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Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion

Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion(1950)


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Abbott & Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)

By 1950 the comedy team of Abbott and Costello had played enlisted men (Buck Privates, In the Navy, both 1941), experienced the Wild West (Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942), The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, 1947), dabbled in musical comedy (Rio Rita, 1942), tangled with monsters (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948), and even parodied the film industry that made them stars (Abbott and Costello in Hollywood, 1945). What to do for an encore? Why not send the boys to the Middle East? Think of the possibilities. Evil sheiks, slave girls, exotic locations, and ample opportunity to send up all the stereotypes in desert adventures such as Beau Geste (1939). So, for their 27th film together, we get Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950).

In a preposterous turn of events, wrestling promoters Bud Jones (Bud Abbott) and Lou Hotchkiss (Lou Costello) lose their star attraction, Abdullah (Wee Willie Davis), and pursue him all the way back to his native Algeria where the duo try to coax him to return to the ring. Instead, the boys are tricked into enlisting in the Foreign Legion and soon find themselves threatened by murderous Arabs, not to mention a sadistic commander. Highlights along the way include a talking skeleton, some amusing desert mirages (East Side Kid David Gorcey appears in a cameo as a displaced newspaper boy) and the seductive Patricia Medina as a French secret agent masquerading as a harem girl.

Production on Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion didn't proceed as smoothly as some previous A&C outings. For one thing, Lou Costello's health was precarious. He had recently recovered from rheumatic fever and a gall bladder operation, requiring a postponement of filming for several months. Despite this, he still insisted on performing some of his own stunts, in particular a wrestling match with Wee Willie Davis, which resulted in Lou suffering a wrenched arm socket and bruised tendon. The comedian was also neglecting his diet, opting instead (on a typical day) for "two cokes, three cups of coffee, a Popsicle, a nut candy bar, and two Arab apples [onions]." There was also another dilemma; Charles Barton, who had guided the comedy team through eight previous films (including two of their biggest hits, The Time of Their Lives (1946) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein), had moved on to other projects so a new director was sought. At first Edward Sedgwick, who helmed such Buster Keaton comedies as The Cameraman (1928), was considered but then dropped due to a poor recent track record. Eventually, Charles Lamont, who had worked with the boys once before, was recruited. In the book Abbott and Costello in Hollywood by Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo, Lamont said, "I refused to do a second Abbott and Costello film after Hit the Ice [1943] was completed. I didn't want to be labeled an 'Abbott and Costello director.' I liked working with Bud and Lou and I wanted to do other things. Universal finally offered me a seven-year contract and a big salary and I forgot my ambitions. Abbott and Costello were my future." (He would direct them in seven more features.)

Co-star Patricia Medina recalled in the Furmanek-Palumbo biography her decision to star in the film: "I remember everyone at the studio saying to me, 'Ohhh, you don't know what's going to happen to you!' I asked what they meant. 'Wait till Costello pulls some of his gags on you! Watch the chair you're sitting in. It'll probably go up in smoke.' But nothing like that ever did happen. They must have sensed that I was frightened, so they played it just the other way. He [Lou] was a perfect gentleman, and so helpful to somebody who hadn't done very much acting. He'd ad-lib out of habit - he just couldn't help it. He certainly didn't do it to throw you, and if he did throw you, he was terribly apologetic and was very difficult to look him in the eye without breaking up."

While Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion might not be one of the comic duo's best features, it certainly proved to be profitable, despite having one of the lowest budgets of any Abbott and Costello movie. But even most critics were favorable in their reviews; The Hollywood Reporter wrote "it is many shades better than the average slapstick comedy. The boys have plenty of good gags to work with, and the Robert Arthur production smartly gives them much to do" and the Los Angeles Times said "Laurel and Hardy once made a very funny comedy [The Flying Deuces (1939)] with that background, and now Abbott and Costello in 'Foreign Legion' are finding just as many laugh chances when they, too, join the rugged men of the desert outposts..." For movie buffs, Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion affords the extra pleasure of spotting such distinctive character actors in the background as Marc Lawrence (the swarthy, pock-marked gangster henchman of Key Largo (1948) and countless other crime dramas) and Tor Johnson (famous for his roles in the cult classics of Ed Wood - Plan 9 from Outer Space, (1958), etc).

Producer: Robert Arthur
Director: Charles Lamont
Screenplay: John Grant, Martin Ragaway, Leonard Stern (based on a story by D. D. Beauchamp)
Cinematography: George Robinson
Film Editing: Frank Gross
Music: Joseph Gershenson
Art Direction: Bernard Herzbrun, Eric Orbom
Cast: Bud Abbott (Bud Jones), Lou Costello (Lou Hotchkiss), Patricia Medina (Nicole), Walter Slezak (Axmann), Douglass Dumbrille (Hamud El Khalid), Leon Belasco (Hassam), Marc Lawrence (Frankie), Wee Willie Davis (Abdullah), Tor Johnson (Abou Ben).
BW-80m. Closed Captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

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