By : Mike Clark | Posted: 05 Apr 2010
$59.98 nine-DVD set
Stars Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Sid Fields, Hillary Brooke, Gordon Jones.
The 1950s marked increasingly tough times for Abbott and Costello, including a fall-off in the quality of their movies; the ascendency of rivals Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; a Lou Costello illness that kept the team off NBC’s “The Colgate Comedy Hour” for several Sunday nights and forced them to bail out of at least one movie (1954’s Fireman Save My Child); the team’s breakup in 1957; hounding by the Internal Revenue Service after they had raised gazillions in War Bond cash during World War II; and another Costello coronary (this time fatal) three days before the comic’s 53rd birthday in 1959.
But there were also some golden moments for Universal’s biggest money-makers of the 1940s, many of which had to do with these 52 syndicated episodes of the team’s 1951-53 half-hour television series — which Jerry Seinfeld has cited as an inspiration for his own show and which Time and Entertainment Weekly have both placed on their respective lists of the hundred greatest TV shows of all time. Not bad for a duo whose big-screen output around that time included non-starters such as Lost in Alaska and Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd.
The show enabled A&C to recycle some vaudeville routines that had been expertly honed by straight-man Bud (who could be positively abrasive to his partner, given this milieu) and cherubic Lou, who always seemed to be losing his hat or falling into or even through something. These episodes, some of which were available a million video years ago from Shanachie Entertainment, have been remastered and restored from 35mm materials to look and sound outstanding for their day — though it’s possible this spiff-up makes the phony audience laugh-track sound even more insistent.
Once familiar for its instantly distinguishable theme music and some A&C intro patter that set the table for the mayhem to follow, the series had a recurring cast of characters who included a the team’s hair-impaired landlord (Sid Fields), a beat cop with attitude (Gordon Jones) and a rather nasty, child-like Lou adversary named “Stinky” (Joe Besser).
Much as their scripts tried to provide one, Abbott and Costello never had much of a sexual dimension: Jerry Lewis once said to me in an interview, “Nobody wanted to $%*& ’em.” But the series also gave Lou a girlfriend of sorts played by Hillary Brooke. She was pretty classy for this crowd, though her best-known role (on big screens during this show’s original run) came as the suburban mom who gets corrupted by aliens and strikes terror through her young son in the original version of Invaders from Mars, a movie that was a huge influence on Steven Spielberg.
Each week’s premise had to be squeezed into an already short time slot minus the A&C patter plus time out for commercials. Thus, the plots were fairly simple, though played to the hilt: Stinky throw limburger into an ice cream cart Lou is tending; a crate of purchased roller skates contain stolen money; Lou accidentally puts yeast into the chicken he’s cooking.
The set comes with a 44-page book, a 1978 TV documentary on the team, interviews with daughters Chris and Paddy Costello, a restored 1948 short on Lou’s philanthropic work, rare home movies and more. If you wonder how a series that only ran two seasons in the pioneer era became so fondly remembered, it ran forever on local TV stations as most appreciated filler.