..

BEST OF ABBOTT & COSTELLO
Volume 3

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, and more!
Director: Charles Barton, Charles Lamont, Jean Yarbrough
Audio: English monaural
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Black & white, full-frame 1.33:1
Studio: Universal
Features: Production notes, trailers
Length: 635 minutes
Release Date: August 3, 2004

Costello:  "If you see a pair of grey pants flyin' by, don't grab them."

Abbott:  "Why not?"

Costello:  "I'll be in 'em."

Films ***

Universal had two established movie franchises during the 1940's. One was its movie monster franchise, comprised of the likes of Dracula and the Wolfman.  The other was the ever-popular comedic offerings from the team of Abbott & Costello, who had appeared in more films for Universal than for any other movie studio.  So, when Universal needed a fresh, new idea to pack in the movie-goers, what better way to rake in the bucks than to combine both successful franchises together?  The result, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was one of Universal's biggest hits of 1948 and also rejuvenated its venerable movie monster franchise.

That film has now been brought together with seven other classic Abbott & Costello comedies for volume three of Universal's Best of Abbott & Costello DVD series.  Volume one featured the comedians' famous war-era musicals, while volume two showcased the boys' experiments with costume pieces and situation comedies.  Volume three, however, finds Abbott & Costello matching wits against the supernatural might of Dracula, the Invisible Man, Boris Karloff, aliens, and much more!  Of course, we mustn't forget the usual choir of murderers, gangsters, and thugs who routinely try to liquidate our courageous if perennially clueless boys!

So, without further ado, read on below for more about the eight funny Abbott & Costello films included in this delightful DVD collection from Universal:

1)  Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott:  You’re all excited reading this legend.  I know there’s no such a person as Dracula.  You know there’s no such a person as Dracula.

Costello:  But does Dracula know it?

In this film, originally entitled The Brain of Frankenstein, Chick (Abbott) and Wilbur (Costello) are baggage clerks who one day receive an unusual shipment for delivery - two large, mysterious crates.  Both crates are destined for a House of Horrors, and imagine our boys' surprise when the crates turn out to hold real monsters - Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi himself) and Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange).  Apparently, Dracula has taken on the Monster as a glorified valet, but it is now in need of a tune-up.  More specifically, the Monster's brain is past its warranty date, so Dracula joins forces with a female scientist, Dr. Mornay (Lénore Aubert), to acquire a new brain.  This scientist must certainly be mad, because she somehow has the impression that Wilbur's brain will make a fine replacement for the Monster's worn-out one!

What follows is a paradoxical comedy of horrors.  The insurance company is after our boys until they can retrieve the contents of those crates.  So, to save their jobs, Chick and Wilbur must somehow re-capture Count Dracula and the Monster while running for their lives from these same creatures of the night!  Throw in the Wolf Man (none other than Lon Chaney, Jr.) and a cameo "appearance" by another hard-to-see Universal movie monster, and you have the recipe for Abbott & Costello's biggest hit and crowd-pleaser since Buck Privates and still a fan favorite today.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Glenn Strange broke his ankle during filming, so Lon Chaney Jr. actually plays the Frankenstein Monster in one scene during the finale!  Also, believe it or not, but this was only Bela Lugosi's second (and final) official portrayal of Count Dracula in any film!

2)  Mexican Hayride (1948)

G-Man:  That’s a load of malarkey.  This man adds up to Joe Bascom.  Bascom is short and dumpy.

Bascom (Costello):  Like you?

G-Man:  Like me.  And he’s got a roly-poly face.

Bascom:  Like you?

G-Man:  Like me!  And he’s got short, fat, stumpy legs.

Bascom:  Like you?

G-Man:  Yeah, like me!

Bascom:  Officer, arrest that man!

Costello is Joe Bascom, a fugitive from the law, wanted for a crime he didn’t commit.  He pretends to be Humphrey Fish, and he must let the world think that he is Humphrey Fish until he can prove his innocence (just don’t get him angry).

Of course, it’s really all Abbott’s fault in this film adaptation of a 1944 Cole Porter-Dorothy Fields stage musical.  Thanks to con man Harry (Abbott), the U.S. government is after innocent Joe Bascom for fraud and for selling fake bonds.

The dilemma receives a further twist when Joe inadvertently wins a contest as the Amigo Americano, the U.S. good-will ambassador in Mexico for a week.  Harry, ever the scheming entrepreneur, takes advantage of Joe's sudden celebrity to swindle more money out of well-wishing but unsuspecting Mexicans.  It's not exactly a great moment in international diplomacy, so Joe tries to weasel the money back from Harry to clear his own name.  Until then, he has to evade a pair of stubborn American G-men sent to fetch him back to the States. 

Mexican Hayride was originally a Broadway musical, but you'd never know it from this film.  All the original stage music has been excised, although the film's sole song is warbled by Luba Malina, an original Broadway cast member.  This film isn't generally considered one Abbott & Costello's better efforts, but it still has many funny points.  Highlights in the film include Joe's various ridiculous disguises (as a tortillas street vendor or a mediocre mariachi) and a bull fight in which Joe stays away from an enraged bull while simultaneously trying to retrieve a hat full of money from its head!

3)  Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

Karloff:  Maybe you’d like to select your own means of self-destruction.  How would you like to die?

Costello:  Old age.

Following a break from Universal during which the boys made Africa Screams for Nassour Studios, Abbott & Costello return for a second dose of horror film icons.  This time, that icon is Boris Karloff, the silver screen’s most recognizable Frankenstein Monster.

Abbott is Casey, a hotel house detective, and Costello is Freddie, the hotel's inept busboy.  One evening, a prominent lawyer is found dead in his room, and Freddie gets fingered as the prime suspect.  Freddie tries to prove his innocence while staying alive as, one by one, hotel guests seem to drop like flies all around him.  In a nod to Hold That Ghost, these dead bodies appear and disappear at very inconvenient moments, only to further implicate Freddie.  Fortunately, he has a true pal in Casey, who believes Freddie's innocence.

This whodunit recaptures the fun sleuth work of Abbott & Costello's previous Who Done It? and even recruits the spooky talents of Boris Karloff as Swami Talpur, a mysterious hypnotist.  Karloff's role in this film is really something of a red herring, his sole function seemingly being to hypnotize Costello and to convince him to take a flying leap out an open window.  Why does the Swami want Costello dead?  Who knows?

The film doesn't really make much sense beyond screwball logic, but it is a fun thrill ride while it lasts.  The finale involves an enormous underground cavern, complete with spooky echoes and exploding dynamite and bottomless pits and a bunch of creepy critters, too.

4)  Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)

Abbott: "Will you stop acting like a coward?"

Costello: "Who's acting?"

Bud and Lou (going by their first names in this film) are managers for Abdullah, a champion wrestler from Algeria.  In a sudden fit of homesickness, the wrestler takes off for home, leaving the boys high and dry and in a bit of financial trouble from their backers, the local mob syndicate.  So, Bud and Lou fly off to Algiers to drag back their reluctant champ.

Unbeknownst to our boys, Abdullah's cousin is secretly a nefarious sheik trying to extort money from a local railroad company.  The sheik mistakes Bud and Lou for railroad spies when they ask around too much for Abdullah, and he sends his assassins to take care of the boys.  A series of fun chases ensues, ending when Bud and Lou are duped into enlisting in the French Foreign Legion to escape!  It's then déja vu, a fun throwback to Abbott & Costello's early service films (Buck Privates, In the Navy, Keep 'Em Flying) as Bud and Lou undergo a series of misadventures in training.

Unfortunately, one of the sheik's inside man in the Legion wants the boys dead.  Fortunately, the boys have a guardian angel - a luscious female undercover agent (Patricia Medina).  She recruits Bud and Lou's help in exposing this spy in return for an honorable discharge from the Legion and a ticket home to America.

Highlights in this film include all those chase scenes between Bud and Lou and those pesky Algerian plotters, a desert sequence as the boys are tricked by one mirage after another, and a couple of wrestling bouts in which Bud and Lou are totally out-matched!  In the end, they find Abdullah and save the day, and Lou even ends up with his own harem of lovely ladies!

5)  Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Abbott:  "Fine pal you are.  Stand there and watch me get beat up."

Costello:  "Bud, believe me, I didn't see a thing."

It's hard to fight an invisible man, as our boys learn in their next film, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man.  Since this unseen foe had already made a cameo "appearance" in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, it was really only a matter of time before he "showed up" in his own film with the boys!

This film is another of those rare instances in which the boys use their first names.  Bud and Lou are fledgling detectives-for-hire, and in their first big case, they are recruited by a mysterious man, Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), to solve a murder mystery.  Tommy is actually the one being accused of murder, but he insists he is innocent and needs help to prove it.  Perhaps Tommy soon recognizes the futility of entirely trusting Bud & Lou to solve the case, so he takes matters into his own hands.

Tommy has in his possession a secret invisibility formula, whose only caveat is that it slowly renders its drinker insane.  Nevertheless, down the hatch it goes, and after that, it's a race against time, with Bud and Lou's help, to catch the mobsters who framed Tommy before he starts to go mad with visions of grandeur and invincibility.

Highlights include a scene in which Lou hypnotizes everyone by accident (including the hypnotist!) and a series of misunderstandings in which no one believes Lou's story about "seeing" an invisible man.  The best sequence, though, is a boxing match (always a reliable source of laughter whenever Lou Costello is concerned).  The bout turns out better than usual for Lou this go-around because this time, he has help from the Invisible Man's sucker punches!

BONUS TRIVIA:  Does the frustrated cop in this movie look familiar?  He's William Frawley, Fred the neighborly landlord of the "I Love Lucy" shows!

6)  Comin' Round the Mountain (1951)

Abbott:  "You don't know these mountain folks.  They're as honest as the day is long."

Costello:  "You know the days here are getting awfully short?"

By the early 1950's, Universal was celebrating some unexpected box office success from its Ma and Pa Kettle films, which were popularizing the "fish-out-of-water," hillbilly brand of humor.  In fact, Majorie Main (Ma Kettle herself) had appeared in a previous Abbott & Costello film, The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap.  So, it seemed logical that the next Abbott & Costello film, Comin' Round the Mountain, should capitalize on the hillbilly theme and drop the boys into a rural setting, complete with the usual blood feud, turkey shoots, and a country fair, too.  Oh, and we mustn't forget romance between kissing cousins!

Costello is Wilbert, a mediocre magician who just might be the lost heir to Squeeze Box McCoy's hidden family fortune.  Persuaded by his agent Al (Abbott) and pretty cousin Dorothy (Dorothy Shay), Wilbert heads way out west to reclaim his family name (and the treasure, too).  But before he is accepted as the lost heir, he has to prove himself as a real McCoy, which includes winning a shooting contest, marrying into the family, and mopping up that dang, dastardly Winfield clan.

Among the film highlights are a witch's love potion, which creates a series of predictable but hysterical results when the wrong people drink it.  This film is also a throwback musical which showcases Dorothy Shay, the popular "Park Avenue Hillbillie" singer of the day, in four separate musical numbers.  The songs are variable in quality, but the last one - "You'll be Just Another Notch on Father's Shotgun If'n You Don't Marry Me" - is quite catchy.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Does that voodoo witch look familiar?  She's none other than Margaret Hamilton, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz!

7)  Lost in Alaska (1952)

Abbott:  "You know my wife's an angel?"

Costello:  "You're lucky, mine's living."

The next Abbott & Costello film, Jack and the Beanstalk, is a fan favorite and the duo's first color film.  Unfortunately, it was not made by Universal and so is not included in this collection.  The boys would return to Universal for Lost In Alaska as a pair of happy-go-lucky volunteer firefighters who end up in the Yukon.

Lady luck shines upon Tom (Abbott) and George (Costello) one evening when they save a drowning man, Nugget Joe.  As it turns out, Nugget Joe is filthy rich, having struck gold in the Yukon, but he's out of his head, being hopelessly in love with a gal named Rosette.  Of course, the local authorities don't realize that Nugget Joe didn't drown after all and soon put out a bulletin for two suspicious volunteer firefighters seen at the scene, not realizing that our boys were heroes, not villains.

Of course, misunderstandings are the bread and butter of any Abbott & Costello film, so our boys go on the lam up to the Yukon with Nugget Joe as he seeks out his sweetheart.  Things aren't too much safer up north, as lots of folks up in Skagway who know about Nugget Joe's money and are willing to ice him (our boys included) to get that gold.

As with Comin' Round the Mountain, this Abbott & Costello film also contains a couple of songs.  Both tunes are forgettable, although "Hot Time in the Igloo Tonight" is a bit goofy-funny.  Lost in Alaska is often cited as one of the worst Abbott & Costello films, but even so, it has many funny spots.  The jokes which our boys try out on a depressed Nugget Joe to lift his spirits are a riot, as is a classic skit involving a clock and Costello's inability to get any sleep.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Portions of this film's score were written by a young Henry Mancini!

8)  Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

King Orville (Costello):  "NOW we know who's boss!"

Queen Allura: "WHO'S the boss?"

Orville:  "You are."

Leaving mere Earthlings in stitches wasn't enough for Abbott & Costello, so now the comedy duo head for outer space to tickle some extraterrestrial funny bones.  In Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, our boys Lester (Abbott) and Orville (Costello) hop on a rocket ship, which they accidentally launch into space with themselves aboard.  When the ship touches down in New Orleans, the boys think they're on Mars.  Considering that it's Mardi Gras time, they can be forgiven their mistake!

After raising a bit of unintentional havoc, our accident-prone boys launch the ship once again.  This time, they arrive on a planet inhabited by beautiful women, appropriately enough portrayed by actual Miss Universe contestants!  Hmm, what planet in the solar system could that be now?  Four hundred years have passed since there were any men here, so Orville, being a lucky guy, gets selected as king to Queen Allura (Mari Blanchard).  Viewers with keen eyes should also keep a lookout for a young Anita Ekberg as one of the female guards.

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars has a decent amount of production value.  In fact, some of the props were re-used later for Universal's This Island Earth, another sci-fi film!

After Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello would only make a few more films together.  By the mid-1950's, after three dozen films as a team, the comedy pair finally decided to call it quits, leaving behind a remarkable repertoire of classic comedy skits for radio, theater, and the silver screen.  Towards the end of their career, they even had a popular television show, too.  No other comedy team in history - including Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, and Martin & Lewis (the boys' successors) - could claim such universal success or appeal.  Even though Bud Abbott and Lou Costello have long since departed for that silver screen in the sky, their legacy as the most beloved comedy duo in film history will endure for all ages.

Video ***

The eight films in this collection are shown in their original black & white, full-screen format.  The image quality is generally quite good, with solid contrast levels and details.  There are some signs of the dirt and debris of aging but nothing too drastic.

Audio ** ½

These films are presented in English monaural sound.  They sound pretty much as one would expect for films created over a half-century ago.  Fortunately, background hiss is kept at a minimal, and dialogue is always clear.

Features *

Each film on this collection comes with several pages of production notes offering tidbits of information about Abbott & Costello.  In addition, vintage trailers for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Meet the Invisible Man, and Go to Mars are also included.

Summary:

Dracula, the Wolfman, extraterrestrials, mad scientists, witches, and much more!  You couldn't ask for a finer kettle of fish from this great collection of eight vintage Abbott & Costello films from Universal.  Whether you're an Abbott & Costello fan or a movie monster fan, there's something in here for everyone!

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com