Film (1962). Melnor. Directed by Norman Panama, starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Joan Collins, Robert Morley, Walter Gotell, Dorothy Lamour. Written by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama. 91 minutes. Black and white.
Veteran con-men Harry Turner (Crosby) and Chester Babcock (Hope) have lured 400 investors with their latest scam, an "Interplanetary Spacecraft" from "Fly-It-Yourself, Inc." that is actually little more than a propeller cap and jet pack worn by Babcock on a modest, string-assisted ascent that ends with a crash causing Babcock to suffer from amnesia. At an airport, planning to fly to a Tibetan lamasery where he might regain his memory, Babcock is mistaken for a secret agent by Diane (Collins), who works for a revolutionary organization called the Third Echelon and gives him a secret Russian formula for rocket fuel. At the lamasery, one herb restores Babcock's memory and another one gives him a photographic memory, which he tests by memorizing the formula. When efforts to get him to recite the formula for the head of the Third Echelon (Morley) are unsuccessful, he orders Turner and Babcock to replace two apes on a Spaceship that orbits the Moon. During their brief flight, Turner and Babcock are comically bedevilled by equipment designed for the apes, such as a banana-dispensing machine and a face-wiper. Upon returning to Earth, the con-men do not know that they will be killed as soon as Babcock reveals the formula, but Diane helps them escape and, with additional assistance from an old friend (Lamour), they storm the headquarters of the Third Echelon along with police officers alerted by Diane. Turner, Babcock, and Diane accidentally end up on board a departing spaceship that lands on the Earthlike planet Plutonius, where they will be exiled for the rest of their lives, with some uncertainty as to whether Diane will end up with Turner, or will be shared by both men.
This lamentable final instalment in the generally admirable series of "Road" comedies featuring Hope and Crosby is weakened by two disastrous decisions. The one that everyone acknowledges is the omission of regular co-star Lamour in favor of the younger Collins, who lacked Lamour's comedic skills and easy rapport with the veteran actors (though outraged reactions from fans forced producers to awkwardly insert a cameo appearance by Lamour). But it was equally unwise to move the series into sf territory, as space travel and high-tech spy organizations forced the duo into situations that they could not readily evade with glib lies and their trademark shenanigans. Instead, the film's gimmicky plot persistently casts them in the role of victims, old men trapped in a new world that has rendered their tried-and-true coping strategies obsolete. Still, the film does have one genuinely funny line: when Babcock asks, "Why do you suppose they're sending us up?", Turner replies: "They want to find out if it's going to be safe for the apes." The film's final scene includes cameo appearances by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. A planned eighth film in the series, «The Road to the Fountain of Youth», was cancelled after Crosby's death in 1977. [GW]