Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Thanks for the Memories Dept.
I know what you are thinking:
Bunsen done went and killed Bob Hope with his mind.
It's true that I've been known to influence the outcomes of major-league baseball games with nothing more than a focused thought-wave. But I did not apply this power to the task of dispatching Mr. Hope (whose continued existence had become the Hollywood equivalent of an overdue library book you find at the bottom of a closet and still somehow neglect to return to your local branch for 18 months) to the strange Valhalla where dessicated entertainment Vikings ultimately rest their compromised souls.
No, my internet rascals, Bob finally found his way deathward all by his lonesome. I had nothing against Bob Hope. If anything, he reminded me of my great-grandfather who, like Hope, always smelled of fresh argyle, hayseed liniment, and a yearning for his heavenly rewards in his last days. Unlike Hope, Great Grampaw was not a quitter who cashed his chips before making it to 101.
So to pay tribute to the legendary, chronologically-overextended showman beloved by many Americans who now can only relieve themselves with the assistance complicated machinery, I present short synopses of Bob's three lost, great road pictures that were shelved because of short-sighted studio executives fearful of society's rapidly-changing tastes.
The Road from Chattanoogie (1946): Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and a runaway slave named Solomon (Sidney Poitier) try to sneak through the back roads of the 1860 South to the relative freedom of the North where they expect him to be a star of the nascent Vaudeville scene. Hope and Crosby show progressive attitudes to the pre-Emancipation slave, treating him just like any other hitchhiker they might have encountered on the dusty lanes of Tennessee. When the boys smuggle Solomon into a whites-only motel for an overnight stay, they entertain Solomon with a rendition of a rollicking Negro spiritual as he washes their wicker hats and corn-cob pipes. After an hilarious encounter with the bigoted-but-just-a-product-of-his-times sheriff in rural Virginia that scorchingly sends up The Birth of a Nation, they arrive safely in New York. Vaudeville dreams don't pan out, but Hope and Crosby land Solomon a gig as a singing doorman in their luxury Park Avenue residence hotel. Never released because Poitier bedded Paramount Pictures honcho Ernst Lubitsch's mistress, leading him to coin an oft-repeated phrase about "going black" and "never going back."
The Road to Rio II (1948): At at time when true sequels were rarer than a drop of rain in the Depression-era dustbowl field, Hope and Crosby were true pioneers of the filmic revisitation, reprising their roles as musicians on the run stowing away on a cruise ship. This time, the duo stow away on a runaway bus that will burst into flames if the crooners stop playing ukelele ditties for even a second of this pressure-packed adventure. Throw in a wisecracking, fast-talking Filipino sidekick named Raoul (Peter Lorre) and the first on-screen same-sex kiss (don't worry, ill-matching stunt doubles were used for the taboo-busting buss), and you have the grandaddy of the modern summer blockbuster. Never released because the simulated kiss was deemed "too San Francisco" to play in the Bible Belt.
The Road to Euthanasia (2003): When half of Bing Crosby's cremains are stolen from his estate by a deranged fan, it's up to Hope, Ronald Reagan, and Strom Thurmond to get them back before the villain scatters them over Red Buttons' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The other half of Crosby's dust rides shotgun in the ashtray of the trio's cherry-red 1960 Ford Fairlaine as Hope and company try to avert a Tinseltown tragedy. Time is of the essence as any one of the ageless heroes could expire from natural causes as they race against the clock. Shelved upon Thurmond's shocking passing in late June of 2003. Ever-optimistic studio heads "just assumed they would live forever."