Friday, April 8, 2011

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD

Long-desired by fans of the comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, Warner Archives has just released the (never before legally available on home video) musical comedy ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD (1952) as a manufacture-on-demand disc.

The plot is the usual A&C nonsense transplanted into a Pirates of the Caribbean milieu: through a series of misunderstandings, tavern waiters Oliver "Puddin' Head" Johnson (Lou Costello) and Rocky Stonebridge (Bud Abbott) find themselves embroiled in a treasure hunt by rival pirate captains Kidd (Charles Laughton) and Bonney (the lovely Hillary Brooke). The team's usual verbal jousting - as well as a number of their classic routines and gags - enliven the plot, along with several robust musical numbers. It's fun.

Although under contract to Universal Studios, the team's deal with the company allowed them to make one independent feature each year (it was under this agreement that AFRICA SCREAMS and JACK & THE BEANSTALK were made, as well). Thus, when Universal balked at the cost of making MEETS CAPTAIN KIDD in color, they simply produced it themselves (through Bud's company,"Woodley Productions"), and Warner Brothers picked up the distribution rights. Of course, it's cheap "Super Cine-Color," which means primarily muddy greens and brownish reds, but what the hell.

Directed by Charles Lamont from a screenplay co-written by John Grant - both of them veterans of many other A&C vehicles - MEETS CAPTAIN KIDD is not really distinguishable from their Universal features, aside from the aforementioned color. The real novelty of the film is that the acclaimed "serious" movie star Charles Laughton (MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME) reprises his role from the 1945 swashbuckler CAPTAIN KIDD. Story has it that Laughton was fascinated by what he termed "low" comedy, and felt that working with Bud and Lou was an opportunity to learn from two masters of the form. He apparently enjoyed the experience; not only did he work with the boys again on television, but he seems to be having a lot of fun in the film, joyfully embracing the slapstick and absurdities of the plot.

The Warner Archive presentation is a simple, 1.33:1 "full frame" transfer on high-quality DVD-R disc. Warner Archive claims that the material has been "remastered" but is still littered with specks and other small imperfections. The colors are a bit muddy - but that's more from the cheap Cine-Color process, than any flaw in the digital transfer. Audio is mono, and quite clear, with only minimal distortion and background noise. Overall, it's a solid presentation, considering the age of the material and its low budget roots.

Abbott and Costello fans will be pleased to finally have an authorized - if bare-bones - home video edition of the hard-to-find film, and should be grateful to WB for pulling it out of the vaults.

It can be purchased directly from the Warners Archive online store.

BUY: Abbot & Costello Meet Captain Kidd