This 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?
The 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:
Abbott 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.
This 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.
Oh, 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.