SHE GIVES ME FEVER

A LOVE-NOTE TO PEGGY LEE, ONE OF THE GREATEST SINGER/SONGWRITERS OF THE RECORDING ERA (by STEVE WAGNER)

A tip of the top hat and genuflection to Miss Peggy Lee, today celebrating the centennial of her birth. Peggy has long been one of my very favorite singers, from the day a friend turned me onto her album SUGAR ‘N’ SPICE in 1984. In the years since, I have delved deeply into her catalog, which is truly a gift that keeps on giving. Peggy was a towering figure in 20th century popular music. A singer for the ages, she was also one of the most accomplished lyricists in music history, and mostly at a time when very few women were songwriters, much less singer/songwriters. She was an innovator throughout her six-decade career, and, like most great artists, was restless, experimental, uncompromising, and a perfectionist. It is said she ran her sessions with no patience for lip, or amateurs. One simply did not question Miss Lee’s taste, or decisions, if one wanted to stay on her record.

PEGGY LEE, 1946 (photo credit: RAY WHITTEN PHOTOGRAPHY/MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES/GETTY IMAGES)

As someone who really values great vocals, I find Peggy’s oeuvre to be an indispensable primer on what makes a great singer a great singer. Frankly, most current singers leave me cold – I’m distracted and irritated by the faux emotion, self-indulgent delivery, calculated moans, endless vocal gymnastics at the expense of melody, and puzzling lack of awareness of what THE SONG is asking for. Peggy never exhibited such rookie behavior; she accomplished what every song called for with the exact opposite approach – rich tone, perfect pitch, intuitive timing, impeccable phrasing, and thoughtful understatement. She was a master of the “less-is-more” style, which I find much more moving than the egoic wailings we are frequently inundated with now. Peggy’s voice flourished across so many styles and genres – pop, jazz, cabaret, torch, blues, and comedy/novelty – while always remaining utterly singular and instantly recognizable.

PEGGY LEE on THE FRANK SINATRA SHOW, 1957 (photo credit: WALT DISNEY TELEVISION/GETTY IMAGES)

It would be impossible to summarize her long career here, suffice to say it is very telling that it closely mirrored that of Frank Sinatra’s throughout the decades. They both had their introductions as singers fronting the top big bands of the swing era – Frank with Tommy Dorsey and Peg with Benny Goodman – with both quickly becoming breakout stars on their own. Both dominated the charts as solo artists in the 1940s. Peg scored over twenty Top 40 songs in that decade, with her “Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)” the number one song of 1948, and Capitol Records’ top-selling single for sixteen years, until the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in 1964. Both branched into acting in the mid-50s with Oscar-nominated performances (Frank for FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, Peg for PETE KELLY’S BLUES), and both also pioneered the concept album during this period (Frank with IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS, and Peg with BLACK COFFEE). Both managed to survive the explosion of rock and roll, maintaining a consistent chart presence throughout the ‘60s – indeed, they were really the only two singers from the big band years to remain commercially viable through that decade, even recording songs that are now considered amongst their best work. And both were ultimately defined by seminal songs late in their games – Frank for the testimonial “My Way” and Peg for the existential “Is That All There Is?” – which finally garnered her a Grammy for Best Vocal Performance in 1969, at the height of the classic rock era.

PEGGY LEE on stage (photo credit GEORGE RINHART/CORBIS HISTORICAL/GETTY IMAGES)

As a songwriter, Peggy is up there with the greats. She collaborated with many giants of the form – Harold Arlen, Mel Tormé, Victor Young, Cy Coleman, Sonny Burke, and Duke Ellington. Her songs graced numerous films, among others THE JAZZ SINGER (1952); TOM THUMB (1958); ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959); THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING (1966); WALK, DON’T RUN (1966); THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER (1968); and, of course, Disney’s LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955), for which Peg composed the songs, and sang and voiced the parts of the female characters, not to mention two very devious Siamese cats. So many of her songs are timeless standards: “It’s a Good Day,” “Golden Earrings,” “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” “Johnny Guitar,” “Don’t Smoke in Bed,” “Mañana,” “He’s a Tramp,” and “I Love Being Here with You,” just to name a few. And while her career-defining hit “Fever” was originally penned by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport, Peggy added two original verses (“Romeo loved Juliet… ” and “Captain Smith and Pocahontas… ”) for her definitive version, and also came up with the idea to transpose the key up a half-step for each verse, which perfectly communicated the “rising temperature” motif. When the dust settled, her songs had been recorded by the cream of 20th century crooners and canaries: Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Nat “King” Cole, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, June Christy, Mose Allison, Della Reese, Jack Jones, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Annie Ross, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, Mark Murphy, Dionne Warwick, Michael Feinstein, kd lang, and Madonna.

PEGGY LEE with PAUL MCCARTNEY, 1976 (photo credit: JAMES FORTUNE)

If you’ll indulge me a few anecdotes I feel speak to Peg’s unique impact: She gave Quincy Jones a commercial biz leg-up in the early ‘60s, hiring the jazz wunderkind to arrange and produce for her. She gave her longtime lover Robert Preston singing lessons in preparation for his role as Harold Hill in THE MUSIC MAN. She was a favorite of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, charting one of their gems, “I’m a Woman” in 1962, which stands with Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” as a proto-feminist anthem. Jerry and Mike claim that a few years later she threatened to have their legs broken if they didn’t give her “Is That All There Is?” (which also became the first hit to feature Randy Newman, who was arranger). She was the inspiration for “Miss Piggy” on THE MUPPET SHOW and essentially the genesis of the Jessica Rabbit character in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, her immortal “Why Don’t You Do Right” the song Jessica breathlessly sings to a mouth-agape Bob Hoskins. In addition to cutting nearly every substantial tune from the Great American Songbook, she recorded songs by rock/pop innovators Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Jimmy Webb, George Harrison, John Sebastian, Buffy Saint Marie, and Ray Davies. Paul McCartney, a huge fan, specially wrote the song “Let’s Love” for her in 1973, one of her last singles. kd lang, one of today’s most acclaimed singers, considers Peggy to be a primary influence. Peggy’s nightclub performances are the stuff of legend – extended residencies at Basin Street East in New York in the early ‘60s attracted a veritable who’s who of show business glitterati nightly. The Beatles were said to have wanted to attend when they first came over to do the Sullivan Show, but knew that Beatlemania would overwhelm the club and respected her too much to disturb. And finally, Peggy sang at Louis Armstrong’s funeral. Mic drop.

PEGGY LEE at the first Grammy Awards, 1959 (photo credit: WILLIAM CLAXTON/courtesy: DENMONT PHOTO MANAGEMENT

If you have the time (and who doesn’t, these days?) I implore you to explore this incredible artist. Recommended albums: BLACK COFFEE (1956); DREAM STREET (1957); BEAUTY AND THE BEAT (1959); BASIN STREET EAST (1961); and MINK JAZZ (1963). Below, please find several songs and videos that I hope bring Peggy’s brilliance into deeper perspective.

Enjoy, and HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY, PEGGY!

First, here is an amazing film of Peggy at Basin Street, performing “See See Rider” with a presence that is, in a word, riveting. Tell me she doesn’t have the most expressive face this side of Elvis.

Peggy’s celebrated score for Disney’s LADY AND THE TRAMP in 1955 remains among her best known and most beloved work. It’s easy to hear why. Both the lyrics and vocal delivery are laced with lighthearted humor and cleverness. The two most famous songs from the movie – “He’s a Tramp” and “The Siamese Cat Song” – easily rank with the very best in the entire Disney animated film canon.

“He’s a Tramp”

“The Siamese Cat Song”

A wonderful example of Peggy’s singular approach to the blues, “I’m Looking Out the Window” is a simple sad chord progression in no hurry whatsoever to reach its destination, and only becomes a blues number because of the way Peggy interprets it. She takes what would be a straightforward melody and bends it into a poignant lament on waiting for a love that never arrives. Note that her take on this tune uses the same structural trick as her version of “Fever,” bouncing the key up a step with every other verse. This would normally produce a sense of hopefulness, or at least growing excitement. Peggy tempers this expectation by phrasing the lines more and more languidly as the song progresses.

One of the great, and still mostly overlooked, tunes from the standards era, this longing ballad (written by THE WIZARD OF OZ composer Harold Arlen in 1941) was recorded by nearly everyone, but never became a sizable hit for anyone. Among those who cut “When the Sun Comes Out” were the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, June Christy, Tony Bennett, Mel Tormé, and Nancy Wilson. Notably, it was one of Barbra Streisand’s earliest recordings, the B-Side of her first single, 1962’s “Happy Days Are Here Again” (later re-recorded for THE SECOND BARBRA STREISAND ALBUM in 1963). But to my ears, Peggy’s version is the best of them all. She never strays from the melancholy feeling the lyrics demand, never falls prey to affecting a “big finish” beyond allowing her voice to become more emotional as the narrative builds. The arrangement rightly follows suit. This is a song that is meant to evoke, not entertain, and Peggy’s version does just that, perfectly.

A great example of how to subtly turn a jazz number into relatable pop, “I’m Gonna Go Fishin” is a co-composition by Peggy and Duke Ellington featured in the classic Jimmy Stewart courtroom drama ANATOMY OF A MURDER in 1959. Peggy’s lyric masterfully matches the jazzy intervals while winking at the listener throughout. She’s out to “catch me a trout,” alright, and her vocal supplies all the needed innuendo even if one can’t discern the barely concealed true intent in the lyric.

Paul McCartney loved Peggy, and composed this soft nugget for her in 1973, where it became one of her last singles and the title of the album on which it was featured. “Let’s Love” is unmistakably a McCartney melody, but Paul clearly strove to create a song that would allow for and accent Peggy’s personal style. This is one that every Beatle fan should know and serves as both love letter and testament to Peggy’s bedrock influence on the pop artists and songwriters—at least the respectful ones—who followed in her footsteps.

Peggy should absolutely be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and not just as an influencer, but as a singer who deftly made the transition from easy listening into the more hard-edged styles of the rock era. This recording alone should be enough to deem her worthy. Written by the great songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller, “I’m a Woman” ranks with their best, and Peggy simply hits it out of the park.

Peggy’s two most famous songs show the wide range of her talent as a vocalist, bringing precisely the right emotion to the needs of each. “Fever” is the quintessential torch song, and Peggy sings it with a brusque beguile that is always on the verge of boiling over while maintaining a shrewd detachment. This wise woman schools us on sex as she works us into a lather. Conversely, “Is That All There Is?” is the ultimate world-weary take on life and loss and the eternal question of “to be, or not to be.” I remember being stunned, at the age of nine, by the directness of this song, as I realized what Peggy was really singing about. This is one of the most unique songs to dominate the 20th century pop charts, and Peggy sings it like someone who has lived it. Because she had.

“Fever”

“Is That All There Is?”


TOKYO TRIBE

(XLRATOR MEDIA/NIKKATSU/FROM FIRST PRODUCTION COMPANY/DJANGO FILM (117 minutes; Unrated); 2015)

TOKYO TRIBE

It is an absolutely inexplicable concept that I would even remotely enjoy a musical movie version of a violent piece of Manga (TOKYO TRIBE 2 by Santa Inoue) about rival gangs on the mean streets of Tokyo, especially one that involves reading… a lot of reading. Buuut… the music is a very appealing mish-mash of Hip-Hop grooves and rock heaviness; the characters are SO over the top that you are allowed to suspend all belief and just let the kaleidoscopic visuals – including some amazingly choreographed fight scenes, including near-comedic levels of ultra-violent acts – assault your optic nerves… in the best way possible. Yeah, sure the whole reading thing is there but, once you get into a groove with that, TOKYO TRIBE isn’t too bad.

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Makoto Sakaguchi, Nana Seino) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Actually, aside from trying to figure out who was who, the flick, written and directed by the legendary Sion Sono, was pretty cool. The whole thing kicks off in a claustrophobic Bukuro Street on a hot Tokyo night that threatens not only rain, but an earthquake, as well. The narrator (played by Shota Sometani, who delivers all of his lines through raps) moves ghost-like through the throngs, introducing us to the various factions and their leaders, all the while giving us a glimpse into a very grim future. In one telling scene early in the movie, a rookie police officer is told by her partner not to get involved in what is very obviously a drug dealer dispensing his wares; when she confronts the dealer, he tears her clothes off, belittles her and, eventually, kills her. Her partner tells the police dispatcher that everything is okay… nothing going on. According to the raps, there are 23 separate tribes in the city, each working their own territory in an effort to maintain a tenuous treaty; that treaty is threatened by the Buppa gang, a violent and blood-thirsty tribe who want it all.

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Riki Takeuchi) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

The Buppa leader, played by Riki Takeuchi, is cartoonish, a demented and crazy-eyed Wayne Newton look-alike. Bubba’s lusts and desires are fueled by the promise of total power from the High Priest Denden (played by Sion Sono mainstay Denden, the High Priest is either a guiding spirit or one of Bubba’s drug-induced hallucinations); all he has to do is return the High Priest’s daughter, Ericka. One of Bubba’s sons, Nkoi (Yosuke Kubozuka), is a sexual deviant who delights in using his victims as furniture… after, of course, they have outlived their usefulness as prostitutes; he sends a van of thugs to procure a few new chairs and end tables into another tribe’s territory, either convincing them to come to a wild party or flat-out kidnapping them. The other son, Merra (Ryohei Suzuki), is more into inflicting as pain on as many people as possible; he has some unstated beef with the leader of Musashiro Tribe, Kai Deguchi (Young Dais), who practices and preaches love, peace and understanding. Basically, all of the ensuing carnage is due to whatever problem Merra has with Kai (don’t worry… we do find out what has him so upset during the climactic battle and, if I may be so bold, it perfectly personifies the gangsta rap culture and gangs, in general). Oh, plus, Nkoi snatches the High Priest’s daughter (Nana Seino) off the street and tosses her into the Buppa brothel, setting off a completely different type of mayhem: When her picture is posted on the brothel’s website, a particularly horny member of Musashiro is off to partake, with Tera (Ryuta Sato), who is respected by all factions, attempting to stop him and, as that has failed, to keep him out of any serious trouble.

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Denden) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Unbeknownst to either, a trap has been set and, when Kai and the others learn of it, love and peace are out the window. Unfortunately, with 21 other tribes mobilizing, the path is neither easy nor safe. Eventually – because everybody knew it was going to happen – all of the rival gangs come together against Bubba and his hired guns, the Waru, the most vicious gang in all of Japan. The fights are wickedly fun, the choreography and staging wildly imaginative; there are tanks, cannibals, gold-plated pistols, human reading lamps, samurais, earthquakes, giant exhaust fans and… well, you get the idea. There’s even a wizened old waitress, called DJ Grandma (Hisako Ooka), spinning and rapping her doomsday commentary: “Comin’ to ya from the ass-end of Hell/Listen up. This is Hip-Hop!” There is so much that I want to tell you about TOKYO TRIBE, but if I give you any more, I’ll spoil all the fun you have in store when you watch it.

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

TOKYO TRIBE (Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Even though there are going to be plenty of kids sixteen and younger that are gonna wanna see this movie, be advised that it – like all of Sono’s previous films – is ultra-violent (generally, in a cartoon fashion but, there are still some fairly brutal scenes) and features quite a few scenes glorifying drug use and even more that objectify young women (though there are also several instances of those young women taking control of their situations and kicking major amounts of butt). Parents, even the trailer is too wild for us to post here so, at the very least, check that out before you decide to let your kids watch.


THE BEST OF BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO, VOLUME 1

(UNIVERSAL STUDIOS HOME ENTERTAINMENT; 2012)

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When I was a kid, Friday night television was filled with THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL and the late night “chiller theater,” an old (usually black and white), cheaply produced and horribly acted horror or sci-fi movie. Saturday and Sunday afternoon television was filled with old movie series (such things would be called “franchises” today) from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s: The Bowery Boys (the third incarnation of the Leo Gorcey/Huntz Hall act, we were also gifted with earlier versions the Dead End Kids and the East Side Kids), Tarzan (of the Johnny Weissmuller variety, though we would occasionally get a Ron Ely or some other latter day Ape Man), Ma and Pa Kettle, Francis the Talking Mule and – of course – Abbott and Costello.

Recently, I’ve been revisiting my youth by procuring (and spending way too much time watching) DVD collections of some of my favorite comedies. The horror and sci-fi fix comes from two places: those DVD collections of 50 movies for super cheap prices (mostly dubious prints of even more dubious titles) and my friend, Cap’n Willard over at www.willardswormholes.com, who somehow finds (for the most part) superior prints of those same schlocky, crappy movies I loved as a kid and offers a weekly dose of “Friday Night Drive-In Movies.” Check it out… you’ll love it! Anyway, those comedies (and sometimes the Japanese monster movies) had me rolling when I was a kid and they have the same affect on me now. No vulgarities, no pretensions, no color… just good, clean yucks.

So, apparently, THE BEST OF BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO, VOLUME 1 has actually been around for a few years, but the version I have is a reissued set. Everything is the same, movie and bonus feature-wise, but I guess the packaging is a little different and, rather than two discs with 2 movies on each side, we have four one-sided discs with 2 movies apiece.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (publicity photo)

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (publicity photo)

The collection starts – as it should – at the beginning, with Bud and Lou’s first film appearance in 1940’s ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS. The Vaudevillians are not the “stars” of this film; they are billed third, below Allen Jones and Nancy Kelly, though fourth-billed Robert Cummings actually has more screen time and is more integral to the actual story than the comedians. That story involves impending nuptials, a jealous former lover, an insurance policy and a pair of “adjusters” charged with getting the groom to the church on time. A weird premise, to be sure, but one that works in that loopy 1940s Hollywood way. I understand that some 20 minutes of the story was cut to give more onscreen time for Abbott and Costello to perform some of their more famous Vaudeville bits (including “Who’s On First”). That, obviously, leaves some gaping holes in the plot that gives the flick a disjointed, unfinished feel. My question is, “Why, for Heaven’s sake, didn’t they cut a musical number or two or that incredibly strange production number at the end of the movie instead?” Studio thinking back then was that a lighthearted comedic script, no matter how well written, couldn’t carry a feature film alone and – even with musical diversions – definitely couldn’t hold an audience’s interest for more than 90 minutes (ONE NIGHT… clocks in at a whopping 82 minutes!). Read on and you’ll find, as I did, that those annoying musical numbers were there for a reason beyond studio incompetence.

Abbott and Costello with the Andrews Sisters (BUCK PRIVATES publicity photo)

Abbott and Costello with the Andrew Sisters (BUCK PRIVATES publicity photo)

The first star vehicle for Bud and Lou came via 1941’s BUCK PRIVATES, the first of three military themed flicks by the boys. Slicker Smith (Bud) and Herbie Brown (Lou) are a couple of small-time swindlers, selling fake (or maybe stolen) silk ties on the streets. To avoid the cop who busted them, the pair duck into what they think is a line for a movie and end up enlisting in the military. When they get to boot camp, they meet up with the police officer again, this time as their no-nonsense drill instructor. This is a plot that worked more than once for the Three Stooges and it works just as well here. Of course, there’s still plenty of music, provided by the Andrew Sisters (the first of three appearances in Abbott and Costello features). The film may be most famous for premiering the Sisters’ biggest hit, “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Once and future Stooge Shemp Howard makes the first of several appearances with our duo, as an Army cook. The movie was the second highest grossing movie of the year (behind only SERGEANT YORK), causing Universal to stop production on the duo’s next film, HOLD THAT GHOST in favor of another military film, IN THE NAVY. Having conquered Vaudeville, Abbott and Costello had now conquered Hollywood and had become the biggest comedy stars of the day!

Abbott and Costello with Shemp Howard (IN THE NAVY still)

Abbott and Costello with Shemp Howard (IN THE NAVY still)

IN THE NAVY finds our heroes protecting the identity of America’s heartthrob crooner, Russ Raymond (Dick Powell), who just wants to be left alone for awhile. When Raymond joins the Navy to travel as far away from his fans as he can get, the boys follow. So does a journalist (played by Claire Dodd) who has promised her editor to find and photograph the singer for the tabloid she works for. Lou’s character, Pomeroy Watson, has a huge crush on Patty Andrews of the singing sister act and writes her to tell her that he’s a big shot in the Navy. With Smokey Adams’ (that’d be Bud) help, Pomeroy convinces Patty and her sisters that he is the captain of a ship heading to Hawaii and – of course – hilarity ensues. As improbable as the entire sequence appeared, the United States Navy wasn’t amused and the whole thing had to be presented as a dream after Pomeroy gives himself the mickey planned for the real captain. More songs, more dance, more Shemp (this time a Navy cook) and more bits from Bud and Lou’s Vaudeville routines, including the hilarious “7×13=28” sequence. Not the pair’s best, but still fun.

Abbott and Costello (HOLD THAT GHOST publicity photo)

Abbott and Costello (HOLD THAT GHOST publicity photo)

HOLD THAT GHOST (the third Abbott and Costello feature of 1941!), along with WHO DONE IT?, are my personal favorites on this collection. While the guys were making IN THE NAVY, an earlier version of this film (then called OH! CHARLIE!) was screened for test audiences. It didn’t fare too well, apparently, as most of the audience members asked, “Where are the Andrew Sisters?” Once IN THE NAVY wrapped, Abbott and Costello re-shot parts of the film and added wrap around nightclub scenes, featuring the Andrew Sisters and monotone vocalist/band leader Ted Lewis. I guess good things happen when you listen to your audience… the film just missed the top 10 that year, finishing as the 11th highest money-maker. The plot revolves around the boys’ inheritance of an old speakeasy owned by a mobster. Lou’s scenes with comedienne Joan Davis (including a dance routine to “The Blue Danube Waltz”) are great and we are introduced to Costello’s famous “Oh, Chuck!” bit. A classic, with or without the musical numbers. By the way, in case you’re curious, Shemp’s back – this time as a soda jerk.

Universal again pushed back production of another film (RIDE ‘EM COWBOY) to further capitalize on the military-themed success of BUCK PRIVATES and IN THE NAVY, opting instead to go with the weakest of Bud and Lou’s early output (again, released in 1941), KEEP ‘EM FLYING. The plot’s fairly thin and the story’s weak as the pair follow their barnstorming stunt pilot buddy into the Army Air Corps (the United States Air Force didn’t split from the Army until 1947). Both Shemp Howard and the Andrew Sisters are gone, but Martha Raye, playing twin waitresses in a USO-run diner, has several funny scenes with Costello.

Abbott and Costello (publicity photo)

Abbott and Costello (publicity photo)

With RIDE ‘EM COWBOY, the team are once again in trouble with their boss and decide to hide out at a dude ranch. Lou has a local Indian after him to marry his daughter and a scene with the Indian in the bunkhouse is pretty funny. Less music this time but, thankfully, some of that music is provided by Ella Fitzgerald, including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.” Five movies in little over a year has obviously taken a toll; while not as bad as KEEP ‘EM FLYING, this one sure ain’t no HOLD THAT GHOST!

The pair were “loaned out” to MGM Studios for their next film, RIO RITA and, since this collection comes to us from Universal Studios, it isn’t included. Their next Universal movie, PARDON MY SARONG, finds Bud and Lou as Chicago bus drivers who get in trouble when they drive a playboy yachtsman (played by Robert Paige) and his lady friends across country to an event in California. The Chicago Transit Authority don’t usually take too kindly to those sorts of things and this is no exception. A warrant is issued and Detective Kendall (William Demarest at his exasperated best) tracks the boys down. Kendall arrests the pair, which leads to a great bit on a ferry… the hilarious “Go ahead and back up” routine. Bud, Lou and the playboy (and his antagonistic love interest) end up on an island with native girls, a jealous suitor and a villainous doctor (exquisitely portrayed by Lionel Atwill). The Ink Spots appear in a nightclub scene, as do a dance troupe called Tip, Tap and Toe. The trio do a gravity defying slip and slide routine that, while it adds nothing to the story, is fun to watch. Later, on the island, the natives perform a ceremonial dance that looks (and sounds) more like a Busby Berkeley production number. Still… all in all, PARDON MY SARONG is a definite step up from the last two films.

Abbott and Costello (publicity photo)

Abbott and Costello (publicity photo)

This collection ends with WHO DONE IT?, the first Abbott and Costello movie to not feature musical numbers. The pair are wannabe mystery writers, working as soda jerks in a broadcasting company building. There’s a real murder during the broadcast of a radio show called “Murder At Midnight” and Bud and Lou set out to solve the crime, thinking that doing so will prove that they can write believable murder mysteries. Mary Wickes is funny as a secretary wooed by Costello’s character, Mervin Q Milgrim; William Gargan is a no-nonsense police detective and William Bendix plays his bumbling assistant. There are a lot of funny bits involving Lou and an elevator operator, played by Walter Tetley. The roof-top scene that ends the flick is one of the more clever wrap-ups of any of these early Abbott and Costello vehicles. WHO DONE IT? Is the duo’s best film since HOLD THAT GHOST and it is these two that get the most play around my house.

Costing somewhere between 10 and 15 dollars (depending on where and how you buy it), THE BEST OF BUD ABBOTT AND LOU COSTELLO, VOLUME 1 is well worth the investment. You can’t go wrong with these classics… especially at this price! Now, I’m off to find the second volume in this collection.