Lou Costello plays a country bumpkin vacuum-cleaner salesman, working for the company run by the crooked Bud Abbott. To try to keep him under his thumb, Abbott convinces Costello that he's ...
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Lou Costello plays a country bumpkin vacuum-cleaner salesman, working for the company run by the crooked Bud Abbott. To try to keep him under his thumb, Abbott convinces Costello that he's a crackerjack salesman. This comedy is somewhat like "The Time of Their Lives," in that Abbott and Costello don't have much screen time together and there are very few vaudeville bits woven into the plot. Written by
Dan Weckerly <Daniel_Weckerly@providentmutual.com>
Abbott's toupee shifts noticeably during the "7 times 13 = 28" scene. (The "shift" is due to the fact that the scene was filmed after principal photography was completed. It was felt that at least one classic "routine" had to be inserted into the picture. You will notice that Lou is also heavier during this footage. Also filmed at this time was the routine with Sidney Fields, replacing a less confrontational sequence filmed with Eddy Waller.) See more »
LITTLE GIANT (Universal, 1946), directed by William A. Seiter, from an original story by Paul Jarrico and Richard Collins, became what is categorized as the first of two split-up partnerships of the popular comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Though Abbott still resumes billing over Costello, Costello, in title role, is the basic character from start to finish, almost as if this were Costello's solo effort without the presence of Bud Abbott. What makes LITTLE GIANT so interesting is the fact there is a story to back it up. To make sure their public won't be disappointed, some gags were inserted into proceedings, whether it be Costello with Abbott or Costello with some other character actors. As much as this is classified a comedy, in some ways, it's a comedy/drama where the somber moments falling on Costello's character. Unfortunately Costello wasn't able to endure the same effect in comedy/drama to great effect in the manner of legendary comedian, Charlie Chaplin as he did in for THE KID (1921) and CITY LIGHTS (1931). For much of the 1940s, Abbott and Costello were extremely popular, and made their audiences laugh. For LITTLE GIANT, this time it was something completely different.
The narrative begins on a farm in Cucamonga where Benny Miller (Lou Costello) lives with his beloved mother (Mary Gordon). He is loved by Martha Hill (Elena Verdugo), the girl next door whom he hopes to someday marry. Benny's ambition is to become a successful salesman, and has been studying night and day through his record correspondence school. Upon graduation, Benny leaves the security of his happy home to find his fame and fortune in the outside world. He leaves by train for Los Angeles for the company for which his Uncle Clarence Goodwin (George Cleveland) is employed as bookkeeper under John Morrison (Bud Abbott) for the Hercules Vacuum Cleaning Company. Mistaken for a Hercules male model (George Holmes), and not wanting to be embarrassed, Mr. Morrison offers Benny a job for his company, unaware that he is Clarence's nephew with his strict rule of having no relatives at the firm. What Clarence knows but won't reveal is the fact that Mr. Morrison is secretly married to his secretary, Hazel Temple (Jacqueline De Wit), the advertising manager. Due to his failure as vacuum cleaning salesman, Clarence suggests he be transferred to a smaller branch in Stockton, California. While there, Benny works under Morrison's look-alike cousin, Thomas Chandler (Bud Abbott). Benny continues to fail in his profession, forcing Chandler to have his private secretary, Ruby Burke (Brenda Joyce) to present him his letter of dismissal. Feeling sorry for Benny, she doesn't. While at a saloon, the fellow salesmen build up Benny's confidence as a mind reader, leading Benny to become a top salesman, selling nine vacuum cleaners in a single day. This success brings him back to the corporate office under Mr. Morrison and its president, Van Loon (Pierre Watkin), but an unexpected turn of events leads Benny to a different direction.
Unlike prior Abbott and Costello comedies, LITTLE GIANT doesn't contain song interludes, romantic subplots or an exciting chase finish. It does rank one of their longer features as opposed to 79 minutes or shorter. Minus the formatted material the public has become accustomed to seeing, some burlesque routines were thrown in for assurance. The opening minutes starts off with great promise with yokel farm boy Benny trying his salesman approach on an irate customer, wonderfully played by Sidney Fields (Mr. Fields, the landlord, on television's "The Abbott and Costello Show." in the 1950s). Interestingly, when LITTLE GIANT aired on broadcast television in the 1970s and 80s, this great Costello and Fields segment was cut in order to fit this 91 minute feature with commercial breaks into its usual 90 minute time slot.
Abbott and Costello don't come together until 21 minutes into the start of the story, and only have simply one familiar routine together, their famous 7 X 13 = 28, lifted from their earlier service comedy, IN THE NAVY (1941), being a highlight. Other than that, whatever comedy there is, Costello does it alone or with others like Sid Fields or Donald MacBride in the train sequence segment. Sadly, Groucho Marx's most frequent straight lady of stage and screen, Margaret Dumont (Mrs. Hendrickson), is reduced to only a two-minute bit, making one wish she had much more to do. Brenda Joyce and Jacqueline De Wit make due in their roles, and are properly cast.
After frequent viewing, LITTLE GIANT is one movie with potential that should have been a worthy departure for Abbott and Costello. The problem was the material, which seems more like something out of director D.W. Griffith silent era days of local boy making good, may not seem suitable for Lou Costello. As much as Costello is capable of being a serious actor, devotees simply refuse to accept him as one. Casting Abbott as two different characters is fine,in fact, excellent. Having Costello in a movie all to himself is satisfactory, yet, like his character, he tries too hard to be both funny and serious at the same time. The mixing of gags with straight story helps, but there are times where it throws it off balance. The problem mainly falls upon its scripting during its second half which should have been better handled. Critics and fans wanted Abbott and Costello in surefire comedy, and didn't seem ready for sentimental pathos on Costello's character. Distributed to video cassette in 1993, LITTLE GIANT has become available onto DVD some years later.
Regardless of its pros and cons, LITTLE GIANT is never really boring. Just different. Though Bud and Lou returned to formula comedies where they belonged, the team worked in one more split comedy again, to much better results, in THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946).(**1/2)
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