THE BEST OF ABBOTT and COSTELLO   (Volumes One, Two and Three)

THE ADVENTURES OF FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE (Volume One)

ON THE ROAD WITH BING CROSBY and BOB HOPE

THE DEANNA DURBIN FRANCHISE COLLECTION [SWEETHEART PACK] 

(UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has been, without question, the numero uno purveyor of great classic dvd comedy collections this year, a fact we are delighted to report, given the bleak state of affairs and understandable pessimism that  prevails in today's strife-torn world. As if their earlier-in-the-year releases of not one but two volumes of MA & PA KETTLE flicks,  as well as THE ROCK HUDSON & DORIS DAY ROMANCE COLLECTION, which encompassed all three of that delightful duo's films were not enough, they have since graced us with three volumes of Abbott and Costello films (totaling 24 films!), Volume One of the delightful FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE films, a box-set repackaging of four Crosby-Hope-Lamour "Road" shows and, most surprising and gratifying of all, a DEANNA DURBIN SWEETHEART PACK in which 6 of that lovely lady's light-hearted musical-comedies are happily present and accounted for. 

The initial ABBOTT & COSTELLO volume commences, as it should, with their first film together, ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (1940), in which, in supporting roles, they single-handedly rescue an incredibly lame and dated romantic farce with their freshest and funniest routines, leaving absolutely no doubt as to why Universal entrusted them with starring roles in 1941's monster hit BUCK PRIVATES, which holds up wonderfully well, and followed up with the equally successful IN THE NAVY (1941), HOLD THAT GHOST (1941), KEEP 'EM FLYING (1941), RIDE 'EM COWBOY (1942), PARDON MY SARONG (1942) and WHO DONE IT (1942). These films cover their most popular period, when they catapulted up to number one on every major box-office poll.

Volume Two continues Abbott & Costello's phenomenal string of successes with HIT THE ICE (1943), IN SOCIETY (1944), and HERE COME THE CO-EDS (1945), but while THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (1945), LITTLE GIANT (1946), and THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946) all played to healthy, if gradually diminishing, grosses, BUCK PRIVATES COME HOME (1947) didn't do as well as expected, and THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP (1947) was the by-now-tired team's first outright flop.

Volume Three begins with their rebirth, the surprise smash ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), which shocked the industry by becoming one of the top ten money-makers of the year, followed by the stillborn MEXICAN HAYRIDE (1948), the far more popular A & C MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949), the very funny A & C IN THE FOREIGN LEGION (1950), and my personal favorite, A & C MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951), which I consider the finest melding of science-fiction with farce that I've ever seen. As the well gradually ran dry, (and Martin &  Lewis shot to prominence as the nation's number one comedy team), COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (1951), LOST IN ALASKA (1952) and A &C GO TO MARS (1953) emerged as second features in the big cities, while still getting by in the hinterlands, though it was clear that the heyday of this sensational comedy team was drawing to an end.

Those who think of Donald O' Connor as primarily a terrific song-and-dance man are in for a very pleasant surprise when they see Volume One of the whimsical THE ADVENTURES OF FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE COLLECTION,  in which O'Connor, through the course of four films, neither sings nor dances, but offers a light comedy characterization of such a high caliber that he not only proves himself a first-rate funster, but somehow manages to hold his own with the talking mule whose voice is so deftly supplied by "country cousin" Chill Wills. While the screenplays for both FRANCIS THE TALKING MULE (1949) and FRANCIS GOES TO THE RACES (1951) are far sharper than you'd have any right to expect, so great is O'Connor's contribution that he's able to make the only fitfully amusing FRANCIS GOES TO WEST POINT (1952)and FRANCIS COVERS THE BIG TOWN (1952) seem far better than they are.

Since ON THE ROAD WITH BING CROSBY AND BOB HOPE is essentially a repackaging of the previously released Crosby-Hope-Lamour opuses ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941), ROAD TO MOROCCO (1942), and ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946) we won't devote much space to it except to say if you're understandably disenchanted with SINGAPORE, wherein they hadn't yet found the freewheeling formula that would distinguish most of the future ROAD-shows, don't give up the ship! The other three entries in this set are funny beyond belief, and my personal opinion is that Hope and the equally skilled Crosby are the most originally hilarious comedy team in screen history. Period.

The irresistible charm and golden voice of Deanna Durbin has finally arrived on dvd in a six-film two-disc (and very pink!) set entitled, appropriately enough, THE DEANNA DURBIN SWEETHEART PACK and before we giddily fling our hats into the air you'll excuse us for wondering why the film that made her a star, 100 MEN AND A GIRL (1937), has been mysteriously excluded from this release and why a  lesser effort such as SOMETHING IN THE WIND (1947) has been even more mysteriously included. Oh well, THREE SMART GIRLS (1936), FIRST LOVE (1939), IT STARTED WITH EVE (1941), CAN'T HELP SINGING (1944) and, to a lesser extent, LADY ON A TRAIN (1945) each in their own way provide considerable light-hearted and romantic entertainment, with EVE being the very best of the bunch by far, due to an intoxicatingly effervescent screenplay by Norman Krasna and Leo Townsend, light-as-a-feather direction by Henry Koster, and an uproariously over-the-top display of scene-stealing by the legendary Charles Laughton.

Every single one of these films are well-rendered full screen black-and-white transfers, with the similarly full screen CAN'T HELP SINGING practically leaping from the screen in all its 3-strip Technicolor glory, and the monaural sound is more than satisfactory, though we must comment on certain playback issues, such as pixilization and freezing, that materialize on a few of these discs now and then.

As if the above releases weren't bounty enough for those of us seeking a respite from the grimness and despair that seem to monopolize the airwaves, Universal has announced the 11/9/04 release of THE MARX BROS. SILVER SCREEN COLLECTION and THE W.C. FIELDS COMEDY COLLECTION. We can hardly wait!

--DICK DINMAN

 

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