What we have here is, essentially, a great, heaping collection of public domain material from the classic comedy duo. The menu is as follows:
17 episodes of their radio show: The Abbott & Costello Show (1942-1949);
14 episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour TV show (1951-54) with our boys as hosts;
20 trailers from 1940-59;
2 features films: Africa Screams (1949) and Jack and the Beanstalk (1952);
a WWII PSA: “The Autobiography of a Jeep”;
a collection of film and TV bloopers.
The emphasis, then, is on the later portion of the duo’s career, after Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) had re-established them as box-office gold, but the radio shows give us some earlier stuff, too. The pair constantly reused their routines, so the TV shows and radio episodes are best experienced a bit at a time. And since the radio shows (obviously) lack visuals, put the disc in your computer, not your DVD player, for them. There is no index for the TV shows except on the discs themselves, so be prepared to swap discs around as you look for a particular guest star. Even then, there are some issues. One promises Lon Chaney Jr., but I’ll be damned if I spotted him. Maybe I blinked. It is fun, though, to see live TV, bloopers and all. The original commercials are also present.
What about the movies, then? They have been kicking around in various bargain editions for years, and are available for free (legal) download on the net, so don’t make them your primary reason for picking up this set. They are also far from being the team’s best work. That is to be found on the Universal collections.
Of the two, Africa Screams has the best laughs. An unscrupulous gang after a fortune in diamonds mistakenly thinks Costello knows the route through Africa to their location, and the expected wildlife misadventures occur. Of added interest here is the presence Shemp Howard (Curly’s replacement in the Three Stooges), celebrity hunter Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and animal trainer Clyde Beatty. The latter shows all the screen presence of a can of lard.
Jack and the Beanstalk has the boys getting the job of babysitting a holy terror of a child. Said child then reads the borderline illiterate Lou a version of the titular fairytale, at which point the film shifts to colour. That’s certainly a novelty, but not enough to make the film particularly funny, or engaging, for that matter.
In a word: abysmal. Splicy, grainy, damaged – exactly what you expect from public domain fare, with not a hint of remastering. The only thing that has been done is the addition of a “Hollywood Special Features” watermark to the lower right of the screen, thus making a bad picture even worse. Jack and the Beanstalk was originally shot in sepia and colour, but this (shortened) print lacks the sepia (those scenes are straight B&W), and the colour is watchable, barely, but serves only to make the print damage even more visible.
Nothing much to get excited about here. However, given that many budget releases are characterized by atrocious distortion, we should be grateful that, however much static is present, one can still listen to the routines without wincing.
In many ways, this is nothing but a set of special features, so see above. What I will here is that the menus are a bit wonky. Once you navigate away from the main page, there is no option to get back to it, and you’ll have to hit the “Top Menu” (or equivalent) button on your remote.
Picture quality is poor, the two films are middling, and just about everything here could be found for free. But the convenience of the package is worth something, and the comedy is still gold. The extended version of “Who’s On First” that shows up on one of the TV episodes is almost worth the price of admission itself.