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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Road To Utopia (1946)

Duke: It's a long story. I wouldn't want to bore you.
Chester: It's never stopped you before.

- Bing Crosby, Bob Hope

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: June 06, 2002

Stars: Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour
Other Stars: Douglass Dumbrille, Hillary Brooke, Jack La Rue, Robert Benchley, Nestor Paiva, Robert Barrat
Director: Hal Walker

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:29m:49s
Release Date: March 05, 2002
UPC: 025192123023
Genre: comedy


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

DVD Review

There's gold in them thar hills, and you'll never guess who's going after it. Yes, it's the fourth time on the trail with Bob and Bing in this, the first of the Road pictures released after the conclusion of World War II. This still finds the boys in fine fettle, as you might imagine, and what do you know: they encounter a young woman who looks suspiciously like Dorothy Lamour.

Bob and Bing play Chester and Duke, a couple of rapscallions on the San Francisco vaudeville circuit. Their act is part musical comedy (Crosby, unsurprisingly, is a smoother song-and-dance man than Hope), part carny tricks, designed to separate audience members from their money. But soon the jig's up on their ripoffs, and they've got to hightail it out of town. Chester wants to take his share of the cash and open a Turkish bath in Brooklyn, but Duke has bigger plans: he wants Chester to come with him prospecting for gold in the Klondike. (Chester doesn't like the idea: "I don't want to go to Alaska, it's cold there. Polar bears! Icicles! Popsicles! Eskimo pies!")

They end up tossing all their money into the ocean—oops—and stow away on a ship bound for Alaska. Also on board are the evil Sperry and McGurk (Robert Barrat and Nestor Paiva), notorious criminals with long beards that make them look more than a little like the guys from ZZ Top. (These guys are fine and cartoony, but I miss Anthony Quinn, who menaced Bob and Bing in the previous Road movies.) They have shaken down a poor old man for his map to a huge gold mine—the bad guys are off in search of their fortune, and the old fellow they robbed has died. Coming to claim what's rightfully her family's is the departed man's daughter, Sal (Lamour), who, conveniently enough for movie purposes, just happens to work as a nightclub singer.

Much merriment and double-crossing ensue, and it's a tidy little story—more attention seems to have been lavished on the script this time than on the previous outing, Road to Morocco, which seems almost careless. Periodic narration is provided by Robert Benchley, famous to '40s audiences for his charming, dry shorts that frequently preceded feature films. He opens the movie with this caveat: "For one reason or another the motion picture you're about to see is not very clear in spots. As a matter of fact, it was made to demonstrate how not to make a motion picture." His little head pops up in the top corner of the screen from time to time, and while a little Benchley can sometimes go a long way, I admit to being delighted by him. At one point he's looking down at the action and remarks, "This seems to be a scene they put in after I saw the picture at the studio."

There are a couple of other little bits of self-consciousness here—for instance, a magician encounters Bob and Bing, who ask him: "Are you in this picture?" "No," he replies, "taking a short cut to Stage 10." Lamour gets the best song this time out—Personality—and she's not asked to wear a sarong or pass herself off as some sort of exotic princess, which seems a relief to her. Most of the story takes place in the great north—the boys even encounter Santa Claus—but pretty much it's a Paramount sound stage covered with Idaho flakes doubling for snow. (This also allowed the costumers to go a little loopy, providing Hope and Crosby with garish plaid-on-plaid outfits that clash even in black and white.) The banter between the boys is again one of the best things about the picture (Bob: "I'm cold, my nose is an icicle." Bing: "Icicle? It's a glacier"), and as with previous entries in the series, the filmmakers just love animal gags, especially talking animal gags. There are a series of pratfalls and slapstick jokes with a stick of dynamite that are worthy of the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and the movie is framed by scenes of the boys forty years in the future, recalling their great adventure—it provides a final joke that's about as racy as anything you'll find in a 1940s studio movie.

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

 

Image Transfer

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


Image Transfer Review: Picture quality is notably worse on this disc than on the other films in the series. Though the black levels are reasonable, the print looks seriously beat up, and there seem to be some missing frames, as well, so the image jumps jarringly with some regularity.

Image Transfer Grade: C-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Mono track is generally clean; the musical numbers sound especially fine, though there's some hiss intermittently on the dialogue tracks. Curiously, two of the titles in the series have Spanish-language tracks (this one and Road to Zanzibar), and the other two do not.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

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
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
  2. Put It There Pal Sing-Along
  3. DVD recommendations
  4. offer to sign up via the Internet for a Universal DVD newsletter
Extras Review: Just as on all the other Road DVDs, the featurette is Bob Hope and the Road to Success (14m:12s), a nice overview of the series. The other accompanying documentary is, to my mind, the best of all the extras in the whole series—it's called Hollywood Victory Caravan (19m:41s), and was produced just after the conclusion of World War II, to persuade audience members to continue buying war bonds. There's a simple story—a young woman is eager to get from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to visit her brother, who was wounded in the war and is convalescing in a V.A. hospital. There are no more train tickets available, but on a hot tip, she goes to the Paramount lot to persuade Bing Crosby to let her tag along—he's got his own car on tomorrow's train, bound for Washington, where he'll be performing in a war bonds benefit. Some of the biggest stars of the day show up playing themselves, including Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, and of course Bob Hope; Betty Hutton contributes an uptempo musical number, and Bing croons a song written for the occasion, We've Got Another Bond To Buy. Also on hand are a couple of regulars from Preston Sturges's stock company: Franklin Pangborn plays a snarky railroad ticket clerk, and William Demarest is a befuddled Paramount security guard.

Bios and filmographies are for cast members Hope, Crosby, Lamour, Douglass Dumbrille, Hillary Brooke and Jack La Rue, and director Hal Walker. The Photo Gallery (03m:09s) shows lobby cards and stills over songs from the score, though I prefer the photo galleries that you can click through on your own. The karaoke opportunity this time out is for Put It There Pal, a jokey number between Hope and Crosby; it seems to be here more out of obligation and consistency in the series than out of a serious desire to sing along. Newsletter signup and DVD recommendations are identical to the other discs in the series; production notes are five screens, and relate, among other facts, that Robert Benchley passed away between the movie's production and its release. The trailer promises that this one is more of the same: "Yes, it's more socko than Morocco, it's zanier than Zanzibar and zingier than Singapore!"

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Hope and Crosby prove themselves once again to be serious road warriors on the way to Utopia, and in this fourth entry in the series, their energy still hasn't failed them. Picture quality is disappointing, but the nifty extras do some compensating for that. See you down the road, fellas.

 


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