Home Video Reviews
As it turns out, Africa Screams itself is worthy of an upgrade from the years of PD viewing. The plot launches through a typical Costello situation: Buzz Johnson (Bud) and Stanley Livingston (Lou) work in a department store and field questions about an out-of-print book called Dark Safari. Stanley tells the inquiring hoodlums that he has memorized and can recreate a map that was in the book. The map, which details diamond mines in the Congo, is desired by the wealthy Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke). Emerson has already hired the famous African explorer Clyde Beatty to take her through the Dark Continent, but she falls for Stanley's story and takes him and Buzz along on the expedition. In Africa, Buzz figures out that Stanley has no idea about the map, so they stall to save their necks. Along the way, the group encounters native cannibals, lions, crocodiles, and big game hunter Frank Buck, who is seeking a rare, gigantic orangutan. The movie offers the expected stagebound "jungle" with tame lions, rubber crocs, and men-in-a-gorilla-suit menaces. Lou gets to go through a wonderful grouping of reaction shots; Costello honed the Scared Take into a fine art, and as in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), he has plenty of opportunity to show off here.
Africa Screams has a dizzying number of familiar character actors and guest stars. Aside from Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck as themselves, guest stars include heavyweight boxers Max and Buddy Baer and, best of all, two "Third Stooges": Joe Besser appears as Harry, another member of the expedition (watch for the great "My tent's on fire" gag), and Shemp Howard is Gunner, a horribly nearsighted trail guide! The orangutans and gorillas (little distinction is made in the film, of course) are played by career-gorilla-player Charles Gemora. Besser and co-star Hillary Brooke, of course, would go on to be featured players on The Abbott and Costello Show on TV.
A niche market seems to have sprung up among DVD buyers one which is willing to pay a bit more for the "definitive" edition of a movie available previously only in Public Domain Theater. Image Entertainment's release boasts a new transfer which they state is "Mastered from the original 35mm camera negative." It retails for about four times the price of an average PD copy (maybe more you can probably buy a copy of Africa Screams at the Dollar Store), and it is worth it. I'm not sure if the transfer is actually from the camera negative or an internegative there is the slightest hint of a boost in contrast, with a whiting-out of some of the brightest spots in the picture. But overall, the picture is sharp and the print used is immaculate. The sound is also nearly flawless.
An earlier Laserdisc edition of Africa Screams also contained some outtake footage, and it would have been nice to have seen that bonus feature retained here, but for the basic needs of having the film on DVD, it would be hard to beat this version.
For more information about Africa Screams, visit Image Entertainment. To order Africa Screams, go to TCM Shopping.
by John M. Miller