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Senior Shackster
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I don't know about you folks but most of my favorite films are those I saw as a kid
growing up. I guess movies had the greatest affect on me back then. In terms
of comedy teams I liked Abbott and Costello the best, primarily because they were so accessible and their movies
well preserved. I think people react to the quality of the image
they are watching on a subliminal level. If the print is worn, grainy, scratchy or dupey,
it's takes away much of it's impact. In my area the A&C films were shown every Sunday
on WPIX (Channel 11) and I watched them over and over again each week.
Even though they were cut for the time slot, the 16mm copies were in excellent shape
with good contrast and black and white photography. Laurel and Hardy and the Marx
Brothers films were also shown in syndication but their prints were in terrible condition.
It's not that I didn't enjoy movies like "Sons of the Desert" but the murky looking images
with black slugs in the middle of a shot to fill in missing footage was very distracting.
The same applies to films like "Cocoanuts". Very difficult to sit through because of the
poor visual quality.

Most of A & C movies were produced by Universal and that studio has released a series
of box sets containing most of the team's feature films. The quality is good with some
reservations. The black and white source material remains in excellent shape with nice
contrast and grayscale. However, I'm much more critical today than I was decades
ago about dust and dirt. It doesn't appear that any digital restoration has been done
on the collection so there is occasional wear now and again. Nothing really
objectionable but they could use a general clean up for high definition in the future.
I'm very picky now that I've seen what can be done in the digital domain.

Before I get to the box sets, I'd like to review the career of the team. They started
in vaudeville doing variations on standard material that had been around for decades.
The difference was, they did it better than anyone else. Lou was one of those child/men
like Stan Laurel and Harpo Marx that was easy for adolescents to relate to. That is, as long
as they looked young. The trouble with this type of character is that as they age they
start to get somewhat grotesque. A wrinkled and old child/man comes off like a person
with senile dimentia. Lou died fairly young but still began to show his age in the later movies.
At least he didn't look as awful as Stan Laurel did in his last films or Harpo on television.

Bud was a decade older than his partner but remained youthful looking for most of the
forties. He could pass for a man in his late thirties, especially when he wore his front
hair piece. Bud was the conman character that cheated but also looked after
his immature partner. Since he was a heavy smoker (which eventually killed him) his
voice changed over the years and began to get rather horse and gravely. He also
adopted a mustache in the fifties which made him look older.

A & C films can be broken into two categories. Narrative comedies and vaudevile
pictures. Personally I prefer the former. I thought the team was the most effective
when the humor was derived from the situations in a story. Their best movies
are ones like "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein", "The Time of Their Lives",
"Hold that Ghost" and "Who Done It". The vaudeville comedies can be very funny but
the trouble with them is they keep repeating the same routines over and over.
If you haven't heard them before, you'll laugh out loud but as you watch these box
sets and start listening to the same jokes in feature after feature, you'll get tired of it.
In these movies there is barely a semblance of a plot, just a location for them to
film the schtick they did on stage. The other problem with their vaudeville films
like "Buck Privates" or "Ride Em' Cowboy" is that Universal incorporated some
unrelated love story with other characters that takes up a lot of the running time.
In their narrative stories, all of the supporting players were part of the plot so it
was less distracting. One attribute of the vaudeville comedies is that
they had some good guest stars like the Andrew Sisters and Ella Fitzgerald singing
their hit songs. However, the service comedies were made just before then during
World War II so there is a lot of jingoistic patriotism that dates them.

All of the box sets contain both types of films and the movies are not consistently
good. There are some genuine classics along with some of their lesser pictures but
that's the way they're being sold so you have no choice but to take the good with
the bad. Even their second rate movies usually have some funny bits in them so
keep the remote handy to skip over the poor material and romantic subplots.

I guess I'll indicate what category each picture is in the box set for reference if you're
just going to rent them instead of purchase them along with a rating. A **1/2 star
rating doesn't mean the film isn't funny. It just refers to the fact that there is too much
of a romantic subplot distracting you from the humor.

"The Best of Abbott & Costello Volume 1"

One Night in the Tropics (Narrative) ** (their first movie but they're only
guest stars and Bud doesn't wear his front piece toupee)
Buck Privates (Vaudeville) **1/2 (funny but too much subplot)
In the Navy (Vaudeville) *** (the best of their service comedies)
Hold that Ghost (Narrative) **** (one of their best and first of the horror comedies)
Keep Em' Flying (Vaudeville) **1/2 (some funny routines)
Ride Em' Cowboy (Vaudeville) *** (too much subplot but Dick Foran sings well)
Pardon My Sarong (Narrative) *** (funny but the story is preposterous and the sound
is poor on this transfer)
Who Done It? (Narrative) **** (a good mystery story to frame the humor)

"The Best of Abbott & Costello Volume 2"

"Hit the Ice" (Narrative) *** (funny story with Sheldon Leonard as the heavy)
"In Society" (Vaudeville) **1/2 (best bit is trying to fix the plumbing)
"Here Come the Coeds" (Vaudeville) ** (too many unrelated musical performers)
"The Naughty Nineties" (Narrative) *** (the team play actors on a Showboat)
"Little Giant" (Narrative) * (there's a story but it's one of their weakest pictures)
"The Time of Their Lives" (Narrative) **** (excellent ghost story with some eeire
and disturbing horror scenes including
Lou getting killed)
"Buck Privates Come Home" (Vaudeville) *1/2 (disappointing sequel to their first starring
"The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap" (Narrative) *** (funny Western story and spoof)

Don't bother with Volumes 3 and 4 since it represents the team in their decline although
"Abbott and Costello Go to Mars" does have it's defenders and a cult following.
Volume 3 contains their best movie, "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein",
but that was also sold as a separate single disc so purchase it like that.

The team made two color features produced independently by themselves in
1952. Photographed in Eastmancolor and printed in the Super Cinecolor process,
they were "Jack and the Beanstalk" and "Abbott and Costello Meets Captain Kidd".
These are problem pictures on DVD. "JAB" is public domain and while there are
some acceptable transfers, there are also a lot of terrible copies out there too. The
other problem with the film is that I happen to have the only uncut 35mm Super
Cinecolor print in my archive. It runs about 83 minutes. All of the other copies
floating around out there are the cut 78 minute version released by Warner Brothers.
Lou's cut was the longer running time which is what I was able to find and preserve
over the decades. I haven't decided what to do with it yet since it's public domain
status will make it difficult to release. The other color feature isn't PD but all of
the copies that have been distributed are terrible quality. "Captain Kidd" was
recently restored by UCLA using the original black and white separations. I saw
a new color print projected at the Lafayette Theater in Suffern, New York which looked
quite good. However, the restoration hasn't been released yet so hold off on
purchasing or even screening this one until that happens.

In 1952, the team also produced their own TV show which ran two seasons which
was released in 2006 on DVD. For those who have already screened their features,
I should warn you that they repeated the same vaudeville routines for
the series. What makes it worth watching was the supporting cast. The
first season was the funniest. Bud and Lou play unemployed actors who live in a rooming
house in an urban neighborhood full of wacky, off the wall characters. Their landlord is
grouchy Sidney Fields who was also the screenwriter for the series.
Sexy Hillary Brooke was their next door neighbor along with Gordon
Jones who plays the dumbest cop imaginable. There's a chimp called Bingo
who lived in Lou's bathroom. Joey Besser was an obnoxious little brat dressed in a
'Little Lord Fauntleroy' outfit. His character was very surreal since he's obviously a middle
aged man in a costume. Joe Kirk played an Italian with a mock accent with a
different occupation every time you see him. Bud and Lou were getting a bit old by
then and showing their age but the second bananas made the show histerically
funny at times, primarily because everyone was so crazy. The main problem was a
shrieking laugh track, often louder than the dialogue. The second season is also amusing
but missing Besser, Brooke and the chimp. The shows were mastered from 35mm in most
cases although there is clearly some dupey looking 16mm replacement footage used to fill
in gaps and typical dust and wear that you'd see in syndication. They could use a digital
clean up in the future. The suppliments include home movie footage which is interesting
for a minute or so and they gets tiresome because there's so much of it. Lou's daughter
is also interviewed who wrote a biography of her father.
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