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COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (Universal-International, 1951), directed by Charles Lamont, stars the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in another one of their funny outings. Having already appeared in an earlier hillbilly romp titled THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP (1947) where the strong presence of Marjorie Main assumed the title role, their second and final venture in them thar hills places them in the middle of a hillbilly feud. Dorothy Shay, introduced in the opening credits as "The Park Avenue Hillbilly" makes her first screen appearance here, and last, though it didn't hurt her chances for the duration of her career as both night club and television entertainer.
The fun begins at New York's Club Chez Bleu where Al Stewart (Bud Abbott), a theatrical agent, introduces two of his latest discoveries, Dorothy McCoy (Dorothy Shay), and The Great Wilbert (Lou Costello), an escape artist. While Dorothy's singing style proves popular with the patrons, Wilbert is not so lucky with his Harry Houdini act, unable to break free after being padlocked in chains. A mishap not only sets him free but he and the others fired by the boss. As a mouse has Wilbert belting out a distress yell only known by Dorothy's family back home, she learns Wilbert to be both kin folk and grandson of the late "Squeeze Box" McCoy, leader of the Kentucky clan. With his grand-pappy's photo and concertina proving him to be the sole heir to a fortune, Wilbert and Dorothy venture back to the hills, with Al tagging along for his ten percent commission, to claim the fortune of gold with whereabouts known only by Grandma McCoy (Ida Moore). During the course of the story, the trio find themselves in one misadventure after another, ranging from being caught in the middle of a long running feud between the Winfields and the McCoys, to a turkey shoot at the county fair, and finally a love potion leading to mismatched partnerships. While being constantly menaced by Devil Dan (Glenn Strange), Wilbert tricks a young hillbilly gal named Matt (Shaye Cogan) into giving both he and Al the treasure map to the Lost Springs Mine, which turns out to be in Winfield territory.
Often dismissed as a lesser Abbott and Costello comedy, COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN is redeemed by Costello's magic show performance; the presence of Margaret Hamilton as the bewitching old hag who sticks Costello for the money owed her for love potion jug by holding a voodoo doll looking very much like Wilbert; and Glenn Strange (The Monster in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN) playing the nitwit menace constantly yelling out Wilbert's name in a strong hoarse voice which, on a personal level, gets funnier each time he does it; and the climatic chase leading to the buried treasure. Hamilton, best known in her long screen career as the Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), is somewhat of a Hollywood in-joke here. Her role leaves one guessing (Wilbert, too) whether she's a witch or not. Her few minutes of glory with Bud and Lou, especially Lou, makes up for the weakness in the story. This witch-voodoo sequence is clipped as one of the highlights to the documentary titled THE WORLD OF ABBOTT AND COSTELLO (1965), with the narration of Jack E. Leonard that can be a bit annoying. Among the many classic Abbott and Costello exchanges, the "You're forty, she's ten" routine where Wilbert finds himself engaged to a teenage mountain girl sure fits the bill.
Setbacks for many happen are the handful of songs interludes provided by Dorothy Shay, including "Agnes Wink," "Why Doesn't Someone Marry Mary Ann," "Sagebrush Sadie," "You Broke Your Promise" (actually the film's best song) and "Another Noth on Father's Shotgun." Also in the cast are Kirby Grant in straw hat playing Clark Winfield; Joseph Sawyer as Kalem, leader of the clan; Guy Wilkerson as the long bearded Uncle Clem McCoy; and Virgil Taylor as the dim-witted Jasper Winfield. Ida Moore makes an ideal Granny (don't ever call her an "old woman"), a forerunner to Irene Ryan's characterization in the popular TV series of "The Beverly Hillbillies" (1962-1971).
Aside the fact that the title had been used previously in a 1936 Gene Autry western for Republic Pictures and again for a 1940 Paramount comedy starring Bob Burns and Una Merkel, that featured for the first time radio's Harold Peary as The Great Gildersleeve, COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN starring Abbott and Costello remains the better known of the three. As much as hillbilly comedies where mountain people caricatures with silly developments being a matter of taste, COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN is good enough to be seen and believed either on VHS or DVD format.(**)
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