best-of-abbott-costello-volume-3-dvd-cover

Meet Frankenstein:
Mexican Hayride:
Meet the Killer:
In the Foreign Legion:
Meet the Invisible Man:
Comin’ Round the Mountain:
Lost in Alaska:
Go to Mars:
DVD:

Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo
Directed by: Charles T. Barton
Starring: Bud Abbott & Lou Costello

Features:

  • Eight complete feature films
  • Production notes for all eight films
  • Trailers for Frankenstein, Invisible Man and Mars

Released by: Universal
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: N/A; they appear in their original 1.33:1 format.

My Advice: Fans should own.

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo
Directed by: Charles T. Barton
Also Starring: Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph

Mexican Hayride
Written by: John Grant & Oscar Brodney, based on the stage play by Herbert & Dorothy Fields
Directed by: Charles T. Barton
Also Starring: Virginia Grey, Luba Malina, John Hubbard, Pedro de Cordoba, Fritz Field

Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff
Written by: John Grant, Howard Snyder & Hugh Wedlock, Jr., based on a story by Snyder & Wedlock
Directed by: Charles T. Barton
Also Starring: Boris Karloff, Lenore Aubert, Gar Moore, Donna Martell, Alan Mowbray

Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion
Written by: John Grant, Martin Ragaway & Leonard Stern, based on a story by D.D. Beauchamp
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Also Starring: Patricia Medina, Walter Slezak, Douglass Dumbrille, Leon Belasco, Tor Johnson

Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo, based on a story by Howard Snyder & Hugh Wedlock, Jr., which was in turn based on the novel by H.G. Wells
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Also Starring: Arthur Franz, Nancy Guild, William Frawley, Adele Jergens, Sheldon Leonard

Comin’ Round the Mountain
Written by: John Grant, Robert Lees & Frederic I. Rinaldo
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Also Starring: Dorothy Shay, Kirby Grant, Joe Sawyer, Glenn Strange, Margaret Hamilton

Lost in Alaska
Written by: Martin Ragaway & Leonard Stern
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
Also Starring: Tom Ewell, Mitzi Green, Bruce Cabot, Emory Parnell, Jack Ingram

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars
Written by: John Grant, based on a story by D.D. Beauchamp & Howard Christie
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Also Starring: Mari Blanchard, Robert Paige, Horace McMahon, Martha Hyer, and the “Miss Universe Contest Beauties”

Universal delivers another eight feature films from Bud and Lou. You’ve got some classics in here as well as some misfires, but we’re posterity freaks, so we want them all.

In Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, Wilbur Grey and Chick Young (guess who), are freight handlers who get warned about two crates in advance…but not enough of a warning to stop them from being delivered. You see, Dracula (Lugosi) and Frankenstein‘s Monster (Strange) have been delivered to the States and Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man (Chaney) is after them to try and stop the madness. Dracula’s plan is to create a new subservient version of the Monster using Wilbur’s brain. Hijinks ensue.

abbott-costello-meet-frankenstein

Costello investigates...

This flick is probably my favorite in the set (not just because I worked on an anthology that paid homage to it), but because it’s just the flat out funniest. It certainly sounds like a terrible idea on the surface, perhaps: get Universal to combine their monsters with their number one comedy team, but the thing works. Sure, Lugosi is slumming and Chaney is trying a little bit too hard, but that’s not the point, is it? It’s worth it just to see Costello freaking out as Lugosi opens his creaky coffin lid. This pairing certainly works better than any crap by Stephen Sommers, right? And the semi-cameo by Vincent Price just is icing on the cake.

The second film, Mexican Hayride, sadly doesn’t fare as well. Also from 1948, it’s amazing that they were so close together, because this flick is on the opposite end of the funny spectrum as Frankenstein. After being swindled by Harry (Abbott), Joe (Costello) follows Harry down to Mexico to try and get his money back. However, he only finds himself in the middle of another con, involving a silver mine.

The gags fall flat here. In fact, what should be the centerpiece of the flick, Costello vs. a bull, is just tired physical comedy that’s been done better in more than one Looney Tunes. About the funniest thing in the entire film is a reference to a classic bit, when Costello makes mention of a “what” and “second base.” That’s how terribly reaching the thing is for trying to do its work. Glad it’s included for posterity, but that’s about it.

Third up is Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, a misleading title since it makes it sound like Karloff did the deed from the get-go, though there are plenty of other suspects who could be the Killer. Bud & Lou are employees at a hotel–Bud’s the hotel detective, Lou’s the bellhop–in which a prominent attorney shows up…and gets killed. Trouble is, Lou got fired thanks to the attorney and threatened the guy earlier in the evening. And of course, Lou found the body and proceeds to get framed by the real killer for the death and the ensuing deaths that come afterwards.

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Boris Karloff is working that hat.

This is a mixed bag of gags, plus the real draw of the title–Karloff–is a few steps above a cameo. And again, he’s slumming. Some of the bits work well, like playing bridge with corpses and the typical murder mystery denouement which can’t seem to happen since Lou keeps futzing it up by getting in the way. But there are a few bits that don’t work, like Lou dressed up as a serving maid, which makes him look like a hellish version of Raggedy Ann.

Finally, for disc one anyway, there’s Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion in which the guys get duped into joining the Legion while in Algeria looking for a wrestler. While there, they have do deal with their sergeant (Slezak), a real bundle of chuckles, and an evil sheik (Dumbrille). You get Lou and Bud dealing with military training, the desert, mirages, and some ladies dressed up in full harem regalia.

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Costello in the Foreign Legion

Again, not their best effort, but still a worthy endeavor. Some of the bits are priceless, like the various mirages they have to deal with, and they’re not just recycling their old humor. It’s quick paced and ridiculous, just like you want these films to be. It also gets bonus points for involving Tor Johnson as another wrestler towards the end of the film.

Disc two, let’s start with Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, a matchup that seemed inevitable after Frankenstein. Here, it’s not Claude Rains and not even the Griffin character that they meet up with, but instead a boxer (Franz) wrongly accused of murder who goes transparent to avoid the cops. Bud and Lou this time are detectives who are in the employ of the boxer, trying to catch the real perp behind the homicide.

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Abbott, Costello and The Invisible Man

Lou in the ring boxing (with the help of his invisible compatriot) is hilarious. Also interesting are the invisible effects, which in 1951 are a far cry from what were wasted in Hollow Man but still very nifty nonetheless. Funny on a par with Frankenstein (and perhaps only falling a little short due to there being only one “monster” to play off of), be sure to watch for William Frawley (a.k.a. Fred Mertz) as a comical detective.

Comin’ Round the Mountain stacks up better than Hayride, but only just. Here you’ve got Bud playing a talent manager whose two clients, “The Manhattan Hillbilly” (Shay) and “The Great Wilbert” (Costello), meet on the same bill with some unintended consequences. It turns out Wilbert is part of the McCoy clan, as evidenced by the yowls of pain he gives that are a McCoy family trait, apparently. Thus, Bud and Lou get dragged into the clan’s ongoing feud with the Winfields. Hillbilly hijinks ensue.

It’s a couple of bits that save this from being at the very bottom tier of Abbott and Costello flicks. First up, the sequence where they encounter Margaret Hamilton (yes, that Margaret Hamilton) as a witch that they need to get a love potion from. The bit with dueling voodoo dolls is ridiculous. Then the climax of the film in which the love potion goes terribly awry is funny as well. However funny the hillbilly humor might have been fifty years ago, it didn’t age well, if that’s indeed why it’s less funny. The songs in the film don’t do much to help matters.

Next, there’s Lost in Alaska, which features our heroes as firefighters who run across the suicidal Joe (Ewell), who’s got a fortune in gold up in Alaska, but it means nothing to him because his girl (Green) has shunned him. However, the lady writes Joe and says come back, all is forgiven. So Bud, Lou and Joe head north, since a slew of baddies want them all dead and a casino owner (Cabot) wants the gold and the girl both.

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Costello, Lost in Alaska

Tom Ewell helps prop this thing up so it doesn’t fall over. His suicidal tendencies make for some funny moments, along with time our heroes spend on a dog sled, and a bit with Lou vs. an alarm clock. I don’t know why I kept being reminded of John Wayne’s North to Alaska while watching this–don’t ask me, I couldn’t tell you. While this isn’t one of Bud & Lou’s best, it’s still worth watching and not a complete dud.

Lastly, there’s Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, which is odd, because in reality they go not to Mars, but instead to New Orleans and then Venus (yeah, I know that’s a weird combo). Orville (Costello) is still living at an orphanage despite the fact he’s, well, Lou Costello. Lester (Abbott) works for a science lab. Through a convenience that doesn’t need to be discussed here (just like it’s incidental in the film itself), they wind up together and launch an experimental rocket. Landing in New Orleans, they think they’re on Mars. Which, depending on your blood alcohol level, could make sense. Then they wind up going to Venus, as mentioned before, where they find an all-women colony populated by beauty contestants. Yeah.

While the sci-fi genre seems like a natural for Bud & Lou to tackle, it’s a bit crazed: why take bank robbers to Venus? Why not just have the two go to Mars and Venus both? Was the New Orleans bit really funnier than stuff you could do on Mars in an alternate script? So yes, once the film finally makes it into space, it starts to get funny. But in a short feature like this, you need to get to the funny quicker. It almost feels like they had two (or maybe three) scripts that they tried to cobble together into one.

As far as bonus features go, there’s not much to commend the set: you get text-on-screen production notes for all eight films, and trailers for three. It’s a shame the trailers for all eight weren’t included, just for posterity’s sake, but we’ll take what we can get. Still, the films are good enough between all eight of them to warrant rental for the uninitiated and purchase by fans.

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