Universal // 1948 // 635 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // September 21st, 2004
Eight more kooky capers from Bud and Lou!
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello need little introduction. Comedic legends, their career took them from the stages of vaudeville, to the airwaves of radio, to the big screen, and then to the small screen. They were arguably media giants in their own time, and now they're making their mark in the DVD realm with yet another volume of moving picture misadventures.
On this welcome third 8-film volume, Universal delivers some more A&C treats along with a few stale crackers. Covering the majority of their work between the years of 1948 and 1953, this newest installment in the comedy team's DVD library delivers one previously-released classic (1948's Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein) and seven pictures that are receiving their first release on the medium.
During the wartime years, Bud and Lou's films provided a much-needed escape from somber times. The films on this disc, however, mark the period following the war, when Bud and Lou essentially reinvented themselves. It was their monster classic of 1948 that helped the team (and the Universal writers) redirect their talents into areas where new gags and routines could play out. Unfortunately, several of these films lapsed into attempted rehashes of the old bits, often falling flat. (Some say the fact that the team was simultaneously doing weekly television had put a strain on their abilities to remain fresh and at their funniest best.)
Nevertheless, it's great to see this steady stream of releases from the daffy duo, and Universal is delivering these films very competently. Each film here (the plots to be discussed shortly) looks quite good. The transfers were either cleaned up admirably or blessed with incredibly clean source prints. Each is presented in its original full frame format. The detail level is excellent and the contrast stays balanced throughout. This applies to all pictures in this collection, which serves up a consistent quality from film to film and from disc to disc. The audio, as would be expected, comes by way of Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mixes, all of which sound energetic and clear. The only extras to be found are trailers from the Frankenstein, Invisible Man, and Go to Mars features, but they are welcome extras. Each feature includes text notes that were apparently culled from a 1991 book, "Abbott and Costello in Hollywood."
Just as with the previous two DVD volumes, this set arrives on two flipper discs, two films per side. Unfortunately, this particular volume has been plagued by production problems that either caused players to suddenly seize up or, in the case of Mexican Hayride, fail to play at all. Hey, Universal, who's on first?
So, with the disc particulars behind us, let's now take a look at the films themselves (letter grades are provided in parentheses):
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (A)
Here it is, the crowning glory as of the A&C canon, as proclaimed by many fans (this one included). You likely know the setup: Bud and Lou work for a shipping company, and get tangled up with dreadful doings when they deliver crates containing Dracula and the Frankenstein monster to MacDougal's House of Horror. Naturally, neither of these monsters is truly laid to rest, this all being an elaborate plot to revive them. Larry Talbot (a.k.a. the Wolfman) is also on hand to try to halt the horrific proceedings. Bud and Lou dispense the usual routines and play entirely off the monsters. It's a great teaming, and makes for some of the best A&C fun since Buck Privates.
Mexican Hayride (C-)
Ay caramba! If ever there was contrast between two pictures, this is it. The bar was clearly set high by the previous feature, but this 1948 follow-up to the Frankenstein feature elects to crawl rather than attempt a similar height. After being swindled by Bud, Lou follows him south of the border to reclaim his cash. Trouble is, once in the land of siestas Lou sleepwalks into another con, this one involving a silver mine. The bag of gags is dumped out, many within the confines of a bullfighting ring, but they just don't gel. Fans enjoy the immediately recognizable Fritz Feld, who manages to bring a few laughs to the proceedings. Otherwise, this all feels like a poorly told joke.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (C+)
Next up is this shameless bait-and-switch bamboozle which promises King Karloff in yet another sinister role, then fails to deliver the goods. Bud's a hotel detective, Lou's a bellboy, and both are hot on the trail of a killer -- and it may be Lou! There's much of the usual site shtick on display here (the card game with corpses is rather well done), but it's really a cheat to find Karloff offered up in a bit role as a complete red herring. The lost caverns are terrific to look at, but I still feel I was robbed here.
Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (B-)
Wrapping up Disc One is this well-paced and reasonably funny hot sands hoot from 1950. Wrestling coaches Bud and Lou, searching Algeria for the wrestler they're promoting, unwittingly enlist in the Foreign Legion. This one's full of site gags a-plenty, most of which work quite well, and a variation of the old "Who's On First" routine that manages to evoke some deserving laughs. Genre fans become giddy at the brief appearance of Tor Johnson (Plan 9 from Outer Space) late in the proceedings.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (B+)
Disc Two starts off quite promisingly with this 1951 fan favorite featuring Arthur Franz (Monster on the Campus) as Tommy Nelson, a boxer unjustly accused of a murder. Borrowing the secret of invisibility from none other than Jack Griffin's nephew, Tommy goes undercover (and out of sight), employing the services of two detective school bumblers, Bud and Lou, to clear his good name. This is a refreshing return to the fun and fantasy that buoyed the Frankenstein feature. Naturally, fans cite the boxing match as a comedic milestone, and they're right. The invisibility effects, though somewhat primitive by today's standards, hold up quite well, and were the best of their day.
Comin' Round the Mountain (C+)
Here's a real odd duck. In this 1951 feature, Bud and Lou crib a keg o' moonshine from the likes of Ma and Pa Kettle (another Universal property) and conjure up some hillbilly hijinks. Lou discovers he's kin to the McCoys, and heads to the Kentucky backwoods to lay claim to a hidden treasure. The hillbilly hilarity doesn't have enough legs to carry this one the full distance, but there are several bits that make it worth a look. See Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) square off against Lou in a truly funny voodoo battle; see Glenn Strange (without Frankenstein monster regalia) smitten upon downing an unintentional love potion; see Lou ponder the prospects of a 40-year-old-man in a relationship with a pre-teen hillbilly fawn (and try not to squirm through every uncomfortable moment). Here, the formula was truly beginning to slip, relegating the picture to a handful of high points and far too many low points at the hands of Dorothy Shay, the singing "Manhattan Hillbilly."
Lost in Alaska (C)
Same gags, new setting. Firefighters Bud and Lou save the life of a suicidal millionaire, who has a fortune in gold up yonder. Our troubled twosome hitch a dog sled to help their newfound friend retrieve his gold and reunite with his once-frigid female, all the while trying to evade a cavalcade of casino crooks. Some of the material here works reasonably well, but it all seems a bit frozen over. This 1953 effort isn't a complete waste of time, but it comes doggone close.
Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (C+)
Finally, from 1953 comes this severely disjointed and disappointing entry. Lou is once again the simpleton who stumbles into a secret space project and, ultimately, the super-secret interstellar rocket that whisks him and Bud into the cosmos. Initially, they take a wild ride through New York City before navigating their way to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. The shtick of our two astro-nuts believing the wildly costumed revelers wears thin rather quickly. So, upon the entrance of two escaping convicts, Bud and Lou and the rocket are high-jacked, and find their way onto the planet Venus. It's a heavenly body, that's for sure, populated by curvaceous Venusians who look strikingly like the current batch of Miss Universe beauties. It's ultimately two plots mashed into one, and it plays as such. There are a few laughs but, frankly, I found myself becoming impatient for this one to end. Clifford Stine's visual effects are fun, however.
Some may think it's harsh to go after this well-loved and well-accomplished two-man legendary team, but fans know that not all of their pictures were bona fide hits. Sure, their mere presence and on-screen chemistry is always fun to see -- but, sadly, these two over-achievers were sometimes saddled with scripts that simply couldn't be saved. We all have our favorite A&C adventures, and the best news is that we're getting the whole gamut, for better or worse, in these excellent collections.
It's great to see these pictures on DVD, and it's even better to see a studio remain committed to feeding us a steady stream of vintage material without bailing out midway through. Universal, however, needs to beef up their quality control in regards to the numerous consumer complaints raised over this current set (thankfully, my screeners were free of problems). but at least they're staying the course in their release schedule. I eagerly await the next volume; I'm anxious to see their run in with Jekyll & Hyde in glorious digital black & white.
Universal Home Video is hereby on notice to quickly resolve their production problems before the next volume is released. The court thanks Abbott and Costello for their decade-long commitment of bringing laughs to appreciative filmgoers. Court adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2004 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 635 Minutes
Release Year: 1948
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Production Notes
* IMDb (A&C Meet Frankenstein)
* IMDb (Mexican Hayride)
* IMDb (A&C Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff)
* IMDb (A&C in the Foreign Legion)
* IMDb (A&C Meet the Invisible Man)
* IMDb (Comin' Round the Mountain)
* IMDb (Lost in Alaska)
* IMDb (A&C Go to Mars)