Road to Utopia (Special Edition) Blu-ray Review: Striking Comedy Gold

Kino Lorber Studio Classics has added to their roster Special Edition Blu-ray releases of the first four Road pictures starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour, making the first six of the seven movies now available from them.

Road to Utopia (1945) is the fourth in the series. After releasing the first three films over three years, the franchise took a three-year break before audiences saw the return of the lead-acting trio. Hal Walker moved into the director’s chair having previously been an assistant director on Zanzibar and Morocco.

New to the creative team are screenwriters Melvin Frank and Norman Panama with an original screenplay that was nominated for an Oscar. Their script plays with audience’s expectations as Robert Benchley opens the movie introducing himself as an occasional narrator who will provide commentary. Sal and Chester Hooton (Lamour and Hope) are an old married couple, and it’s nice that Hope finally got to win the love triangle in this picture. Arriving at their door is old friend, Duke Johnson (Crosby), and the trio recount their Alaskan adventure at the turn of the century in, as Benchley explains, a flashback.

In San Francisco at that time, Mr. Lattimer is murdered and the map to Sal’s father’s goldmine is stolen by the dastardly Sperry and McGurk. On the advice of the dying Lattimer, she heads to Alaska before the bad guys do to find a man named Ace who can help her, but Ace has his own ideas. Duke and Chester are song and dance men running a gambling scam. Sneaking out of town, Duke wants them to go for gold in Alaska while Chester has had enough and wants to go to Brooklyn, but Duke tricks Chester so northward they go. As they work throwing coal in the fire, there’s a funny gag as a well-dressed man gets a light for a cigarette on his way to appear in another picture.

Duke and Chester find the map Sperry and McGurk stole and in turn steal their beards and clothes to sneak off the boat. They are told Sal wants to meet them, which she does in order to get the map back. After seeing her perform “Personality”, the competition for her hand is on between the men while different groups compete to get the map.

The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. There’s a variety of grays between the inky blacks and bright whites. Film grain is apparent and gets a little thick during scenes with a lot of white, like when the boys dressed as ship stewards in Sperry and McGurk’s room. The image is sharp in the foreground though soft in backgrounds, creating limited depth, and sometimes on the sides, such as the scene that starts Chapter Eight. When the boys are performing in checkered suits, the picture avoids aliasing. Minor specks of black and white appear at times.

The audio appears in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. Dialogue is clear, though dubs are apparent, and the one line that can’t be heard is a censorship gag. A great balance between the vocals and music has been achieved in the mix. No signs of defect were heard. The boom of the dynamite has a sufficient bottom end.

The extras include:

  • An informative audio commentary by filmmaker Greg Ford and film & music historian Will Friedwald has been recorded separately and edited together.
  • Bob Hope and the Road to Success (14 min) is from the 2001 DVD release. It starts with Hope’s career and then talks about he and Crosby working on the film together. This is available on all four releases.
  • Hollywood Victory Caravan (20 min) – Hope and Crosby appear in this a star-studded PSA for the Victory Loan campaign. . Sound quality isn’t good, particularly during the musical numbers.
  • Trailers for the first four Road movies.

Though the film plays with the story formula of the previous installments, Road to Utopia works well because they stuck with what worked before: making sure there were plenty of laughs and wonderful songs. It’s a worthy addition to the series and certainly the silliest so far. Kino’s Blu-ray offers the best high-def presentation of video and audio of the first four films.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site.

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