#CleanMovieMonth2020 Guest Article: “Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2020) on… Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945)” by Neil “The Musical Man” Powell

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The below article was published on Thoughts from The Music(al) Man by Neil “The Musical Man” Powell on July 19 as his fifth entry in #CleanMovieMonth2020. See the original post here.

Continuing on with today’s celebration of Clean Movie Month 2020 as hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, we have another Abbott and Costello movie! This time, it’s their 1945 MGM comedy Abbott And Costello In Hollywood.Buzz Kurtis (Bud Abbott) and his buddy Abercrombie (Lou Costello) are working at a barbershop for some of the big Hollywood stars. While giving a shave and shoeshine to Hollywood agent Norman Royce (Warner Anderson), they observe how easily he seems to make money, and decide to become agents themselves. As their first client, they take on singer Jeff Parker (Robert Stanton), whom they saw being turned away by Norman. They also have the help and support of their former co-worker-turned-starlet Claire Warren (Frances Rafferty), who takes a liking to Jeff. However, they have trouble with Norman’s star, Gregory Le Maise (Carleton G. Young), who turned down the role for a movie but at the same time, doesn’t want to lose out to a rising newcomer (especially since he has designs on Claire himself). Buzz and Abercrombie are able to get Jeff the role in the movie directed by Dennis Kavanaugh (Donald MacBride), but when Gregory decides to go after the role, Jeff is fired. So Buzz and Abercrombie try to cause trouble for Gregory, helped by him pushing Abercrombie off his boat. Abercrombie is alright, but Buzz forces him to hide and claims he is murdered, which results in Gregory going on the run. However, a disguised Abercrombie accidentally reveals himself to a disguised Gregory, resulting in a chase through a carnival where the movie is being filmed.

This movie is one of a handful of Abbott and Costello films with slightly different titles, depending on the source. Some list it as Bud Abbott And Lou Costello In Hollywood, while others shorten it to Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (personally, I’ll stick with the latter, since it’s shorter and what I’m more familiar with). It’s the third and final movie that the pair ended up making for MGM. While one would think their popularity would have warranted higher production values, MGM still kept things simple, doing a lot of filming on their backlot (well, except for the big musical number that ends the movie). The movie ended up not being that popular, and MGM took the opportunity to terminate their contract with the pair.

I will readily admit, I do feel like this is the movie where things really started to go downhill for Abbott and Costello. I can easily understand why this movie didn’t do so well. For being an MGM film set in Hollywood (and for two of the biggest stars at that time), the celebrity cameos are a lot more minor than you would expect. To be fair, “Rags” Ragland does have one of the film’s better moments, as Lou’s first-ever customer being given a shave, which is quite funny, but the other cameos aren’t exactly big names, either. Admittedly, Lucille Ball, who makes a cameo here, did become bigger in just a few years, but, looking back, her appearance just feels wasted, when you know you’d love to see what her “Lucy” character could really do when working with Lou. Then, of course, there is the problem of the side romance between Frances Rafferty and Robert Stanton’s characters. Yes, I know, the side romances are a common complaint of mine in the Abbott and Costello films, but, going back through these, I do find these two actors doing a relatively poor job, and don’t even feel like they are in the right movie, just dragging everything down.

Still, in spite of my comments, Bud and Lou do have some memorable moments. Besides Lou giving a shave to “Rags” Ragland (and Bud teaching Lou how to shave a few minutes before that), we also have them doing their bit of Lou being unable to sleep one night, with Bud trying to play a record to put him to sleep. Or, there is their attempt to get Carleton Young’s Gregory arrested, first by having him pick a fight with Lou, and then running with the “murder.” Honestly, when not dragged down by the film’s side romance, Bud and Lou are this movie’s best moments. And the movie is a pretty good Code movie. The violence is, at most, comically exaggerated. And while you do get the impression that Carleton G. Young’s Gregory Le Maise is prone to utilizing that old Hollywood problem of the “casting couch” (or, in this case, his beach house) with his female co-stars, he is presented as the film’s villain. As Frances Rafferty’s Claire Warren notes, “Going out to his beach house might help your career, but it hurts your reputation. Personally, I favor my reputation.” So, at least from the Code’s perspective, this is a good movie. However, all that being said, too much doesn’t work like it should here, and for that reason, I really can’t recommend this movie as much as I would some of their previous films.

This movie is available on DVD paired with Lost In A Harem (1944) from Warner Archive Collection, and is one hour, twenty-three minutes in length.

My Rating: 5/10

Audience Rating:

Happy #CleanMovieMonth2020!

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