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Flash Fulton (Bud Abbott) and Weejie McCoy (Lou Costello) take pictures of a bank robbery. Lured to the mountain resort hideout of the robbers and accompanied by Dr. Bill Elliott (Patric Knowles) and Peggy Osborn (Elyse Knox), they also meet old friend Johnny Long (Johnny Long) and his band and singer Marcia Manning (Ginny Simms). Dr. Elliott and Peggy are being held in a remote cabin by the robbers, but Weejie rescues them by turning himself into a human snowball that becomes an avalanche that engulfs the crooks. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
HIT THE ICE (Universal, 1943), directed by Charles Lamont, certainly has the distinction of being another one of many ice skating musicals starring Olympic skating champion, Sonja Henie. Though Henie doesn't appear, much of the icing goes to Universal's top comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. While there are good songs and some ice skating involved, HIT THE ICE also has the distinction of other fine things presented that truly indicate why Abbott and Costello movies were so successful during the World War II years. Though they don't really hit the ice, they surely were hitting their stride.
The story opens at Fulton Hospital where Harry "Silky" Fellowsby (Sheldon Leonard) occupies a room feigning feverish illness in order to establish an alibi as he and his fellow mobster pals, Phil (Marc Lawrence) and Buster (Joseph Sawyer) sneak out of the hospital to rob the bank across the street. While Bill Burns (Patric Knowles) is doctor in the case, his nurse, Peggy Osborne (Elyse Knox) suspects foul play. As the gangsters await for the arrival of a couple of gunmen from Detroit, Doctor Burns meets up with a couple of friends from his childhood days, Flash Fulton (Bud Abbott) and Tubby McCoy (Lou Costello), now photographers hoping to get some pictures for the newspaper where they hope to obtain employment. Inviting the boys to come along on an emergency call via ambulance, naturally when Flash and Tubby unintentionally encounter Silky and his gang at the hospital, they are mistaken for the boys from Detroit. Unwittingly assisting the gangsters in the bank robbery, it's Flash and Tubby who are accused with their photo sketches placed on the newspaper's front page. As the dual attempt to prove their innocence and return the bank money by following the gangsters via train to Sun Valley, Silky and his gang keep watch on Flash and Tubby believing they hold actual photos of them at the robbery. In the meantime, as Silky hides the loot in his mountain cabin, Burns, now a resident physician at Sun Valley accompanied by his ever suspicious nurse, Flash and Tubby, working as waiters, soon meet up with another friend from their boyhood days, orchestra leader Johnny Long (Johnny Long), whose vocalist, Marcia Manning (Ginny Simms), might have some connection with Silky and his gang. Then the fun really begins.
Aside from great comedy routines in the true Abbott and Costello fashion, including some clever verbal exchanges (one resembling their classic "baseball" routine), pack and unpack, Costello's "all right" piano playing to a recording (a scene usually edited from broadcast TV channels to allot for extended commercial breaks, and a routine later recreated in an episode to their 1950s TV series, "The Abbott and Costello Show"), and the handkerchief and punch-me gag, there's the usual time-out song interludes to showcase some musical talent, in this case, the vocalization of the gorgeous Ginny Simms. Songs scored by Harry Revel and Paul Francis Webster include: "I'm Like a Fish Out of Water" (no connection to the same title tune from the 1937 Warner Brothers musical, "Hollywood Hotel"); "I Like to Set You to Music" (sung by Ginny Simms, The Four Teens, and Johnny Long); "Slap Happy Polka" (sung by Simms and skaters) and "Happiness Bound" (sung by band members). Of the four tunes, "Slap Happy Polka" and "Happiness Bound" are at its listening best, with the Polka number staged in hilarious fashion as Costello gets himself entangled in an ice skating ensemble, to hilarious results. If that's not hilarious enough, be sure not to miss Abbott and Costello's climatic chase coming down the mountain on skis.
With frequent broadcast television revivals, especially on New York City's WPIX Channel 11 Abbott and Costello Sunday morning movies(1971-1990), and prior to that on WNBC, Channel 4's late show through much of the late sixties, HIT THE ICE, which was then one of the most widely known among Abbott and Costello film titles, has become sadly overlooked through the passage of time, which is a shame because it's still 84 minutes of old-style non-stop fun.
Formerly available on video cassette around the 1990s, HIT THE ICE can still be seen in its full glory on DVD, along with other Abbott and Costello titles on the same disc as IN SOCIETY (1944) and THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (1945). Take note that while Costello is called "Tubby" throughout the story, he's listed in the closing cast credits under the name of "Weejie." Now that's really hitting the ice. (***)
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