All in all, a sad, depressing end to the career of one of the best comedy teams in film history.
Dance with Me, Henry (1956)
User ReviewsReview this title
All in all, a sad, depressing end to the career of one of the best comedy teams in film history.
The title comes from a hit song of the time that her nibs, Miss Georgia Gibbs had a hit record of. It's heard instrumentally at some points in the film. The film has a role reversal of sorts, Bud is a shiftless gambler who owes some big money to gangster Ted DeCorsia because of some bad bets and Lou is the owner of a small amusement park, beloved by the kids especially the orphans from a home run by Father Frank Wilcox. Lou being the good hearted soul that he is takes Bud in.
But the gangsters want their money from Bud and if not they want him to go to work for them on some jobs like a bank heist they pulled just recently. Lou arranges to meet the District Attorney Robert Shayne and tell him what he knows. But then at the amusement park the DA is killed by DeCorsia's chief henchman Richard Reeves and Reeves also hides the loot from the job because he's planning a double cross.
It's quite a jackpot the boys have themselves in, but there's a providence that watches out over innocents in films. And in Dance With Me Henry, Lou is almost Stan Laurel like in his innocence.
That's what's missing in Dance With Me Henry. The old burlesque routines that one expects from an Abbott&Costello film just aren't here for their fans to savor. Abbott who's usually a sharpie and always putting stuff over on Costello is the idiot here and it doesn't wear well on him. He's also put on a lot of pounds and he's almost as rotund as Costello. Lou's character is something new, as if he was trying to explore new vistas.
The film didn't go over so good and the boys split up the following year. And Lou would do one solo feature film before his demise two years later. Dance With Me Henry is not a horrible film, but it just isn't what I and other fans came to expect from Bud and Lou. They deserved something better as a farewell.
I think Abbott and Costello's last movie together is underrated. It's not among their finest, but they made less amusing movies together, and there still are some chuckles to be had here. At the time of production, Lou was reported as saying that the days of slapstick were over for them, and that both men were interested in actually doing more serious and emotional types of roles. But DANCE WITH ME, HENRY is obviously still a comedy even though it tries hard to inject some dramatic issues and sentiment along the way.
Lou Henry (Costello) operates "Kiddyland", a little amusement park, where he allows his drinking and gambling pal Bud Flick (Abbott) to work so his friend can pay off a huge debt he owes to a group of gangsters. Meanwhile, Lou is trying to gain custody of two orphan kids, but Bud's constant turmoil with the criminals keeps getting in the way.
Yes, it's obvious that the comedy team is older now, but they still have their moments in a few humorous scenes interacted together. I wouldn't say this A&C Swan Song is at all bad or unwatchable. The title of the film, which was named after a forgotten song that used to be popular and which has nothing to do with the story, doesn't help matters.
The more I watch Abbott and Costello the more these later films appeal to me.
A pity they ended their partnership too soon.
First, we see Lou Costello as a strong leader. He is a Widower father raising his kids. He owns/operates a carnival. He helps his drunken friend. He still has a genuine good streak and has that child-like love for life. He is a straight man, and he pulls it off.
Then, Bud Abbott is a drunken louse. He is weak, and is easily led by Lou throughout the adventures, though his love for the bottle is evident and causes major problems.
This isn't the only movie that they exchange "roles", but it is a good example of the talents these men had. The story is weak, and the ending contrived, but give it a shot. If you are a fan of theirs, you will enjoy it just for the role reversals. If you are not into cinema history or these actors, this is one worth skipping for now.
Running an amusement park, Abbott is up to his ears in debt and is beholden to the mob. Costello has 2 adopted children, a character of a social worker played by Mary Wickes, wants to take them away and invariably Costello gets blamed for the shooting death of the D.A.
While the zany two's usual antics are missing, this is a fun film made enjoyable by the appearances of Gigi Perreau and Rusty Hamer. (Make Room for Daddy.) Ted de Corsia is at his best when he plays a gangster and he is no exception here.
This old fashioned film wasn't quite as bad as one of their other films. When you think of all the 'trendy' films Martin and Lewis made during the last 6 years one wonders why A+C didn't try to branch out further. Lou Costello was once the funniest man on the earth - no doubt about that. Tragically, due to ill health his vitality was robbed and this was the end product. It would of been better played straight. Abbott had all the best lines and I thought he was rather good. Though gone are the days of Rio Rita, Hold that Ghost and Buck Privates, the (reportedly)sixty one year old comedian gave a better performance than in recent vehicles. Costello who for some reason had not been given any funny lines at all, seems to try and impress the audiences by shaking his head while looking down at a telephone and repeating the phrase'Oh my!' The gangsters who played it straight somehow turn 'lite' and manage to fall victim to the children's pranks. One of them gets whacked in the shins, one of them gets tripped up, one of them gets squirted by a water pistol etc...
It's known for their worst, which I disagree. ...Go to mars was worse than this. This film is, obviously of more interest to the fans who wish to see how this once great comedy team came to close their motion picture curtain. Tragic.
The song was a sanitized, pop cover by Georgia Gibbs of a suggestive 1955 Etta James R&B hit, THE WALLFLOWER -- written by Johnny Otis, Hank Ballard and James -- which was more popularly known as ROLL WITH ME, HENRY. Interestingly, THE WALLFLOWER was a follow-up song to Ballard's provocative 1954 hit, WORK WITH ME, ANNIE.
** (out of 4)
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's final picture together isn't quite as bad as its reputation but there's no question that both stars didn't appear to have their heart in it. Bud finds himself in trouble due to a gambling debt while Lou is trying to keep two orphans who he has been taking care of. Soon both sides are coming together as the boys must try and figure out a way to save themselves and the children. DANCE WITH ME, HENRY! has all sorts of problems including the boys wanting to try and do something a tad bit more serious. The problem with that here is that the serious side really isn't all that serious but instead it's more sugar-coated sentimental stuff that just comes off as fake and very forced. These scenes aren't really that funny when they try to be and they're not very dramatic when they try to be so they just really come across as flat. Another problem is that the comedy stuff really isn't up the high levels one would expect from the duo. I think Costello comes off the best as he at least gets a couple good one-liners and manages to come across decent but there's no denying that he has very little chemistry with Abbott. It really does seem like both of them weren't wanting to do this movie as their screen time together is mostly flat and just reminds you that much better times are to be found in earlier films. None of the supporting cast really jumps off the screen so this here doesn't help. If you're familiar with what was going on in both of their lives I think it's safe to say that making a movie wasn't a very high priority. Even though the relationship ends on a rather sour note, the two gave us so many great movies so this one here can be forgiven.
The transfer from MGM is surprisingly good I say, surprisingly, because in general MGM/DVD isn't known for offering pristine transfers of classic movies. And although "Dance With Me Henry" is not pristine in terms of age related artifacts, its also not very far from it. The gray scale has been impeccably mastered with nice tonality, solid blacks and generally clean whites. Occasionally there's a hint of edge enhancement, but nothing that will terribly distract. There's also a hint of film grain, but this never becomes bothersome. The audio is mono but presented with great clarity and at an adequate listening level. There are NO extras.
The beginning ten minutes (good set-up of a potentially funny situation) and the last ten (imagine "Home-alone" with twenty kids) are fine, but the middle is quite flabby. There are no memorable routines and very few (about ten) funny lines.
Actually, I do not know if the producers had it in mind, but the movie works well as a pilot for a T.V. series. One can imagine all sorts of great sitcom possibilities with Lou as a bachelor trying to raise two kids while owning and operating a "Kiddie land" amusement park. When this was made, Danny Thomas's "Make Room for Daddy" had been a hit show running for three years and "Bachelor Father" was about to begin its run, so a "raising kids" comedies were the type of thing a network might buy. I suppose if it had done well as a movie, it could have been developed into a television series. So, I believe that it was rather a smart career choice for A and C.
Sherry Alberoni as Boopsi and Rusty Hamer are the two stand-out kid performers. Sherry is Shirley Temple cute trying to convince the cops that she witnessed a murder and Rusty Hamer is the nicest and sincerest boy actor of that period (Ron Howard did steal his crown a few years later).
A and C fans will savor a few well done moments,(the visit of the nasty welfare worker at the beginning, for example) but on the whole only their fans will be able to sit through it.
The last shot of the movie with Costello playing the pied-piper is delightful and cute. If the rest of the movie had been so, this movie would have revived A and C's careers and fortunes.
The problem is that the script from start to finish is painfully unfunny. Now making a more serious film was not really the problem. LITTLE GIANT, after all, was a rather serious Abbott and Costello film and while the fans didn't like it, the film was well made and entertaining. If you see it today with an open mind, you can't help but appreciate the writing and especially Lou Costello's acting. However, not being funny is only the tip of the iceberg with DANCE WITH ME HENRY. The more serious problem is that the film is 100% saccharine--too sickeningly sweet for consumption. Watching this film could easily send diabetics into comas--it's THAT over-the-top sweet. With all the cute little kids and with a whole new persona for Lou Costello (sort of like a social worker and Pied Piper rolled into one), it's very sticky going. In this film, Lou isn't dumb at all--but the owner of "Happyland" amusement park who adores kids and takes in two orphans. Now I know I'll upset a few people with this observation, but isn't this all a bit creepy?! A single man devotes his life to hanging around kids, owning an amusement park, taking in kids.....this sounds very, very weird--like a recruitment film for pedophiles. I am sure that was NOT the intentions of the film makers but here in the 21st century, I could easily see people getting that impression--how could they not?!
Please rest assured I do not hate Abbott and Costello. My comments are more because I am frustrated that this film was so bad and all attempts at humor were out the window. You can't just say Bud and Lou were old and they couldn't do any better. Remember, the year before they made ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (I gave this one an 8) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (I gave this one a 7). So, they were capable of still being funny and entertaining and still had a lot to give. Too bad they had such an awful script and you wonder what Bud and Lou thought about this. Could they have wanted it to end this way?
Overall, here's how I see the film: Bud's acting (5), Lou's acting (4), the direction/timing in the film (2) and the writing (-5). You just can't make a good comedy with a bum script and indifferent directing. They deserved better than this--and so did the audience.
DANCE WITH ME, HENRY (title and tune based upon an early Etta James cover of a hank Ballard tune) has none of those records' energy but it is certainly more energetic - and better - than the critics have said it was.
number one: the story, although overly sentimental, is fun (Lou is a kind of local "pied piper" and protector of "lost" kids, always ducking and dodging the local social workers) but our heros get a chance to do a little more *acting* (Bud is effective as a real down and outer, not the usual conniver).
directed by SUPERMAN (TV) Director Charles Barton. and if U R a fan of the Danny Thomas Show, you'll see Rusty Hamer, a year or so before it premiered!