Warner Home Video presents
Classic Comedy Teams Collection (Air Raid Wardens / Nothing But Trouble / Abbott and Costello in Hollywood / Lost in a Harem / Gold Raiders / Meet the Baron) (1933-1951)
Ollie: Stanley, at times you're most trying.
Stan: Well, you can't blame me for trying.- Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel
Stars: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard
Other Stars: Edgar Kennedy, Jacqueline White, Mary Boland, Philip Merivale, Frances Rafferty, Bob Stanton, Marilyn Maxwell, John Conte, Jimmy Dorsey, Jack Pearl, Jimmy Durante, Zasu Pitts, Ted Healy, Edna May Oliver
Director: Edward Sedgwick, Sam Taylor, S. Sylvan Simon, Charles Reisner, Edward Bernds, Walter Lang
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (slapstick violence, mildly off-color humor, western violence)
Run Time: 07h:09m:44s
Release Date: 2006-11-21
DVD ReviewThis box set from Warner Home Video collects six very minor films from three classic comedy teams, mostly made during their stays at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This tended to spell trouble for comedians who worked best independently, since MGM kept a tight control on their productions, and the anarchic character of many teams was lost in the translation. Though they may be best appreciated by completists, there are enough laughs present to make this set worthwhile. Each team's pair of films are also available separately, but as usual for Warner box sets the package is much less costly than picking up the separate volumes.
Laurel and Hardy are featured on the first disc, starting with Air Raid Wardens (1943), a wartime comedy that finds the Boys in the small town of Huxton, anxious to serve their country. Rejected by all three branches of the armed forces, they settle for protecting the home front as air raid wardens, but their incompetence loses them those jobs too. But they stumble onto a Nazi plot to blow up the local magnesium plant, harming the war effort, and in the inimitable Laurel and Hardy style try to save the day. There's plenty of slapstick laughter to be hand, and there's a particularly poignant sequence as Stan discusses how badly they want to serve Uncle Sam as they're being dismissed.
Nothing But Trouble (1944) doesn't make the best use of the pair, limiting their opportunities for humor by keeping the picture story-heavy. This time out, they are seeking work as a butler and a chef, and wind up in the home of a social-climbing couple. As they try to prepare a fancy dinner, they befriend a young ragamuffin (David Leland), who unknown to them is a boy king. His uncle Saul (Philip Merivale) is determined to murder the boy and pin the blame on the Boys. Stan gets a few good scenes as he attempts to serve dinner, but on the whole this is a forgettable effort from the pair. They would go on to make only two more films, The Bullfighters and the pathetic Atoll K/Utopia
Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945) features Bud and Lou in Tinseltown, working as studio barbers. When aspiring young singer Jeff Parker (Bob Stanton) is given the heave-ho in favor of established star Gregory LaMaise (Carleton G. Young), the pair try their hands as being agents for Jeff, and try to team her up with their friend, ingenue Claire Warren (Frances Rafferty). It's a somewhat uneven picture, though it does have some great comic moments, most notably Costello's hapless attempts at giving shaves early on. Lucille Ball and a number of MGM actors and crew members play themselves, giving a sort of indirect peek behind the scenes of the MGM studio.
Abbott and Costello aren't themselves exactly Lost in a Harem, but rather their friend, Hazel Moon (Marilyn Maxwell). The three of them are playing at a nightclub in Port Inferno, in the Arab country of Barabeeha, where they are jailed for offending the locals. Prince Ramo (John Conte) offers to get them out in exchange for helping reclaim his throne from King Nimativ (Douglass Dumbrille) and his hypnosis-inducing cats-eye rings. But Nimativ takes a liking to the blonde Hazel and determines to make her wife no. 38. Abbott and Costello are at the top of their form here, and there are plenty of classic sequences, including excellent usage of the old chestnut Slowly I Turned as related by a demented prisoner (Murray Leonard). Improbably, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra is also being held prisoner by Nimativ, which provides an opportunity for numerous superfluous but irresistible musical numbers.
The third disc features the Three Stooges, though in Meet the Baron (1933) they're really just supporting players. The picture is really a starring vehicle for radio stars Jack Pearl (the tale-teller of the catchphrase, "Vas you dere, Charlie?") and Jimmy Durante. That twosome are servants of the lost Baron Munchausen (Henry Kolker), who abandons them in Africa. When they're recovered, Pearl is believed to be the Baron and Durante his agent Joe McGoo, so they cooperate and begin to live the high life. As part of their successful tour, they go to the all-female Cuddle College, where they run afoul of the Stooges and leader Ted Healy, in one of his last appearances with the Stooges (Curly version) before they turned to making shorts without him for Columbia. There's plenty of pre-Code amusement here, such as the mass shower scene musical number, Clean as a Whistle, with nudity just barely obscured by spraying water. Durante also gets a chance to do some mildly risque jokes that wouldn't pass muster a few years later. The Stooges are only in a few scenes, however, so the billing is a shade misleading.
The final film is also the most recent one: Gold Raiders (1951), an independent production that does feature the Stooges in starring roles together with western favorite George O'Brien. He stars as a gunslinging insurance man sent to clean up the old West town Red Mesa, while the Stooges (the Shemp version) are a traveling medicine show. O'Brien engages them to haul gold in a pack train while he acts as a decoy to flush out some bandits, with predictable results. Longtime Stooge short director Edward Bernds is at the helm, so there's plenty of reliable Stooge slapstick humor. The main problem is that there's a lengthy Stooge-free section in the second half, where it plays as a straight B-western. It's quite short (running well under an hour) but it's notable as being the only Stooge feature that includes Shemp as a member of the group.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Most of the prints are in pretty good condition, though Lost in a Harem has a number of visible tears and scuffs through its running time. All have varying degrees of moderate speckling, though it's never too obtrusive. All have excellent greyscale except for Meet the Baron, which is rather dark and lacking in contrast, as well as being somewhat soft. The other films all have good detail and reasonable decent texture, without edge enhancement or visible processing. Gold Raiders looks the best, often appearing virtually spotless.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: As one might expect for pictures of this vintage, there are varying degrees of hiss and noise; the Abbott and Costello films also have a certain amount of crackle and an occasional electric buzz. The dialogue is clean enough, however, to suit most viewers. French tracks are supplied for Air Raid Wardens and the two Abbott and Costello films only.
Audio Transfer Grade: C
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 114 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Extras Review: The only extras are theatrical trailers (which appear to be originals, rather than reissue trailers) for all of the movies except Lost in a Harem and Gold Raiders.
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsEven on their off days, comic greats are often well worth seeking out. If you only want to spring for one disc, the Abbott and Costello one is definitely the best of the lot, but Warner's box set pricing makes the package deal irresistible.
Mark Zimmer 2006-11-21