kong (1962)

Directed by Norman Panama

The last of the seven Road Series, with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and the always present Dorothy Lamour, was 1962’s The Road to Hong Kong, ten years after their previous movie, The Road to Bali. As might be expected, it feels a bit tired, a bit perfunctory and is, at best, a lackluster farewell to a series that was much loved in its day and remains so, at least for some (including me).

It’s essentially going to the well one too many times. That being said, it does have its moments.

The opening, a song and dance routine somewhat akin to a vaudeville number, has Crosby and Hope with boat hats, striped jackets, white pants and canes. Singing about teamwork, making jokes obout each other lyrically and visually, it’s a nod to what made the series work, the combination of the two entertainers, but has little if anything to do with the story.

The story, of course, is irrelevant. It’s simply a clothes rack on which to hang the obligatory routines – the chases, the jokes, the songs and so on. They do get to Hong Kong in the movie, at some point, but then they also get into space as well as several other places (including a lamasery). It doesn’t matter since the movie is essentially a series of sketches with a number of cameo appearances, such as David Niven in a brief and baffling moment, and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

The best parts of the movie, however, are two other cameos – and they are very good. The movie seems to briefly spring to life, akin to the earlier films, when Dorothy Lamour makes her inevitable appearance. The humour and music really do seem to rekindle the feeling of those first movies. You can see the trio of stars are older, perhaps less energetic than in their younger days, but all three – Hope, Crosby and Lamour – do seem to find the spirit.

The other cameo is the movie’s best scene, and it is fabulous. It’s a hilarious scene with Peter Sellers as an Indian doctor and Sellers completely steals the scene, probably because Hope and Crosby basically sit there, asking the occasional question or doing something, but essentially being straight men for Sellers. He would play a man from India a few years later in The Party but this character is very different. Whereas in The Party his character is soft spoken, almost completely silent through much of the movie, in Road to Hong Kong Sellers talks non-stop, rather like a car salesmen, trying to make all kinds of offers and deals to get as much money as he can from the Hope and Crosby characters.

I wish I knew something about the making of this movie because this scene has an improvisational feel. It plays almost as if the camera started rolling and they let Sellers loose to see what he would do. However it was done, this scene alone almost makes the movie worthwhile. It is very, very funny.

Still, relative to the rest of the film, it may not be enough to lead someone to watch it. I think this is a movie for fans of the Crosby, Hope, Lamour movies. For those people, it’s pleasant enough and certainly nice to see the three together again. Keep in mind that, as with the other Road movies, it’s very silly. The difference between the silliness of the earlier movies and this one is the sense of fatigue The Road to Hong Kong has about it. It lacks the crisp feel of the earlier movies. It’s really more of a tired, nostalgic nod to what went before.

2 stars out of 4.

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