Friday, September 24, 2010

Film #42: Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

Those mischievous boys Bud Abbott and Lou Costello should be collared by their mothers and shipped off to boot camp.
They have been running around with the wrong crowd for too long!
Abbott and Costello first got into trouble when they met Frankenstein and Dracula – and drained blood from a full crate of babies outside the Gary, Indiana baby factory. Then there was the time they met those evildoers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – and went on an ecstasy-fueled molestation spree that is still shuttered over in Delaware.
NOW they’re in kahoots with a KILLER, Boris Karloff!
My stars! Reform these sinners before they strike again!

That’s right folks, once again our bumbling duo of disaster hang out with shady associates in this week’s flick, “Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.”

Fathead Lou Costello (the fat one) plays Freddie Phillips, a routinely fired bell boy at the creepy, secluded Lost Caverns Resort Hotel. High-powered criminal attorney Amos Strickland recently checked into the hotel, and has local newshounds buzzing. Rumor has it he is writing a book about all the infamous clients he helped get out of the electric chair. Word gets around that Strickland is going to spill the beans on his former clients, so several of the nefarious characters travel to the hotel in an effort to sew up Strickland’s loose lips.

Upon arrival at the hotel, Strickland has a slapstick scuffle with dumb-assed bell boy Phillips, and gets the dope fired again. Phillips publicly threatens to get him back for his misdeeds, but a short time later realizes an apology might be the best way to get his job back. But when he enters Strickland’s room to offer his sorrys, he finds the attorney has been murdered!

All evidence points to Phillips, but the house detective Casey Edwards (what the hell, hotels had detectives on staff?! Seriously, movie?!) played by Bud Abbott, believes his bell boy pal is innocent and offers to help him avoid arrest while also rooting out the real killer.

Speaking of killers, Boris Karloff stars as Swami Talpur, a hypnotist and former client of murdered Strickland. He and the six other former clients at the hotel soon also come under suspicion by the coppers. But who really killed Strickland?! Was it the vengeful bell boy, or one of the jilted former clients? You might think, oh, I know who did it, I read the movie title. Come on playa! You don’t think the producers would be stupid enough to tell the culprit of a whodunit murder mystery in the title, would you? Could they be that stupid? Hmmm, maybe…

The cops better figure it out soon, because each passing hour brings more murders! As the body count rises, so do the laughs (kind of), in the 1949 horror/comedy cine-bomb “Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 1.5
Chris Dimick Abbott-yells:
“There is a fine line between amusing and annoying. Just ask my wife.
Something can be funny at first, but after awhile gets gear-grindingly infuriating. One of my favorite things to do around the house is take songs – either ones played at the time on a radio/TV or just tunes that randomly pop in my head – and change the lyrics into vile, distributing, swear-filled, perverted lyrics. Hey, we all need hobbies.
This should be the point where I’d give you an example of my performances, but folks, we like to keep this blog PG-13 and any example of this behavior would surely offend someone.

I have to admit; I have quite the talent for taking pure white songs and mangling them into perverted black verse, and can do it at will with nearly any tune.

My main motivation for this behavior is not just for my own amusement, but for that of my wife. A woman with a strong sense of humor, she usually she thinks my dirty songs are funny…usually. At least at first.

But there always comes a time when I sing on too long and throw in just too many over-the-line phrases about bowel movements and human anatomy. At that point my wife’s laughs stop, and her face transitions from an amused smile to a cold-eyed glare. “Okay, stop,” is probably what she says. It is hard to tell, since I’m singing with abandon to the music with lyrics that would make a sailor curl into the fetal position.

She did find the act funny, for awhile, but soon my angel like voice spewing devil descriptions just becomes annoying. Though endlessly amusing to myself, it seems one can only take the act for so long.
I never truly knew how my wife felt during my musical renditions, until I watched Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff.

Like my naughty tunes, the endless whining and zany antics by Lou Costello in this or any A and C movie is very funny at first, even endearing. Bud and Lou verbally spar with wit and grace. The physical comedy and sight gags of Costello even bring laugh out loud moments.
But after the first 30 minutes of this act, the whole thing becomes tired and offensive. It had moved from chuckle funny to grunt annoying. The endless idiocy of Costello turns from cute to stupid, and all that whining and high-pitched vocal intonation quickly gets old.

Maybe in the 1940s this style of comedy was so new people could find it hilarious for more than a half hour. But to me the whole Abbott and Costello act just seems like a big Three Stooges rip-off. Costello blatantly steals the act of the Stooges’ Curly – the overweight, smart-mouthed, dim-witted, physical comedy manimal.

Don’t start with me about how they are subtlety different. I’ve heard that argument before in the now raging debate about similar awkward actors Michael Cera and Jesse Eisenberg. The blunt bottom line is this: Curly is hilarious and loveable. Costello is annoying and a tool. And like Eisenberg, he stole someone’s act (go Team Cera!).

Add in that this movie’s plot makes absolutely no sense and most of the movie is spent boringly moving dead bodies around the hotel, and it was easy for this guy to go from entertained to enraged pretty damn fast.

Of course, this recent revelation on humor doesn’t mean my unique vocal styling will cease to emanate from the Dimick home. No matter how hard I try, I just can’t stop the music.
But perhaps now I will stop singing my subversive tunes when my wife indicates she no longer finds them funny at that moment.
After all, my point is to make not one, but both of us, laugh.
A good singer knows two things: When to quit, and to always go out on a high, filthy note.

N-Rating: 1.3
Nick Rich Abbott-yells:
"My senior year in high school I fancied myself an "actor" and even angled to arrange for one of my periods to be a focused study hour with the drama teacher, so I could work on my "craft" (aka slack off). In particular, I remember my final project of the semester, which was to actually do a monologue (the horror). Prior to this I had mainly been hanging out (you know, senioritis) and helping the teacher with the actual class he had that period. The accomplished thespian I was, I probably found and started working on the monologue a week before it was due. Basically I thought I was the bomb and could just walk out on stage, cold read the piece and be golden.

Oh, capricious youth.

Much to my surprise, my acting teacher didn't buy it and told me to do the reading again - apparently he didn't believe it. I then proceeded to attempt the monologue again... and again... and again. In the end I never quite satisfied my teacher, which baffled me - I mean, I was reading the lines, adding some quiver to my voice, got some goosebumps going... what did the man want from me?!? I was acting after all, what more could he ask?

Well, as Abbott and Costello displayed in this weeks film (especially Costello) - a whole lot more. This was actually my first A&C movie, but naturally I had heard of them and been exposed to one of their more famous bits, so I was expecting quite a few yucks from the funnymen who captivated a generation. Needless to say, I was utterly disappointed.

As I watched Costello's tomfoolery, I couldn't help but think back to my own experience as an actor, in particular the story I shared, and fully understand what my teacher had been talking about: talking doesn't equal acting. This apparently was the school of acting A&C came from, with line deliveries so trite and flimsy I literally think I was more convincing in the 6th grade with my smash breakout roll of Mongo the monster (from the center of the Earth who has come to make teenagers into mindless zombies - little did he know that TV had gotten there first).
Costello was downright painful to watch and appeared to have just learned his lines and blocking mere moments before shooting his scenes, instead relying on "zaniness" to carry his performance. I wasn't even convinced he knew his lines, much less that the character he was "portraying" in the film had any kind of realism to it. I get the fact that Costello pretty much was "Costello" in all of his films (and for some reason unbeknownst to me apparently people liked that, which is an entirely different issue), but come on! Being zany is no excuse to not act, and it certainly doesn't hold up after 60 years.

Admittedly, I'm not an A&C aficionado, so ACMTKBK may very well have been towards the end of their run at the top (please let it be so) and they may have been just shooting the flick to get a paycheck (Boris looked to be in full paycheck mode a la Voodoo Island after all). I can respect this, homies need to get their paper made after all... but if this is not the case, and indeed an example of quality A&C schtick, I weep for the generation that thought this was funny. Weep.

The Skinny: Watch this flick if you feel like having your image of the Greatest Generation tarnished or... wait, there is no or - skip this one!

Things We Learned from ACMTKBK:
-News can be cooking.
-Murder is not permitted in some upscale hotels.
-Turtles love slip-in-slides.
-You can hypnotize people by waving your hand.
-The only time Karloff is not scary is when he’s dressed like a space alien.
-Stingy cops don’t give the third degree.
-Best way to reverse a murder, pour water on the deceased.
-Booby traps are for catching boobs.
-While trying to avoid murder, don’t use a locking steam bath that has a “boil” setting.
-Boris Karloff’s voice is indistinguishable to some people.
-Friday the 13th Part 2 was not the first movie to feature a pillowcase-wearing killer.
-Dames can get brothas to do crazy things.
-Men in the 1940s can’t differentiate drag queens from pretty ladies:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Costello must dress up like a female maid in order to move various dead bodies through the hotel unnoticed. On the way, he gets accosted by a confused, horny man trying to cop a feel on the “lady.” Shortly after, a detective enters the room and tells his men to “put out a dragnet” for Costello's capture.]

Chris: “I think that horny guy already got caught in a drag-net.”
Nick: “Boooooo’-k ‘em, Danno!”

RDHP Salutes: Two Man Comedy Teams!
Good and evil. Light and Dark. Square and funny. Every ying has its yang, and in order to appreciate the good times, one must experience the bad. Is this why two man comedy teams – like Abbott and Costello – that feature a normal straight foil paired with an over the top comedian have blossomed throughout time? We think so. Below, we salute various comedy duos that have entertained throughout the ages.

Laurel and Hardy
This is one of the first comedy duos to succeed in film. Nothing like a skinny freak next to a fat ass to make you bust a nut.

Chris Farley and David Spade
The RDHP generation’s ultimate comedy duo. The chemistry between lovable-dumb Farley and smart-alec Spade worked even when their material was poorly written (we’re staring down you, Black Sheep). Sad they couldn’t make more funny before Farley self-destructed.

Penn and Teller
It is easy to be a straight man when you don’t have to talk!

Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin
“Hey pretty lady, ougheeee!” And we thought Lou Costello was annoying! At least men and women had Dean Martin to drool over in this combo.

Jay and Silent Bob
The amount that Jay talks, it’s okay if Bob stays silent.

The Smothers Brothers
Go ask your Dad who these guys were. Hell if we know anything about them other than that they are either old or dead now.

Harold and Kumar
Harold is an uptight Asian yuppie, and Kumar an Indian pothead with a dot-head full of tomfoolery. Oh, was that offensive? We’re sorry; Kumar is a Native Mid-South-Asian dot-head with a pothead full of tomfoolery.

William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy
Oh yes, nerds. You know what we’re talking about. Nimoy was the ultimate straight man to Shatner, but if there was anyone who could turn Spock away from being straight, it’d be charismatic Kirk.

Jake and Elwood Blues
They were both kind of straight men. And also at times both funny. They’re comedy duo hermaphrodites.

Sonny and Cher
Weren’t these two gentlemen a funny team!

Redundant Theater Presents:
Abbott and Costello’s Most Overplayed Bit
Just in case you are the only person on the face of the Earth who hasn’t heard this before, we offer it below. Interesting fact: A clip of this act is on permanent display in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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