Road to Zanzibar was the second of the hugely successful Road movies starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Road to Singapore had been a major hit in 1940 and this follow-up movie put even more emphasis on the comedy. The Road movies were not only immensely funny - they were also genuinely witty and can even be described as ground-breaking with lots of self-referential gags and with Hope and Crosby breaking the fourth wall with wild abandon.
The plot is fairly thin but it sets up the zany situations perfectly and they are mined for their full comedic potential. And the script provides more than enough gags to keep any comedy fan happy.
Fearless Frazier (Hope) and Chuck Reardon (Crosby) are a couple of American carnival performers in Africa. Needless to say their act consists of Fearless doing various dangerous stunts that Reardon has thought up. Their latest act features Fearless as a human cannonball. The act proves to be more spectacular than intended - it ends up burning down the entire carnival. Now our two intrepid heroes are on the run from the local police. Fearless yearns to return to the US but when Reardon is despatched to buy the tickets for the ship he returns to announce that has spent all their money. He has bought a diamond mine. Fearless and Chick are con artists themselves but this time they’ve run into an even better con man in the shape of Charles Kimble (Eric Blore).
The laughs come thick and fast, especially in the first half hour which sets a cracking pace. The action slows down a little in the middle with a couple of songs being thrown in but the songs are actually pretty good and with a singer of Crosby’s calibre the musical numbers become a plus rather than a minus.
Hope was never funnier than he was in the Road movies. He and Crosby did not get on too well in real life but they were one of the greatest of all movie comedy teams. The verbal fireworks are mixed with a liberal sprinkling of visual gags.
Some of the humour here may be considered today to be a little on the politically incorrect side but it’s basically good-natured. The interplay between Crosby as the manipulator and Hope as his victim could have come across as rather cruel in the hands of lesser artists but in the Road movies this pitfall is on the whole successfully avoided. These are feel-good movies in the best sense of the word.
Road to Zanzibar is quite simply one of the best comedies of its era and it stands up remarkably well today and it still feels fresh and innovative. This is pure comedy gold. Very highly recommended.