"Lokk up 'zany' in the dictionary and you will find this film."
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and their series of 'Road' films have been unfairly written out of comedy history. While it's easy enough and correct to sing the praises of the Marx brothers and Laurel and Hardy, any examination of 1940's Hollywood comedy can't be complete without mentioning this series of films. Yes, the series tailed off by the end, but 'Road to Utopia' is by far the best journey they undertook and an unappreciated comic classic.Hope and Crosby are two con men, Duke and Chester, who would happily steal the others life savings if only they had some to steal. Instead their chance of fortune comes with the discovery of a map leading to a gold mine, but they aren't the only people after their map. The rightful owner Sal (Dorothy Lamour) is trying to reclaim it, as are the two killers who stole the map in the first place.
The Road series had been happily building up a head of steam with each successive film, and seeing as this is the fourth entry it remarkably takes another step up from its predecessors. The chemistry and banter between Hope and Crosby has been honed to perfection and the script is razor sharp. And while some of the previous Road films slowed down to let the two poke fun and sling insults at each other, 'Road to Utopia' intertwines it superbly with the story. This is a comedy that doesn't flag for a moment, even during the musical numbers. Instead there are moments here that should be cherished comic gems, a particular highlight being Hope's drinks order at a bar when he's trying to pass himself as a tough guy murderer.
It's already well known just how good a comic talent Hope was, and there's no better showcase of his talent than this film. We should also give praise to Crosby however. His image is much more of a stuffy, boring crooner, but watch this film and see what a great comic talent he was in his own right. I'd go so far as to say Crosby was cooler, a better singer and a better actor than Sinatra ever was.
And this is the film that showed just how zany the series got. You've got talking bears and talking fish, actors strolling in from other film sets and a commentator (Jack La Rue) popping his head into the screen from time to time to give his thoughts on the action, while there are references to Hope's radio sponsors and their competitors at the box office. But it isn't smug, or an in-joke, it's handled with a lightness of touch that Soderbergh, for example, couldn't manage for the Julia Roberts joke in 'Ocean's Twelve'.
And it ends with a cracking visual joke to top any others.The Road series had reached it's height here and while there was still fun to be had in trips to Rio and Bali, the pace would start to flag and the inspiration run dry. We should remember 'Road to Utopia' then as a film that should deservedly stand alongside 'Airplane!', 'This Is Spinal Tap', 'Some Like It Hot' and 'The Philadelphia Story' as a classic American comedy.