BEST OF ABBOTT AND COSTELLO
Review by Ed Nguyen
Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, various
Director: Charles Lamont, Jean Yarbrough, Charles Barton
Audio: English mono
Subtitles: English, French
Video: Black & white, full-frame
Features: Production notes, trailers
Length: 654 minutes
Release Date: May 4, 2004
"What’s the guy’s name on first base?!"
Abbott: "No, What is on second!"
Costello: "I’m not asking you who’s on second!"
Abbott: "Who’s on first."
Costello: "I don’t know."
Abbott: "Oh, he’s on third."
in 2004, Universal released Volume 1
of The Best of Abbott and Costello on
DVD. It was an attractive and
well-designed collector's set that gathered together some of the funniest of the
early Abbott & Costello comedies. The
arrival of Volume 2 now on DVD once
again gives fans of these Hollywood studio-era comedians a renewed cause to
celebrate. As with the first set, Volume
2 contains eight vintage films featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, this
time covering a period from 1943-47.
who has never seen an Abbott & Costello film before will be in for a treat
here. The comedians are again at
the top of their game, with bossy straight man Abbott feeding those classic
lines to plump and funny Costello. Included
in this DVD set is a complete version of Abbott & Costello's most famous
skit, "Who's on First?" (in The
Naughty Nineties). All the
films in this set showcase Abbott & Costello's successful blend of slapstick
comedy with radio skits and burlesque routines.
Fabulously popular in their day, these movie comedies helped the
still-young Universal studio transform from a B-rate production company into one
of the major movie studios.
early Abbott & Costello films were often musical comedies and featured the
likes of the Andrews Sisters and Ella Fitzgerald. Many were also propaganda films designed to boost morale on
the home front as well during the early war years.
By the end of the world war, the golden age of the Hollywood musical
started to wane, and Abbott & Costello began to take their films into new
directions. So, read on below for
the scoop on these vintage comedies:
the Ice (1943)
"We've got to follow those crooks and prove they robbed the bank."
Costello: "I don't mind following them. There's only one thing bothers me."
Abbott: "What's that?"
Costello: "We might catch up to 'em."
two blazing years in which Abbott & Costello appeared in eight pictures
(seven of them for Universal), the pair would thereafter only average one or two
new releases a year. In part, this
was due to the escalation of America's involvement in the second world war, as
the boys began to increasingly devote their time to touring for the war effort.
At one point, they raised $85 million in war bonds in just over one
Abbott & Costello did not lose a step at the box office, and Hit
the Ice finds the boys in fine comic form.
In this musical comedy, they play a pair of freelance photographers who
are mistaken for bank robbers. To
clear their name, Abbott & Costello must track down the actual bank robbers,
even while those same robbers are scheming to rub them out.
There are also the usual silly sub-plots, such as a romance involving a
doctor and a nurse.
for the songs, they are generally ridiculous, with tell-tale titles such as
"I'm Like a Fish Out of Water" and "Slap-Happy Polka."
The songs are completely random and hold no connection to the plot, other
than perhaps giving Ginny Simms, who has a minor role in the film as a
semi-romantic interest for Costello's puppy love, an opportunity to sing with
the backing of the Johnny Long Orchestra.
& Costello get plenty of opportunities to perform their usual skits.
Routines include "Packing/Unpacking" and "Piano
(Alright!)." In addition, some
great (and rather dangerous-looking) stunt work involve the pair struggling with
a fire engine and ambulance. Best
of all, there is a thrilling finale featuring a getaway chase on skis, complete
with guns and plenty of snow. Eat
your heart out, James Bond!
the Ice was
directed by silent film vet Charles Lamont.
It was such a happy success that Lamont would return for eight further
collaborations with Abbott & Costello.
Lady: "My husband's dead, he's
Costello: "He ain't dead, lady, he's hiding!"
the Ice was
another solid hit for the boys, but regrettably, Costello developed a bad case
of rheumatic fever after its completion. It
would be more than a year before he was healthy enough again to begin work on
the boys' next film, In Society.
Happily, on his return, Costello proved that his comic instincts were as
sharp as ever. This time, the boys
play a pair of inept plumbers. One
evening, they are summoned to an upper crust mansion to repair a leaky faucet.
Naturally, they only make matters worse as they flood the mansion and are
last seen drifting away in a bathtub.
fate would have it, they are laughingly mistaken for a pair of society gents and
receive an invitation to another high-class social function.
This time, they hope to reverse their fortunes and somehow promote their
plumbing company. In Society,
directed by Jean Yarbrough, was filmed on location in a stately mansion and
recalls the mania of the Marx Brothers' Animal
Crackers. Yarbrough would go on
to direct Abbott & Costello in five more of their films as well as several
episodes of their TV show from the 1950's.
the musical side, In Society features
Marion Hutton, vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, in a silly romantic
sub-plot. She has a role as a
female taxi driver who befriends Abbott & Costello. She's at her best, though, when she's singing, such as in the
bubbly "No Doubt about It."
the boys' most expensive film to date, in part due to the location shooting and
in part due to the impressive stunt work. Among
the set pieces are a plumbing sequence that was partially filmed in a huge tank
and a climactic fire truck chase finale that features an extended ladder on a
speeding fire truck! As for the
comedy skits, In Society offers the
boys' hilarious and crazy Susquehanna Hat sequence.
It's a hoot! Clearly,
Universal, which heavily promoted the film, was eager to focus the spotlight
back upon the boys. The ploy
succeeded - In Society was a smash hit
with audiences and critics alike.
Come the Co-Eds (1945)
"Hey you, there's only one reason why I don't punch you in the nose,
and that's because I'm bigger than you are."
Lou Chaney: "I'm bigger than you are!"
Costello: "That's a better reason."
Here Come the Co-Eds, the boys go back
to school. There's a twist -
they're packing their bags for Bixby College, an all-girl's college!
Actually, they aren't students, just the local caretakers, but it is
still not a bad gig, considering that early in the film, the boys literally blow
up their last jobs as professional ballroom dancers.
gets to play the action hero in this film, albeit not a particularly successful
one. As a professional dancer, he
gets clobbered a couple of times by a jealous husband. As a caretaker, he tackles messy molasses in a hilarious
comedy skit and loses. In the funny
"Oyster" sequence, he does battle with a live oyster in his soup and
loses again. Fortunately, he
redeems himself in a hilarious wrestling bout with the Masked Marvel (none other
than Lou Chaney in disguise)! Chaney
also plays the boys' malicious boss in this film and would later reprise his
famous Wolfman alter ego for Abbott &
Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Come the Co-Eds
features some random musical numbers which are nevertheless better-than-average
for an Abbott & Costello film. This
is mainly due to the participation of Phil Spitalny and his Hour of Charm All
Girl Orchestra, featuring Evelyn and her Magic Violin.
These musicians, performing several string instrumental and choral
numbers, bring a rare touch of culture and fine arts to an Abbott & Costello
film. Other numbers include a fun
tap-dancing sequence and best of all, a rare opportunity for Costello to display
his vaudeville talents in the charmingly romantic song-and-dance duet
"Let's Play House." Among
the classic routines that re-appear in this film are "Jonah and the
Whale" (first seen in One Night in
the Tropics), "Oyster," and a variation of "Dice Game"
(first seen in Buck Privates)
film ends with a rousing chase finale featuring cars, a sailboat on wheels, and
a train! It's another totally wacky
addition to the trend of outrageous chase finales for the Abbott & Costello
Naughty Nineties (1945)
(fishing): "What are you using
Abbott: "You're supposed to use a worm."
Costello: "The worm is in the apple."
film represents the first period costume piece for Abbott & Costello.
Set in the 1890's onboard the River Queen, a show boat, The
Naughty Nineties features Abbott as the lead actor on the show boat, while
Costello is but a lowly handyman. Still,
they're good friends. When it turns
out that the ship's captain has lost control of the River Queen to a trio of
cheating card gamblers, it's up to the boys to find a way to win enough money
and buy the boat back!
film would be the third straight Abbott & Costello film directed by Jean
Yarbrough. Today, this film is most
famous for its rendition of the Who's on
First? skit by Abbott & Costello. Visitors
to the Baseball Hall of Fame can see this skit being played continuously.
This movie version is essentially complete, although there are a few
minor changes - for instance, the St. Louis Wolverines are mentioned instead of
the New York Yankees, the prelude mentions different funny names, and the team
shortstop's name is different (for censor purposes, no less!).
The abridged version of this skit contained in One Night in the Tropics is more faithful to the original text of
the routine, but the version for The
Naughty Nineties, although slightly adapted, is essentially complete and is
funnier in its delivery and baseball ambience.
TRIVIA: If the show boat used in
this movie looks familiar, that is because it is the same boat used in
Universal's 1936 version of Show Boat
starring Irene Dunne. This time,
though, the film is not a musical.
"Did you ever go to school, stupid?"
Costello: "Yes, sir. And I come out the same way."
sixteen films together, Abbott & Costello were ready to try something
different for their next film. With
Little Giant, the comedy duo decide to
forego their usual burlesque and slapstick routines as well as radio skits.
There aren't even any musical numbers!
As a result, the outlandish wackiness and mayhem of previous Abbott &
Costello films is quite minimized here. The
new film instead would be a straight-forward comedy in which the humor would
arise naturally from every-day situations.
Furthermore, instead of being a team in the film, Abbott and Costello
play complete strangers. While
Abbott in fact has several different supporting roles in the film, Costello for
the first time is the true central character in an Abbott & Costello film,
without extraneous sub-plots or musical sequences muddling up the narrative.
film establishes Costello as a simple country bumpkin, newly graduated from a
correspondence course in salesmanship. Eager
to earn an honest living and to return to his sweetheart as a success, Costello
sets for the big city. Unfortunately,
things don't go quite so smoothly as the naive Costello.
There are even some sad dramatic scenes in the film for Costello, highly
atypical of the Abbott & Costello series.
However, once Costello begins to believe in himself, he can do wrong and
turns his fortunes around!
the skits are marginalized in this film, the hilarious "7x13=28" skit
has a reprise here (it had first appeared in In the Navy).
directed by William Sieter, who had also previously directed the Marx Brothers.
In fact, Margaret Dumont, Groucho Marx's regular romantic leading lady,
makes a cameo appearance in this film as one of Costello's unfortunate
Time of Their Lives (1946)
know no self-respecting ghosts do any haunting until midnight."
Time of Their Lives
again features Abbott & Costello as separate characters, not as a team. In fact, Abbott barely even acknowledges Costello's presence
at all! Instead, Costello's partner
for this film is Majorie Reynolds (best known for her romantic role in the Bing
Crosby film Holiday Inn, which first
introduced the song "White Christmas").
it or not, but Costello gets killed in this film. That's right - Costello and Reynolds are mistaken for a pair
of traitors during the American Revolutionary War, shot on horseback, and then
thrown into the well of a manor home. Furthermore,
their spirits are cursed never to leave the manor grounds until they could prove
their innocence. Thus, the stage is
set for a modern-day tale of haunting hundreds of years later as Costello and
Reynolds have some fun spooking the manor's latest residents, including Bud
Abbott. The playful ghosts
eventually realize that, instead of scaring them, perhaps they could persuade
the living folks to help the ghosts clear their good names.
of the regular Abbott & Costello radio skits or routines (or musical
numbers) appear in this film, obviously. Nevertheless, The Time
of Their Lives was the most expensive Abbott & Costello film to date due
to the special effects involved in creating the ghosts and the haunting effects.
Today, this film, directed by Charles Barton, is a favorite among Abbott
& Costello fans.
Privates Come Home (1947)
"You guys go inside. I'll
stay here and be a lookout."
Abbott: "Who you gonna look out for?"
this sequel to 1941's smash hit Buck
Privates, those raw recruits Abbott & Costello have returned as vets
from the war. Buck Privates Come Home even reprises some scenes from the earlier
film, such as the hilarious Abbott-drills-Costello sequence, to help refresh
audience memories. On its initial
release, Buck Privates Come Home was considered one of those rare sequels
that was better than the original film. Of
course, neither film is a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but
each is still a lot of fun. Too bad
the Andrews Sisters do not return for this sequel, which is not a musical.
time around, war vets Abbott & Costello decide to adopt a young French
orphan girl after returning to America. But
there is a catch - according to the government adoption agency, they have to be
married (ha-ha) and they have to hold a steady source of income (not the
tie-selling scam they were running before enlisting in Buck Privates). The
boys eventually put their savings into building up a race car company, but first
they have to dodge trouble from the same cop who chased them around in the first
enough, Buck Privates Come Home ends
with a grand $20,000 auto race featuring motorcycles, commandeered cars, police
cruisers, tractors, airplanes, ambulances, and horses, too!
The race wanders onto airfield runways, one-way streets, horse tracks,
and naturally, a race track as well. It's
the craziest Abbott & Costello chase finale yet!
Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947)
is nothing but a three-ring circus. First
the engagement ring, then the wedding ring, and then the suffer-ing."
& Costello return once again to the western genre (previously visited in Ride
'Em Cowboy). The basis for this
new film is a Montana law from the 1800s stipulating that the winner of a
gunfight is responsible for the welfare of the loser's wife and children.
when Costello gets tricked into believing that he accidentally shot and killed a
local cowboy, he ends up in charge of a spinster and her multitude of children.
Not only is he hen-pecked to exhaustion, but the townspeople decide to
make him the town sheriff, since no one now dares to shoot him (for fear of
inheriting that awful family). It's
better than wearing a bullet-proof vest!
of all (for Costello, at least), this film gives him a rare opportunity to boss
Abbott around for a change. It's an
atypical role reversal that will tickle the funny bone of many Abbott &
Costello fans. The film also
features Marjorie Main (Ma Kettle in the successful Ma & Pa Kettle film
series) as the "wistful widow."
Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap
kick-started another first for the boys - the film would inspire a comic book
adaptation. In fact, Abbott &
Costello comic books began to appear after this film and would remain in
publication until the mid-1950's, representing yet another multimedia coup for
Abbott & Costello. The boys,
despite the successes of their films (and now comic books) together, did not
forget their original radio fans and continued to perform weekly broadcast over
the ABC airwaves.
this film concludes Volume 2 of The
Best of Abbott and Costello, the best is yet to come.
Some of the most popular Abbott & Costello films, including the
hilarious Abbott & Costello Meet
Frankenstein, still await loyal fans in an as-yet upcoming collector's set.
Until then, fans have two great DVD collections to give them plenty of
laughs until the next round of these Universal vintage comedies!
eight films of this collector's set have been organized onto two separate,
dual-layered, double-sided flipper discs. The
films are presented in their original black & white, full-frame format, and
each DVD contains a couple of movies on each side.
This is perfectly acceptable, although figuring out which movie is on
which disc can be a little tricky at times!
with the previous volume one of this set, the picture quality for these eight
films is very nice. The image is
clear and fairly detailed, and contrast levels are superb. Of the films, Here Come
the Co-Eds shows some damage in a couple of transition scenes.
The Naughty Nineties has a bit
of wear and tear in the last reel. Otherwise,
the films look great! There are a
few dust marks here and there but nothing significant.
Universal has once again offered these vintage Abbott & Costello
films in fine condition.
soundtracks of the eight films are monophonic.
Dialogue is always clear, and the music is not distorted, as can
sometimes occur in older films. The
dynamic range is understandably a little limited but otherwise easily
are only a few extra features on these discs.
Each film (save for The Time of
Their Lives) is supplemented by several pages of production notes and
interesting trivia. In addition,
trailers are included for In Society, The
Time of Their Lives, and The Wistful
Window of Wagon Gap.
also want to applaud the exceptional packaging for this collector's set.
This set is handsomely packaged with a wealth of photos and promotional
artwork inside and out the box. The
DVD menu screens for each film have also been given their own distinctive looks.
Hit the Ice, for example,
features a snowflake cursor, while In
Society has a dollar sign for a menu cursor, and so on.
Additional promotional photos are also included with the production
notes. The overall appearance is
very pleasing and perfectly in tune with the fun spirit of these films.