The Road to Hong Kong


‘…an oddly subdued romp that’s for pop-culture specialists only…’

Yikes! Let’s get back to a venerable franchise, the Road movies were box office gold back in the 40’s and 50’s; their last gasp was this very 1962 venture which teamed Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for one last hurrah. Dorothy Lamour was deemed too old for anything more than a supporting cameo, and replaced with youthful ingénue Joan Collins, and that’s part of what annoyed Road fans. But there’s also a whole lot of other issues with Norman Panama’s film that make it largely unsuccessful, and yet there are a few grace notes of genuine interest.

The Road to Hong Kong looks and feels like a Bond film, which is all the more surprising because it was released a year before Dr No came out. So despite the Maurice Binder title sequence and the story about a sinister organisation named The Third Echelon and their efforts to take over the world through the space programme, any inspiration must have come from the general spy cycle and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books rather than films. So Bing and Bob are, you guessed it, aging vaudevillians who somehow get accidentally inducted into the space programme, and become espionage agents in the process.

Although the previous Road movie (Utopia) was in colour, somehow we end up back in black and white here, but this is hardly a cheap shot, with guest spots from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, David Niven and Peter Sellers, the latter reprising his Indian-doctor routine complete with ‘goodness gracious me’ catchphrase. To be positive, Sellers hits the mark with his contribution, and there’s a few choice lines. ‘Who pays the tab on the pad, who signs the scrolls?’ asks Crosby about their accommodation, while Hope alludes to drug culture with his “I think he rolls his own’ putdown. And exchanges like ‘I want you, body and soul…They are available in that order’ still hold up well today.

What’s not so great is the racist stereotypes about the Far East; ‘What is this, a Chinese minstrel show?’ one character asks, and at times, they’re not far wrong. The low point is a rip on the factory scenes of Chaplin’s Modern Times, with our two astronauts filling in for space-monkeys and enduring the indignities of a forced banana eating scene. ‘I’ll never look at another banana split again’ quips Hope, and such lame gags form a background to an oddly subdued romp that’s for pop-culture specialists only.


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  1. I’m afraid I did see this in the cinema in 1962 as it was certificated U at the Odeon and I could get in!. I agree with your review in every detail. What you don’t mention though is that this was a British picture made at Shepperton and with a British crew. Robert Farnon, a Canadian living in the UK did the music and Jack Hildyard, probably best known for his work with David Lean, photographed the film. The supporting cast has a host of quite well-known Brits.

    It’s also worth pointing out that astronauts circling the earth was quite a big thing at the time with the Americans feeling the heat after the Russian’s went ahead with Yuri Gagarin’s orbit in April 1961. He was popular in the UK and no doubt helped to prompt JFK to make his ‘space race’ speech in May 1961 after the US sub-orbital flight by Alan Shepherd failed to match Gagarin’s feat.

    So, ropey film perhaps, but an important ‘conjunctural’ moment for the production of the last ‘Road Movie’?

    • Congratulations on getting your big screen badge for this one!

      Your insight helps me with Halliwell’s comment that this film was made ‘on the cheap’. That put-down seemed odd to me given the presence of Sellars, Niven and Sinatra, but maybe shouting at Shepperton was a more fiscally prudent move. The obsession with space orbit may have been of its time, but it’s still an easy to grasp gimmick for today’s audiences. I’m fond of the Road films, and for all its flaws, was still winning to revive this for a Saturday night. Robert Morley should also be worth a mention here…

  2. Haven’t seen this one and likely won’t. As you know, I’m a huge defense of judging films in the context of their own day and not ours, but this sounds particularly cringe. Best left to be forgotten! Also, is there a form to complete after reading your blog everyday to get my certificate?

    • Yes, I’ll be making the whole course available at a very affordable cost to keen cineastes. Make sure to plug it during your next lecture! Free toasters to the first five to sign on!

  3. Will be definitely taking a look at this. One of the all-time great pairings or threesomes – if that’s the right word – if you include Lamour. Not sure Collins up to the mark of filling in.

        • Experience molded them into a classic team; this saga when they’re offscreen and the plot takes over. But what a team…

            • Possibly. Grew up on Road films, so it’s a bit of a throwback. Remember this one being in tv on bbc Saturday mornings when kids programmed were cancelled. Don’t remember seeing Martin and Lewis films in the same way, although I suspect you’ll tell me M & L were biz box office in their day. And although some of the gags and routines are outdated by today’s standards, I do think we need to accept different times…

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