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Abbott & Costello

Posted: June 7th, 2011, 4:11 pm
by MichiganJ
Been going through the tremendous DVD set, Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Collection, supplemented by the few MGM and independent films the boys did together.

I've been an avid A & C fan since I was a boy. For years, every Sunday morning at 11:30, channel 11, WPIX aired one of their 30+- Universal films, and I watched every week, so it has been a great joy to revisit them again. Because of my history with these films, still knowing virtually every routine, plus the fact that I grew up in the town that bordered the city where Lou hailed from, I find myself unable to view the films critically; I just love 'em.

One Night in the Tropics (1940) The duo's debut film is the only one in which they appear that they are not the stars; but they should be because when they aren't on the screen, the film is pretty much a dud. Alan Jones and Robert Cummings star in this musical/comedy about "love insurance". The boys essentially do short snippets of their greatest hits, including Jonah and the Whale (done better in their later release Here Come the Co-Eds) and a very abbreviated Who's on First. (The entire routine can be seen in their film, The Naughty Nineties, as well as at the Baseball Hall of Fame).

Buck Privates (1941) Their first staring vehicle is a service comedy classic. Great comedy, great music (the Andrew Sisters croon, among others, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B), and a plot that holds together, albeit barely. Lots of highlights but the dice game and especially the Drill Routine are among the best. Lou, famous for his ad-libs, asks Drill Instructor Bud, "What time is it?" Without missing a beat, Bud fires back, "None of your business."
This was Universal's biggest hit of the year, and the boys were on their way.

In the Navy (1941) What was good for the army was good for the navy, but even better. Bud and Lou, again with the Sisters Andrew, are in top form and this film has laughs to spare. The Lemon Bit, featuring Bud, Lou and Stooge Shemp Howard is a must. But the absolute greatest routine, one of may all-time favorites, is 7 X 13 = 28. (And boy did I goof my young nephew's head when I showed it to him!) The film also features one of my favorite lines from Lou, "There's a tomat-a in the potato locker." (Have to see it to understand.) This is the film that introduced me to Dick Powell, who actually resurrected his career (and sings a couple of tunes, too.) Classic.

Hold That Ghost ( 1941) A & C were filming this right after the release of Buck Privates, but with Private's success, Universal halted the production on Ghost and got the boys into another service comedy. And since both service comedies were successful with the Andrew Sisters, despite them not originally appearing in the script, when production on Ghost resumed, the Sisters and other musical numbers were shoe-horned in (actually book-ended, as they appear at the beginning and end.) Regardless, once the film-proper begins, you have the quintessential haunted house comedy. Not only that, but the co-stars include Richard (Creature From the Black Lagoon) Carlson and Evelyn (Queen of Horror) Ankers. But it's Joan Davis who really makes her mark, working her comedic wiles with Lou, most notably during a very funny "dance routine". And speaking of Lou, it's here where we finally get to see him do his "scared routine", which he did so well that Universal insisted, regardless of plots, that Lou be scared at some point in the future films. That this plot makes little sense is beyond the point. The "changing room" bit is a standout (and oft repeated in their films) and this includes their best filmed version of the moving candle routine, which Lou shares with Joan.

Keep 'em Flying (1941) Four films in ten months and as went the army, navy, now, too, is the Army Air Corps. (The US Air Force became a separate branch in '47.)). No Andrew Sisters this time, but still plenty of okay music, a great plot, and best of all, Martha Raye…as TWINS! One twin likes Bud, the other Lou, but, naturally Lou doesn't realizes that their are two of 'em, meaning the "order something" routine is hysterical. More plot this time, and we get to see both Bud and Lou do a little actual acting. Lou showing he is quite capable of adding a bit of pathos to his character, something which none other than Charles Chaplin would soon notice.

Ride 'em Cowboy (1941) Bud and Lou at a dude ranch. Not only that, they are there with silent film star Johnny Mack Brown and Anne (House of Frankenstein) Gwynne. Not to mention the film debut of Ella Fitzgerald, who sings a great version of "A Tisket, A Tasket". The film features a long and very funny chase sequence as well as some of their great word-play gags, including "heard of cows". They also stage an elaborate version of "Crazy House", but the bit feels shoe-horned in, and just doesn't work in the context of the film (excerpted, it works fine.) Still, a very fun and funny film.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: June 7th, 2011, 6:26 pm
by Gary J.
The "Crazy House" routine got all chopped up in post-production editing as
the producers didn't understand how surreal it was suppose to be. They also
didn't realize they were tampering with an all-time burlesque classic skit so
when they only used drips and drabs of what was filmed and then framed the
entire scene as Lou's dream they diluted the impact of the entire sequence.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: June 8th, 2011, 8:39 am
by MichiganJ
When broadcast on TV, the Crazy House routine was cut out, so the first time I saw it in Ride 'em Cowboy was when the film was released on VHS. When done and presented right, the routine is really funny, but, as you say, when presented as Lou's dream, the whole surreal nature of the routine is lost. It's odd, too, because Ride 'em Cowboy has a number of good surreal gags. A favorite being during the chase sequence when Lou drives the car under water, gets out (still under water), grabs a cup and takes a drink.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: June 17th, 2011, 2:57 pm
by mrsl
I'm not a real fan of A & C movies, but I do LOVE their skits. I would pay to see someone watching 'Who's on first?' not crack a smile and let a giggle out at least once. I don't think it's possible to keep a straight face. I don't care for the teams where one overrides the other, like Abbot ordering Lou around, or Hardy blaming Laurel for all their problems, when 90% of the time it's because of Hardy, etc. But A & C are a couple of funny guys, and made a good team, just as Martin & Lewis did, but I liked both of them much better when they split. I think Dean was hampered by Jerry, and finally spread his wings when he went solo. I know the teaming of Crosby and Hope was strictly for the movies they made together, but I loved the way the inner feuding was handled with Bob getting Dorothy one time, and Bing getting her the next. Have you noticed that we don't have any comedy couples any more? That, to me, is odd because it's been proven that it works (for a while, anyway), so you would think someone would pick up on that. I have to agree with Shirley MacLaine when asked recently what she thought about today's movie comedies, she said, "what comedies? Ha, these kids today are so silly they have no idea what makes a situation funny, if it doesn't involve physical infirmities." Of course I'm paraphrasing, but put your own words in. The whole idea of this post is that I am always looking for a good comedy, and I don't mean slapstick. I love to laugh, have a great sense of humor as my friends know, and enjoy rolling off the couch when a good laugh really hits me. Sandra Bullock tries, but even her comedies turn serious toward the end. The best comedy I've seen in the last 15 years or so has been Return to Me, which I watched twice successively to catvh what I missed while laughing during the first viewing.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: June 17th, 2011, 4:59 pm
by Gary J.
mrsl wrote:.
I'm not a real fan of A & C movies, but I do LOVE their skits.
In that case you are a fan since that is the heart of their teaming.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: July 23rd, 2011, 10:52 am
by MichiganJ
To try an appease Louis B. Mayer, who was angered that Abbott and Costello were signed by Universal, the boys were loaned out to MGM for one picture a year, their first being Rio Rita (1942). Pretty much a name-only remake of the early musical, the plot, involving Nazi spies using a radio broadcast to send coded messages doesn't even kick in until after the half way mark. While there's still some great A & C comedy (the opening, where they work in a pet store and Bud needs Lou to pick up a Peke(inese) from a Mrs. Pike; a long but funny bit with a car on a lift, and the washing machine bit, which is excerpted in That's Entertainment II), it's clear that MGM didn't exactly have a handle on Abbott and Costello. The overall MGM gloss, even in black and white, seems to work against the two, too. It's a little like the MGM Marx Brothers films vs. their Paramount classics. (Rio Rita is available from Warner Archive.)

Pardon My Sarong (1942) Back on home turf, this time the boys are Chicago bus drivers who take a wrong turn and end up in LA! Not only that, they then get shipwrecked on an uncharted island inhabited by natives and Lionel Atwill, which is never good. What is good is that Invisible Woman Virginia Bruce is also on hand (and it's fun watching her try and not crack up at Lou's antics). Fans generally find this a weak effort, but not this fan. I love the wackiness of the plot that makes even less sense than your standard A & C film. Highlight is definitely the "Go ahead and back up" routine, where bus driver Lou doesn't know which way Bud wants him to go. As a boy, I often used the "stinker" routine on my brother, and the "tree of life" bit is fun, but I think works better in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars.

Who Done It? (1942) This is one of the A & C films that even folks who don't like the boys may like. It's a murder mystery that takes place in a radio studio, and all of the radio bits are fascinating. Patric (The Wolfman/Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman) Knowles costars and looks as if he's having fun. Best bits include the limburger cheese and the transcription room sequence. "Number, Please" is here, too and is funny but feels like an after thought.

It Ain't Hay (1943) finally makes it to home video. Because of rights issues (with the estate of Damon Runyon, I think), It Ain't Hay never saw a VHS release, let alone DVD, so it has been decades since I've seen it. But because of the regular weekly A & C films on TV, this revisit was like welcoming an old friend. Based on Runyon's Princess O'Hara, the plot centers around O'Hara's horse and Bud and Lou's mixing it up with the race horse "Tea Biscuit". As a boy I had a crush on Patsy O'Connor (Princess O'Hara) and the film also features a great turn by Eugene Pallett, as well as my favorite Stooge, Shemp ("Look at me, I'm a Damon Runyon character!") All the horses require Bud and Lou to do the "mudder/fodder" bit (done better in The Noose Hangs High) and a terrific rendition of "the betting parlor". This film also features a tremendous dramatic sequence in which everyone is mad and disappointed at Lou. When he finds out why, well, it still breaks my heart and proves he was not just a comedic actor.

Hit the Ice (1943) Another that "non" fans may like. Bud and Lou get mixed up with some gangsters (included a sinister Sheldon Leonard--yes, that Sheldon Leonard). Patric Knowles is back, this time as a clueless doctor but also old friend of Bud and Lou's ("Weokie"). The boys do the "pack and unpack" bit (again--one of their most repeated bits), and a terrific version of "Alright", where Lou pretends to play the piano with Bud actually playing a recording. Great chase sequence on skis and a funny ice skating bit and the songs are pretty good, too.

Lot of films for the boys in a short amount of time. Not to mention a hugely successful weekly radio show. The price would be paid with Lou getting rheumatic fever, laying him up for almost a year. This afforded him the opportunity to be with his newborn son, Butch. Tragically, the very day Lou returned to his radio show, Butch was found drowned in the pool. Lou, who had wanted Butch to listen to his old man on the radio, did the broadcast. At the end of the broadcast Bud addressed the studio and radio audience, explaining the tragedy and paying tribute to his friend and partner.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 15th, 2011, 11:08 pm
by movieman1957
Once upon a time I liked them. More like I liked Lou. I saw nearly everything in a short period of time a long time ago. Maybe I overdosed on them then because I don't enjoy them nearly as much now. (I have seen a couple of their TV shows and I think I like them better there.)

I never could make myself like Bud Abbott. He mostly seemed like he tolerated Lou. Why he stayed with him, on film and in character, seemed baffling as he seemed not to like Lou or more accurately his character. (I know in real life they had their issues.) Some of their skits were very funny. I guess I liked them is small doses.

The one time I did feel bad for Bud was a "This Is Your Life" show for Lou. They seemed to fit him in somewhere between the kid down the street and a high school teacher. Bud was a big part of helping Lou become the star he was and I think Bud really got short changed there.

But they were very popular for a very long time. Something had to be there.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 16th, 2011, 6:13 pm
by MichiganJ
Bud used to say he enjoyed when children would yell at him to stop being mean to Lou, because it meant he was doing his job. In many of their films, Bud is pretty rough on Lou, but never overtly hostile, I think; a little like an older brother picking on his younger sibling. Plus, in many of their bits, the payoff is that Lou gets the upper hand over Bud. (See the Lemon Bit in In the Navy for a classic and very funny example.) They always seem to maintain a comradery and in most of their films, they do seem to be friends, or at the very least, always want to be with one another.

Their relationship in private life is harder to assess. Since they were together so much on either film sets, radio stages, TV stages and actual stages, including those during their cross-country tours selling War Bonds (raising $85 million!), I doubt the two spent much time together "after hours". But I also have no doubt that the two loved and respected each other enormously. Even during the tense times, and there were plenty in which the two wouldn't talk to each other until the director yelled "action", you can see that love and respect in their performances.

They had some really petty spats: one involving the fact that Bud had hired a maid that Lou had recently fired. (That incident not only involved not talking to each other, but resulted in their two films in which they aren't a "team", Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives.)

But they also had each other's backs. Bud suffered from epilepsy, which he had to keep hidden, especially during the burlesque years. Lou not only kept Bud's secret, but knew the warning signs, so when they were on stage and he saw Bud was about to have a seizure, Lou would quickly alter the bit so the audience never caught on.

After Lou's son died, it was Bud who suggested that they name their foundation for underprivileged children the "Lou Costello, jr., Youth Foundation", something which Lou never forgot.

While it was the norm for the straight man in burlesque and vaudeville to get a 60/40 split with the comic (and have his name first), something which Lou readily agreed with at first, once the pair became movie stars, Lou insisted the split be reversed. Bud agreed. (It was the studio that balked to changing the name to Costello and Abbott, which Abbott would have done, too.)

Lots more useless trivia, but in regards to Bud, by all accounts he was a very nice (and dapper) guy off screen. Very much an introvert, though. On screen, he's simply one of the best straight men (while also being pretty dapper, too.)

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 16th, 2011, 6:42 pm
by movieman1957
Well, you've told me more about them than I have ever seen before. It certainly isn't useless. My daughter did watch "Buck Privates" with me when TCM featured it several months ago. She really liked it. It is one that I enjoyed. We have not had much chance to catch the others.

Thanks so much for the info. A review of the films are in order and maybe in my own weird way knowing this will give me a different perspective. And I have your list to work from.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 17th, 2011, 10:30 am
by vallo
I too have lost interest with A&B. I guess in New York they were played to death on Channel 11 in the 60's. I do however enjoy their "short lived" TV show. Hillary Brooke, Sidney Fields, Mike the cop and especially Bingo the Chimp. I can still watch those maybe because they're in 1/2 hr. increments and they re-do all of their skits, sometimes better than the originals.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 17th, 2011, 1:04 pm
by knitwit45
Hi Bill! Nice to see you here!!!!

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 17th, 2011, 1:33 pm
by Mr. Arkadin
Like others, I grew up on A&C, went through a period of burnout, and rediscovered them in later years. Most of their great films are the ones that mix their talent for cerebral humor with the physical aspects. There's also the concept of role reversal with "innocent" Lou, who is supposed to be the simple one, often outhinking "world-wise" Bud, revealing that the solutions to many problems in this world are indeed the practical ones (occasionally bordering on the extreme!). Go to Mars (1953) is a great example of perception, value, and ethics, which says more about our world than most philosophy teachers!

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 17th, 2011, 1:55 pm
by vallo
Thank you it's good to be back...

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 18th, 2011, 9:06 am
by RedRiver
At the risk of stating the obvious, my mom thought "Who's On First" was THE funniest thing she'd ever heard! She was of the generation that listened to radio, went to movies weekly. I imagine a lot of her peers enjoyed that routine.

Re: Abbott & Costello

Posted: August 18th, 2011, 10:29 am
by JackFavell
I think your mom may be right. There's a reason why TV shows, radio announcers, and other entertainment personalities and vehicles still quote it, or try new variations on it, even now, SEVENTY years later.

(I had to keep changing the number of years since then, I wrote fifty first, then sixty...where does the time go?)