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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Road To Zanzibar (1941)

"It took my mother three years to get me to eat spinach. Three minutes of small talk from you, and I'm getting fan mail from casket companies."
- Fearless Frazier (Bob Hope)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: April 01, 2002

Stars: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour
Other Stars: Una Merkel, Eric Blore, Buck Woods, Noble Johnson, Iris Adrian
Director: Victor Schertzinger

Manufacturer: Panasonic Disc Services Corporation
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:31m:36s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 025192123221
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ B-C-B- B-

DVD Review

We've come to be wary of movie sequels, and with good reason: more of the same! Or: the same, but different! What was fresh and original the first time out of the box more often than not can't be recaptured, so the second go-round may follow the same dance steps, but without any of the charm. The folks who made Road To Zanzibar were on to all this, though, and their followup to the unexpectedly successful Road To Singapore does in fact reproduce some of the fun of the first picture. It's not even really a sequel, exactly, in that Crosby and Hope aren't playing the same characters, and neither is Dorothy Lamour. But there are a couple of winks to the audience, a welcoming back of old friends from Road To Singapore, and the reprise of some bits of business. The story isn't the main attraction; it's a movie for those who want to spend another 90 minutes in the company of the boys being boys. To borrow a phrase, this is the sort of thing you'll like if you like this sort of thing.

"You're in Africa now. Strange things happen here." —Donna (Dorothy Lamour)

This time out the men are plying their wares across the continent with the carnival—Crosby is Chuck, the carnival barker who handily doubles as a song-and-dance man, and the principal thing he's pitching is Fearless Frazier (Hope), The Living Bullet. Fearless gets shot out of a cannon, but their act goes awry and they inadvertently send the big top up in flames—if stampeding circus zebras aren't enough to get them on the lam, the long arm of the law is.

The plot has an ambling, meandering quality to it—Fearless and Chuck quickly buy and sell a diamond mine, courtesy of the daffy Mr. Kimble, played by marvelous Eric Blore, who will be familiar to Preston Sturges fans from movies like Sullivan's Travels and The Lady Eve. And gosh darn it if they don't stumble upon Dorothy Lamour, who has been tragically sold into slavery—her best pal, played by Una Merkel, cons Fearless and Chuck into buying her back. Soon the girls are after the big game: that is, the $7,000 in Chuck and Fearless's pockets, their ticket to Dorothy's insanely rich fiancé, who is inconveniently across the continent and rudely won't send a ride for her.

As you might guess, the plot is just a convenience for slapstick and crooning. There's more physical comedy here and self-conscious patter than in the previous Road picture; you can almost feel them eager to make hay while the sun shines, but there's enough spark and originality in the dialogue to make you stay along for the ride. There's almost a sense that the filmmakers decided just to throw all their ideas against the wall, and see what sticks: out of nowhere, for instance, a voiceover chimes in, to bridge a couple of plot points; the announcer is never heard from again. And the silliness is apparent even in the performances, as when Hope finds what's clearly a rubber snake in his bed, and pretends to be terrified. Hope and Crosby aren't really great actors, which is apparent in their fight scenes, but they are great personae—or, to get less highfalutin', they're just great big movie stars, and they get the full treatment. There are not enough musical numbers for my taste here, either, though there is one terrific song, It's Always You, by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. (Chet Baker cut a mean cover of this one, and it became something of a standard.) But given that the plot is just sort of a goof and the movie is barely an hour-and-a-half, another song or two might have made for an even more amusing diversion.

I suppose I'd be remiss if I didn't make the obligatory point about the manner in which the natives are portrayed. It's very much of its time, and must have been shot in Burbank, not the African subcontinent, but still, the image of Crosby in his khakis, pith helmet and pipe being toted around by happy shirtless chanting black men may make you a little queasy. But that may be making too much of things, given that this is the sort of movie in which wild leopards are content savaging just the clothes of pretty girls as they skinny dip (and just at the moment when the boys come by), and in which Bing's native headdress makes him look like Mickey Mouse.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The photography looks pretty crisp, but the print displays lots of damage: too many scratches and bits of dirt, and just a general unevenness to the quality of the image. Black levels are nice and solid, at least.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The mono mix works well enough, and while some hissing shows up now and again, things don't sound too bad overall.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Production Notes
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. DVD recommendations
  3. offer to sign up via the Internet for a Universal DVD newsletter
Extras Review: The first featurette, Bob Hope and the Road to Success (14m:12s), also appears on the Road To Singapore disc. (Ditto the newsletter signup and the film recommendations.) The second, Command Performance 1944 (06m:46s), is a truncated version of a broadcast recorded for the troops during the Second World War. Hope is the master of ceremonies; he delivers some jokes, and welcomes his guests: Betty Hutton, Judy Garland, and Lana Turner, who cooks a porterhouse steak with onions for the boys. (The appeal of this on radio is unclear to me.) The Photo Gallery (03m:08s) features lobby cards and stills from the set, scored to the music from the opening credits, and then to music from the previous Road movie. The production notes are brief, if reasonably informative; and the bios and selective filmographies are for five lead performers (Hope, Crosby, Lamour, Merkel and Blore) and director Victor Schertzinger. The original trailer promises that "Those Laughter Lads Are On The Loose Again!" And so they are.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

It's always kind of a pip to go on the road with Bob and Bing, and Road to Zanzibar delivers the goods. The image quality could be better, but it's a fun, diverting movie, and a couple of dandy extras sweeten the deal.

 


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