#445) Road to Morocco (1942)
OR “Bad Harem Day”
Directed by David Butler
Written by Frank Butler and Don Hartman (with assists from Bob and Bing’s writers)
Class of 1996
The Plot: After a freighter explodes out at sea, the ship’s stowaways Jeff & Orville (Bing Crosby & Bob Hope) wash ashore on the generic Middle Eastern set piece Paramount calls Morocco. In an attempt to get money, Jeff sells Orville to a mysterious buyer, who turns out to be the beautiful Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour). Orville becomes engaged to the Princess, but her jilted betrothed Sheik Kasim (Anthony Quinn) has other plans. And that’s about it plot wise; the rest is Hope & Crosby’s trademark banter, a couple of songs, and lots of low-key racism.
Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief rundown with no superlatives, but there is a much more appreciative essay by Bob Hope expert Richard Zoglin.
But Does It Really?: I wanted to like “Road to Morocco”, and while Hope and Crosby’s natural chemistry led to some laugh-out-loud moments, ultimately the film’s massive appropriation of Middle Eastern culture spoils any modern viewing. The “Road” movies were popular enough and have a long enough legacy to warrant NFR inclusion, but at this point the film is being held up on its reputation.
Everybody Gets One: Director David Butler’s career spanned 40 years, helming two Shirley Temple vehicles (“Bright Eyes” and “The Little Colonel”) as well as previous solo vehicles for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Despite their past experience, “…Morocco” was Butler’s only “Road” movie. This is also the only NFR appearance for Dorothy Lamour, who, despite her European heritage and New Orleans upbringing, was often cast as the exotic “Sarong Queen” character, a typecast her work in the “Road” movies is spoofing.
Wow, That’s Dated: Where to begin? First of all, my apologies to the country of Morocco, its citizens, people of Moroccan descent, and anyone who has ever been to Morocco. This movie is 90% brownface and white washing. Massive cultural appropriations aside, the movie references such ‘40s culture as the movie “Here Comes Mr. Jordan”, the radio series “Hobby Lobby” (not the chain), organized crime syndicate Murder, Inc., and a “Ball of Fire” level of ‘40s slang.
Title Track: We have a title song! Like the rest of this movie “(We’re Off on the) Road to Morocco” is fun, but bogged down by its datedness.
Seriously, Oscars?: “…Morocco” was one of the biggest hits of 1942 (and the most successful of the “Road” movies). The film received two Oscar nominations and lost both to other NFR fare: Best Sound Recording to “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and Best Original Screenplay to “Woman of the Year”. Neither the title number nor “Moonlight Becomes You” were up for Best Song.
- “Morocco” was the third of Bob & Bing’s “Road” movies, following 1940’s “…Singapore” and 1941’s “…Zanzibar”. Dorothy Lamour always played the woman the boys fought over, hence her shoutout in this movie before she has appeared on screen.
- The previous two Road pictures were based on pre-existing stories, “Morocco” being the first tailored specifically to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. Much of their dialogue was punched up on set by the writers of their respective radio programs. Despite the pair’s breezy repartee, none of the “Road” movies were improvised.
- My first LOL moment: “When they’re dead, they’re dead.” “Not Aunt Lucy; she’s a Republican.”
- And then the movie officially loses me. In an attempt to get free food in the Moroccan marketplace, Crosby suggests that Hope pretend to be “an idiot”, complete with stereotypical developmental disability and speech. I am still speechless at this level of insensitivity. There are still some enjoyable moments in this movie, but it never fully won me back. On the plus side, if Hope mocked the developmentally disabled today, he could be our president.
- Dorothy Lamour is about as Moroccan as Morocco Mole from “Secret Squirrel”. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is making “Casablanca” across town…
- This movie confirms my suspicion that both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby work best in short spurts (“Going My Way” being the exception). The two of them together are fun, but this movie runs out of momentum sooner than it should.
- As always, I’m surprised when a classic song was written for a specific scene in a specific movie, in this case “Moonlight Becomes You”.
- Tonight on “What Nationality Are They Making Anthony Quinn Play This Week?”: Mexican-born Quinn is playing an Arab sheik, and it won’t be the last time.
- As previously stated, this was the third “Road” movie, which explains why there are so many jokes about all of this happening again. The one thing that doesn’t come across is the boys’ “patty-cake” routine, in which they would play patty-cake to distract the bad guy and then sucker punch them. “Morocco” changes up the bit, which doesn’t play if you’ve only seen this movie.
- Best fourth-wall break in the film: Crosby, upon learning that some moviegoers showed up late to their movie: “You mean they missed my song?”
- Things get real weird at the end. A wishing ring turns Hope into a monkey, there’s a lot of slapstick in the finale, and to top it all off; talking camels. This movie’s trying too hard to win me back.
- “Morocco” was a hit, and while both Bob Hope and Bing Crosby saw their stars continue to rise, there wouldn’t be another Road movie until 1946. “…Utopia” was followed by “…Rio”, and eventually “…Bali” and “…Hong Kong”. An attempt to revive the series in the ‘70s (the aptly named “Road to the Fountain of Youth”) was cancelled following Crosby’s death in 1977.
- “Moonlight Becomes You” has become a Great American Songbook standard, but it’s Bing’s recording that is still the best known.
- Many later comedies have attempted to emulate the laid-back fun of the Road movies. Sometimes you’d get “Spies Like Us”, and sometimes “Ishtar”.
- “Family Guy” has done several “Road” episodes centering around Brian and Stewie. The first one even has a parody of the “Road to Morocco” song. As of 2016 the show has done more “Road” episodes than there were “Road” movies.