We’re back again for another round of Screen Team Edition, and, you guessed it, this time we’re focusing on that classic comedy team of Abbott and Costello! Now, the boys mainly made their movies at Universal Studios, an output that has recently been represented on Blu-ray by Shout Factory as a 28-film collection with some extras, so I will focus on them and that group of movies, with a few comments around their non-Universal output as well.
The List (numbered by order of release date):
Their Universal Output (included in The Complete Abbott And Costello Universal Pictures Collection):
1. One Night In The Tropics (1940) My Rating: 6
2. Buck Privates (1941) My Rating: 9
3. In The Navy (1941) My Rating: 10
4. Hold That Ghost (1941) My Rating: 8
5. Keep ‘Em Flying (1941) My Rating: 7
6. Ride ‘Em Cowboy (1942) My Rating: 8
8. Pardon My Sarong (1942) My Rating: 9
9. Who Done It? (1942) My Rating: 10
10. It Ain’t Hay (1943) My Rating: 8
11. Hit The Ice (1943) My Rating: 8
12. In Society (1944) My Rating: 8
14. Here Come The Co-Eds (1945) My Rating: 9
15. The Naughty Nineties (1945) My Rating: 10
17. Little Giant (1946) My Rating: 6
18. The Time Of Their Lives (1946) My Rating: 10
19. Buck Privates Come Home (1947) My Rating: 7
20. The Wistful Widow Of Wagon Gap (1947) My Rating: 10
22. Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) My Rating: 10
23. Mexican Hayride (1948) My Rating: 10
25. Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) My Rating: 6
26. Abbott And Costello In The Foreign Legion (1950) My Rating: 9
27. Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951) My Rating: 9
28. Comin’ Round The Mountain (1951) My Rating: 8
30. Lost In Alaska (1952) My Rating: 5
32. Abbott And Costello Go To Mars (1953) My Rating: 4
33. Abbott And Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1953) My Rating: 5
34. Abbott And Costello Meet The Keystone Kops (1955) My Rating: 6
35. Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) My Rating: 8
Their Non-Universal Output (not included in the set):
7. Rio Rita (1942) My Rating: 8
13. Lost In A Harem (1944) My Rating: 10
16. Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945) My Rating: 5
21. The Noose Hangs High (1948) My Rating: 9
24. Africa Screams (1949) My Rating: 9
29. Jack And The Beanstalk (1952)
31. Abbott And Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952) My Rating: 8
36. Dance With Me, Henry (1956)
Background info (prior to their team-up):
William Alexander “Bud” Abbott was born on October 2, 1897. His parents, Rae Abbott (a bareback rider) and Harry Abbott (a publicist and booking agent) both worked for the Barnum and Bailey Circus. As a kid, he worked at New York’s Coney Island alongside his father. He eventually got into burlesque, where he worked both onstage and off. Along with his wife, he produced a number of variety shows, and started working as a straight man when he couldn’t afford to pay anybody else. His reputation as a straight man continued to improve enough that he started working with some bigger comedians.
On March 6, 1906, Helen and Sebastian Cristillo were blessed with a son, Louis Francis Cristillo, in the city of Paterson, New Jersey. He became a good athlete, particularly in basketball and boxing. However, Lou ended up planning on becoming an actor, so he hitchhiked out to Hollywood in 1927. Work didn’t come easily, though, as he mainly worked as a laborer, extra, or stunt man. None of that paid very well, so he worked his way back towards Paterson. He would start finding work in burlesque to gain some stage experience.
As a team:
While various sources seem to indicate different ways they met, the general idea seems to be that Bud and Lou did meet a few times, but they didn’t really work together until one fateful evening in 1935. They were both working at the same theatre, the Eltinge in New York City, when Lou’s usual partner fell ill, and Bud, who was working there, filled in. The audiences responded well to them, but they did not immediately decide to team up. However, they did meet up again, and more officially became a team in 1936. They toured through burlesque shows and vaudeville theaters as they honed their routines. They gained a lot more exposure and popularity in 1938 when they performed on the “Kate Smith Hour” radio show. After that, they moved out of burlesque and onto the Broadway stage for The Streets Of Paris. Universal Studios soon signed them for one film, which would turn out to be One Night In The Tropics. While the movie itself was not well received, Bud and Lou were, and Universal quickly signed them to star in two more films. Buck Privates would establish them even more, resulting in them doing another service film (In The Navy) before their second film (Hold That Ghost) could be released. Their films were very successful, essentially saving Universal Studios from bankruptcy, and propelling them into the top 10 movie stars for quite some time, and they were number one at the box office for 1942.
Everything was going great… and then, they suffered a one-two punch. First, Lou suffered a bout of rheumatic fever, which kept him laid up for most of a year. Then, right when he was getting ready to come back, Lou’s son drowned. While that hit him hard personally, he still came back to work, and they kept making movies. Of course, audiences were starting to tire of their films, with the plots staying fairly similar. As a result of that, and possibly a fight between the two of them, they worked separately for Little Giant and The Time Of Their Lives before going back to working together. However, it was with Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (a film Lou admittedly didn’t want to do) that they were back on top. Of course, the problem with that was that they were being given a new formula to work with, which Universal pushed over the next few years. Lou had another bout with rheumatic fever after Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff that resulted in them being off again for another year.
The fifties brought about a number of changes for Bud and Lou, most of them not good. Up to that time, their films had all been black-and-white, as Universal had been reluctant to pony up for color for any of their films. However, as part of their contracts, they were allowed to do some outside films. Using that, they made Jack And The Beanstalk and Abbott And Costello Meet Captain Kidd in color through their own production companies. Bud and Lou also started appearing on television, first as hosts of the Colgate Comedy Hour, and then they got their own TV sitcom. The problem was, this also worked against them, as, between the TV shows, their new movies, and some of their older films that Universal was reissuing to theatres, audiences were getting overexposed to them, and growing tired of them. The fact that they were both growing older didn’t help, especially since they were being given less-than-stellar scripts, as well as facing competition from the new and much younger comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.
But one of their biggest problems was the IRS. Whether because of a crooked accountant or because of gambling their money away (or some combination thereof), Bud and Lou found themselves owing a huge amount of money to the IRS. It essentially forced them to sell off a lot of their assets, including their homes. That debt really hurt them when it came time to renew their contract with Universal. They demanded more money, in the hopes of being able to pay it off, but with their films failing to be as successful as they had been in the past, Universal decided it wasn’t worth it and dropped them.
The boys tried one more time with Dance With Me Henry, an independent film that, in some respects, allowed their characters to start showing their age. Still, it didn’t go over well with audiences. They were reunited for a 1956 episode of the TV show This Is Your Life that focused on Lou. They tried, however briefly, to go to Las Vegas to do their act, but the magic wasn’t there anymore, and they disbanded the team.
After they broke up in 1957, Lou tried to keep going on his own, doing a few TV appearances and the movie The 30 Foot Bride Of Candy Rock before he passed away on March 3, 1959 from a heart attack. Bud, due to the IRS going after him, came out of retirement and attempted to partner with Candy Candido, although he quickly called it quits, feeling it wasn’t the same without Lou. He did provide his own voice for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Abbott And Costello Cartoon Show. After a series of strokes, Bud died of cancer on April 24, 1974.
“Two Tens For A Five,” “Smoking,” “Who’s On First?,” “Jonah And The Whale,” “365 Days – Firing,” “Mustard,” “Dice Game,” “Loan Me $50,” “Drill,” “Play The Radio,” “You’re 40, She’s 10,” “The Lemon Bit,” “7×13=28,” “Buzzing The Bee,” “Moving Candle,” “Changing Room,” “Comic Ballet,” “Figure Of Speech,” “Go Ahead And Order Something,” “Poker Game,” “Herd Of Cows,” “Crazy House,” “Go Ahead And Back Up,” “Tree Of Truth,” “Stinker,” “Handcuffs,” “Limburger Cheese,” “Alexander 2222,” “Watts Volts,” “Mudder/Fodder,” “Betting Parlor,” “Teller What?,” “Pack/Unpack,” “Piano Scene,” “Handkerchief Gag,” “Go Ahead And Sing,” “Bagel Street,” “Life Guards,” “Oyster,” “Wrestling Match,” “Higher/Lower,” “Feathers In The Cake,” “Necktie Pitch,” “Frog In The Soup,” “Silver Ore,” “Money Exchange,” “Forefathers,” “Whale Spout,” “Venusian Balloons,” “Squirrel In The Bread,” “Take Your Pick,” and more!
The set (The Complete Abbott And Costello Universal Pictures Collection):
This set contains all 28 of the Universal-owned Abbott and Costello films on Blu-ray, from One Night In The Tropics up through Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy. The transfers range from being decent (on most of them) to being really good (mainly for some of those released individually by Universal Studios). While I wish they could all have been restored, I also realize that would have been very expensive for them to do (and would have been reflected in a much higher list price than most would be happy with). So, these are good enough for me. Extras on this set include The World Of Abbott And Costello (1965), Abbott And Costello Meet Jerry Seinfeld, Abbott And Costello Meet The Monsters, Abbott And Costello Meet Castle Films, audio commentaries on a few movies, a few featurettes, some bloopers/outtakes from several movies, and a 44-page booklet on Bud and Lou and their films from Universal.
Bud and Lou are among the few classic film stars I grew up with (as opposed to learning to like in my late teens or older), so it is no surprise that I am fond of them. I can say that I’ve seen most of the movies a time or two before, along with their classic sitcom. With this recent run through of their filmography, I found my opinions of some films improving, while others more or less stayed the same. I do think, as a whole, that most of their earlier films are better than some of their later fare, but there are certainly enough laughs to be found throughout their entire filmography! I have no trouble whatsoever recommending the recent Blu-ray set, in between the movies and the extras!