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During the era of World War II, the entertainment industry's hottest commodity was a pair of patter comics who had honed their craft in the fading days of burlesque and who had conquered the legitimate stage, radio, and Hollywood by the time the '40s dawned. Within four years, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had fifteen feature films to their credit, primarily produced by Universal. Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), their third and final effort under the aegis of MGM, combines a smattering of Tinseltown cameos and inside humor with the duo's familiar brand of wordplay.
As with most A & C vehicles, the plot is typically incidental: Buzz (Bud) and Abercrombie (Lou) have dead-end careers as a barber and porter for a swanky Hollywood salon. While making an office call on high-powered agent Horman Royce (Warner Anderson), they marvel at the percentages he takes in and decide that this is the racket for them. To that end, they appoint themselves as representation for Jeff Parker (Robert Stanton), a kid from the sticks with obvious singing talent and the recipient of a recent brush-off from Royce. Jeff finds another champion in Claire Warren (Frances Rafferty), an ex-colleague of Buzz and Abercrombie's who's now a rising starlet.
Wearing the black hat in this scenario is Royce's client, the smug screen crooner Gregory Lemaise (Carleton Young), who sees the gifted Jeff as a threat to his designs on Claire as well as his plans for her upcoming musical, currently in production. While his hapless handlers are dodging the grasp of studio security, Jeff wins the part that Lemaise had walked out on; Lemaise spitefully responds by leaning on the producers and wresting the role back from the unknown. The wanna-be agents cook up a convoluted scheme to prevent Lemaise's further participation in the film, with the upshot being the furious heavy's pursuit of Abercrombie across a roller coaster (a fun sequence shot on the musical's elaborate midway set).
MGM had struck a once-a-year option for Bud and Lou's services, and while one would have thought that production values might have increased from what A&C were used to over at Universal, it seems that the opposite had been the case. MGM wrung substantial savings out of the convenient back lot settings, with the bulk of the budget being reflected in the production number finale. Further, while you'd think the MGM talent roster would provide a steady stream of walk-ons, the amount delivered--Lucille Ball, Preston Foster, Robert Z. Leonard, "Rags" Ragland, Jackie Jenkins--is surprisingly slight.
Like any other A&C film, though, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood is at its best when the decks are cleared and Bud and Lou are allowed to cut loose. Easily the best comic sequence finds Costello in the throes of insomnia. An unusually compassionate Abbott offers his buddy a sleep-aid phonograph record, which works fine to a point--when the skipping at the end of the record jars Lou awake. Bud's offer to stand vigil over the Victrola proves a bust, as the record makes him conk out immediately. The hilarious exchange where they try to rectify the situation with earplugs was excerpted for That's Entertainment, Part II (1976).
It's pretty much a given that Abbott and Costello primarily regarded the plots of their films as frameworks on which they could drape their vast repertoire of proven comic chestnuts. Abbott and Costello in Hollywood scenarist Nat Perrin confirmed as much to Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo in their exhaustive survey of the team entitled, aptly enough, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (Perigee). "They would do the general idea of what was written, then throw in whatever came into their heads, just to get it done in one take," Perrin recalled. "I saw that as a terrible waste, because I thought that Costello was an extremely talented guy, as was Abbott in his way. But they weren't fussy about what they were going to do."
Jean Porter, the petite, pretty contract player cast as Costello's love interest, recalled for Furmanek and Palumbo the convivial atmosphere that earmarked a typical A&C shoot. "[T]he jokes were worth it. I think that comforted them," stated Porter. "I think when they could play around fool around and have other people join in--and they had a lot of their old buddies with them on- and off-camera--that made them comfortable." Soon after Abbott and Costello in Hollywood wrapped, MGM announced that the team's annual option would no longer be picked up, and the duo happily headed back to Universal's familiar confines, where they would primarily ply their comic craft for another decade.
Producer: Martin A. Gosch, S. Sylvan Simon
Director: S. Sylvan Simon
Screenplay: Nat Perrin, Lou Breslow (based on a story by Nat Perrin and Martin A. Gosch)
Cinematography: Charles Edgar Schoenbaum
Film Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Wade B. Rubottom
Music: George Bassman
Cast: Bud Abbott (Buzz Kurtis), Lou Costello (Abercrombie), Frances Rafferty (Claire Warren), Bob Haymes (Jeff Parker, as Robert Stanton), Jean Porter (Ruthie), Warner Anderson (Horman Royce), Mike Mazurki (Klondike Pete), Carleton G. Young (Gregory Lemaise).
BW-83m. Closed captioning.
by Jay S. Steinberg