Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Adventures in Blu-ray: Abbott & Costello Rarities

Thunderbean Animation has firmly established itself in the Blu-ray/DVD field as the go-to label for classic cartoon releases, ranging from the oeuvre of Willie Whopper and Cubby Bear to their current project of restoring all 27 shorts from the Van Beuren Studio’s Rainbow Parade series (1934-35).  It’s a labor of love for Thunderbean CEO Steve Stanchfield, a cartoon historian and film preservationist dedicated to hunting up the best existing 16mm/35mm materials for these outstanding sets.  In May, Thunderbean’s long-anticipated Abbott & Costello Rarities—an outstanding collection of odds and ends spotlighting the great comedy duo—finally hit the streets, and if you’re as big a fan of Bud and Lou as your humble narrator, you need to track this down with all deliberate speed.

Lou, Bud, and Kate
I’ve had to cut back on the significant amount of DVD-age purchased for the dusty Thrilling Days of Yesteryear archives of late, so I was most fortunate to score a free copy of the Rarities Blu-ray/DVD combo from a longstanding member of the TDOY faithful (he asked me to keep his identity secret so as not to interfere with his sideline of bringing maniacal supervillains to justice).  There’s something for everyone in this collection…but I’ll come clean and admit that my favorite features were those of the audio variety.  Rarities includes a March 10, 1938 excerpt from The Kate Smith Hour (the boys do a variation of the “betting parlor” routine that was later recycled in 1943’s It Ain’t Hay) and the July 3 premiere broadcast of their 1940 summer stint as replacements for Fred Allen’s show (I was only aware of one other It’s Time to Smile program in collector’s hands).  Another uncirculated broadcast is from November 4, 1943—the night that Lou returned to radio after he recovered from rheumatic fever…and the same night he learned of the drowning death of his infant son “Butch” earlier that day; Lana Turner is the guest, and Bud informs the audience of Lou’s tragedy at the end of the broadcast.  A rare recording of their Saturday morning series (The Abbott & Costello Children’s Show from June 20, 1948) is also included among the audio gems (audience warm-ups, actualities, etc.).

Bud and Jerry Lewis
The Rarities collection includes trailers from some of Bud and Lou’s classic film comedies (Buck Privates, In the Navy, etc.) and “blowups” (bloopers) from others like Pardon My Sarong and Little Giant (I really got a kick out of seeing the outtakes from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, my favorite A&C vehicle).  There are newsreel clips, excerpts from Lou’s home movies, and an amazing collection of footage (Kodachrome) from the team’s 1943 war bond tour (where they sold nearly $85 million worth of bonds).  A favorite highlight of mine is an unearthed November 1, 1953 telecast of The Colgate Comedy Hour, in which Bud must work solo in Lou’s absence (Costello is ill) with an assist from Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis.  The program includes clips from previous Colgate shows featuring Lou—one their famous “Rubdown” sketch (with stooges Sid Fields and Bobby Barber) and another hilarious skit where the duo goes to great lengths to get rid of a stolen necklace (the two men have difficulty keeping it together before the finish).  In addition to Dino’s singing (both solo and comedy songs accompanied by Jer’s clowning with Al Goodman’s orchestra), Peggy Lee does a few numbers (including the Halo shampoo jingle) and Gene Nelson dances (I kind of fast-forwarded through this).

Another favorite from this set: Lou, Bud, and Charles Laughton (as Bud's chauffeur!) make a plea for Christmas Seals.
Chris Costello, whose outstanding biography of her father (Lou’s on First) was written up for the blog in October of last year, provided much of the material for this release…and I’ll admit, the content more than surpassed my expectations (I was expecting a lot of the public domain A&C filler that’s been previously released).  At the risk of sounding like a parrot…this is a collection that Abbott & Costello fans will want for their bookshelf—a more-than-justified reward for those who have waited patiently all these years to see it come to fruition.

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