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The Best of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Vol. 1 [4 Discs] [DVD]

Release Date:10/02/2012
This release brings together eight classic Abbott and Costello comedies including One Night in the Tropics, In the Navy, Hold that Ghost, Keep 'Em Flying, Ride 'Em Cowboy, Pardon My Sarong, Who Done It?, and the classic military comedy Buck Privates.
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    Buck Privates
    Filmed on a B-picture budget, Buck Privates was Universal's biggest box-office hit of 1941, firmly securing the movie popularity of the studio's hot new team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The story is fairly evenly divided between the antics of Bud and Lou-here cast as sidewalk salesmen Slicker Smith and Herbie Brown-and the romantic triangle involving Randolph Parker III (Lee Bowman), Judy Gray (Jane Frazee) and Bob Martin (Alan Curtis). Escaping the wrath of policeman Mike Collins (Nat Pendleton), Slicker and Herbie duck into a nearby movie theater, which unbeknownst to them has been converted into a US Army recruiting center. As the boys are reluctantly inducted into the Service, wealthy draftee Parker hopes to pull a few strings to avoid putting on a uniform, while Parker's former chauffeur Martin willingly answers his call to the Colors. Once ensconced in boot camp, Slicker and Herbie continually run afoul of their sergeant, who is none other than their old nemesis Mike the cop. Meanwhile, Parker and Martin vie for the attentions of USO hostess Judy, who'll have nothing to do with Parker until he proves his worth as a soldier. Poor Slicker and Herbie are shunted into the background as the romantic subplot is resolved, but at least our heroes get to steal the film's closing scene. It's hard to believe that anyone cared about the Parker-Martin-Judy triangle with Abbott & Costello on hand to perform their classic "dice game", "awkward squad", "turn on the radio" and "boxing ring" routines-not to mention their timeless verbal exchanges, the best of which finds Bud convincing Lou that if he marries an underage girl, she'll eventually be older than he (it plays better than it reads!) As a bonus, the film spotlights the Andrews Sisters, performing such top-ten tunes as "Apple Blossom Time" and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy". Even from the vantage point of six decades, with the WWII draft but a dim memory, it is easy to see why Buck Privates was such a huge success. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    In the Navy
    The third of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's starring films, In the Navy was released second; Universal had just made a bundle off Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates, and the studio wanted another "service" comedy put into circulation in a hurry. Abbott and Costello share over-the-title billing with Dick Powell, who plays a popular radio singer. Eager to avoid his screaming fans, Powell enlists in the Navy under an assumed name, hoping to serve his country incognito. Girl reporter Claire Dodd chases after Powell, hoping to secure a photo of the fugitive "idol of millions." So much for the "straight" plot; what are Abbott and Costello up to? Well, Costello plays a ship's cook who wants to impress Patty Andrews of The Andrews Sisters. With his pal Abbott's help, Costello poses as an admiral -- and in so doing nearly destroys the entire American fleet. This climactic sequence ran into trouble when the U.S. Navy decided that it didn't want to be held up to ridicule by showing the bumbling Costello ordering its ships around. To save the climax -- the most expensive portion of the film -- the scriptwriters wrote a new coda, passing off Costello's "admiralty" as a dream sequence. The best Abbott and Costello routines have little if anything to do with the plot: our favorite (indeed, everyone's favorite) is Costello proving to Abbott that 7 X 13 = 28. Those viewers who prefer music to comedy will be thoroughly satisfied by the vocal contributions of Dick Powell and The Andrews Sisters, as well as a lively dance number offered by the Condos Brothers. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Ride 'Em Cowboy
    Bud Abbott & Lou Costello invade the wild west in Ride 'Em Cowboy. The boys play Duke and Willoughby, a couple of rodeo peanut vendors who get mixed up in the travails of western novelist Bob Mitchell (Dick Foran). Ostensibly a true Son of the Frontier, Bob has actually never been west of Brooklyn in his life. To prove that he's got the "right stuff," Bob heads to a dude ranch, where he tries to curry favor with pretty ranchowner's daughter Anne Shaw (Anne Gwynne). Meanwhile, tenderfeet Duke and Willoughby run afoul of a local Indian tribe, whose chief Jake Rainwater (Douglass Dumbrille) demands that Willoughby marry Jake's porcine daughter (Babe London). The obligatory climactic slapstick chase finds Foran teaming up with authentic westerner Alabam (Johnny Mack Brown) to foil a gang of modern-day crooks, while Duke and Willoughby do their best to elude Jake and his war-whooping braves. Not quite as consistently funny as previous Abbot & Costello efforts, Ride 'Em Cowboy suffers from a bit too much directorial interference-especially during the classic "Crazy House" routine, which is weakened by director Arthur Lubin's attempts to make it more "cinematic." Even so, the film is an enjoyable melange of comedy and music, the latter commodity provided by Dick Foran, the Merry Macs, the Hi-Hatters, the Jivin' Jacks and Jills, and even Ella Fitzgerald! Best musical number: "I'll Remember April", brilliantly sung by Foran and gorgeously photographed by John W. Boyle. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Who Done It?
    With only a minimal romantic subplot and no music whatsoever, Who Done It? is pure, undiluted Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and a good mystery on its own to boot. Bud and Lou star as Chick Larkin and Mervyn Milgrim, a pair of soda jerks who aspire to become radio detective-show writers (their latest epic is "The Midget Gets the Chair-or, Small Fry"). Invited by their radio-scrivener pal Jimmy Turner (Patric Knowles) to attend a broadcast of the "Murder at Midnight" program, Chick and Mervyn are on hand when network president Colonel Andrews (Thomas Gomez) is murdered just before delivering a vital patriotic message. While waiting for the official police to show up, Chick and Mervyn decide to try to solve the case on their own, thereby securing their reputations as writers. The boys manage to convince everyone-even the real killer-that they're genuine gumshoes, only to be exposed when the real cops, Moran (William Gargan) and Brannigan (William Bendix) arrive on the scene. Ultimately, the murderer is revealed, leading to an exciting rooftop chase, with poor Mervyn suspended between two skyscrapers on a slender electrified wire. The comic highlights of Who Done It? are too numerous to mention here, but they include Mervyn's misadventures in the radio-transcription room, his confrontations with a wise-guy page boy (Walter Tetley), his "Not watts, volts!" exchange with the exasperated Chick, and an athletic interlude with those world-famous tumblers, the Flying Bordellos (sic!). Best bit: Upon winning a quiz program, the boys eagerly turn on their prize, a portable radio--only to turn it off in disgust when Abbott and Costello sign on the air ("Every time you hear those guys, it's 'Who's on First-What's On Second!'") ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Keep 'Em Flying
    Having joined the army in Buck Privates and the navy in In the Navy, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello signed up with Air Force in Keep 'Em Flying. Abbott and Costello play Blackie and Heathcliff, carnival workers who are fired from their jobs along with their pal, reckless stunt pilot Jinx Roberts (Dick Foran). When Jinx joins the Army Air Corps-the better to be nearer pretty USO singer Linda Joyce (Carol Bruce)-Blackie and Heathcliff loyally join up as well, obtaining low-echelon ground crew jobs. While Jinx tries to cure Linda's brother Jim (Charles Lang) of his fear of flying, Heathcliff pursues a romance with wisecracking waitress Gloria Phelps (Martha Raye), never quite catching on that Gloria has an identitical-twin sister (also Martha Raye). A bit too plot-heavy for its own good, Keep 'Em Flying is at its best when concentrating on Abbott & Costello, who in addition to performing their patented cross-talk routines participate in a zany runaway-torpedo chase and a gratuitous but amusing episode in a spooky carnival funhouse. As a bonus, Costello gets to do a bit of "straight" acting, and he's quite good at it. Deleted scenes include a comedy magic act (later restaged in Abbott & Costello's Lost in a Harem) and a wild episode at a skating rink (reworked two years later in Hit the Ice). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    One Night in the Tropics
    The third film version of Earl Derr Biggers' novel Love Insurance, One Night in the Tropics stars Allan Jones as a hotshot insurance salesman who sells a policy to his best pal Robert Cummings. Cummings will earn $1 million if he fails to marry his fiance Nancy Kelly. Half of the policy is underwritten by tough gambling-house owner William Frawley, who panics when Cummings heads for a Caribbean isle in pursuit of Peggy Moran. As for Kelly, she wants no part of Cummings once she finds out she's a pawn in his policy. Well, who cares? The real attraction of One Night in the Tropics is the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, here making their feature film debut in the roles of Frawley's flunkeys. Though they never get in the way of the plot (worse luck!), Abbott and Costello have plenty of time to perform several of their best routines, including "Mustard," "Jonah and the Whale," and a tantalizingly brief excerpt of "Who's on First?" Outside of A&C's contributions, the film boasts several pleasant if forgettable tunes by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields. Though not a big box-office success, One Night in the Tropics garnered such positive reviews for Abbott and Costello that the team was rewarded with its own vehicle, the 1941 cash cow Buck Privates. Note: many TV prints of Tropics are struck from the 69-minute reissue of the late 1940s, in which the "straight" plot was pared to down to give more emphasis to Abbott and Costello. The original 82 minute version was recently restored for videocassette release. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Pardon My Sarong
    One of the most often revived of Abbott & Costello's early-1940s films, Pardon My Sarong casts Bud and Lou as Chicago bus drivers Algy Shaw and Wellington Pflug. At the behest of millionaire playboy Tommy Layton (Robert Paige), Algy and Wellington hijack their own bus and speed off to California so that Tommy won't be late for an important yachting race. Our heroes are hotly pursued by bus-company troubleshooter Kendall (William Demarest), while Tommy's trail is dogged by rival yacht-owner Joan Marshall (Virginia Bruce). Eluding Kendall when they inadvertently drive their bus into the ocean, Algy and Wellington are rescued by Tommy and Joan, who through a plot wrinkle have been forced to share the same yacht. After several days of drifting aimlessly across the Pacific, the yacht ends up on a remote South Sea Island, where Algy and Wellington flirt capriciously with the local native girls. Through a fluke, Wellington is served up as a sacrifice victim and ordered to enter a sacred volcanic mountain-which happens to be the hideout for jewel thief Varnoff (Lionel Atwill) and his gang. The story wraps up with a zany Sennett-like chase, with Wellington attempting to rescue the kidnapped Joan from Varnoff's speedboat. Filled to overflowing with hilarious sight gags, cross-talk routines and throwaway lines, Pardon My Sarong scores on two levels: as a devastating send-up of Dorothy Lamour jungle epics and as a first-rate vehicle for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. One one quibble: the film certainly could have done without the scene in which Bud invites Lou to commit suicide! ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Hold That Ghost
    Hold That Ghost was the second of Abbott and Costello's starring films, but was held back from release in favor of their third picture, the more "topical" In the Navy. In Ghost, Bud and Lou play a couple of service-station owners who happen to be hanging around when gangster Moose Mattson (William B. Davidson) is killed. According to the terms of Mattson's will, whosoever is present when "the coppers dim my lights for the last time" will inherit his estate, which consists of a deserted mansion in the middle of nowhere. Crooked attorney Russell Hicks, who knows that Mattson has hidden hundreds of thousands of dollars somewhere in the lodge, dispatches sinister Charlie Smith (Marc Lawrence) to escort Abbott and Costello to the house, with instructions to "take care" of the trusting boys once they've arrived. Charlie charters a bus to take A&C out to the mansion; also on board, going off to various other destinations, are handsome Dr. Jackson (Richard Carlson), lovely Norma Lind (Evelyn Ankers) and professional radio screamer Camille Brewster (Joan Davis). It is inevitable that this disparate group is stranded along with Abbott and Costello in the forbidding mansion on a dark and stormy night. Charlie Smith is promptly murdered by parties unknown; throughout the rest of the film, Charlie's body pops up at the most inopportune moments, reducing the already tremulous Costello to a quivering mass of jello. The plot is merely an excuse to showcase Abbott and Costello's superbly timed cross-talking routines, a riotous impromptu dance performed by Costello and Joan Davis, and, of course, the legendary "moving candle" bit, which may well be Costello's funniest-ever screen scene. Hold That Ghost was originally designed and previewed as a 65-minute programmer title Oh, Charlie, but Universal decided to expand the length and throw in a few guest stars to secure top-of-the-bill bookings. This is why Hold That Ghost begins and ends with barely relevant musical numbers featuring Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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