ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (Paramount, 1941), directed by Victor Schertzinger, reunites director with his ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940) players, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope. While this edition could very well have been a rehash from their initial teaming or a continuation to where the previous film left off, this second installment, having its major stars assuming new character roles, has not only become a sequel in name only but a much funnier outing by ways of jokes and incidents revolving around Hope and Crosby. Hardly resembling ROAD TO SINGAPORE by any means, ZANZIBAR can easily be categorized as the official opener to what has become relatively known as the "Road Pictures."
The plot revolves around boyhood pals Chuck Reardon (Bing Crosby) and Hubert "Fearless" Frazier (Bob Hope), working in a carnival where Chuck is a smooth talking con man and "Fearless" the daredevil who gets shot out of a cannon flying through a hoop of fire at a distance. Using a dummy in Frazier's place (is there a difference?), the act comes to a halt when the dummy obtains the fire, lands on one of the tents, and burns down the carnival, causing our heroes to make a run for it. Traveling on the road to Mugabund, Kipungo and Molanda, Frazier, after five years of traveling with his pal through sideshow acts, wants to break with the act and return home to Birch Falls. There's one thing standing in his way, and that's Chuck. Having paid Charles Kimball (Eric Blore) $5,000 of his pals savings for the map leading to a diamond mine, it is discovered the map is worthless. Fearless decides to get his money back by passing the map over to Le Bec (Lionel Royce). Discovering he's been tricked, Le Bec and his henchman (Buck Woods) go after them, forcing our heroes to make another run for it, this time on a boat to Zanzibar. While there, Chuck and Fearless meet up with Julia Quimby (Una Merkel), a woman in distress who asks the boys for money to rescue her abducted friend, Donna Latour (Dorothy Lamour) from a slave auction. With all that done, the boys further assist the girls by teaming up in a safari to help Donna locate her long lost brother, who, in actuality is only using the boys to help her meet with J. Theodore Brady, a millionaire whom she plans to marry. Realizing they've been tricked by a couple of American showgirls from Brooklyn, Chuck and Fearless break away from them, getting themselves lost in the jungle and ending up in the middle of a hostile native tribe. Paging Tarzan!
In spite of Dorothy Lamour now being part of the Hope and Crosby teaming, her scenes, though prominent, are actually secondary. While her character as well as Merkel's appears mid-way to limited results before disappearing during another long stretch before reappearing, the film overall belongs to Hope and Crosby from start to finish. Song numbers are at a minimum this time around, with new songs by James Van Husen and Johnny Burke, including: "You Lucky People You" (sung by Bing Crosby during opening titles and story introduction); "African Etude" (sung by natives chanting "Ba-toom-bomba"); "The Road to Zanzibar" (sung by Crosby); "You're Dangerous" (sung by Dorothy Lamour); and "It's Always You" (sung by Crosby). Interestingly, Hope doesn't get to sing any songs this time around. Although some sources credit "Birds of a Feather" to have been scored for the film, this, along with a cameo by Leo Gorcey, do not appear in circulating prints.
With Hope supplying much to the comedy and one-liners, Crosby also demonstrates his flare for comedy as well. Aside from their their traditional "paddy cake" routine, other highlights include Hope's wrestling with a gorilla (guess who wins), and their encounter with natives (with subtitles translating to what they're saying). Others in the cast include Douglass Dumbrille (The Slave Trader); Joan Marsh (Dimples); and Luis Alberni, Paul Porcasi and Leigh Whipper in smaller roles.
In spite of its fine slapstick and gags keeping the story moving at a brisk pace, ROAD TO ZANZIBAR, has become one of seven "Road" movies not be as well known or revived as the others, namely SINGAPORE (1940), MOROCCO (1942) and UTOPIA (1946). ZANZIBAR, along with the others in the series, have been readily available on home video and DVD, along with occasional cable TV broadcasts on American Movie Classics (1995-2000) and Turner Classic Movies(2005-2006, 2010-present). As a satire on jungle movies, ROAD TO ZANZIBAR is as good as it gets, you lucky people you. Next installment: ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942), hailed by many to be the wildest and funniest yet. (***)