Three of American cinema’s most popular comedy teams are represented on a new Classic Comedy Teams collection from Warner Home Video. Unfortunately, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and The Three Stooges are not represented by their most notable work.
The Stooges were at their best in their long running series of short comedies for Columbia Pictures. Laurel and Hardy did their finest work at the Hal Roach studios. And Abbott and Costello filmed their most noted classics for Universal.
Each of these teams appeared in films that are now owned by Warner for video distribution, including MGM and United Artists. The results are interesting, often funny, and still worthwhile.
Laurel and Hardy were past 50 when they showed up at MGM to make Air Raid Wardens (1943) and Nothing But Trouble (1944), so the comedy is far less active than it might have been ten years earlier. But the laughs are there when the boys, after being turned down by every branch of the service, choose to defend their country on the home front by playing the title characters in the first film. Their slapstick confrontations with former Keystone Cop Edgar Kennedy are a throwback to similar battles in their best Roach silents, while the duo’s encounter with Nazi spies is a charming look at how American films made their comedies topical during the world war two era. In the other feature on this collection, the duo become makeshift chaperones for a boy king who is visiting this country in hopes of simply blending in, playing football, and eschewing his suppressive royal life. There is a murder plot within his ranks, which Laurel and Hardy unwittingly thwart. The results are more pleasant than laugh-out-loud funny.
Abbott and Costello made a handful of films on loan from Universal. Lost in a Harem (1944) has a funny variation of the old Slowly I Turned routine, and fancy MGM sets abounding in this tale of the duo at odds with an Arabian potentate. It is fast paced and filled with funny moments. Same goes for Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), which features the duo as barbers in Tinseltown. A very funny bit with MGM actor Rags Ragland and Lou’s attempt to cure his insomnia are two of this film’s highlights.
The Three Stooges are represented by a couple of real curios. First, the MGM feature Meet The Baron (1933) was made when the trio was still part of an act called Ted Healy and his Stooges. They would break from Healy a year later and embark on their legendary short subject series at Columbia. In this film their characters are not quite as developed as we’re used to seeing, while the film itself is a bizarre musical comedy concoction that also features Jimmy Durante, Jack Pearl, and Zasu Pitts. The other Stooge film here is the painfully low budget Gold Raiders (1951) made while Shemp was the third man in the act. B-western actor George O’Brien and sidekick Fuzzy Knight sleepwalk through familiar paces while the Stooges step in for occasional bursts of labored slapstick. The film was shot between Christmas and New Years in 1950 by Edward Bernds, who wrote and directed some of the better Columbia comedies. It may be interesting for Stooge completists, but despite this writer’s affection for low budget westerns and for Shemp, it is one of the three or four worst movies I have ever seen.
The films in this package all look great and are sold in separate double feature DVDs for each comedy team as well as in a package.