The Best of Abbott & Costello Volume 2

Volume 2 of The Best of Abbott & Costello contains eight movies that show the classic comedy duo in the middle phase of their career. Eschewing the faults of their earlier movies-romantic plots not involving them, too many musical numbers-this disc clearly captures the evolution of the team as they became the top box office attraction during World War II. It also points the way to their golden age, which will be showcased partly on this disc, and even more on Volume 3.

Volume 2 of The Best of Abbott & Costello starts off with a movie that sets the stage for most of the plots to follow. In Hit the Ice Bud & Lou play two photographers who want to get a job with a newspaper by snapping pics of something exciting. They get their chance when they’re confused as hit men, of all things! Eventually this wacky film moves to Sun Valley and features a hilarious routine involving Lou at the tail end of an ice skating crack the whip. The final chase on skis is also very, very funny.

In the next movie, In Society, the boys once again play blue collar workers who get caught up in things beyond their control. This time they start out as plumbers and wind up masquerading as high society types caught in a web of suspense. It sound outrageous and it is. The sequence in which Lou tries to get directions to the Susquehanna Hat Company is a recreation of a famous vaudeville routine and it alone is worth your investment.

Here Come the Coeds represents a kind of throwback to the earlier Abbott & Costello movies in that there are a few too many musical numbers. This one isn’t the duo at their top level best, it is still enjoyable if only for the sight of Lou in drag, as well as the Jonah routine.

Abbott & Costello are most famous, of course, for their baseball routine Who’s on First? It’s a classic that never fails to entertain kids the first time they hear it. When my two young sons watched it they were hysterical and for the next two days I kept getting asked who was on first. The Naughty Nineties is the only movie that features the routine in its entirety. A shortened version can be heard in One Night in the Tropics and it makes a classic cameo appearance Who Done It?, but if you want to see the whole team get its fair due, then this is it.

The Naughty Nineties is one of the only period movies the guys ever made, taking place mostly on a riverboat in the 1890s. The actual plot of the movie is pretty forgettable, but there are so many terrific set pieces here that it must rank among the best A&C films ever. In addition to the Who’s on First routine, also worthy of laugh-out-loud consideration is the scene in which Lou sings “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” But probably best of all is the scene in which Lou is convinced he is eating fried cats. I thought my youngest son was going to split his sides when he watched this, but I could hardly hear him over my loud giggling.

Little Giant represents a departure from form for the boys. They are not really a team at all in this one, and really this one is almost more a Costello movie than an Abbott & Costello movie. In addition, there is a sense of pathos in this movie, with Costello playing a rather sad character. It has much more in common with a Chaplin movie or a Jerry Lewis movie than with an A&C movie. Some fans don’t like this one, but I applaud it for taking chances and working well for the most part. Don’t watch this one first if you aren’t an Abbott & Costello fan because it certainly isn’t representative.

Neither is The Time of Their Lives, but it is much closer in spirit to being a standard A&C movie. This was the second ghost-related story and it must rank as one of the top three Bud & Lou movies ever. Again, they don’t play a team, but they do have more interaction. This one is ripe for a remake with a new comic team. I’ve always thought that Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander should remake either this one or Meet Frankenstein.

Seinfeld is a devout A&C fan and they have the comic chemistry to make it work. In The Time of Their Lives, Lou plays a ghost along with Marjorie Reynolds. They were mistakenly killed as traitors during the Revolutionary War and come back to haunt a house in 1940s. There are so many good things about this movie. It has perhaps the strongest story of any A&C movie; it has funny ghost effects (watch for the scene involving the dress coming down the stairs without a body inside); it has great slapstick comedy, and even a little bit of drama. This one should not be missed.

Buck Privates Come Home is, for me, better than the first one titled Buck Privates. With WWII one, it’s time for the boys to return home. There are two specific reasons why the sequel is better than the original: More Bud & Lou and less music. And the finale featuring Lou in a go-kart is simply hilarious.

The last film on Volume 1 of The Best of Abbott & Costello is The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap. It’s another period piece and it is very funny. The film is without a doubt most memorable for the soup-eating scene involving a frog. Also of note is the appearance of Marjorie Main in the case, basically doing her Ma Kettle character.

Volume 2 of The Best of Abbott represents the transition between Bud & Lou basically being comic relief in a romance to being stars in their own right and contains elements of the greatness that would come to fore in the next stage of their career, their golden period. As the DVD comes to a conclusion, the boys are on the verge of peaking and making a series of comic masterpieces that are showcased in Volume 3 of The Best of Abbott & Costello.

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