Review: David Butler’s “Road to Morocco,” Starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in “Road to Morocco”
Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in “Road to Morocco”

The third film in Bing Crosby and Bob Hope’s “Road to…” series found director David Butler taking over after Victor Schertzinger, of both Road to Singapore and Road to Zanzibar, died suddenly from a heart attack at age 53. Though Road to Morocco has some of the same xenophobia and cheap jokes, Butler managed to best the previous two entries handily, with a heightened energy and creativity to it that almost makes up for the blandness of its leads.

Crosby and Hope start the film shipwrecked, quickly washing up on the shores of Morocco. This entry somehow makes their relationship even more toxic than before—within the first fifteen minutes a starving Crosby threatens to eat Hope, then sells him into slavery in order to pay for a nice meal. Surprisingly, Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour, also returning from the other films) purchases Hope as a husband, making him royalty. A jealous Crosby decides to intervene, only to discover a more sinister scheme in progress involving the violent sheik Mullay Kasim (Anthony Quinn).

Of course, the plot in these films is merely a delivery mechanism for moment where Hope can be funny and Crosby can sing. The songs, with lyrics by Johnny Burke and music by Jimmy Van Heusen, are also more creative here. An opening number pokes fun at moviemaking—“For any villains we may meet we haven’t any fears,” the two sing, “Paramount will protect us because we’ve signed for five more years”—while another finds the characters delirious and swapping voices with each other mid-song. The gags have a similar scattershot insanity to them, with everything from horny talking camels to Hope dressed up as Crosby’s dead aunt in a series of dreams. Yet for every inspired joke, there’s still one that falls flat—one particularly painfully sequence finds Hope imitating a mentally handicapped person in order to score a free meal.

What it lacks in cultural awareness it does somewhat make up for in the pacing. Giving the screenplay by series writers Don Hartman and Frank Butler an Oscar nomination was a bit much, but they do wrap the film up in a tight 82 minutes, delivering one of the better films that Hope or Crosby ever appeared in. Four more films in the “Road to…” series would follow, but none would be able to top Road to Morocco.

Where to Watch

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For More on Road to Morocco

Read the review in The New York Times

Watch the Trailer