US Release Date: 04-11-1941
Directed by: Victor Schertzinger
- Bing Crosby, as
- Chuck Reardon
- Bob Hope, as
- Hubert Fearless Frazier
- Dorothy Lamour, as
- Donna Latour
- Una Merkel, as
- Julia Quimby
- Eric Blore, as
- Charles Kimble
- Douglass Dumbrille, as
- Slave trader
- Iris Adrian as
- French soubrette in cafe
Bob and Bing about to be captured by natives!
Road to Singapore had been such a big hit in 1940 that Paramount wasted no time in sending Bob and Bing back out on the road. This time to darkest Africa. Road to Zanzibar turned out to be even more successful than its predecessor had been and the series would peak financially the following year with Road to Morocco before WWII would interrupt the franchise for a few years.
The fella's play sideshow operators working their way across the African continent while having their usual series of misadventures. One difference this time around is that Dorothy Lamour plays an American girl from Brooklyn with a female sidekick. They go on safari with the boys while Bob and Bing battle for Dorothy’s affections and Bing and Dottie croon a couple of tunes.
This road picture spoofs jungle movies. The climax involves Bob and Bing being taken captive by a tribe of natives. Bob has to wrestle a gorilla to prove that he and Bing are White Gods. As silly as this shtick is the physical slapstick made me laugh. It’s so ridiculous that it’s funny.
In one scene when the guys go into their patty-cake routine the man they are about to hit, hits them first. Bob says, “He must have seen the picture.” No situation was ever so dire that it couldn’t be fixed by a childish game of patty-cake. If only life were that simple. The road pictures remain fine examples of escapist entertainment as only Hollywood made it.
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope on the Road to Zanzibar.
After being disappointed by The Road to Singapore, I was starting to doubt the entertainment value of the "Road to.." series. Maybe it was just a series that hadn't aged well. Now, having seen The Road to Zanzibar, I see that rather it was more that the filmmakers and stars simply hadn't found their groove yet in the first outing, but in this, its sequel, they hit their stride and manage to provide some genuine laughs and a fast paced good time.
The highlight of this film is the same as the last one, only there's more of it and that's namely the jokey camaraderie between Bob and Bing. They bounce lines back and forth off each other so fast that no one else can keep up with them. They're having such a good time that you can't help but have some fun too.
Not that all the jokes work. There's an embarrassing routine near the beginning of the film where the two perform a skit about two conductors meeting that isn't funny in the least. Most of the humor though is as funny today as it was then. Sure, the gorilla wrestling is silly slapstick and the hopeless editing between Bob and the stuntman just adds to the humor, but it's still funny.
With Bob and Bing's repartee being the star of the film, Lamour's part seems smaller this time. She does still get to produce a few laughs on her own, and she still looks good; appearing in just a clump of leaves at one point. Overall though, her part seems smaller and where she had second billing in Singapore, she's clearly the third banana this time around.
After Singapore, I wasn't sure I was going to bother watching any more of the films in this series, but now I'm ready for Morocco.
Dorothy Lamour in Road to Zanzibar
As Patrick pointed out, Road to Zanzibar was more successful than Road to Singapore, and it is also more entertaining. They definitely got the script right this time around. We finally hear those one liners that would become a staple of Bob Hope's and the Road pictures. Working as a human cannon ball, Hope says to Crosby, "Listen, I don't mind being drafted, but not as ammunition."
As Scott wrote, the jokey camaraderie between Hope and Crosby is the high light. Crosby defends buying a diamond mine from a wealthy man, "He's a philanthropist!" Hope comes back with, "I don't care who he votes for." Later, Hope is proven to be right and Crosby apologizes, "How was I to know he was wacky? He looked just as sane as you."
Lamour, as usual, looks good flirting with the boys. She even gets some good lines. At one point she talks to Hope, "Fearless, I wondered, now I can't go on calling you Fearless. What's your right name." Hope responds shyly, "Hubert." A repulsed Lamour comes back with, "Oh...well "Fearless," I wonder if you'd do something for me?"
I also enjoyed Una Merkel. She shared some good chemistry with Hope. This was her only trip in a Road movie, but she worked with him before, in 1939's Some Like it Hot, in which Hope played a sideshow barker, much as Crosby does here. Merkel would be better known to future generations as the know-it-all Verbena, in the 1961 version of The Parent Trap.
Although I have never been a huge fan of Bing Crosby's songs. the film does start with him singing the catchy "You Lucky People You." Patrick mentioned Hope breaking the fourth wall with a reference to their first Road picture. Crosby does a similar thing when he and Lamour take a boat ride and they croon a tune. Crosby runs his hand through the water making a harp play as he once saw in a film.
Road to Zanzibar reaches a hilarious climax when the boys get caught by some natives and Hope's stunt man has to fight the gorilla. As Scott wrote, it is so obvious it is funny. I would fault it in almost any other film, but here it adds to the fun. Not every joke is a gem, but this Road is still well worth traveling.
Photos © Copyright Paramount Pictures (1941)