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(May 2004)

Universal Studios

Abbott & Costello Vol.1

Our founder, that old guy sitting over there in the corner drooling, is practically beside himself with pleasure. Universal Studios, in their blessed generosity, have released, on DVD,

The Best of Abbott & Costello:

Volume 1 (1940-1942)- 8 Fantastically Funny Films!

  • Buck Privates | 1941 |
  • Hold That Ghost | 1941 |
  • In The Navy | 1941 |
  • Keep 'Em Flying | 1941 |
  • One Night in The Tropics | 1940 |
  • Pardon My Sarong | 1942 |
  • Ride 'Em Cowboy | 1941 |
  • Who Done It? | 1942 |
The Best of Abbott and Costello (Volume 1)
with eight, count ‘em, eight “fantastically funny films”. It starts with their first appearance in a feature film- One Night in The Tropics (1940) and their second feature but the first in which they starred- Buck Privates (1941).

Buck Privates showcases the popular singing trio The Andrew Sisters who garnered an Academy Award nomination for their song ‘Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B’. The girls would show up in two more Abbott & Costello movies; In The Navy and Hold That Ghost (both in this set). Buck Privates was a huge success, out-grossing other movies released that year such as Citizen Kane (on most lists, the #1 American film ever) and How Green Was My Valley (Best Picture of 1941).

In The Navy (1941), the second of the boys’ military comedies was an even bigger success than Buck Privates with even bigger grosses. The Andrew Sisters were back again to provide the boogie and Shemp Howard (later in The Three Stooges) has a small part.

The delightfully sublime Hold That Ghost (1941) is a delicious fright fest and fall-down funny film. With a cast, besides the boys, including Richard Carlson, a handsome and dynamic leading man of the 40s and 50s, Shemp Howard again, and band leader Ted Lewis (“Is everybody happy?”) and his orchestra. The Andrew Sisters were not present during principal photography but they had been so popular in the two previous A&C films that there was a huge demand for them and they photographed several harmonious boogie-woogie musical numbers that were later inserted into the movie. Many people think Hold That Ghost is the funniest of the boys’ movies.The Andrew Sisters

Keep ‘Em Flying (1941) was the third of the A&C service comedies. These military-themed movies were credited at the time and in retrospect as powerful contributions to the war effort; both as entertainment for the fighting forces and the home front, and as very successful recruiting efforts. Wouldn’t you join up if you knew you were going to wake up to the singing of three cute gals? The very funny Martha Raye replaced The Andrew Sisters in providing the boogie for this movie. Her routines with Bud are some of the funniest segments ever put on film.

Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942), set at a dude ranch, has the debut of the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald (referred to in the trailer as ‘The Sepia Songstress’) singing her award-winning song “A-Tisket, A-Tasket”. Believe me, when Ella sings A-Tisket, A-Tasket it ain't a kids song.

Who Done It? (1942) is a murder mystery where the boys are suspects while being targeted by the actual killer. It’s one of critic Leonard Maltin’s favorites.

Volume 1 covers the years 1940 to 1942. Universal has also released Volume 2 for the years 1943 to 1947. This second DVD set has eight more funny, funny films. Here we have The Naughty Nineties (1945), which has, on film, a complete rendition of their signature routine, first created in their burlesque years, Who’s on First? (What’s on Second and I Don’t Know Is on Third). Also the unusual, change-of-pace fantasy/comedy The Time of Their Lives (1946). Lou is a Revolutionary War ghost trapped in a tree and Bud is a modern day shyster. Believe it or not, it’s poignant and funny at the same time.

Universal also has a third volume coming out soon. Thank you Universal, the old guy sitting in the corner is actually crying, he can hardly wait. Please dig into your humongous library of classic films- there’s a lot more to be seen. For example: Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948) with Edward G. Robinson and that singular beauty Gail Russell. Or The Mad Ghoul (1943) with George Zucco and Turhan Bey. Or Night Monster (1942) with Bela Lugosi. We would almost die to see all these on DVD. Click for more Abbott & Costello.

Bunny RabbitEaster Trivia Question
Surprise, suprise. Nobody got the Easter Trivia Question. We thought we had made it too easy with hints like “baby boomers” and “classic animation”. This would have put the answer back into the era of feature animation shorts- as opposed to made-for-television cartoons of the last twenty years. The question was: “Name the cartoon that features dancing, ukulele playing bunny rabbits wearing sarongs, and turnips for hats.”

The answer was Magical Maestro, a Tex Avery cartoon from 1952.The story has a stage magician trying to get a job with an opera singer who has a successful show. The singer (Poochini, actually Spike the dog, an Avery staple) not only turns the magician down, he throws him out on his ear. The magician, seeking revenge, secretly replaces the conductor and using his magic wand as a baton, turns Poochini into different characters as he sings. In the first sequence Poochini is changed, in rapid secession and on the beat, into a dancer with a tutu, a Native American chief, a tennis player, a convict in stripped suit breaking rocks, and a football player receiving a pass. This is just the first sequence. Later in the piece, Poochini, still singing opera, is turned into a Carman Miranda type singer complete with a tutti-frutti hat and two backup singers. The backup singers are the magician’s bunny rabbits, dressed in sarongs, playing ukuleles and wearing turnips for hats. It’s hilarious.

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