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Monday, October 05, 2015

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 Davis as effective partner to Costello. (Here's a query: Has anyone lately shown Hold That Ghost to an audience? How did "The Moving Candle" go over ... did they laugh?)

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?


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Getting older (I just joined the Medicare Club) does different things to different people. For me, it has lessened my enjoyment of A&C movies. Many of the routines I once howled like a werewolf when viewing, now are just irritating. They seem to go on forever. I bought all the Universal DVD box sets of A&C when first released and recently realized I have watched only BUCK PRIVATES. And the drawing card in that for me was Patty, Maxene and LaVerne.

I did program A&C MEET CAPTAIN KIDD a few years back for my monthly film group, and the nicest comment received was, "Oh, didn't know they made any movies in color."

Oh, and The Bowery Boys now irritate me as well.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Movies are meant to be seen with strangers. That is the vitality of seeing a film in a theater. With friends they are not the same. Back in the 1970s at Rochdale College I ran the entire Universal Frankenstein series including HOUSE OF DRACULA. Both it and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN brought the crowd down. ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN woke them up BIG. There is a critical meanness of spirit about their pictures that comes too often from writers as was once the case with Laurel and Hardy and still is the often case with THE THREE STOOGES. I had seen a movie at 6 in New Brunswick that had scared the tar out of me. That night I discovered it had been the scene in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN where Lou sits in the chair with the Frankenstein monster. As a kid I did not know it was supposed to be funny. What was neat about A & C MEET FRANK was that the horror parts worked better than they did in the straight horror films partially because the audience laughed off the horror in the straight films while the comedy in A & C MEET FRANK offset that. I have always had a problem with fans bringing a knowing and blase attitude to the program. When I first did my massive four hour animation fests I published programs. The fans would say loudly, "This is good. That is okay. This is bad," thus poisoning the reaction of the audience. I threw away the program guides. The audience reacted better when they did not know what to expect. As always you have provided a great choice of pictures. Once with a friend I ran THE MARX BROTHERS AT THE CIRCUS while awaiting New Year's Eve. The picture was putting us both to sleep. Then I threw on I'M NO ANGEL with Mae West. That one immediately woke us both up. Likewise the first time I saw THE THIN MAN was at midnight on television. Before it started I could barely keep my eyes open. Once it started I was wide awake. When I first saw the films of W. C. Fields on TV I did not like them at all. When I programmed them to packed houses laughing their heads off I found my head in danger of falling off as well. I recommend when you think a movie has lost its edge that you see it with strangers. That is one of the big reasons I love having strangers walk in my door here.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

Certain of today's public at large may not even know who Abbott & Costello are (and as for Wheeler & Woolsey or Brown & Carney, forget it), yet we've seen Bert & Bob and Wally & Alan enjoy a revival on Archive DVDs. So it may fall to those who DO know who they are to enlighten those who do not know.

This is happening in the American Laurel & Hardy community, where grandparents are turning youngsters on to Stan and Ollie via home video and very occasional television exposure. (L & H fans are luckier in Europe, where the films were never out of circulation and generations of families grew up with them.)

I think the only "classic comedy" personalities who are still a presence in popular culture -- despite being in unfashionable black-and-white -- are The Three Stooges. The simple reason is that the films have always been visible: Columbia reissued them to theaters at the rate of eight per year until 1968, and saturated them in television syndication and later home video.

In this day and age, where Mel Brooks movies are 40 years old and Eddie Murphy may be a nostalgia act by now, the older comedians are falling off the cultural radar -- Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, the Marx Brothers, W. C. Fields, Our Gang, The Bowery Boys. But... they have staunch partisans whose interest in these comedians will probably last as long as they themselves do.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Wonderful piece! Lots of interesting points here! I'm pretty sure you know the original cut of HOLD THAT GHOST actually had even more creepy old house stuff and all those nightclub scenes you favor were added months after Universal sat on the thing while banging out IN THE NAVY.

Our culture tends to lump old time comics together; just slightly different selections in a Whitman Sampler Box prized mostly by nostalgia geeks. And, of course, this is crazy. Laurel and Hardy and Abbott and Costello both indulged in wild, often violent slapstick, but they had little in common as performers. Stan and Ollie's whole deal is based on recognizable character relationships whereas Bud and Lou exist in a very theatrically contrived universe of deliberate misunderstanding. No real human relationship at all, but plenty of surreal crosstalk. And slapping. And, at least at first, big band music. In practical terms, A&C have been better merchandised to modern audiences for the last decade or two but I think you may be onto something as to that limited shelf life as we move further and further away from the vaudeville/burlesque traditions that spawned the team. I love the guys, but for me, it's the actual timeliness of their wartime stuff that makes those films generally hold up better than later efforts... that and the initial energy level the team had staring out in Hollywood. Now, just to contradict myself, I'd suggest two post-war films TIME OF THEIR LIVES and MEET FRANKENSTEIN are probably their all time best, but let's just say those are the exceptions rather than the rule.

GHOST, like several of Bud and Lou's earliest, looks to be more of a Wheeler and Woolsey reboot than a Stan and Ollie riff (compare with HOOK, LINE AND SINKER.)Again, another once popular team whose appeal was built around stylized, formal routines, pretty much removed from a recognizable day to day universe. RKO in the thirties, Universal in the forties and fifties certainly DID know how to support their low comedy stars production wise. Lots of terrific supporting actors, wild Ralph Cedar-ish second unit chases and well staged musical inserts.

Liked your observations about Davis and Costello. Both high octane personas that could wear you out, but both capable of some surprising nuances in their schtick. They teamed well, should have made more movies together.

And curious as to what your readers think about A&C's legacy going forward. Certainly Jerry Seinfeld plugged the team at every opportunity back in the nineties... well, when Seinfeld's own brand was at its peak influence. What about now? Do people under forty care who's on first? I'm askin'!

12:04 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Are Bud and Lou the most dysfunctional couple in the history of cinema? Does Bud ever show any kind of on-screen affection for Lou? Why are they even partners? Even Moe would occasionally compliment another Stooge: "You're pretty smart for an imbecile." But Bud's general crankiness, violent outbursts, and relentless manipulation of Lou are just about the only things I still find amusing about them.

That being said, I also own all the Universal box sets, and I've watched two or three films. I need to revisit them, but I'm a-scared to. As a child, I loved them so.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I watched A & C's TV show back in the day, primarily because my older brothers did. As I got older, I'd catch a few minutes of their movies, but never liked them. Bud was nasty, Lou was crude. But as Dave K said, "Time of their Lives" was enjoyable -- mainly because it was an outlier (gentle comedy, not really a team), while " Frankenstein" worked on a horror level pretty well. A&C did double talk routines better than any other team, but that's it. Laurel & Hardy are timeless, while A&C are strictly a 40s phenomenon.

Did you ever see their outtakes? Lou seems to swear for the sake of swearing, while his costars appear irritated with him -- for good reason. Neither he nor Bud ever seemed to like each other.

10:46 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

It is impossible in a home alone or even with a few friends to experience these films at their best. I have shown them to a thousand people or more. One person sees something others miss as does another and another. The laughter feeds off the laughter growing bigger and bigger. I once felt a theater literally shake the audience laughed so hard.

10:51 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

Watched this on Svengoolie. I didn`t get the dated vibe like I get from some of their other movies. Especially RIDE `EM COWBOY. One thing I did notice. Lou sure swiped gags and mannerisms from Curly Howard in this film. Not noticeable in later A&C but stands out here.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks Jr said...

I obtained a major revelation in the late 80's about A&C, the observation very much like Mr. Hart's. For a local Halloween festival I was prevailed upon to present a film presentation in a one time small theater. I was able to borrow a 16mm AFEES print (not a dupe) of A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN. At 60 feet I was able to get a decent grain.
The audience was about 60 kids and parents. A&C were never meant to be seen without an audience. These monochromatic monsters scared the beejeezus out of these kids without showing blood or human entrails. Then I got what the A&C "meet" films were all about. These audiences in a darkened theater would be scared with the miscreant monsters in these films, so when Bud and Lou showed up the audience really wanted them, A&C had audiences eating out of their hands. A&C could not lose with that formula

2:31 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Do Martin & Lewis fare any better these days? I suspect modern viewers come to them -- if at all -- from Jerry's and Dino's separate work. Their team efforts are slick 50s features that happen to have a comedy team front and center.

It sometimes feels like there's an official lineage of comedy duos: First Laurel & Hardy, out of vaudeville, music hall and silents. They're upstaged by Abbott & Costello, combining burlesque and the emerging wiseguy style. And A&C give way to Martin & Lewis, a slick young nightclub act incorporating Martin's crooner sex appeal (taking over the romantic subplots usually consigned to a bland non-comic juvenile).

The three teams also reflect the changes in movies themselves.

Laurel & Hardy started out when short subjects were a major part of the movie industry. Whatever the setup, they were introduced as Stan and Ollie, already a team that needed no introduction or explanation.

Abbott & Costello arrived in the era of double features and peak movie attendance. They played nominally new characters in each film, occasionally meeting as strangers, but instantly falling into the familiar relationship and stage routines.

Martin & Lewis reflected postwar affluence, producing A pictures with bigger names and scripts like "real movies." Like A&C, they played nominally new characters each round (and also began their career with a series of service comedies). But M&L films would often be about the relationship (usually Dino playing Jerry for a sap and repenting) and make it a major plot point, where A&C and L&H almost NEVER threatened the relationship outside of a specific gag situation.

3:35 PM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

I'm a WPIX-NY A&C viewer of the '60s and '70s, now on the brink of 60. I appreciate A&C now more than ever, though I'm also more critical of their lesser efforts (we know what they are!). But there's no denying the vitality of their initial films. I'd hate to think of a world that no longer watches A&C, but then I don't much worry about anything past 2050. ;D

9:46 PM  
Blogger Robert Fiore said...

I loved Abbott and Costello as a kid, and I believe that kids will always love Abbott and Costello because they see Costello as one of them. I think it's as we grow older that we lose our appreciation.

11:52 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Richard M. Roberts considers audience reaction and Abbott/Costello's comic legacy (Part One):

Hey There John,

Coming a day late to the party (yesterday was Linda’s
birthday so we took a drive up North to the Pine Country to enjoy our first day
of changing Fall weather and breathe good air in a drizzly 53 degrees), allow me
some two cents on ol’ Bud and Lou:

I have to say Reg Hartt is on the money
about viewing Bud and Lou’s, as well as frankly any vintage films with an
audience over viewing alone, someone once defined an audience as “an experience
shared with strangers” and it is simply and totally correct. As for Abbott and
Costello, we once ran BUCK PRIVATES for a full-house College audience in the
1970’s and it was there that I first realized the real appeal of that and the
team in general. The crowd immediately tapped into that film’s flag-waving, drum
beating energy, laughing heartily at everything Bud and Lou did and applauding
the Andrew’s Sisters at the end of every number, everything clicked.

seen HOLD THAT GHOST work exactly the same way with a crowd, all of the first
handful of Abbott and Costello films have the advantage of a team not yet
wearied and actually turned on to the novelty of stardom and moviemaking, they
make these even-then aged Burlesque routines seem fresh because they are being
performed by comedians eager to succeed and make them work anew, and Joan Davis
is indeed a plus because we get just the right amount of her, and she also does
have the chemistry with Lou Costello, their scenes together are some of both of
their best work (Universal seemed to know how to handle Davis, one of her best
1940’s starring vehicles is Universal’s SHE GETS HER MAN (1945), which is
crafted by a group of old comedy hands including Clyde Bruckman to showcase what
she did well and tone down her excesses).

The problem HOLD THAT GHOST has
today is despite the then-sure-fire-hittin’-on-all-cylinders Lou Costello scare
routines on display there, we now know them all much better from their retreads
in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, where they are done much more
methodically and mechanically, but are in such better context, that watching
HOLD THAT GHOST, especially on one’s own, makes them seem a bit more hurried and
slapdash, as well as all too familiar.

The Abbott and Costello/Wheeler and
Woolsey analogies are far more succinct that I’m sure some of you realize, in
fact, there is actually a memo in the Universal files from the days right after
BUCK PRIVATES release and huge success that outlines plans to basically remake
the W and W filmography with A and C: HOLD THAT GHOST indeed channels HOOK, LINE
AND SINKER, RIDE `EM COWBOY is GIRL CRAZY with different songs, WHO DONE IT? is
a straight and genuine remake of THE NITWITS, is it just a coincidence that both
teams made RIO RITA’s? The idea petered out as time went on and died altogether
once Universal aimed Bud and Lou’s pictures more as kiddie fare (I’ve always
said that their last “adult” movie was the underrated MEXICAN HAYRIDE, after
FRANKENSTEIN they were definitely retooled into films aimed at the juvenile

9:13 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Richard M. Roberts:

As to the whole likeability/slapping thing, yes, in this current
world of OVER-sensitization to the concept of “bullying”, where even being
disagreed with on the internet constitutes trauma indicating need of counceling
and coddling by the generally hyper-whiny population behind the keyboards, Bud
Abbott’s constant slapping of Lou Costello’s will most-likely become cause for
shock and concern, but again, it is just the old strains of the Burlesque
background that Bud and Lou were raised in coming to the fore, that’s why they
call it slapstick folks, and as Steve Martin said, “Comedy is not pretty” . A
nationwide “get over it” call is probably what is needed (How many do we deal
with on a daily basis that we’d like to give a good hearty slap? Oh what a bully
I am to suggest it!), but I will say what is more unfortunate about Abbott and
Costello’s stylistic use of it was the rigidity it placed on Bud Abbott’s
performance and character.

The real tragedy in Bud’s “abuse” of Lou Costello
in their pictures is that the whole Burlesque Top Banana/Straight man set-up
they strictly adhered to did indeed keep their characters in a very shallow
range, doubly sad because when you watch Bud Abbott when he is given that rare
opportunity to play different, as he did in LITTLE GIANT, TIME OF THEIR LIVES
and DANCE WITH ME HENRY, or in any scene in their other pictures when he working
with actors apart from Costello, he comes off as a very personable and likeable
actor. You see it even more and with sympathy when watching Bud struggling to
keep an always out-of-control Lou Costello on script and on-time in their live
TV Colgate Comedy Hour performances, Abbott is trying to maintain the order and
precision that as one of the best straight-men ever born he knows has to be
maintained to keep the comedy working, and Costello just want to hog the scene.
Perhaps this is why I have always relegated Abbott and Costello to my
second-tier of Comedy favorites, the one I have actually never warmed to was Lou
Costello, from research into his personal life and traits I have always found
him to be the troublesome one, and to me the camera shows it truthfully.
Costello would probably have never signed on to any broadening of Abbott’s role
in the team, unfortunately it harms his own character as well, killing any begs
for sympathy he will occasionally make a grab for by making it feel completely
disingenuous and out of context.

In any event, in a world where
increasingly, people don’t even know who Charlie Chaplin is, you can rest
assured that there is no hope for Bud and Lou, and for a long time I have been
telling the audiences I bring these comedies to that they are an endangered
species as the same society continues to think up ways to keep us apart. Perhaps
the real reason we all became collectors was to be able to keep these precious
things for ourselves, our own protections from a civilization we have less and
less use for, at least we are set up as far as our own entertainments for the
rest of our lifetimes.


9:14 AM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

Very good commentary!!

It seems almost existential the concept of classic comedy teams etc. actually fading from view for good, as far as 99.5% of the population. Then too it's probably been eroding since the 1980s. I agree that we're too wimpy today if old fashioned slapstick seems cruel and inappropriate, though unrestrained toilet humor is just fine! Lordy. Anyway, as said, with whatever time our generation or two has left, we'll happily ride it out with these old friends.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

In defense of Lou Costello, he may be the last great pratfall comic. He was superb at taking a fall.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

What attracts me to this site is its intelligence and the intelligence of those who respond. This is particularly true with Richard Roberts' post here. We are in a time of immense on screen poverty. The laughter audience experienced yesterday is not going to come again. The genuine thrills experience by yesterday's audience is not going to come again either.

I can still remember the rush I felt the first time I saw 1,000 people belly laughing during SEVEN CHANCES with Buster Keaton. The knowledge of how to build and sustain gags is lost. I had never experienced an audience laugh like that.

The BBC ran life over the radio to those at home the twenty minutes of solid laughter from Albert Hall that is the end of Charles Chaplin's THE GOLD RUSH. Tain't gonna happen again.

In those days people learned their craft on stage in front of live audiences and while making short films which were spurned by the educated and embraced by the unwashed masses of working folk.

Today folks learn not craft but art in classrooms everywhere. Films are made for the educated. Well, that is not entirely true. They are now being made for 13 year old Asian boys (American and Canadian boys have better things to do with their time than watch movies).

GREENBRIAR PICTURES SHOWS is far and away my favorite site.

11:42 AM  
Blogger The Metzinger Sisters said...

A friend of mine was introducing her children to classic films. Most of the titles she showed them bored them ( Peter Pan, Seventh Voyage of Sinbad ) but when she got to Three Stooges and A&C they loved them. All that slapping around is what makes this team so funny! King of Jazz said it right, "we're too wimpy today if old fashioned slapstick seems cruel and inappropriate". In the 1940s crowds were tough. Look at the films from those days. If someone walked in a city street and stepped on a guy's toes, he'd have his fisticuffs ready. People fought, but people helped each other out a lot more too. Speaking for myself, I'm 27, and I've loved A&C for the past 15 years. A new DVD collection of their "monster" films just got released because the last set sold so well. At my local library I have to put a hold on those earlier collections 4-5 weeks in advance because they are never available on the shelf. Somebody besides myself keeps watching those guys. - Constance

12:08 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Metzinger Sisters make a good a point here, I think. Maybe our sensibilities have become too tender to appreciate "tough" comedians like Abbott and Costello ... and yet, as several comments have pointed out, children respond well to A&C when exposed to them, "All that slapping around" what youngsters like best. HAS modern-day comedy wimped out?

12:24 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

Lots of good observations here. As someone else who grew up w/in range of NYC stations, I knew A&C as much from their television show (which was in perennial rerun) as their movies. (The TV show also benefited from the omnipresence of Sidney Fields.)

For me, their usually as good as the current "bit" they're doing at the moment, which could often be lifted whole from the movie without affecting the nominal plot (and was likely dropped in from being successful on the burlesque stage or another movie).

1:26 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I never had any problem with Moe slapping around Larry, Curly or Shemp, perhaps because he eventually got his comeuppance at some point in each movie. But for some reason I recoiled at Bud doing the same to Lou -- perhaps because he towered over the little schlub. At the same time, Lou struck me as crude, loud and annoying. He's like a one-man Bowery Boys, another team I didn't care for.

I think you found a topic that rivals Laurel & Hardy and the Marx Bros. for plentiful comments!

3:39 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Kevin K, I think you're right. Abbott and Costello, like Laurel and Hardy and The Marx Bros., arouse a lot of sentiment and nostalgia. Certainly they do for me.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

In my last year in high school for a variety show I created a short play with routines stolen from Abbott & Costello. The audience didn't know that. All that they knew was that all of a sudden the night got unexpectedly hysterically funny. The running gag was "Slowly I turned" which Abbott & Costello, The Three Stooges and Lucille Ball in I LOVE LUCY did. What we can be grateful for is that all those sure fire routines are on record.

9:47 PM  
Blogger VP81955 said...

To me, the selling point of Abbott and Costello was the wordplay, which they honed with their stage act all those years. You saw some of that in their movies, especially the ones up to the mid-1940s, and some of that on the TV series, too (Jerry Seinfeld certainly saw it) -- but it was best exemplified on radio, where they starred for several years. Of course, they had to concentrate on words on the radio, and Bud and Lou were more than up to the task. The only other OTR team whose wordplay was consistently were Burns and Allen, more so for Gracie's surrealistic approach to life than for the words themselves.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Ah, Hold That Ghost!!! One of my favorites from Bud and Lou. The only thing that keeps me from giving it five out of five stars is the Ted Lews nightclub bookend opening/closing. It just smacks of "well, the first few films in the A&C series really scored and those were filled with musical numbers, so we better add them here!" Studio illogic at its best - Hold That Ghost doesn't need the incongruous musical bits, any more than Keep 'Em Flying needed a "scare" scene with Lou in a funhouse (the inclusion of which, you guessed it, was encouraged by the studio due to positinve reacion to Hold that Ghost).

Despite those bookends, Hold That Ghost is a rip. Young Bud and Lou in their prime, and as with their best, an amazing third in Joan Davis. Which leads me to the A&C film I love best, Who Done It.

Like Hold That Ghost, Who Done Features the young Bud and Lou at the height of their powers, and not only an amazing third in Mary Wickes but a fourth in William Bendix! It also is comedy straight through, with no musical numbers and nary a romantic subplot (one is hinted at but mercifully it is shoved out by the comedy). Best of all, even with some old vaudeville/burlesque/radio routines inserted, they are all seamlessly integrated into the plot. In my opinion, Who Done It is the film to show someone who's never seen Bud and Lou. If they don't "get" Abbott & Costello after Who Done It, odds are they never will, in my opinion.

Richard M. Roberts is correct about Wheeler & Woolse's film, The Nitwits providing the blueprint for Who Done It. In Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo's essential book, Abbott & Costello in Hollywood they quote one of the A&C producers (whose name escapes me; I don't currently have the book in reach to confirm it) as admitting he kept a log of the plots of Wheeler & Woolsey films to re-use for Abbott & Costello. Like Bud and Lou, Bert and Bob made a staggering 30-something feature films (or at least near that). There's a lot of Hook, Line and Sinker in Hold That Ghost, and the last third of The Nitwits seems to have influenced Hold that Ghost, too. The first 2/3 of The Nitwits is so close to how Who Done It ended up it's uncanny; it even has the handcuff-the-cop routine that later turned up in Who Done It!

Lastly, I think where you grew up has a lot to do with your love of Bud & Lou. I'm from New Jersey, and all of our TV stations came from New York City. The Abbott & Costello movies were on every Sunday on WPIX when I was a kid, with some of the non-Universals turning up on various other channels at other days/times. The TV show was run a lot, too also on WPIX as I recall. Laurel & Hardy are my absolute favorites but the fact is I had less chances to see them on TV than I did Abbott & Costello. I also collected Super 8 films and it was more affordable to get the 5 minute A&C digests from Castle Films than a whole 20 minute L&H short from Blackhawk. So exposure has a lot to do with it. I still love Bud & Lou. I accept them for what they are: master craftsmen who perfected the time-honored routines from burlesque/vaudeville. I don't feel they innovated the way Laurel & Hardy did nor had the depth (Stan and Ollie are downright Dickensian to me) but there's also an art to what Bud and Lou did, too.

Stinky - I'd say the pratfall observation falls into my craftsmen comment. Lou certainly perfected it. I wouldn't say he was the last, though - Peter Sellers, John Ritter and Leslie Nielsen all proved adept at it in later years... and I'm confident they were greatly influenced by Lou Costello and the other classics that had come before them.

6:36 AM  
Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Ted Healy slapped the Stooges around for real in vaudeville, or so they say. It was all sound effects and camera angles in the Columbia Shorts. Bud Abbott was a peerless straight man, maybe the best (No, I'm not forgetting George Burns). The Stooges were three "kids," (with Moe playing the mean older brother), which is why we real kids loved them--they acted like us, not like grownups.
Abbott was the figurative adult in their act and the real adult in their lives. Slapping Lou around onscreen might have prevented him from doing it offscreen. Lou would have made me nuts,too.

All the WPIX people seem to suggest that A&C were more a Northeast sort of taste in comedy. A little slapping never hurt anyone (ask Humphrey Bogart and Ralph Meeker).

11:55 AM  
Blogger b piper said...

Like others I'm growing increasingly put off by Bud's offhand violence to Lou, but all the random slaps are nothing compared to the scene in PARDON MY SARONG where the boys are among a party lost at sea and Bud actually hands Lou a gun and induces him to commit suicide --- boy, there's comedy for you!!! By the way, I recently introduced a friend in his early 20s to the Marx Brothers and he loves them, so there's hope for the younger generation yet.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

Maybe Northeasterners got a heavier dose of A&C than the rest of us, but I can't imagine them being any more beloved anywhere than in my home country.

I grew up in Southern Indiana, and when I was a kid there were only three acceptable reasons for going inside on any good weather day... (1) your mom yelled for you for the fourth or fifth time so you knew she went business...(2) you needed a bathroom break...or, (3) Bud and Lou were on the 4 o'clock movie. I clearly remember occasions when one of us would run inside for a quick trip to the john, then would momentarily reappear at his back door, yelling, "Abbott and Costello are on!" The rest of us would then race off toward our homes as if someone had dropped a grenade in our midst. We adored those guys.

I clearly remember one occasion when several of us, probably aged 8 to 12, sat around for at least half an hour comparing our favorite bits from IN SOCIETY which had been on the day before.

The boys are not as funny to me now as they were in the '50s, but they still can make me laugh while filling me with profound nostalgia.

4:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

That's a wonderful reminiscence, Rick. Thanks for sharing it with us.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

To me, there's a difference between physical comedy and a pratfall. Many are adept at physical comedy, but taking a violent fall, not so much. To see Lou Costello shoved into a wall or getting tangled up in a mop is a thing of beauty.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

Stinky, I was going by the literal definition of pratfall ("to fall on one's butt") but I get your point and totally agree with it. Lou's physicality in such scenarios as those you mention doesn't have much competition, certainly not in post-Lou years.

I want to throw another kudo to Bud. Others have pointed out his facility for drama and being a terrific character actor in films like Time of Their Lives, Little Giant and Dance With Me Henry. I'll add that he could also be a fine comic in his own right. In Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, he's essentially playing a comedic character role, and extremely well at that (it may be the first time in film we Bud playing something other than the slickster/sharpster/con man type - if I'm wrong on that, someone please step up and correct me - I may be getting my dates mixed up). He's also quite funny in the much (unfairly, in my opinion) maligned Abbott & Costello Meet Captain Kidd (and no wonder there - it's quite telling that he also developed and produced the project, and then gave himself broad comedy bits to perform). Last, in any of the films featuring the patter routines, though playing the straight man there's great humor to be had from Bud's crackshot line deliveries and attitude. Especially in routines like "Mustard" and "Suppose you bore a hole in that wall." He's just hysterical in his insistence in those routines, in my opinion. You see the classic routines dispersed in the early films like Buck Privates and Hold That Ghost, but one mid-period film that's taken on a new luster is The Noose Hangs High primarily for a seven and a half minute scene of Bud & Lou sitting in a restaurant as Abbott does the "straight man's lecture" stringing together many of those classic patter bits into one amazing sequence.

John - how about a review of Wheeler & Woolsey's The Nitwits? Would love to hear your thoughts, and if you catch the same influence the film had on Abbott & Costello's Who Done It and partial influence on Hold That Ghost. It's not the "favored son" of W&W films (those accolades are usually reserved for the admitted classics, Hips Hips Hooray, Diplomaniacs and Cockeyed Cavaliers) but Nitwits also has the distinction of direction from George Stevens and being the team's first "post-code" film, with a concerted (and in my opinion, successful) effort to "tame" what had previously been a very PG-13 act. Despite the unfortunate inclusion of some stereotypical humor, I think Nitwits is one of the all-time great "popcorn" comedies and deserving of a rediscovery/wider audience.

6:19 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Paul, it looks like the only W&W comedy I've talked about is "Cracked Nuts":

Now that they're pretty much all out on DVD, I should dig deeper in.

Your mention of "The Noose Hangs High" reminds me that it's time to get out that MGM/UA disc again.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

John - I think you'll love The Nitwits. At the very least, the unexpected and utterly charming/surreal jailhouse scene...

Also, I must correct myself. The first post-code W&W is actually Kentucky Kernals, co-starring Spanky McFarland, a year before The Nitwits and also directed by Stevens.

10:06 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Paul, I agree with your thoughts on Bud Abbott. I always thought "best straight man ever" was something of a left-handed compliment. I think he's much more than a conventional straight man, very funny in his own way, and these days, makes me laugh more than Lou.

11:01 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

In the professional world of comedy, being called the "best straight-man" ever is far from a left-handed compliment. In Burlesque, a talented straight-man could be earning more than a Top Banana lead comic. A straight man is responsible for really keeping the pacing of a two man routine working, and for a comic like Lou Costello who would like to go off the beaten track and over the deep end, someone like Bud Abbott was essential (remember who was billed first in the team).

Randy Skretvedt knew Director Charles Barton pretty well in his later days, and Randy once related to me that when Barton was directing A and C and Costello would start what could be apparently endless ad-libbing on camera, Barton would just say, "Go ahead, beat yourself up Lou, we'll cut it all out in the editing room.", yet when they were performing live, editing on the spot was and had to be Bud's job.

No one was saying Bud Abbott wasn't funny, I think his diatribes, especially in routines like "mustard" are the funniest things in the sketch. I also agree he is good in those two very underrated A and C pics, KILLER BORIS KARLOFF (the first A and C I ever saw BTW) and CAPTAIN KIDD (where Charles Laughton is also a hoot having fun in the scene-stealing competition with Bud and Lou).

THE NITWITS is a good film, even if George Stevens is already beginning to over-do the Hal Roach methodicalness (and he would get EVEN SLOWER as time went on), and that could be another Greenbriar article that could whip a lot of discussion: post-code Wheeler and Woolsey! Who wants to defend MUMMYS BOYS?


11:50 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Defend MUMMY'S BOYS? Well, um, I've seen far worse.

Like that of Abbott and Costello, the influence of Wheeler and Woolsey's films can be seen all over the place, the difference being that Bert and Bob themselves seem to have been forgotten almost immediately. Bob Hope's big hit THE PALEFACE is a surprisingly close rethink of W&W's SILLYBILLIES, but even by 1948 the team seemed too antiquated to rate so much as a nod. Would love to see more about W&W!

12:12 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Fine Dave, you take MUMMYS BOYS and I'll take THE RAINMAKERS.

Wheeler and Woolsey were a product of their era, and a very successful one, but I'm sure by WW2 they looked too old hat for any post-war theatrical revivals. They did get a new lease on life turning up on television in the late 50's C and C RKO package, where the Leonard Maltins and that generation of film buff were introduced to them, and then they have gotten one more boost by TCM and video releases since, so I think they have actually done pretty well as far as staying on at least the film buff's radar, though perhaps they are a bit to light and airy for the modern film nerd to finds musical comedy to be "too happy" to watch. I've always said Wheeler and Woolsey were basically the Marx Brothers without an edge for the small town crowds, and they filled that niche' very successfully financially.


2:06 PM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

I discovered W&W in the 1980s via cable and laser discs(!). To me A handful of their movies (DIPLOMANIACS and PEACH-O-RENO for me) transcend any limitations that seemed apparent after their heyday. They truly deserve a second look.

Back on topic, I recall how sad I was at age seven when I was gently told that Lou Costello had died a few years earlier. What a reality slap that was!

3:33 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

I recently saw 'Diplomaniacs' for the first time, and I thought, "Where has this been all my life?" If I had seen it in my youth, I'm sure it would have ranked with 'Duck Soup' and 'Million Dollar Legs'.

11:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Indeed, where were Wheeler and Woolsey all MY life? We never had even one of their films on TV where I grew up, or if we did, I was unaware of it, which is unlikely, as I combed TV GUIDE carefully each week.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Paul Castiglia said...

I know this is a Bud & Lou thread but to throw another Wheeler & Woolsey recommendation out there, Hold 'Em Jail is definitely one classic comedy fans should take a look at. Bert and Bob getting fine support from Edgar Kennedy and Edna May Oliver in a film whose premise later turned up in the '70s Burt Reynolds comedy hit, The Longest Yard. Also one of two Wheeler & Woolsey films (the other being the aforementioned Nitwits) with Betty Grable as the romantic lead - here about 16 or 17 years old!

I love it when the premises of classic comedies show up in other films at later dates - The Bowery Boys' Mr. Hex scenario turned up in the Sydney Poitier/Bill Cosby/Jimmie "J.J." Walker '70s flick, Let's Do It Again for one. And to bring it back on point to Abbott & Costello, in addition to the Wheeler & Woolsey plots inspiring Bud & Lou flicks, Laurel & Hardy's Pack Up Your Troubles seems to have provided the framework for Abbott & Costello's Buck Privates Come Home. At least the set-up is nearly identical.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Bouncing back to 'Hold That Ghost' and political correctness, I wonder if the 'Me and My Shadow' number would be cut from today's TV broadcasts.

And if I never encounter Ted Lewis and his "singing" style again, okay by me.

1:49 PM  
Blogger KING OF JAZZ said...

You better then avoid the Ted Lewis Museum in Circleville, Ohio!

7:13 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

And it's only 168 miles from where I live! I can go during the annual Circleville Pumpkin Show, and kill two birds with one stone.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

The nice thing about discovering W & W later in life is that it's like watching new movies where you're unfamiliar with the jokes.

9:21 AM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Any movie you haven't seen is a new movie.


10:39 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon shares some of his observations re Abbott and Costello (Part One):

BTW, I enjoyed reading the thread you created on the subject of Abbott and Costello! My childhood enthusiasm for A & C knew no bounds, but a LOT of it was the format of the movies which never varied from certain sorts of set pieces always ending in a big chase usually garnished with amusing special effects, either 'practical' or optical. The 'chase' was very faithfully adhered to when they started their "...Meets..." series with you-know-what, and though obliged to haul in the necessary fantasy elements, these were cleverly manipulated to conform to the chase template while also enhancing it. I ALWAYS loved the shot of the Wolf Man 'sacrificing' himself / itself by grabbing the Dracula-bat and plunging into the boiling ocean below. (This is so obviously rotoscoped, NOT in an off-putting way, that I continually wonder what the Wolf Man dummy---that's what I always imagined it was, but I guess it could've been a stunt Wolf Man!---actually leapt into. For all we know, they might have photographed the Wolf-whatsis being thrown from an Olympic height diving board into a swimming pool! The splash the thing makes is also rotoscoped and printed over the existing apparent sea coast footage.

I have to count myself among those who, even as a kid, also found the slapping of Costello a bit bullying but somehow realized it was B.S., too, similar to the blowtorch on the butt or hammer on the head in the Stooges films. I liked the rhythm of how the A & C films were thought out and assembled, a nice balance of pop stuff of the day (the Andrews Sisters still hold up, for me---but, I'm 62 now!) and the John Grant schtick. I'd like to know more about their association with Grant, like, where and when did it start, and how were these bits integrated in the shooting scripts. I wonder, did the script just say "A John Grant bit goes here", or what? Interesting that on "A & C Meet Frankenstein" you have the credit to the screenwriters who basically wrote the script, and John Grant, who we can almost assure ourselves as to what elements he contributed, i.e., "Why don't you light that cigarette, put on those shoes, and take a walk for yourself?", or, "You take Mary!"

5:59 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

I bought the first version of the A & C Universal features that were ganged on both sides of DVDs in a set. Later they came up with a better one, each film on its own DVD. Anyway, I plowed through them, and discovered that alas, they did not provide quite the degree of unmitigated pleasure they had when I was a pre-teen! But, you know, I have to say I still enjoyed them. I'd remembered two in particular that got more than their fair share of broadcast exposure when I was little, namely "Hit the Ice" and "Here Come the Co-Eds", not being as fantastic as I'd thought they were as a kid! BTW, I grew up in Inglewood, CA, and I remember being VERY impressed when I watched "Hit the Ice" with my mom, and she informed me that the once-popular (and, good!) band singer Ginny Simms had later married a developer---though where she got this information I will never know!---and that the street the next block to the east from us, Simms Ave., was named after her! When you're a kid and mad about movies, this somehow seemed VERY exciting! It brought the movies a millimeter closer to home. As for "Here Come the Co-Eds", that one had 'the Wolf Man', Lon Jr. himself in it, and that was good. It also has many scenes filmed in North Hollywood Park, standing in for a college campus---and which is still in the same place to this day, and I lived only five minutes from there from 1979 to 1987. I believe that's also the picture that features a modest pop song, a love ballad, that was one of the earliest compositions of the celebrated Vic Mizzy, who later wrote the mad TV themes (and lyrics!) to shows like "The Addams Family" (which he also PERFORMS, as very few know) and "Green Acres", and who wrote the score to films like "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken".

5:59 AM  
Blogger jeff korns said...

W&W came to an end due to the death of Woolsey in 1938 of kidney disease. One of the reasons the comics like W&W or A&C or even the Marx brothers have a harder time with modern young audiences is that so much of their humorous dialogue is pun based. Through the 1940s puns were very popular. Somewhere along the line some folks decided puns were low intelligence humor and they fell out of favor.

I, personally, love a good pun or double entendre. Verbal humor and gymnastics as employed by many of the old comics and comic acts required a degree of sophistication on the part of the audience. With the dropping of censorship in society comedians no longer had to cleverly hide their meanings. Now they are just crude. Humor based on drug use or bodily functions and actual sexual situations are the norm for films and stand up comics. I don't think the "bullying" of Costello would really be an issue, given some of the cringe inducing stuff in current "comedies" like the Hangover films.

I will note that the last time I saw a public double feature of A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races the audiences laughed at the right spots, but also at the sappy love songs that MGM figured audiences of the 1930s wanted (particularly in Opera when Kitty Carlisle and Alan Jones were warbling while getting on the boat). If anything dooms some of the films, maybe it's the "serious" stuff that studios imposed upon the comedians in their films? The anarchic comedians seem to come across the most natural when played against the stiff acting of the rest of the cast.

7:35 PM  
Blogger WayneMorganfan said...

The Mad Ghoul is a psycho-melodrama with terrific performances, and it will be watched until the end of time for that reason, not for its contribution to horror.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Count me among those who LOVED Bud and Lou as a kid. I want to like them now but find them a chore to sit through.

I also loved Stan and Ollie as a kid and love them even more now.

I discovered Wheeler and Woolsey only recently and enjoy them but prefer reading about them over actually watching the films.

3:49 AM  

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