Old Time Radio Thursdays – #019: A Thanksgiving Sampler (Part One)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Just as we did with Halloween during October, I thought we’d take a look at some Old Time Radio shows that revolve around a Thanksgiving theme for at least part of this month. So here you go folks, a roundup of shows that hopefully you won’t think are turkeys:

Next week? Even more Old Time Radio shows to be thankful for.

Until next time, Happy Listening!

Old Time Radio Thursdays – #004: The Abbott and Costello Show (1942-1949)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. Old Time Radio Thursdays is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Abbott-Costello-Ad-47-04-27-tbI know I said (or at least hinted) last week that I’d be looking this week at a completely different show, but, inspired by this past weekend’s posts about Abbott and Costello’s movies, I figured I’d go ahead and take a look at the boys’ long running radio show.

Bud and Lou first appeared on the radio in 1938 as guests on The Kate Smith Hour. They wound up getting a regular slot on the show, where they stayed for two years before eventually being given their own show, which was intended as a summer replacement for the Fred Allen Show. Once that show had run its course, the boys moved to The Chase and Sanborn Hour, where they appeared alongside Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Finally, in 1942, Camel cigarettes agreed to sponsor a regular show starring the duo, and on October 9, 1942, The Abbott and Costello Show had its premiere.

Like most comedy shows of the time, the Abbot and Costello Show featured various setups each week which were basically reasons either for the pair to break into variations on their vaudeville routines or to showcase the talents of their guest stars; however unlike many other shows on the air, there was much less reliance on bringing in other stars. Instead, the show built up a fairly regular repertory company who would perform as various characters (some regular, others not) as needed. Also, the show would feature musical interludes performed by a variety of vocalists accompanied by an in-house orchestra which had a number of leaders through the years.

abbott_costello-d00c552a9c6932be43e89b39f44d0b50e3b6aa7a-s2To be honest, though, unlike a program such as The Jack Benny Program, which was much more of an ensemble show, there was no doubt who the stars of this show were, and with the quick wit and fast-paced word play that were a trademark of Abbott and Costello comedy (let’s be honest, as soon as you mention A&C to most people, the first thing that’s going to come to mind, assuming they know who the duo are in the first place, is likely to be “Who’s On First”), they were easily able to hold the focus both of the in-studio audience, and the much larger one listening at home.

The show lasted until 1949, and not long thereafter, the boys began development on a weekly series for television which would premiere in 1951.

Okay, that’s enough words from me. Now here are some from the duo themselves. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s The Abbott and Costello Show!

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little trip into radio’s past, and today’s focus on The Abbott and Costello Show. And next week… well, next week we’ll actually be taking a look at another famous, though very (VERY!) different Hollywood duo who we’ll find striking out on a very Bold Venture.

Let’s Put Some Murder In The Mix – Abbott and Costello’s Mystery-Comedies

duo acThis is the second of two entries on Abbott and Costello that I’m doing for this weekend’s “Dynamic Duos in Classic Film” Blogathon which is being co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub Blog. The first part can be found here.  And if you like these, be sure to click the links above and check out some of the other great duos that folks are writing about.

So yesterday I wrote about all the different characters that Abbott and Costello (or at least their various onscreen incarnations) “Met” during their film careers. Today I want to take things in a somewhat different direction, and look at some of the comedy-mystery films the pair made.

It’s really not that surprising that the boys would wind up playing either newly-minted or wannabee detectives a number of times throughout their careers. After all, the mixture of the comedy and mystery genres was a staple of Hollywood pictures at the times, as was what is known as the Old Dark House mystery. You know the type I mean – where a certain number of people are brought together for some sort of purpose (most often the reading of a will), are somehow cut off from the outside world, and murder and mayhem ensue.

Plus, let’s face it, there’s just something appealing about getting to play detective, and since Bud and Lou were in so many ways getting to fulfill their various childhood fantasies, why shouldn’t they get a chance to do just that?

A&choldThe first mystery-comedy that Bud and Lou found themselves involved in was 1941’s Hold That Ghost. In this one, we find the duo playing a pair of gas station attendants who have dreams of rubbing elbows with high society by getting jobs as waiters at a high-class restaurant called Chez Glamour. However, when they do finally get their chance, they quickly wind up making a mess of things and find themselves fired and back at the gas station. That’s when gangster Moose Matson shows up. Matson is on the lam from the police, and through a series of contrivances, Moose is killed, and Bud and Lou wind up inheriting his tavern, known as the Forrester’s Club.

All of the above is really just set-up, though, and it’s only once the pair arrive at the club that we realize that what we are actually in store for is one of the aforementioned Old Dark House mysteries. As a matter of fact, in a lot of ways, the first part of the movie seems largely filler, with the nightclub scenes especially there simply to add a musical number – performed by The Andrews Sisters, which, filler or not is definitely a treat – to the movie. Of course, this really isn’t too surprising, given the pair’s vaudeville/variety show roots, which are extremely evident throughout their careers, but especially in their earliest pictures. Nonetheless, taken as a whole, the movie is very entertaining, and we even get a variation on the moving candle routine which will again be featured in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Here’s the trailer:

1329713267Abbott and Costello quickly followed that one up the next year with a movie that is, perhaps not surprisingly for those who know of my love for Old Time Radio, one of my all-time favorites, 1942’s Who Done It? This film again finds the boys starting out as working stiffs longing for better jobs. In this case, they are working the soda counter in a building that also houses a radio station, and they want to be writers on one of the stations mystery shows. When they get a chance to watch one of the radio shows while it is being broadcast, the president of the radio network, who is making a special introductory statement winds up dead behind the microphone. Sensing their opportunity, the duo pretend to be detectives, hoping that if they can solve the case it will lead to their big break. 

The radio station setting was obviously one that Abbott and Costello were familiar with, and the sound effects disks, microphones, and other props scattered throughout the station are used quite effectively to aid in the hijinx. Between that and the rooftop finale, this is really one of the best and most tightly scripted of all the duo’s outings.

This time, instead of just a trailer, I figured I’d go ahead and post the entire affair, since it’s all available on YouTube:

1945 was not a good time for the team, as tensions were running high between Bud and Lou for various reasons, and they even split up and performed separately for awhile. Fortunately for us, they managed to work things out, but the tension still shows through in some of their output. One place where this is reflected is in the movie The Time of Their Lives which was actually not released until 1946. It’s an odd movie in that even though the pair seem to be sharing a lot of screen time, because – except for the opening set-up scenes – Costello is playing a ghost, he and Abbot didn’t actually have to do much filming together. Nonetheless, it does fit with today’s theme, since it does feature not only a seance, but a search through another old dark house for a mysterious disappeared letter.

Once again, here’s the entire thing:

By 1948, the pair had not only worked out their differences, but had signed a new contract with Universal which allowed them to make one film per year with another company. That’s why at the beginning of The Noose Hangs High you’ll see a logo that says Eagle/Lion instead of Universal. Eagle/Lion was a separate production company that Bud and Lou had set up themselves, and they actually bought the script for The Noose Hangs High from Uni.

600full-the-noose-hangs-high-posterThis time we find Bud and Lou working for the Speedy Window Washing Service. Unfortunately, since the back of their uniforms simply says “Speedy Service”, they are mistaken for a pair of couriers from the Speedy Messenger Service. This case of mistaken identity causes them to run afoul of bookie Nick Craig, and eventually leads to them losing $50,000 of Craig’s money. To make matters worse, Craig actually owes the money to a mysterious Mr. MacBride, so Craig gives the boys 48 hours to find his money so that he can pay off his own debt in time.

One thing that is very noticeable in this movie is the number of their older routines that the boys manage too work into this production. Whether that’s a result of the film coming from their own company instead of Universal I can’t say for  sure, but it certainly seems likely.

I wrote some about these last two yesterday, but they also meet the criterion for today’s post. That’s especially true about the first one, which was Universal was originally going to call Easy Does It, and then Abbott and Costello Meet the Killers. It was only due to the last minute signing of a major co-star that the title was changed to the somewhat awkward Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. What makes the title even odder is that… well, maybe I shouldn’t say much more, since that might be considered a spoiler.

ACKillerPosterOh, and just to add to the point, the character played by Mr. Karloff was actually intended to be a female character named Madame Switzer.

Anyway, whatever you choose to call it, the film definitely fits into the old dark house/detective model, except in this case the house is a hotel where Lou is a bellboy and Bud is the house detective. When Lou is implicated in a murder that occurs at the hotel, it falls to Bud to help him clear his name. This flick is one that is full of red herrings, and is actually quite a good entry into both the “meet” and the mystery lineups.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down either an actual trailer or the full flick online, but here’s a quickcut video that will give you a good taste for it in about 30 seconds.

Finally, here’s another film that is a crossover from yesterday’s post: Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951).

This time out, Bud and Lou are two newly minted detectives (finally! They’ve actually made the grade!) who are out to solve their first case. Boxer Tommy Nelson, who has escaped from jail after being accused of murdering his manager, comes to the boys begging them to help him prove his innocence. They eventually wind up in the home of Tommy’s fiancee’s uncle, who has just developed an invisibility serum. In his desperation to hide from the police, Tommy injects himself with the serum, thus becoming… yep, you guessed it! From there, well, you can watch and see for yourselves:

By now it should be obvious that the mystery and comedy genres were a great mix during this era in Hollywood, and that Bud and Lou were great at making the most of the combination. Personally I think it’s a shame that we don’t see more of these types of films coming from the studios today. Of course, they also don’t really have the kind of comedic pairs to work with like they had with Abbott and Costello, so… Nonetheless, whatever the focus of today’s movies, we still have these movies to fall back on and watch again and again, and to fondly remind us why they really were one of classic film’s true Dynamic Duos.

Abbot and Costello Meet… Pretty Much Everybody Universal Can Get Their Hands On

duo acThis is the first of two entries on Abbott and Costello that I’ll be doing for this weekend’s “Dynamic Duos in Classic Film” Blogathon which is being co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub Blog. Come back tomorrow for part two, which will focus on the comedy-mystery movies that Abbott and Costello did together. And in the meantime, be sure to click the links above and check out some of the other great duos that folks are writing about.

Let’s face it, it really was a “can’t miss” concept. At the time, Universal had the number one most popular comedy duo in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. They also had the most popular line-up of movie monsters with Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. So why not throw them all together into one movie and see what would happen?

Well, the result is obvious. I’d hazard a guess that Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein has to be the most watched movie the duo ever made, and even today it probably remains the gateway for many people to discover not only the antics of Bud and Lou, but the fun of the Universal monsters.

One of the reasons the movie works so well, of course, is that while Abbott and Costello are hilarious in the film, and it is full of their usual schtick, the monsters themselves are taken, well, perhaps not completely seriously, but they are certainly never played for outright laughs and are allowed to retain their air of menace throughout the film. Unfortunately, despite the popularity of the flick, it was pretty much the last go-round for the monsters. On the other hand, the boys would go on to make many more movies, and along the way would have many more “meetings” with popular literary and film characters.

You may have noticed, if you watched the trailer for “…Meet Frankenstein” that Boris Karloff does not appear in that film as Frankenstein’s monster. Instead the role was filled by Glenn Strange, who had already portrayed the monster once before in another of Universal’s monster mash-ups, House of Frankenstein. Reportedly when he looked at the script, Karloff felt that the combination of the monsters with the broad hijinx of the boys was not respectful enough to the creature he had first embodied. This did not, however, keep him from appearing in another movie with Bud and Lou just the next year, and he even had the title “villain” role in Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff. In the film, Karloff plays a menacing swami, who, despite the title, may or may not be the actual killer. (What, you think I’m going to give it away here?)

Unfortunately, I was unable to find a real trailer online for this one, but the clip below i think hews to the spirit of what things here, as it features the horror host Svengoolie singing a parody song that features clips and images from the movie

There’s a very short “tag” scene at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein where the boys are making their final escape in a rowboat. Thinking they’re finally alone and safe, they begin to relax, only to find themselves confronted by The Invisible Man, voiced at the time by Vincent Price. It would, however, take three years for that actual confrontation to take place in 1951’s Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man.

As you can see from the trailer, this is not Vincent Price in the title role, nor does this invisible man really have much connection to previous Universal incarnations, except through a couple of lines of dialogue concerning the invisibility serum’s inventor, and a photograph which shows Claude Raines, the star of the original Universal film. Instead, in this one, the invisible man is a boxer who is trying to hide from mobsters who want him to throw a fight, and the boys are detectives whose first case involves trying to track him down.

The next meeting of the duo with a famous film character was actually not a Universal film. One interesting aspect of their contract at the time was that the boys were allowed to make one independent film per year, and in 1952, that film was Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. Interestingly, since the boys were financing the film themselves, they opted to shoot it in color, an expense that the studio would never have undertaken. They were also able to get Charles Laughton, who had portrayed the famous captain in 1945’s Captain Kidd to reprise the role.

Again, I was unable to find a real trailer for this one, but here’s the first few minutes to give you a feel for it:

Up next? Well, apparently, Boris Karloff had a good enough time appearing with the boys as “The Killer” that he agreed to star again with them again as Dr. Jeckyll in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.Unfortunately, this particular take on the character met with mixed reviews because Karloff actually portrays the “good” doctor as rather evil even when he’s not Hyde.

The Keystone Kops were a slapstick troupe who, by 1955 had already lost most of their box office appeal, and are probably largely unknown now. However, Bud and Lou apparently respected them enough that they not only wanted to “meet” them, but they fought with the studio to get their names in the title, so that the movie the studio originally wanted to call Abbott and Costello in The Stunt Men finally became Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops.

Again, no trailer for this one, but instead, the whole movie is available on YouTube, and here it is:

1955 also saw the last of the duo’s feature film “meetings” with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Not only was this Bud and Lou’s last meetup movie, it was also their last feature for Universal. The unofficial series did come to a close with a bang, however, as in a way it circled back to the beginning, with them confronting one of the classic Universal monsters in a movie that is personally another one of my favorites, as it again plays the monster straight and with respect despite the funny goings-on around him.

As I mentioned, …Meet the Mummy was the last feature film meeting the duo had with the Universal monsters, but there was one more time that they met up with Universal’s famous horror icons. In 1953, along with the movies they were making, the boys were also appearing on the Colgate Comedy Hour, and one of the segments of that show has, unofficially at least, become known as Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

So, as you can easily see, whether Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the only film of the boys that you have seen, or one of many, or especially if you’ve never seen any of their films, there’s quite a variety of films that feature not only the great comedy duo, but also some great guest stars, and while they may not all have the iconic stature of the first, they all do what any good comedy film is supposed to, they bring the laughs.

And really, what more can you ask for?