Abbott and Costello Meet ReelTalk
For over a decade, Universal Pictures was the home away from home for Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The studio's iconic globe logo became as synonymous with the great screen comics as "Who's on First?" and going toe to toe with the Frankenstein monster. But the boys did lend their talents elsewhere on a few occasions, two of which are available from the Warner Archive Collection's burn-on-demand service in remastered editions. Rio Rita and Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd aren't much different from the pair's more well-known comedies, but fans who've worn out their copies of Buck Privates might be interested in hitting up these obscurities.
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952)
In one of their very few color vehicles, Bud and Lou take to the high seas with plundering pirates in a madcap treasure hunt. The guys play tavern waiters shanghaied into servitude by one of the scurviest of buccaneers, Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton). Fortunately, the two have come into possession of a map leading to riches galore, the perfect bargaining chip to keep their salty captor from lobbing off their heads. Made in the latter half of the team's career, Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd definitely shows signs of their schtick running on fumes. Although their sense of humor has never been acclaimed for its subtlety, the gags seem more forced than ever here. The pratfalls are bottomless, Lou's patented hollering is jacked up tenfold, and the soundtrack pulsates with a maddeningly constant barrage of wacky noodling. The romantic B-story does result in a nice ballad or two, and Laughton is a surprisingly good sport in the face of all the ensuing hijinks. But Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd is a bowl of slapsticky mush with barely any flavorful lumps, wearing out its welcome shortly after the first of many sea shanties trails off.
Rio Rita (1942)
Bud and Lou dial down the nuttiness but still find room to go crazy in this musical farce from their early days on the screen. Booted from their jobs as pet store clerks, the boys make their way to a Texas resort, where their time is split between wooing the senoritas and foiling Nazi spies from spreading their propoganda. Rio Rita is in the classic Abbott and Costello tradition of sprinkling some songs here, some skits there, and...why not, a couple more tunes for good measure. The movie certainly doesn't skimp on the musical entertainment, but after a while, the numbers start bleeding together and bloat the running time out to a patience-testing 90 minutes. Plus, as opposed to Captain Kidd, this is one of those Abbott and Costello pictures in which the guys are basically supporting players, so expect to see just as much of John Carroll's crooner and Kathryn Grayson's feisty love interest. Still, Rio Rita's laughs are much more pleasantly paced, the highlights being Lou kvetching with a "talking" dog and a feast the guys mistake for a mirage. The flick is thin, quick, and easy to watch, but it's not relentlessly goofy, leaving your face smiling more so than your eyes rolling.
(Available through the Warner Archive Collection -- http://www.warnerarchive.com.)