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Recently my friend and I had been talking about this pretty awful 1978 telemovie about Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. We hadn't seen it in many years but have always recalled how embarrassingly bad it had been and were dying to see it again, mainly for unintentional laughs at the poor quality of it. Well, a few days ago we managed to find an old VHS tape at a still-functional old time video store, and we rented it and went to my place to watch it. It was worse than we remembered, but it did give us some howls due to its incompetence.
First off, the casting is just horrendous. Stand-up comedian Buddy Hackett plays the short, roly-poly Costello, and Harvey Korman plays the slender straight man, Bud Abbott. I have always enjoyed Korman in many things (especially on The Carol Burnett Show), and when Hackett was in his element he could be quite humorous (especially in IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD). But little Buddy makes a lousy Costello, and it's obvious he was not much of an actor as he desperately attempts to do classic routines of Lou's, and especially a pathetically off-timed "Who's On First?", with Hackett's garbled marbles-in-his-mouth voice. It's vomitable watching Buddy staring off to the side and reciting this gag as though he is reading from scripted cue cards; just putrid. And Korman is no better.
This movie was based on a book by Bob Thomas, supposedly heavily influenced by the memories of A&C's longtime manager, Eddie Sherman (in the film, Eddie is played by Arte Johnson). One of the biggest objections about this movie is that Sherman was at one time fired and later re-hired, and therefore it is said that he had an axe to grind. As a result of personal animosity, it is so claimed, the portrayal of Hackett's Lou Costello here as a nasty, arrogant, sadistic control freak is supposedly way out of line. Indeed, in this film Costello is made out to be quite a monster. But I have to tell you that while it may be somewhat exaggerated, I am of the opinion that the real-life Lou could sometimes be that bad. I base my opinion on the memories of people who worked with him, and especially the directors. Many filmmakers said that Costello could be a little terror, and that he and Abbott would be deliberately difficult on the movie sets. That they gambled all the time, threw their weight around a lot, made unreasonable demands, and that Costello was known to actually steal props from the films they were currently in the middle of working on.
But back to this movie. It's boring. It leaves out many details such as the fact that Lou had daughters, not just the one baby boy who tragically drowned just before his first birthday. Also, the fact that Abbott had a family. Korman and Hackett have zero chemistry together and don't do their roles justice. The way the events zip along you would think that the duo's career only lasted a few years; there is no sense of the passage of decades. And there is no time spent with them on their many movies.
In the end, my friend and I had a tremendous and hearty laugh at how ineptly the death of Lou Costello is played here. I won't ruin it for you, but we frequently mimic this "death scene" for endless kicks. Not because the passing of a great comic is truly funny; I'm talking about the overly-dramatic and probably exaggerated execution of the moment. Just unintentionally hilarious. It is the incompetence of this badly made film that keeps me from rating this a complete ZERO. It entertains ever so slightly because it is so bad. *1/2 out of ****
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