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Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk(1952)

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teaser Jack and the Beanstalk (1952)

Jack and the Beanstalk (1952), Abbott and Costello's version of the children's story about a ne'er-do-well son of a farmer's widow who trades the family cow for a handful of magic beans, is probably their most uncharacteristic film. Although the movie remains faithful to the nursery tale's storyline, it doesn't offer the duo as many opportunities for their trademark vaudeville routines, which they showcased in every picture during their long tenure at Universal in the 40’s when they were major stars. Some observers blamed this for the picture's initial disappointing box office, but it quickly made back its roughly $700,000 cost and turned out to be Warner Brothers' biggest grosser in England in 1952. And Costello was proud that they had made a picture that no critic could say fell back on their usual schtick.

Jack and the Beanstalk was the first of the independent films the comedy duo were permitted to produce by their contract with Universal. Each of the two formed his own company Lou Costello's Exclusive Productions and Bud Abbott Woodley Productions with the intention of making films in color (a luxury denied them at their home studio). Lou's company would own the first project, Jack and the Beanstalk, with Bud working on salary, and Bud's company would own the second, Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952), with Lou on salary.

According to Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo in their book, Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (Perigee), Costello got the idea to make this movie while reading the story to his four-year-old daughter. "I was only part way through the book when I started to look at the pretty pictures and thought what a wonderful movie this would make," he related in the film pressbook. "Then I remembered that some of the biggest box-office smashes have been fantasies The Wizard of Oz [1939] and the Disney films." Costello (who was the undisputed boss of the production, right down to hiring the writers and cast) used the storytelling device to frame the picture, opening it in sepia with Lou the babysitter reading the story to his young charge and moving to color much like The Wizard of Oz after he falls asleep and dreams himself into the tale.

Except for the opening and closing sepia sequences, the film was shot in the new three-strip Super CineColor process. The picture was completed in 22 days two days under schedule and a considerable sum of money was saved by using sets left over from the Ingrid Bergman vehicle Joan of Arc (1948).

Although most people now remember Bud Abbott with a mustache, this was actually its first screen appearance (after 30 pictures the two had already made together). He decided to keep it, and maintained this new look during the team's successful run on television, which began in the fall of 1952. Ratings for their first two appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour had been excellent, and in May 1951, the two signed an exclusive deal with NBC guaranteeing them $15,000,000 over five years for a regular comedy series. Alex Gottlieb and Jean Yarbrough, the producer and director, respectively, of Jack and the Beanstalk, were hired to take on the same chores for the TV show.

The Giant is played by ex-boxer Buddy Baer, the younger brother of World Heavyweight Champion Max Baer. At more than 6 1/2-feet tall and weighing 245 pounds, Baer was also cast as a giant in Quo Vadis? (1951) and often played the "heavy" to such stalwart TV Western stars as James Arness, Clint Walker and Chuck Connors. His nephew, Max Baer, Jr., later played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies TV series. Joe Glaston, Jr., the son of Abbott and Costello's press agent, recalled (in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood) visiting the set as a small child: "I became buddies with Buddy Baer, the Giant; he really liked kids. At one point there's a scene where they hit him in the gut with a battering ram. I just went bananas when I saw them do that to him. I cried and ruined the take. They had a meeting to discuss whether the scene was too violent, and they decided that it was only because I knew Buddy Baer off the set that I was so appalled that they had hit him. They figured that the kids in the audience are going to see him as the evil Giant and they won't give a damn -they'll probably cheer. So they left the scene in."

This was the last film for 40-year screen veteran William Farnum (brother of silent movie Western star Dustin Farnum). The voices of several animals in the picture were supplied by Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. The whimsical songs were written by Lester Lee, who composed much more sultry tunes for Rita Hayworth (or rather, her singing double) in Affair in Trinidad (1952) and Miss Sadie Thompson (1953). A soundtrack album of Jack and the Beanstalk was actually released on Decca and included the songs, "I Fear Nothing," "He Never Looked Better in His Life," "Dreamers Cloth," and dialogue from the film. The cow used in the shoot ended up at the Costello ranch, and the golden egg and the harp found a home in his house.

Director: Jean Yarbrough
Producers: Lou Costello, Bud Abbott, Pat Costello, Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay: Nathaniel Curtis, Pat Costello
Cinematography: George Robinson
Editing: Otho Lovering
Art Direction: McClure Capps
Original Music: Heinz Roemheld, Lester Lee
Cast: Lou Costello (Jack), Bud Abbott (Mr. Dinkel/Mr. Dinkelpuss), Buddy Baer (Sgt. Riley/The Giant), Dorothy Ford (Polly), William Farnum (The King).

by Rob Nixon

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