PARDON MY SARONG (Universal, 1942), directed by Erle C. Kenton, with original screenplay by True Boardman, stars that wacky comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in one of their wildest romps. For their eighth released comedy, they assume the outrageous names of Algernon "Algy" Shaw (Abbott) and Wellington Phlug (Costello), and roles of a couple of bus drivers taking their Michigan Avenue crosstown bus full of passengers for a long distance ride to California while assisting millionaire playboy, Tommy Layton (Robert Paige) to his forthcoming yacht race on time. The president of the Chicago Municipal Bus Company (Charles Lane) hires Detective Kendall (William Demarest) to track down the bus (Number 5111) and its drivers, and through a warrant, have them placed under arrest. As they drive their bus back to Chicago with Kendall by their side, Algy and Wellington somehow end up on Tommy's yacht where they acquire new jobs as his able bodied seamen. Also on board is stowaway Joan (Virginia Bruce), sister of a rival yachtsman, Roger Marshall (William Cabanne), who purposely forces Tommy's yacht to lose its course, drifting around the ocean with limited food supply before turning up on a South Seas island inhabited with native girls, tribesmen, a native chief (Samuel S. Hinds) and the mysterious archaeologist, Doctor Varnoff (Lionel Atwill - taking time away from horror film roles as 1942's THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET, which, too, took place on an unchartered island) with a hidden short wave radio in his cottage. Things get really hectic (and funnier) after this.
Somewhat inspired by the current trend of Paramount's three "Road to" adventure comedies starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour, PARDON MY SARONG's only similarities are its wild antics and constant ad-libs between the two central characters. While Abbott is a far cry as the crooning Bing Crosby-type, they each share their conniving ways of bossing around their unsuspecting lifelong pals. As for Costello, he can be just as funny, when situations allow, than the wisecracking Hope, though both can tend to over emphasize themselves as laugh getters. Unlike Bob and Bing, Bud and Lou don't have any serious-minded straight woman in the tradition of "queen of the sarongs" Dorothy Lamour to fight over, but there's Virginia Bruce as the feuding love interest opposite young yachtsman (Robert Paige). The casting of William Demarest and Lionel Atwill separately matching wits with Abbott and Costello certainly add certain interest to the story, such as it is. Other members of the cast include that of Nan Wynn (Luana); Marie McDonald (Ferna); and Jack LaRue (Tabor).
The screen treatment for PARDON MY SARONG is as contrived as its title, but it does allow for some exceptionally hilarious individual scenes during its madcap course of 83 minutes. Though Abbott and Costello routines tend to repeat themselves from time to time, thus going one better with each passing film, there's some material here that's not only first time enactments, but those never repeated again. Those in general are: "The Baseball Story," which has nothing to do with their legendary "Who's on First" routine, but an original concept where Wellington tells one to con a gas station attendant (Irving Bacon) from paying $12.50 for gassing up his bus; Algy and Wellington disguising themselves as magicians to perform failed magic acts on the detective (Demarest); and the dual's definition for the word "stinker" to the tough native, Whaba (hilariously played by Leif Erickson). Much familiar routines as "Back up, go ahead," the switching duped drinks, and "the tree of truth" are also played out to great advantage for guaranteed laugh assurance. And what Abbott and Costello movie isn't complete without a show-stopping chase. Aside from Costello (in zebra striped shirt) being very much rare form here, the climatic surreal chase involving him and his seal friend, Sharky, is truly one of the great highlights.
In traditional 1940s style, song numbers are incorporated into most comedies such as this. With those composed by Don Raye, Gene DePaul, Milton Drake, Ben Oakland, Stanley Cowan and Bobby North, the musical soundtrack includes "Do I Worry?" (sung by The Four Ink Spots); "Shout, Brother, Shout" (Ink Spots, tap dance by Tip, Tap and Toe); "Lovely Luana," "Oh Great One" "Vingle-Jingle" (sung by Nan Wynn) and "Vingle Jungle" (sung during closing credits). While some sources list the Ink Spots signature number of "If I Didn't Care" as part of the movie, it's not visible in the final print.
As with all Abbott and Costello comedies produced from 1940 to 1956, PARDON MY SARONG was distributed to home video, and later onto the DVD format. Prior to that, it enjoyed frequent revivals on broadcast television, especially on New York City's WPIX, Channel 11, during its Sunday morning/afternoon lineup (1972-1990). Cable TV presentations include The Comedy Channel (1990s); and American Movie Classics (2001). With PARDON MY SARONG having an offbeat moment as Costello's suicide attempt, the movie overall is certainly impossible not to dislike. (***)
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