The Road to Singapore (1931)

William Powell, Doris Kenyon, Marian Marsh, Louis Calhern,
Gossip, snobbery, mistrust, divorce and a mail-order engagement dominate the lives of the British upper class living in the plantation colonies of Southeast Asia.
  • 6.4 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Denise Robins, Roland Pertwee, J. Grubb Alexander, Writer:
  • Alfred E. Green, Director:
  • Producer:
7 / 10

Not one of the Hope/Crosby "Road" pictures

The Road to Singapore is based upon a play and is therefore limited in its settings. That setting is the British colonial Far East (Khota - on the shipping line between Colombo and Singapore) and involve the Gymkhana Club and its members. Hugh Dawltry has been expelled from the club. He is a cad, a bounder, an unmitigated reprobate who steals other men's wives. But he falls for Phillipa on the steamer and they soon find themselves involved ashore. Phillippa is a former nurse who has come to the colony to join a doctor as his wife. The main plot involves whether she will cast off her cold husband and succumb to the heat wave of the tropics and the assault by Hugh. Complications exist in the form of the doctor's younger sister who is coming of age and of interest in men (pre-Code). The best shot in the entire movie is when the two star crossed lovers are each looking out windows across the divide between their homes -- it alone is worth the price of admission. Two characters waling through with inane arguments (Reggie and Simpson) don't come close to Caldicott and Charters. A somewhat satisfying ending - recommended.

6 / 10

Early polished Powell

Not-especially-interesting romantic melodrama, from a play, of a triangle in the tropics. But it's one of the earliest demonstrations of William Powell in full William Powelldom. As a rich, unscrupulous playboy living a hedonistic existence in Khota (why Khota is never made clear), he's all polished consonants, dapper clothes, and upper-class charm. You can see why Doris Kenyon, unhappily married to dull, work-obsessed doctor Louis Calhern, would respond to his flirtations. And you can see why her younger sister, Marian Marsh, would be similarly captivated. It's a bit clichéd and more than a bit casually racist (when displeased with a servant, kick him), but it's lifted up by a) some spiffy early-talkie camera-work--love the long take panning from Calhern's to Powell's bungalow!--and b) engagingly pre-Code morality, where the callow hedonist isn't entirely punished for his devil-may-care attitude. It's swift, and the ending may surprise you a little.

6 / 10

Both the men who want this woman are major jerk-faces!

"The Road to Singapore" is a rather old fashioned movie that must have seemed pretty scandalous back in the day when it was a play and later, this film. It's old fashioned in its portrayals of female roles as well as its tacit acceptance of British colonialism. Today, the film would definitely be seen as quite dated.

The story begins on a cruise ship headed to Singapore. Philippa (Doris Kenyon) is a nurse who is going to Singapore to marry a doctor she once worked with back in Britain. On the ship is also Hugh (William Powell), a major rogue who has a reputation as a bad boy--a despoiler of women. He does his best throughout the cruise to get to know Philippa better and she rebuffs him repeatedly. After all, she doesn't want a one night stand and has a husband waiting for her.

Once she arrives in Singapore, Hugh doesn't let up and he's obviously a man who thinks no might mean yes. In contrast, however, once Philippa marries Dr. March (Louis Calhern), she discovers he's pretty much the opposite...almost sexless and completely detached from her. He also is a man who seems to have lost his humanity and he's cruel to the locals, as he feels they are beneath him. Add to this mix Dr. March's very young and horny sister, Rene (Marian Marsh). She likes the idea of having a rendezvous with Hugh. To her, he's exciting, sexy and dangerous. You just know at some point a major confrontation, or worse, is going to occur between Dr. March and Hugh...and you aren't sure if it's over Philippa or Rene...or both!

So is this any good? Well, it's okay. But it did seem odd that the film showed you two options...a detached jerk of a husband and a womanizing jerk of a lover! You really wonder why Philippa didn't just hop aboard another ship and head back home and leave the two jerks to themselves. Back in the day it just seemed titillating...but now it seems dated. This was especially true in the big confrontation scene at the end....which was amazingly talky. Entertaining....but dated.

By the way, if you do watch this, note the really nice cinematography....far better than you'd expect to see in 1931.

4 / 10

Husbands lock up your wives

Don't get the idea that this was an early version of a series that Hope and Crosby made famous. Based on a play entitled Heat Wave by British author Roland Pertwee when it got to Broadway mid the Depression it only ran for 15 performances. From what I see it might not have had a better run in more prosperous times.

The parts that William Powell, Louis Calhern, Doris Kenyon, and Marian Marsh play were done on Broadway by Basil Rathbone, Henry Daniell, Selena Royle, and Betty Lawford. All of the Broadway players had substantial careers in film as well though none were really box office names. Might have been interesting to see how they did the parts though I doubt the material would have been improved.

Former colonial resident William Powell is returning to a dreary corner of British held Malaysia and the news is not met with enthusiasm. Here as in London Powell had the reputation of a rake so its husbands lock up your wives.

Sure enough Powell goes after Doris Kenyon who is married to the local doctor Louis Calhern. Calhern makes it very easy for him as he is one drip of a human being. He looks on his very patients like lab rats who are just interesting cases to him. He's disappointed that a trip to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka doesn't materialize because he was called in on a consultation for a rare tumor and the poor man died. Poor Calhern didn't get a chance to see it and be written in the medical journals. What a romantic.

So the cast gets to spout a lot of romantic drivel except for Calhern. Funniest moment is Powell dancing with Alison Skipworth at the club where she wrecks his feet. That could have been from one of the comedies he later did at MGM. Would there had been more moments like that in The Road To Singapore.

A lot of flop plays and unsold to theater work wound up made into films in those early days of sound. The studios bought everything with dialog in it in their quest for subject matter. I doubt The Road To Singapore will better remembered than that other famous Road To Singapore.

5 / 10

"The tropics is no place for a white man -- unless he has no place else to go."

Early talkie melodrama about a man (William Powell) whose reputation is tarnished for having an affair with a married woman. So he relocates to a tropical island. Turns out they have married women there, too. Who knew?

Powell's charismatic as usual but he can't breathe much life into this tired script. It's a clichéd story, even for the time. Not exciting or particularly interesting, at least for my tastes. Reading the other reviews here, I'm kind of blown away by the praise. I had to check my TV to make sure we're all talking about the same movie. I like William Powell as much as the next person but this is mediocre stuff.