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The mid-20th century saw comedy teams like Martin and Lewis and Burns and Allen become popular on both the silver screen and radio. In the 1950s, each also experimented with the fairly new medium of television. The top comedy tandem of the previous decade, Abbott and Costello, followed suit.
The ClassicFlix video label has recently produced several volumes of top notch Little Rascals Blu-ray titles. Now, the company has released The Abbott and Costello Show: Season 1, a three-disc set on Blu-ray and DVD in incredible quality. If you’re a fan of the duo and/or classic comedy, this is a must buy.
"Who's On First?"
The Abbott and Costello Show ran for two seasons, from 1952 to 1954. MCA syndicated the 52 half hour programs with Costello owning the rights to the program. Surprisingly, Abbott worked on salary during the show's run.
The pair play unemployed actors living in a Los Angeles rooming house. Sid Fields, who wrote 21 of the 26 episodes in the program's first season, portrays the testy landlord, as well as car salesman Friendly Fields, Professor Melonhead, and other characters. Hillary Brooke, who appeared in two Abbott and Costello films (Africa Screams and Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd) is Lou’s classy and attractive blonde girlfriend and neighbor. She's the only one in the show to call Costello, Louis.
The other supporting players include Gordon Jones as the dim-witted Mike the Cop, Joe Kirk, Costello’s real life brother-in-law, as Mr, Bacciagalupe (who seems to have a different job in each episode), and Joe Besser, future member of The Three Stooges, as Costello’s “kid” friend and adversary, Stinky Davis. Stinky’s quite a sight with the 43 year old Besser dressed in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, doing his “wimpy/sissy character” routines.
A mischievous chimp named Bingo appears in several telecasts as Abbott and Costello’s pet. The chimp even dresses like Costello, with a miniaturized version of Lou's sport jacket and pants. Bingo was not long for the show, though, as he was fired for biting Costello.
Similar to "Seinfeld"
It’s interesting to note the link between The Abbott and Costello Show and Seinfeld. Growing up in Massapequa, Long Island, Jerry Seinfeld was a big fan of The Abbott and Costello Show. Seinfeld pointed out the similarities between his sitcom and the legendary comic team’s program in a November 21, 1994 interview with New York Times writer Bill Carter.
Seinfeld noted that the two shows shared a similar structure for each episode. With Seinfeld, he said, “A real-life comedian with an identifiable career in show business, is seen in his Manhattan apartment, interacting with a repertory company of odd characters. In Abbott and Costello, the stars (Bud and Lou) were perpetually broke and looking for work, rather like George in Seinfeld." Seinfeld also pointed out, "We're always joking about how we do stuff from their show. George and I will often get into a riff that has the rhythm from the old Abbott and Costello shows."
Abbott and Costello Meet Seinfeld
The Abbott and Costello Show episodes give the duo the chance to perform several comedy routines seen previously in their films. Of course that means the classic “Who’s On First?” (The Naughty Nineties), “7 x 13 = 28” (Little Giant), and "The Dice Game" (Buck Privates).
During the “Getting A Job” audio commentary, writer/producer Frank Santopadre says to his podcast partner, Gilbert Gottfried, that these sketches consist of two basic verbal aspects: wordplay and misunderstanding. That’s so true, as evidenced in the "Loafing" bit from this particular broadcast. Abbott tells Costello's he's gotten a job "loafing," or making loaves of bread in a bakery. Costello misinterprets "loafing" as being lazy at work. The two spar back and forth and the laughs are plentiful.
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"The Loafing Bit"
Physical comedy plays a role in The Abbott and Costello Show, too. A prime example is the “Dentist” episode. Costello has a bad toothache, so Abbott takes him to dentist Dr. Ralph Prentiss (again played by Fields, this time with a German accent). The very near-sighted Dr. Prentiss, in a comedy of errors, almost uses the drill on Lou’s ear. The wacky dentist then tries to pull the tooth, but he has Costello’s finger instead! He then rocks Costello back and forth in the dental chair, until Lou’s thrown in the air into the wall. The picture then cuts to the reception area, as Costello’s head is in the wall next to the mounted tiger and hyena noggin “trophies."
Restoring the Episodes
Archivist, author, and producer Bob Furmanek and his team from the 3-D Film Archive, in association with The Library of Congress, have done a tremendous job in restoring these episodes. Furmanek, the official historian for the Abbott and Costello estates for several years, was joined by producer Jack Theakston and digital artist (and animation historian) Thad Komorowski to work with nearly 120,000 feet of film from the TV series.
In a Bonus Feature of the set, Furmanek explains how the 3-D Film Archive crew assembled the original film elements that were in the cameras when these Abbott and Costello shows were shot. This is the first time that fans have had the opportunity to see the series from the original 35mm camera negatives.
Furmanek, himself, played a significant role in locating the footage. In 1984, he found about 35 Abbott and Costello Show episodes in Hollywood film vaults. He was able to rescue the remaining shows from an L.A. movie salvage company, where films are sent to be junked. Furmanek estimates the prints had been there since 1972, and by pure luck, they hadn't been destroyed. He saved these Abbott and Costello Show 35mm prints, and many years later, used them for this Blu-ray and DVD release.
Producer Jack Theakston on 4K restoration
Ten episodes in the set contain audio commentaries by Abbott and Costello authors, experts, and fans, including Gottfried. His remarks were recorded a year before his passing. Additionally, the original non-audience audio tracks are available for two complete episodes, and partially in six others. The Abbott and Costello Show wasn’t performed in front of a live studio audience, but was shown to a small group after filming for their reactions. No laugh track was used. Trailers for five ClassicFlix releases starring The Little Rascals, The Marx Brothers, and more have been added as additions, too.
More bonus features would have been an added plus to the set, such as the home movies and interviews with Costello’s daughters found in The Abbott & Costello Show: 100th Anniversary Collection Season 1 DVD by Passport from 2006. But, with picture and sound quality this good, the ClassicFlix edition by far makes up for the lack of those extras.
The Abbott and Costello Show-Season 1 has a running time of 676 minutes for the three discs. Media format is Region A. The 1080p transfer is taken from a 4K scan of the 35mm master film elements. The Blu-rays have a picture aspect ratio of 1:37:1. Unfortunately, there are no subtitles for the shows. The language is English only.
The Blu-ray black and white picture is sharp and detailed, especially considering that these Abbott and Costello shows were filmed in the early 1950s. The DTS-HD 2.0 mono audio track is excellent, with a very clean and clear sound.
Rita Moreno on "The Abbott and Costello Show"
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- Which character did Hillary Brooke's brother, Arthur Peterson, play in the 1970s TV sitcom, "Soap"?
- The Major
- Who did Joe Besser replace in The Three Stooges?
- Curly Joe DeRita
- Shemp Howard
- Larry Fine
- Which New Jersey city was Lou Costello's hometown?
- In 1940, Abbott and Costello made their screen debuts in which movie?
- In the Navy
- One Night in the Tropics
- Hold That Ghost
- Which cast member of "The Abbott and Costello Show" was an amateur boxer as a teenager?
- Bud Abbott
- Sid Fields
- Lou Costello
- The Major
- Shemp Howard
- One Night in the Tropics
- Lou Costello
Viewers will gain a new appreciation for the duo’s timeless comedy after watching The Abbott and Costello Show-Season 1 Blu-ray set. Recommended.
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