Road to Utopia
Road to Utopia is a 1946 American semi-musical comedy film directed by Hal Walker and starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour. Filmed in 1943 but not released until 1946, Road to Utopia is the fourth film of the "Road to …" series. Written by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, the film is about two vaudeville performers at the turn of the twentieth century who go to Alaska to make their fortune. Along the way they find a map to a secret gold mine. In 1947, Road to Utopia received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
|Road to Utopia|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Hal Walker|
|Produced by||Paul Jones|
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Edited by||Stuart Gilmore|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$5 million (US rentals)|
Sal Van Hoyden and Chester Hooton, an old married couple, are visited by their equally old friend Duke Johnson, and the three reminisce about their previous adventure in the Klondike. The film flashes back to the turn of the century. A man is murdered and two thugs, McGurk and Sperry, steal a map to a gold mine. The map and mine belonged to a man named Van Hoyden and the dying man tells Sal (Van Hoyden's daughter) the mine is in Alaska and to find a man named Ace Larson. Sal manages to get on the last boat to Alaska before McGurk and Sperry.
To evade the police, the thugs duck into a theater, where Duke and Chester are performing vaudeville. They proceed to work the crowd with a "ghost scam" into "gambling" their money in hope of doubling it. As the police find the thugs, they escape onstage and reveal Chester hiding under the table with the crowd's money. Duke and Chester are forced to flee the angry mob.
As Duke divides their money, Chester is fed up with having to jump from town to town. Duke convinces him to head north to Alaska to prospect for gold. Chester refuses on the grounds that every time Duke gets a "great idea", Chester is the one that gets the runaround. Chester then takes all the money and tells Duke to go on without him.
As McGurk and Sperry get on the boat bound for Alaska, Duke and Chester prepare to part ways. As they bid a solemn goodbye, and picking each other's pocket, Duke steals the money. Chester waves goodbye until he sees Duke counting the money and changes boats at the last moment. He is about to throttle Duke when he realizes the boat has left the dock for Alaska. In Duke's cabin, Chester takes the money back and puts it in a safe, which turns out to be a porthole. With no money to pay for passage, they are forced to scrub the deck and shovel coal.
Sal arrives in Alaska and meets with Ace Larson, a saloon owner and friend of her father. Instead of going to the police, Larson assures Sal that he will take care of things. He gives her a job performing in his saloon, an act which infuriates Larson's girlfriend, Kate. Larson tells Kate how he really plans to take Sal's gold mine for the two of them and passionately kisses her.
While doing housekeeping duties in a cabin, Chester finds the map to the gold mine. As the thugs enter behind them, Duke and Chester realize they have found the Van Hoyden map and the occupants are the killers. They overpower the thugs and take their place (and their beards) to get off the boat, only to find the entire town is terrified of the real thugs. Thinking they can get anything they want, Duke and Chester adopt the tough persona and head to the saloon. They argue over who gets to hold the map and decide to tear it in half and each man keep his for safe keeping.
While enjoying "free" champagne and lots of dancing girls, they see Sal's singing routine and are both instantly smitten. Sal plays up to both of them and sends a note to Chester. She doubts they are the real killers, but Ace's lackey, Lebec, reminds her to get the map at all costs.
Chester confides in Sal about the map, even telling her how Duke hid his half in his hat. Sal sends him away but tells him to return at midnight. Meanwhile, Duke receives a note from Sal, and thinking he's McGurk, Sal plays up to him, allowing Lebec to take his hat and the map. She also sends him away telling him to return at midnight. Duke and Chester are at first shocked to be on a date with the same woman, but the night is cut short when the real McGurk and Sperry burst into the hotel. As they make a hasty exit, Sal learns she gave half of the map to Ace. Duke and Chester manage to escape by dog sled.
Ace is furious to only have half a map, and sends Kate to the get the other half, with Lebec as a backup plan. Kate tries to pull the "stranded girl in the snow" routine to attract Duke and Chester, but is interrupted by Sal's arrival. The four of them head to a nearby cabin. Kate tells Sal that they need to get the other half or the men will be killed.
After a failed attempt to get the map, Sal gets "McGurk" (Duke) to reveal "Sperry" (Chester) has hidden his half in his undershirt. She plays to "McGurk" and tells him that "Sperry" wants to steal his half and they should run away together. Duke reveals his true identity and says he'll take care of "Sperry" as Kate walks in. Sal, now realizing how much she loves Duke, refuses to go along with the plan. But Kate warns her that only Ace can keep them from being killed and the only way to get to him is to give up the map. Sal reluctantly agrees to steal the map while the men sleep, and the two girls leave the next morning with Lebec.
Duke and Chester are confronted by the real McGurk and Sperry and they realize the girls had stolen the map. They still manage to escape and the after a merry chase through the mountains head back to town.
Sal tells Ace she'll only give up the map if he refuses to kill Duke and Chester, but instead he forms a posse to dispose of them. Somehow they managed to steal the map back, rescue Sal, scare away the mob and get rid of McGurk and Sperry. They escape by dog sled with the mob after them but the sled overturns. The ice splits, leaving Sal and Chester on one side, and Duke on the side of the mob. He throws the map, wishes them well and turns to face the mob.
The movie flashes back into the present with aged Duke telling Sal and Chester how he escaped the mob. He is then surprised to hear Chester and Sal have a son. They call for him, and he bears a striking resemblance to Duke. Chester looks into the camera and says, "We adopted him."
- Bing Crosby as Duke Johnson/Junior Hooton
- Bob Hope as Chester Hooton
- Dorothy Lamour as Sal Van Hoyden
- Hillary Brooke as Kate
- Douglass Dumbrille as Ace Larson
- Jack La Rue as LeBec (as Jack LaRue)
- Robert Barrat as Sperry
- Nestor Paiva as McGurk
- Robert Benchley as Narrator
- Chester Conklin as Banjo Player (uncredited)
- Ferdinand Munier as Santa Claus (uncredited)
- Jim Thorpe as Collins (uncredited)
Filmed from December 1943 to March 1944, the film is the only Road to … film without a real place in its title, though Alaska with its gold mines is referred to as "Utopia" several times in the film. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour starred, as they did in all but one of the series. The film is also the only "Road" film that did not take place in modern times though the film begins and ends with the cast made up to look older who flashback to the past.
As a “narrator”, humor essayist Robert Benchley provides some wry commentary that is interspersed throughout the movie (Benchley died several months before the film's release). There are also jabs at Paramount Pictures (the studio that originally released the film) and a reference to Frank Sinatra, not to mention many instances of "breaking the fourth wall" and general wackiness. During Crosby's fake incantation at the beginning of the film include the phrase "presto-sturgando", which is a reference to Paramount writer-director Preston Sturges.
In her autobiography, Dorothy Lamour said that the release of Road to Utopia may have been delayed by Paramount to not jeopardize the public's and Academy Awards committee's acceptance of Crosby as Best Actor for playing a priest in Going My Way.
The film was 9th in the list of top-grossing movies of 1946.
The critics loved it. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote: "Not since Charlie Chaplin was prospecting for gold in a Hollywood-made Alaska many long years ago has so much howling humor been swirled with so much artificial snow as it is in “Road to Utopia,” which came to the Paramount yesterday." Variety summed it up writing: "The highly successful Crosby-Hope-Lamour “Road” series under the Paramount banner comes to attention once again in “Road to Utopia,” a zany laugh-getter which digresses somewhat from pattern by gently kidding the picture business and throwing in unique little touches, all with a view to tickling the risibilities. Very big boxoffice results assured...
- "Goodtime Charlie" by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope
- "It's Anybody's Spring" by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope
- "Personality" by Dorothy Lamour
- "Welcome to My Dreams" by Bing Crosby
- "Put It There, Pal" by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope
- "Would You?" by Dorothy Lamour
Bing Crosby recorded four of the songs for Decca Records. “Personality” (which was not sung by Crosby in the film) charted briefly in the Billboard charts reaching the No. 9 spot. Crosby's songs were also included in the Bing's Hollywood series.
This is the last of the original four "Road" pictures that now reside with EMKA, Ltd./NBC Universal (which holds Paramount's pre-1950 library). The film's copyright was renewed in a timely manner by the company which had acquired it. Originally registered for copyright as LP159 with a declared publication date of March 22, 1946, the continuation of copyright was contingent upon renewal between the 27th and 28th anniversaries of that date. Renewal occurred March 29, 1973, number R548937. Although the film opened February 27, 1946, the renewal is still timely even if the earlier date were considered publication date. Renewal was filed by EMKA, Ltd., and thus Universal Pictures now is the distributor for all media. The copyright is now scheduled to run until 95 years after the publication date (2041).
- "60 Top Grossers of 1946", Variety 8 January 1947 p8
- "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
- "Road to Utopia". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
- "Awards for Road to Utopia". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 3, 2012.
- Lamour, Dorothy. My Side of the Road. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1980, p. 142.
- "Hollywood Sneaks In 15 Films on '25 Best' List of Arty Britain". The Washington Post. 15 Jan 1947. p. 2.
- Crowther, Bosley (February 28, 1946). "The New York Times". Cite journal requires
- "Variety". December 5, 1945. Cite journal requires
- "A Bing Crosby Discography". A Bing Crosby Discography. Retrieved January 22, 2016.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 110. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
- Whitburn, Joel (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954. Wisconsin, USA: Record Research Inc. p. 567. ISBN 0-89820-083-0.
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