The Road To Hong Kong, recently reissued in MGM’s Bob Hope MGM Movie Legends Collection, was the final Hope and Crosby "Road" movie, trailing its predecessor by nearly a decade. It’s a strange film, because it straddles two film genres that I tend to think of as being of entirely different eras: "Road" pictures and Sixties spy spoofs. Obviously it comes very late in the game for the former, but also finds itself (strangely) on the cutting edge of the latter. Whereas the vast majority of spy parodies rode on Bond’s coattails, The Road To Hong Kong slipped in before the pack (and even just before Dr. No), actually anticipating the genre it was sending up! And it really does a surprisingly good job, right down to a pre-title bit (a vaudeville routine, representing that one foot squarely in the past) and even a title sequence designed by Maurice Binder. With its mixture of Oriental imagery and rockets, it oddly prefigures his work on You Only Live Twice five years later.
Bob Hope and Bing Crosby play their usual Road sorts: traveling hucksters trying to con their way through India with an act about a rocket harness that doesn’t really work. Crosby talks Hope into flying the contraption, a predictable disaster that results in Hope losing his memory.
Just when you’re settled in for the same old (ever enjoyable) Road movie routine (lulled by the black and white photography into thinking it’s nineteen-forty-something), Sixties icon Peter Sellers turns up doing his hilarious Indian accent (maybe it’s not P.C. to admit it, but every time I hear Sellers use that voice, I crack up) as the Hindu physician who first assesses Hope’s condition. Unsurprisingly, Sellers’ doctor is far from competent, so the duo end up seeking the help of a mystical herb, said to restore memory, found only in a remote Tibetan lamastery.
At the airport, Crosby tries to coach the hopeless Hope (who’s forgotten everything, even the word "bosom") on how to pick up women. Thanks to Hope’s grabbing the wrong bag (a signal), his charmless, innuendo-laden routine actually nets a catch that turns his partner’s head: Joan Collins. Collins plays an agent of the nefarious Third Echelon (that power I mentioned that rivals the US and the Soviet Union), and, believing Hope to be such as well, mistakenly saddles him with stolen space secrets.
After some stock footage of Hong Kong, our hapless duo end up on a couch that plunges through a secret passage and slides them into an underground lair. (Seri-ously! Maybe Dahl did have this movie in mind after all when penning You Only Live Twice!) The lair in question belongs to Robert Morley (in a Dr. No-ish getup), leader of the Third Echelon, and is eerily similar to that of the good doctor’s, complete with magnifying porthole windows into an ocean teeming with sharks. Morley’s Number 2 is played by spy regular Walter Gotell (the future General Golgol), two years before his role as the commandant of SPECTRE Island in From Russia With Love. Morley relishes a choice monologue ("I’ll deal with humanity as I please and I’ll do with humanity as I choose and I’ll do it from the moon with my radial lunar bombs!") before vowing to "rebuild the world according to my own image after my own specifications!" In a wild parody of comic book villainy, he unwittingly becomes the very blueprint for the breed of spy villains to come.