Will We Leave Bud and Lou Behind?
Hold That Ghost (1941) Spooks On Several Levels
Ingredients for a good start: Bumbling wait-staff Bud and Lou disrupt a posh nightclub (where Ted Lewis and The Andrews Sisters perform). Check. Then make shambles at a filling station, done outdoors and sunny. Check. Fleeing from cops in gangland company, they become legatees of the crime chief. Done, and out. From here (fifteen or so minutes in), they and we are confined at a roadhouse gone to ruin where nary a ghost dwells, so why the title? Long mid-section proceeds of Scared Lou and Slapping Bud (that last a most bothersome aspect of this team), and shouting enough to make us want out of Uni's bleak house. Still, Hold That Ghost is adjudged one of A&C's best (***, says Maltin Reviews) largely by those who sat wide-eyed through 60/70's NY and NJ television repeats where I understand these things played non-stop (from other large TV markets too, a typical A&C having ten runs for every one NC got). So it's tube-sat sentiment that drives Bud-Lou love, but what happens when that generation is gone? It's tough enough to keep Laurel-Hardy and Marx Bros. flags flying. How do we defend stuff that dates so loudly as Hold That Ghost?
|Writer/Gag-Man John Grant Gives Bud "Slap Lou" Instruction|
It's still treading on a lot of feet (though less with each passing year) to knock the team, and I wouldn't care to do that in any case. It may, after all, be disturbing aspects that engage us most. First, the Bud as bully aspect. He slaps Lou, then dares him to strike back. Yes, Lou could be a chore, whether dropping dishes or tilting endlessly with lobsters in the soup bowl, but did he have abuse like this coming? Today's much-increased sensitivity to bullying makes the Abbott/Costello dynamic all the harder a sell, especially to youngsters told constantly: Don't hit! Bud's doling of punishment to Lou always kept me at arms-length from the team, a monkey on the back of comedy I otherwise liked.
What does appeal for me about Bud/Lou was fact they made most of their comedies for Universal. There's a home feel to U that other majors lack, a humbler address and more inviting for it. I warmed to Hold That Ghost via credits where an animated spook chases cartoony A&C back/forth among names familiar from horror pix beloved by as diminishing a lot as revere the boys. Do Abbott and Costello have a same expiration date as the monsters? Turn clocks twenty years forward for a moment: Dracula and Frankenstein will still be watched, but Night Monster and The Mad Ghoul? Those may be part of a same retreating wave as Hold That Ghost, but wait, I'll hopefully still be here, so there should be at least a few of us to sign 2035 petition for all of A&C on Blu-Ray.
I like Abbott and Costello best in a crowd, not necessarily of viewers, but of support cast and funny folk like Shemp Howard or Mischa Auer as foils. The club beginning, and finish, is a most pleasurable part of Hold That Ghost. It brings 40's flavor to the fore, puts music of the day at center stage (Ted Lewis already a retro act by 1941, but the Andrews Sisters fresh as daisies and ongoing good luck charms for A&C). Swing tuning was very much a third partner to Abbott and Costello as they started out for Universal, candy served out of jukeboxes that led consumers from malt shop dance floors to theatre boxoffices. Uni was hip-deep in band shorts to accompany features it sold. These were popular then if forgotten now, thanks to fact we can't see any for latter-day U not making them available. Backdrop of boogie-woogie put A&C at forefront of Hit Parades, their comedy seeming more up-to-minute thanks to tunes charting alongside them.
Bud/Lou as sorry waiters with bent for dice and chorines was the set-up I'd have built Hold That Ghost around, instead of packing them off to a creep house not half so lush as what Bob Hope visited in year before's The Ghost Breakers. We're ones on Hold for a long hour of Lou in fright-react to cupboard door opens or anyone entering a dark room. In could-be recognition that a little of that goes too far a way, there is Joan Davis to screech and fall down like Lou, an act she honed for Fox musicals before. In fact, this loose-limbed comedienne gives Costello a better partner's bargain than Abbott, a mid-way dance they do making me wonder if handlers ever considered a Costello-Davis teaming should the A&C combo crash (an ax hung over the duo thanks to frequent fall-outs). Lou and Joan do a since-celebrated, and oft-reprised by A&C, skit called "The Moving Candle," where Lou sees ghostly shift that she can't. It's a stretched-out gag, most effective, I'd figure, with a full and laughing house, but what works, alone or in a crowd, is
We wonder, but can never truly know, just what it was about Abbott and Costello (or any then-popular comics) that brought crowded houses down. Well, part answer is crowding itself, and in 1941-42 there were enormous ones as movies approached a peak of attendance. And Abbott and Costello were a brashest novelty among fun-makers. They gave to movies a knowing wink of burlesque, always seeming just this side of a bawdy joke. Too many think of the team as For Kids Only, but I suspect it was grown-ups that laughed loudest when A&C were in prime. I enjoyed Hold That Ghost the more so for seeing it on High-Definition, happy bonus of TCM's Abbott-Costello night a few weeks back when Ghost and In The Navy made HD debut on the channel. Estimation of oldies do an uptick when sharpness and contrast leap as here. We get long-concealed hint of how these comedies clicked when new, for like all of Classic Era Hollywood, Hold That Ghost gleams thanks to polish routinely applied by studios. Cameraman Elwood ("Woody") Bredell, him of Uni horrors and noirs before and aft, was a technician whose work can deliver with sound up or down. It's Bredell touch that makes over-stay in the Ghost house tolerable, a big visual gain on 16mm prints and analog-ish transfers where bland grays stood in for rich-intended black and white. All of Abbott and Costello at Universal gets enhance as titles trickle out in 1080. Will this raise modern-day rating for the team?