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Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in Hollywood(1945)

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Home Video Reviews

We've seen a steady stream of older films coming out on DVD but all you have to do is poke any film buff to hear about the classics that have yet to appear. Poke twice and you can also hear about the missing fan favorites, the ones that will never make any "best of" list but still hold a special place for some viewer or maybe just a final notch for a completist. Despite its title, the Classic Comedy Teams Collection is aimed more at the fans. Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges each get a disc with two of their films. None are the best place to become acquainted with any of these teams but all films are new to DVD and if they aren't masterpieces at least they're mostly entertaining.

The Abbott and Costello disc is easily the strongest. The duo was allowed to make one film a year away from their home studio of Universal so during the peak of their popularity they went three times to MGM. Two of those films are in this set and can't be found in the otherwise comprehensive four volume Best of Abbott & Costello (the third film, 1941's Rio Rita, has yet to appear on DVD). Lost in a Harem (1944) shows more of the MGM gloss than Abbott & Costello's usual films even if the story about the two rescuing a blonde singer (B-movie perennial Marilyn Maxwell) and overthrowing an evil ruler is a bit thin. The film makes good use of sets left over from Kismet and there's a song and a half from the Jimmy Dorsey band. Abbott and Costello are generally quite lively with a mix of slapstick and verbal routines, even at one point recreating the classic vaudeville bit "Slowly I Turned." Slightly more predictable is Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), the first film to feature their name in the title. This time the two are show biz barbers who decide that being a talent agent is the ticket to easy money so they promote an Iowa-fresh singer over an established star. The film tends more towards a string of routines though there are some good ones including the two trying to cure Costello's insomnia, him pretending to be a stunt dummy and even a frantic chase at the end. The big missed opportunity was to exploit the Hollywood setting more; there are cameos from Lucille Ball, Rags Ragland and Preston Foster but that's about it.

Like Abbott and Costello, the Laurel and Hardy disc collects two MGM wartime films but in this case that's a bit past their prime period. Still, Laurel and Hardy bring unflappable good cheer and years of experience that give these films a charm that would certainly have been lacking if anybody else had starred. Air Raid Wardens (1943) opens with a voice-over straight out of Our Town, describing the small community that's about to participate in the war. Laurel and Hardy ran a string of failed businesses and now have been rejected by the military as well they end up as, you guessed it, air raid wardens. Not much to the warden angle so we also get Nazi spies, a stuffy bank president, a short-tempered teamster and even a rambunctious stray dog. There's a nice bit with the two trying to enter a town meeting quietly and an inventive gag with a carrier pigeon. Nothing But Trouble (1944) stretches everything a bit more thin. Seems that there's an exiled teenage king from some operetta country who just want to be a regular boy and play football. Laurel and Hardy befriend him, thinking he's just a wayward kid but not much happens. The film had been pitched a couple of years earlier and at one point involved helicopters and gags by Buster Keaton. None of that is in the final film; the studio must have decided that "Imagine Laurel and Hardy as a chef and a butler" was good enough and less expensive. Though the king's story is mostly padding, you're not likely to forget Stan trying to serve at a high-class dinner party and may even have fond memories of the two trying to grab a steak (actually horsemeat) from the lion's cage at the zoo.

The Three Stooges disc is something of an oddity since the team plays only supporting roles in both films. Meet the Baron (1933) is the more interesting since it's an example of the goofy, anything-goes comedies of the early 30s though admittedly not one of the better ones. The film was designed to put onto screen Jack Pearl, whose recreation of eternal tall tale teller Baron Munchausen had been a radio and stage smash in preceeding years (and would quickly vanish: he appeared in only one other film while his radio career trickled out). With Jimmy Durante as his buddy, the Baron crashes an all-girls college where the janitors are Ted Healey and His Stooges (that's right, not yet the Three Stooges). So you get a lot of running around, recreations of Pearl's radio skits, the Stooges pummelling each other and for good measure about thirty co-eds bathing and singing in an enormous Art Deco shower. Completing the disc is 1951's Gold Raiders, a creaky B-Western that looks like it should have appeared 15 years earlier. It's also an independent production and the only non-MGM film in this set. Gold Raiders shows that with merely a few days on the back lot and minimal editing you can keep an entire film under an hour. An aging, paunchy George O'Brien is the hero (an insurance agent!) trying to keep the local mine from being taken over by an evil landowner. The Stooges are travelling salesmen who help O'Brien but since they're incidental to the story any comedy is fleeting.

Overall the transfers in the Classic Comedy Teams Collection are sharp but the sources aren't always the best quality. Gold Raiders has some abrupt splices, including one that clips off a bit of dialogue. Lost in a Harem has a lot of speckling and in one part noticable print damage (which fortunately lasts barely a second or so). The only extras are a few trailers and subtitle options (English, French and Spanish). Still, the set is inexpensively priced and anybody interested in the films will be glad to have them.

For more information about Classic Comedy Teams Collection, visit Warner Video. To order Classic Comedy Teams Collection, go to TCM Shopping.

by Lang Thompson