"The Road to Hong Kong" (1962. Directed by Norman Panama.) is kind of a sputtering end to the Road Pictures. Both Hope and Crosby were pushing sixty at this point and it was starting to show. It didn't help that Dorothy Lamour was pushed to a glorified cameo in favor of a young Joan Collins. (And I don't care if Lamour was long in the tooth to be the ingénue. Collins is a downgrade in the comedy department.) And honestly, what seemed like wild and goofy fun in the forties was starting to sound a lot like dad humor as we hit the sixities.
But the film does have one great scene in it and that's because of Peter Sellers.
At this point, Sellers had aready had a pretty sucessful career that started with "The Goon Show" and included a number of Film and Television roles in the Fifties. And in 1962, he would break through as Clair Quility in Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita".
But first, he spent what looks like a single day of work, fucking around with Hope and Crosby.
And yes, I know to contempary audiences, having a caucasian playing an Indian Character is somewhat jarring. And lord knows, if you have trouble with Sellers in the scene above, you'd best stay clear of Blake Edwards' "The Party".
(Sidebar: Actually, if you have trouble with the scene above, there are whole swaths of Sellars film work that you may want to stay clear of. His parody of Charlie Chan in Neil Simon's "Murder by Death" is a jarring note in what is otherwise a smooth parody of Detective movies. And the less said about "The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu", the better.)
But if you can allow for the context of when the film was made, (And honestly, in matters of racial sensitivity, Sellers is the least of this film's worries.) he is awfully good in it.
And it plays well given that we're watching Sellers' brand of semi-improvisational character comedy play against the vaudville rhythms of Hope and Crosby. The effect is like hearing Ornette Coleman playing with the Glen Miller orchestra. And to Hope and Crosby's credit, they seem more than game to let Sellers dominate the scene. (At one point during a Sellers close up, you can hear Hope offscreen try to stifle a laugh. Game clearly recognized game.)
While Hope and Crosby continued to have successful careers in both film and TV, their impact on the culture lessened. Meanwhile, Sellers would dominate the sixties and seventies with his collaborations with Stanley Kubrick and Blake Edwards. (And he'd cap the decade with a career best performance in Hal Ashby's "Being There".)
If you watch the above embedded scene closely, you might catch the fleeting glimpse of a Baton being passed.