September Film Series Quarantine: ROAD TO BALI (1952)
This film, which was never copyrighted, is in the public domain and readily available online through such platforms as YouTube. It is also available in the Harold B. Lee Library, Provo City Library at Academy Square and Orem Library.
Abbott and Costello. Martin and Lewis. Crosby, Hope and Lamour. For movie goers of the 1940s and early 1950s, the trio of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour were among the most recognizable names on the silver screen and by 1952, they’d appeared in five “Road to” films, traveling to such exotic places as Singapore, Zanzibar, and Rio. Exotic locations became the convenient foils for the comedic antics of these three entertainers and The Road to Bali is no exception.
Situational comedy is the plot, as Harold (Bob Hope) and George (Bing Crosby) are found in ever more extraordinary circumstances. As dancers and singers they are quickly forced to escape from Melbourne, Australia to avoid humorous marriage proposals. Later hired as deep-sea divers, they are taken to Bali where they compete for the romantic attentions of Princess Lala (Dorothy Lamour). She, however, can’t decide who she loves more and then with treasure on the line, the three escape to another island. There she discovers among the natives she can take multiple husbands, which they all agree. Further high jinx ensues when Crosby and Hope are mistakenly married to each other and a volcano god becomes angry with such an arrangement and initiates an eruption. With such incredulous plot twists, one wonders if 1990’s Joe Versus the Volcano (staring the duo of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) is an homagic spoof.
The Road to Bali is significant in its violation of the fourth wall, inviting the audience to participate in the story. Two instances display Hope’s comedic talent. As Crosby is about to beginning wooing Lamour, Hope turns to the camera and says “He’s about to sing. You may as well go and get some popcorn!” In some reports, this was a popular time for kids to get up and purchase snacks, much to the chagrin of Crosby. Then, as the film ends, Hope, after losing to Crosby the love of Lamour, is able to conjure up the iconic sex symbol of Jane Russell after playing a flute over a large basket. Unfortunately for him she quickly falls in love with Crosby and he is left on the beach pining to the audience to extend the film to see what will happen next. This invitation to the audience acknowledges how endearing the trio had become to the American audience throughout the series of films.
With a box office gross of about $3 million, The Road to Bali was the least financially successful film of the franchise after the initial Road to Singapore. It also just barely missed out on the top ten grossing films of the year, losing out to such classics as The Quiet Man, Ivanhoe, and Cecil B. DeMille’s epic The Greatest Show on Earth.
When it was released in 1952, the well-known Crosby and Hope were financially successful, investing in numerous ventures outside of Hollywood. During the film, the inside jokes continued, which many viewers would have recognized. Watch for Crosby to make side references to the major league baseball franchises of Pittsburgh and Cleveland. At the time of he was a minority owner of the Pirates while Hope was an investor in the Indians.
Although not the last of the “Road to” films, it was the last with all three stars. In 1962 United Artists and director Norman Panama tried one last time on the series with The Road to Hong Kong. Lamour, although she appears in the film, was replaced with much younger Joan Collins as the primary love interest. And, with this significant change, the “Road” magic was gone. A critical and financial disappointment, it marked the unfortunate end of the series and provided an unremarkable coda for Crosby and Hope as acting partners.
We hope you enjoy getting away with The Road to Bali.
Brian Wages, Reference Specialist
Harold B. Lee Library, Social Sciences