Archive for Lou Costello


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2015 by dcairns


But that’s TODAY! I haven’t had a coincidence like this since HOT SATURDAY (which was also the mystic 23rd)

Fiona remembered seeing THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946) as a kid, though she couldn’t remember what it was called. Just that it was a curiously morbid yet charming fantasy with Lou Costello as a ghost. I remembered it too, couldn’t recall the title (which is a little flat), but suspected it came about partly because Abbot and Costello couldn’t stand each other and the story allowed them to star in a film together without sharing so many scenes as usual. Basically, Lou and Marjorie Reynolds are ghosts condemned to haunt an old house until they can prove that they weren’t traitors during the American Revolution. Bud is both the sneaky butler who landed them in trouble (sort of) and a modern descendent, a nervous psychiatrist who becomes the butt of the ghost’s jokes. For some reason, his role is undermined by the addition of three other houseguests, though the only other important player is housekeeper Gale Sondergaard, who’s psychic. As viewers of both THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and BLITHE SPIRIT know, the lower orders, being closer to the animal kingdom, have a natural sensitivity to spectres denied to their more sophisticated natural superiors.


The movie is blandly directed by regular A&C helmer Charles Barton — each shot cuts off randomly, as if curtailed purely by how much dialogue the actors could get through. Dialogue introducing a restored mansion is followed, not by a shot of the house, but by an ill-framed automobile, and one awkward composition makes it look like a series of characters are standing atop a harpsichord, an odd position from which to deliver exposition.


But everything else about the movie is pretty neat. The special effects are elegant and fun, and the script provides lots of opportunities/challenges for the team responsible. At one point, the male and female ghosts run through each other and exchange clothing. In a saucy scene, an invisible Reynolds sheds her visible gown and runs off as nothing but a pair of disembodied stockings. (Sexual confusion reigns: Sondergaard, at a séance, channels a male voice, that of Reynold’s dead betrothed (speaking live from the afterlife). “You were gonna marry her?” asks Lou, then makes an ambiguous gesture with his wrist that seems faux-unconscious enough to escape the censors.

Folding in elements of TOPPER, THE UNINVITED and I MARRIED A WITCH, this is a pretty solid example of the supernatural whimsy that seemed to run rampant after WWII. And Costello is a funny guy — his big-kid act is half schtick and half actual solid performance. I checked off the bits of business as they appeared — the asthmatic wheeze of high emotion; the baby-talk voice of shame; the octave-skipping yelp of alarm. He’s less weird than Jerry Lewis, but more accurate in his mimicry of a five-year-old (Jer is more like a five-year-old space alien anarchist).


Abbot is a problem here, given not much to do — when he’s not half of a perfectly-timed pair, he kind of disappears. I can’t imagine he was happy with this one, though maybe not having to look at his partner’s pudgy face so much was a compensation.

Another thing about this film — after the Revolutionary War prologue, the first half of the 1946 scenes is the ghosts tormenting the mortals, accidentally at first, by searching for their exonerating evidence after midnight, and then deliberately, by pranking Abbot in punishment for his ancestor’s general shiftiness. But once the mortals figure out what the ghosts want, they immediately set about helping them, with no ill feelings. That’s so sweet it makes me want to cry.


Girls! Watch this movie and you will also learn the exact amount of time you have to spend trapped with Lou Costello as an immortal wraith before he starts to seem sexually appealing to you. One hundred and sixty-five years exactly. That could be useful information, conceivably.

The Sunday Intertitle: Gold Fever

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 9, 2013 by dcairns


Clarence Brown’s THE TRAIL OF ’98 makes somewhat morbid viewing, if you’re aware of the story told about its making — a boatload of stuntmen overturned while running the rapids, and a rope strung across the river to help them resist the current proved ineffectual, because the assistant director hadn’t reinforced the dangling nooses with wire. The nooses hung limp and froze into knotty poles — the numb fingers of the perishing crew men could not find purchase, and four were swept off to their deaths. Only two bodies were recovered, the other two being carried away into the glacier.

So we’ll get them back any day now.


The movie is spectacular — the Chillcoot Pass sequence easily dwarfs its equivalent in Chaplin’s earlier THE GOLD RUSH — but lacks a plot for most of its running time. An opening montage shows how the discovery of gold energizes a motley band of hopefuls to drop everything and Go North, and then we follow their travails, but the drama is stubbornly not on a human scale — we can’t learn much that differentiates Dolores Del Rio’s character (she’s not playing Mexican here, which is interesting) from, say, Tully Marshall’s scraggly preacher or Karl Dane’s comedy Swede (yes, he does say “Yumping Yiminy!”)


The only one to make a real impression is Harry Carey as the villain, because he has such a fiery screen charisma. Just by grinning coldly he lets us know that this guy is dangerous. Later, he rapes Del Rio, and Brown films a driving track-in on her terrified face from Carey’s point of view — the scene fades out with a Vitaphone scream, this being an MGM soundie (also featuring gunshots and a song).

The movie is also a pre-code, which means that Del Rio, forced into prostitution, doesn’t have to die — she and her lover are reunited and he begs her forgiveness, since it was his abandoning her to go hunt gold that led to her downfall in the first place. MGM movies weren’t usually so progressive, but Clarence Brown does embody the studio’s more humane and liberal tendencies (making the brutality of this film all the more startling).


At the impressive climax, Carey biffs it out with hero Ralph Forbes, in the bloodiest bit of stage fighting I’ve seen outside of RAGING BULL or TOKYO FIST. Finally, Carey draws a gun and Forbes lets him have it with an oil lamp — the blazing Carey (or rather, his double) staggers down the corridor, setting fire to the building as he goes, then topples over a balcony onto the dance floor. He’s still trying to pull himself along by his hands as the whole of Dawson City bursts into flames…

The movie isn’t exactly likable — movies with fatalities seldom are — and the thinness of the plot doesn’t help it, but the spectacle is shockingly good. A special effects avalanche saved them from killing even more people, and though you can see that the victims vanishing beneath the falling snow are actually being removed by an animated wipe, it’s very effective.

The IMDb reports that Jacques Tourneur was an extra in this and that Dolores Del Rio’s stunt double was Lou Costello. This is hard to imagine, but fairly amusing if you manage it. The main problem with the anecdote is that Dolores doesn’t jump out of any windows, but plenty of other people do, so the possibility of Lou donning drag and defenestrating himself cannot be dismissed altogether.