Friday, May 28, 2010
Before Abbott & Costello became the top moneymaking movie stars of the early 1940s, they were a hit on radio. First as featured performers on the Kate Smith Show and then as the stars of their very own radio show, Bud and Lou’s renowned patter routines, honed for years on the stage were tailor made for the radio and they became huge stars on the airwaves. Inevitably this success led to their lucrative movie contract with Universal Studios, but the duo actually continued the radio show for several years into their movie career (and of course TV would later beckon, which along with their earlier conquests of burlesque, vaudeville and Broadway made Abbott & Costello among those esteemed stars to conquer multiple mediums).
On January 13, 1944 the team met one of our favorite boogeymen, Peter Lorre of “Arsenic & Old Lace,” “You’ll Find Out” and “The Boogie Man Will Get You” fame (oh, and a couple other little films like “M” and “Casablanca,” not to mention the classic “Mr. Moto” movie series). The skit, where Bud and Lou visit Lorre’s sanitarium at midnight is more black comedy than out-and-out horror-comedy but it does play upon Lorre’s sinister image and along with at least one other radio show episode ("Bela Lugosi's Haunted House" co-starring guess who) plus episodes of TV’s “Colgate Comedy Hour” and “The Abbott & Costello Show” provide interesting additional contributions to the horror-comedy genre (beyond their feature films) from Bud & Lou. Here’s the skit for your enjoyment:
Monday, May 24, 2010
A tip of the bowler derby to legendary animation writer/artist/director and comic book writer/artist Howard "Howie" Post who has passed away.
I'll point you to other worthy blogs for details on Post's career and reminiscenses of his work, including thoughts from foremost authorities like Mark Evanier, Jerry Beck , John Kricfalusi and John Kricfalusi yet again. Just click on their names to read their posts.
Post did much in his career. Fans of this blog will be most interested in the work he did on DC's Bob Hope and Martin & Lewis (and solo Lewis) comics, and even more so, the wealth of material he did for Harvey Comics.
Harvey you'll recall had an entire universe of "horror-comedy" characters with ghosts like Casper, Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost and the Ghostly Trio, along with Wendy the Good Little Witch and Hot Stuff the Little Devil and a ghost... er host... of others.
Mykal of The Big Blog of Kids' Comics reprinted some classic Spooky stories late last year - click here to take a look and you'll get a great appreciation for Post's work - the best tribute of all. So here's to you, Howie... thanks for all the fun art over the years!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
The 1970s and '80s were a wonderful time to grow up for a classic comedy kid like me. In those years, nostalgia for old movies was fostered by regular airings on TV stations (I think kids of my generation were the last allowed to embrace black & white before it was stigmatized by marketeers as being something "outdated"), books galore on all sorts of classic movie stars, memorabilia like stills and lobby cards, and most especially the 8mm (and later Super 8) films featuring classic movie stars that people could purchase to run through their own projectors and project on their own movie screens at home.
Several companies offered classic movies and cartoons in various forms - sound and silent, color and black & white, full-length and abridgements. This was before the advent of VHS and DVD. Aside from checking the TV Guide or your local movie listings for revival screenings, this was the only other way to see classic movies. In a way, it was the first "on-demand" entertainment - if you wanted to see Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the 3 Stooges or the Little Rascals all you had to do was thread your projector and let the show begin.
I was blessed to have parents who helped foster my love of old movies. They bought a movie projector and screen, and would buy me movies as gifts until I could pay for my own. The first projector we had (I can't remember the brand) was a silent projector that played by regular 8mm and Super 8 films. At some point, the lamp got so hot that it melted a rubber piece in the projector and the melted pieces started getting on the films. The films would also ocassionally break and burn from the heat. At this point my parents replaced the projector with a Super 8 sound projector from Kodak. This machine was a gem - a top-loading projector with a self-threading take-up reel built into the bottom.
My local library had a great library of 8mm and Super 8 films to borrow. I routinely took out all sorts of films from that library, with Laurel & Hardy's "The Live Ghost" and the 3 Stooges' "We Want Our Mummy" being films I borrowed several times over. The thing about film collecting for a kid was this: a lot of the films I really wanted were too expensive. You could get an entire "two reel" comedy short but you had to pay more for that - that was 20 minutes of film. So for me, the really short abridgements which ran either 50 feet/3-6 minutes or 100 feet/8-10 minutes made the most economical sense.
There was such a neat variety of films to choose from. Some were released under their original titles while short segments were often released under new titles (that way if a company excerpted four different clips from the same film, they could market each clip as a "stand-alone" edition). The Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) titles above were created for the home movie market ("Haunted House" was really a barely shortened version of "Hide & Shriek," itself already a short one-reeler; not sure what "Grave Heroes" was but I suspect it might be a digest of "Do Detectives Think?"), and many Abbott & Costello abridgements received the re-titling treatment, too.
Ken Films offered a lot of films from 20th Century Fox including Mighty Mouse and other Terrytoons. Columbia offered the 3 Stooges shorts and chapters from the Batman movie serials (but I never saw these for sale - they were not sold in stores by me it seemed). Atlas had really short Laurel & Hardy and Little Rascals reels. Blackhawk offered the definitive reels on Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals and other classic comedians but they were the real deal - full length and more expensive so I relied on my library for those (although I was able to afford some wonderful 7 minute Flip the Frog cartoons from Blackhawk). Best of all however was Castle Films. Their library consisted of Universal classics and some 1930s Paramount films. This enabled them to offer W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, the Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolfman and other Universal horror series, Woody Woodpecker and other Walter Lantz cartoons and best of all, Abbott & Costello.
Laurel & Hardy have always been my favorite comedy duo but Abbott & Costello were a close second, particularly in my childhood (as an adult I’ve learned to spread the love around to also embrace double-acts like Olsen & Johnson and Wheeler & Woolsey, too). But the fact is it was just more economical to buy Abbott & Costello’s films than Laurel & Hardy’s. The 50 foot films were the least expensive you could buy, and the Bud & Lou digests were readily available at local stores like Two Guys, Sears and Builder’s Emporium (yes, I know that last one sounds weird – it was Lowe's and Home Depot before there was such super-hardware stores… except with the added attraction of a camera department, where they kept all the Super 8 films)! By comparison I only ran across a 50 foot Atlas Laurel & Hardy once while shopping. So there are more Abbott & Costello films in my Super 8 collection than anything else.
One thing some critics and even some fans forget about is how good Costello was at pantomime and visual gags. The focus is usually on the amazing verbal patter routines of Bud and Lou, but the fact is that two of Costello’s biggest heroes (and influences) were Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. This becomes very evident in the silent 50 foot/5 minute Castle abridgements, which focus on the visual set-pieces from classic Abbott & Costello films like “Ride ‘em Cowboy,” “In Society,” “Hit the Ice,” “Buck Privates Come Home” and others. The Abbott & Costello horror-comedies were another matter. Since they were more plot oriented, Castle released “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein “ and “Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy” in their longer formats, in both silent and sound versions. Only “Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” received the 50 foot silent treatment.
There are a host of folks out there who experienced similar enjoyment collecting Castle and other home movies. I encourage you to read these great articles on the topic from Mark Evanier, Robbie's Reels and Monsters from the Vault - just click on the bolded words to visit those sites. You can also buy old Castle Films reels from several online sellers but I won't make a personal recommendation since I haven't bought any films from these dealers (although I am confident you'll find reliable, honest home movie dealers out there). And if you're really serious about collecting Castle Films, then you need to get a copy of my friend Scott MacGillivray's book "Castle Films: a Hobbyists's Guide" which you can purchase here:
A great example of a very short Abbott & Costello 50 foot digest from Castle Films is "Have Badge, Will Chase," excerpted from "Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Kops. It is chock full of visual gags, and actually plays better in shorter form (the actual feature being one of the team's weaker efforts). Again, the visual slapstick really cut down well into small segments for these Abbott & Costello Castle Films reels and together with their TV show prove that the team could have had a vibrant career making theatrical two reelers.
"Have Badge, Will Chase" also gives you an approximation of the basic Castle Films experience, particularly of watching their shorter reels in the silent format with subtitles. It may seem odd in these high-tech days that this was considered great entertainment in your living room, but I think I actually paid more attention to the acting and stories without all the extra distractions by simply gazing upon them on my home movie screen. Take a look:
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Okay, yes, this is "Scared Silly" where we highlight classic horror-comedies from the 1920s through the mid 1960s... but we don't live in a vacuum. We're confident Dan Aykroyd probably watched most of the movies we've reviewed (and will review) here several times over... and that those films were, at least in part an inspiration for his 1984 smash hit "Ghostbusters."
And now there is something going around the internet... something you may have already seen... that we just can't ignore here. Because after all, it's for a majorly good cause.
Specifically, the group Improv Everywhere, who have performed hundreds of spontaneous improv surprises decided to try to raise awareness of the budget cuts the New York Public Library system is facing... by reenacting the opening scene of "Ghostbusters." Here's how it shook out:
We applaud Improv Everywhere for using their talent, creativity and energy for bringing this cause to light in such an entertaining... and therefore memorable way!
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Thursday, May 13, 2010
So I’d been wracking my brain the past few days going through some old funny animal comics as well as a collection of same, searching for some good examples of horror-comedy cartooning from legendary artist Frank Frazetta, who died earlier this week.
(Just how legendary was Frazetta? If you're not in the know, I'll leave it to you to Google/Wiki/Bing/Yahoo/Dogpile/etc. him)...
When I failed to turn up anything that might be appropriate to our topic at hand, I turned to ye olde search engine and lo and behold, what did I find? I found that Frazetta did the above movie poster art for one of our all-time faves, “Mad Monster Party.” Not Jack Davis as I had previously (erroneously) reported.
But wait, there’s more…
But before I get to that more, note that this is the second “Mad Monster Party”-related obit I’ve posted in less than a month. You can read my piece on the late Allen Swift, who voiced most of the characters in the film by clicking here. And if you want to read my review of the film, just click here.
So, back to the more: I hadn’t realized this but not only had Frazetta illustrated that wonderful movie poster above, but he also painted… in full color… this glorious image of the “Mad Monster Party” crew below. It was a proposed (but never used) one-sheet poster created at the time of the film's original release. It was recently published in the book "Legacy," a collection of Frazetta art edited by Arnie and Cathy Fenner.
I can’t think of a more fitting “Scared Silly” tribute than to post it here for all of you to see… can you?
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Another ghoul-oody to tide you over until my next review or article: here's a music video someone edited together utilizing clips from "The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case," soon to be reviewed here on Scared Silly.
(As always, the disclaimer: since this utilizes out-of-sequence video clips that are the lesser of the total whole - meaning much less than the full running time - the use of the video clips falls in the category of "fair use" for critical assessment purposes under section 7 of US copyright law).
Laurel and Hardy - Bump in the Night - Allstars - The funniest videos clips are here
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Hey gang - my busy Spring continues but I didn't want to leave you hanging until the next review... so here's a preview of a "coming attraction" here on Scared Silly - I'll be reviewing this Bowery Boys classic at some point (until then, enjoy this trailer... and be sure to check out the Bowery Boys movies every Saturday morning on TCM until... well, until they stop running them!)