There aren't many classic films available in high definition. Yes, there are some great films available, like the wonderful looking Casablanca, but for every Adventures of Robin Hood that is released, we get 5 or 10 Fast and Furious-like action films. That's natural, since high--budget blockbusters sure look impressive in HD, but there are many consumers prefer films made decades ago. BCI Eclipse came to the rescue near the end of the format wars with two HD DVD releases of old Bob Hope films, and both were double features too. One release, My Favorite Brunette and Son of Paleface is reviewed here and the disc contains a pair of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby "Road" movies: The Road to Rio and The Road to Bali. This is a great disc, with a pair of really fun movies that are transferred from well preserved prints that look wonderful in high def.
Road to Rio (1947): This fifth movie is the series has a pair of vaudeville entertainers, Scat Sweeney (Bing Crosby) and 'Hot Lips' Barton (Bob Hope) running from a circus owner after accidentally setting his show on fire. They stow away on a luxury liner where they meet a gorgeous heiress, Lucia Maria de Andrade (Dorothy Lamour) who is in trouble. She's going to Rio to marry her guardian's son, and though she loves him, something doesn't feel right. Always willing to help a woman in distress, the boys come to her aid and help fend off the attacks from her aunt, who is hypnotizing her.
Road to Bali (1952): The next film in the series (and second to last...final movie in the sequence, The Road to Hong Kong, wouldn't be filmed until ten years later) this adventure features Harold Gridley (Bob Hope) and George Cochran (Bing Crosby) as a pair of vaudeville entertainers who have to leg it after promising several women in an Australian town that they'll marry them. Ending up in a port town they take jobs as divers to keep body and soul together. Traveling to a nearby island, they are hired to find a treasure that the princess' (Dorothy Lamour) father lost at sea. A giant octopus, a traitorous noble, and a chest full of jewels later, the two men find themselves on another island, still fighting over the beautiful princess.
These movies are so similar it's almost surprising that five years passed between the two. The plots aren't really important, they're just there as a background for Hope and Crosby to ham it up, sing some songs, and throw out rapid-fire one-liners. The two stars had a lot of chemistry on screen and worked well off of each other.
One of the things that are so appealing about these films is that, unlike most 'buddy road trip' movies, Hope and Crosby go out of their way to screw the other one over. Crosby would sentence Hope to near-certain death to get a girl, and Hope would go the same (though he rarely gets the best of the crooner.)
These films don't take themselves seriously at all, and the actor's often break the fourth wall and address the audience directly. They only do this a few times in each film too, just enough to keep the gag fresh and funny. After knocking out two thugs in Road to Rio with their "Patty Cake" routine that they do in every film, Hope quips "That's what they get for not seeing our pictures!" In the next film the pair see a clip of Humphrey Bogart from The African Queen and rush over to "Bogie" only to discover that it was a mirage. Crosby doubts that it was their imagination though: "Oh yeah? What about this? Humphrey Bogart's Academy Award!" Hope grabs it from him greedily and yells "An Oscar! Gimme that! You've got one!" Also keep an eye out of a series of amusing star cameos in the latter film, including Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Jane Russell, and more.
Filmed at Paramount at the height of the studio system, these films are put together wonderfully. The sets are often lavish (or at least filled with extras) and though the jungle scenes are obviously filmed in a studio the costumes (designed by Edith Head who won an amazing 8 Oscars and was nominated a mind-boggling 35 times) are magnificent to look at. This is especially true of the luscious native dance scenes in Bali. With a bevy of dancing girls in bikinis shot in Technicolor, who needs a plot?
The HD DVD:
Both films are housed on one 30 GB single-sided HD DVD and are encoded with the MPEG-2 codex. They are both presented with their original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 in tact and look very good for a pair of public domain films.
The problem with movies being in the public domain is that there is no monetary incentive to have them restored, or even go to much trouble to preserve them. These two films are available from a number of publishers (a quick search on Amazon turns up literally dozens of different versions of the first feature alone) with often less than spectacular image and sound quality. I was very pleasantly surprised with the image quality of this HD DVD. While not a reference disc by any means, it did do a good job of presenting both movies and made them look better than they ever had before on home video.
The first feature, Road to Rio, is in black and white and looks clearer than I've ever seen it. The level of detail is very good and it looks better than the other B&W Hope movie available on HD DVD, My Favorite Brunette. There are some spots on the print that was borrowed from the UCLA Film Archive but they aren't common and the print has been well preserved. The level of detail is good, especially during close-ups, and the contrast is fine though not outstanding. The blacks could have been a little deeper in places but this is a minor complaint. Overall this is a very good looking film.
Road to Rio looked good, but I was still pleasantly surprised at how vivid and colorful Road to Bali appeared. It was shot in Technicolor (the only 'Road' show to get that treatment) and is an excellent looking film, especially for one 55 years old. The colors were bright and vibrant and thought there was some unevenness in a few shots, the Technicolor print looked very good. The image was a tad on the soft side, but the level of detail was fine and there are several impressive shots that will make viewers happy they upgraded to HD. The native dancing girl scene when Hope and Crosby arrive on the island really pops and looks fantastic. Both of these films definitely best their SD counterparts.
The films both come with their original mono soundtracks. They both sounded fine, especially for films this old. Common problems like background noise and tape hiss were not noticeable at normal viewing levels, and distortion wasn't a problem. Recorded with 50 year old technology, the audio is thin and tinny when compared to movies of today. The dynamic range is very limited and this is very apparent in the songs where both the highs and lows are clipped. That's the way it was recorded though, and this disc does a good job of reproducing the original sound of the film.
At the end of Road to Bali, Bob Hope gets into a shoving match with the titles that appear on the screen. This disc also has this final sequence in several different languages for the export market. Included are the end titles in French, Portuguese, Spanish/Latin America, Danish (the Danish translation for "The End" adds a lot of humor to the scene), Dutch, and Japanese. A nice surprise to find on the disc.
Filled with hilarious lines, amusing gags, and better special effects than one would imagine, these to films are just a lot of fun to watch. Hope and Cosby are at the top of their game in these films and they never looked better on home video than on this HD DVD. It may be a dead format, but if you have a player do yourself a favor and seek this disc out. Highly Recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the HD DVD and do not necessarily
represent the image quality on the disc.