Blu-ray Review: Abbott & Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection (80th Anniversary Edition)



While starring at the massive Blu-ray boxset of Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection (80th Anniversary Edition), the thought hits: What disc goes on first? The comic duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello met up on a burlesque stage in 1935. The duo quickly became a sensation with their routine of bumbling man child and conniving straight man. They were able to take their act to radio and become stars coast to coast. After a few years, Hollywood finally came a calling in 1940. Universal offered them a chance to be a supporting act in One Night In the Tropics. They were just supposed to be minor comic relief in an Allan Jones vehicle. By the time the film wrapped, Universal signed them to a two picture deal that kept expanding until over the course of 15 years they had made 28 films for the studio. Who’s on first? Let’s just start with the first.

One Night In the Tropics was not supposed to be an Abbott and Costello film. Allan Jones is the lead in this romantic comedy. He had previously played the romantic lead in A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Although you probably remember these films from the Marx Brothers. Abbott and Costello don’t arrive until nearly a quarter through the movie. They use their screen time wisely as they perform five of their biggest bits including a variation of “Who’s On First?” This is the definition of “show stealing.” This movie would be completely forgotten without them. The film also gives us the comic timing of William Frawley before he became Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy. The film becomes a hit and it’s easy for the studio to know that it wasn’t from all the Allan Jones fanatics. When the movie was re-released a decade later, they cut out 14 minutes and not a second was of Lou and Bud. The version on the boxset is the complete original cut.

Timing is everything in comedy and the same can be true in the subject of a film. When Bud and Lou signed their contract with Universal, World War II getting started, but the US was almost a year away with the attack on Pearl Harbor. There was a lot of talk of the military, but none of the nightmares to come. People could enjoy the comedy without thinking of their sons dying on the U.S.S. Arizona. Buck Privates have Lou and Bud as street hustlers who in order to avoid being busted by the cops enlist in the army. Lou thinks he will get rejected because of his weight, but Bud plots against him. The two get sworn in and sworn at. While Abbott and Costello are the stars, the Studio wasn’t going to completely place the heavy load directly on their shoulders for all 84 minutes. They add in a romantic subplot involving a rich kid forced to finally fend for himself and his chauffer both wanting to hook up with a enlisted woman. The Andrews Sisters show up for a few musical moments. Abbott and Costello get to focus on their routines and not pushing deal with too many of the dramatic moments. They can focus on the slapstick and burlesque word play. Shemp Howard from the Three Stooges appears as an army cook. Putting Lou and Bud in the military became a big thing as Universal had them make In the Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying in short order. The last film about the Army Air Corps came out a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. After the US got into World War II, the comic duo stayed away from the military. Their three films found themselves being regular entertainment around the globe with the troops during this time. After end of World War II, they’d return to uniform in Buck Privates Come Home.

That’s not to say that Abbott and Costello took the war years off and just focused on selling War Bonds. They sold a lot of bonds and did various USO activities. But they also kept making comedies with topics that didn’t revolve around what was going on in Europe and the Pacific Ocean. They brought their brand of comedy to Westerns (Ride ‘Em Cowboy), Gangsters (Hold That Ghost), Mysteries (Who Done It?), Horse Racing (It Ain’t Hay), College (Here Come the Co-Eds) and more. They were Universal’s top stars during this era. And after this era, they would help revive Universal’s previous big stars.

Universal had gotten its name with their horror titles that dominated the box office starting with Dracula and Frankenstein. The studio had shutdown the monsters with 1945’s House of Dracula. However in 1948, the monsters rose from the grave for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The film brought back Lon Chaney Jr. as the tortured Lawrence Talbot that is tired of being the Wolfman. He’s forced to confront Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Gunsmoke‘s Glenn Strange). In the middle of this is Bud and Lou as delivery guys for the railroad’s shipping service. They think that there’s a new wax museum in their town, but a few of the exhibits are real. Can the duo survive this trio of monsters? The film was a massive hit at the time and still gets big ratings when over 70 years later, it runs on MeTV’s Svengoolie. It’s an all star experience that even has a surprise visit from Vincent Price. For those wondering what about Boris Karloff? Why wasn’t he in the film? He ended up with his own movie with Bud and Lou in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. That’s scary if you had to put up the marquee. Universal wasn’t done with the monsters and the duo as they gave us Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man. This film deals with a boxing plot that isn’t quite so horrific. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has the double act dealing with a solo character that does twice the role. The final movie Bud and Lou made for Universal was Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy which was an appropriate way to wrap things up. The highlight of the film is Richard Deacon (Leave It to Beaver) wanting to sacrifice them.

Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection (80th Anniversary Edition) is the perfect way to enjoy the comic duo. If you get excited when Svengoolie breaks out their encounters with the famous monsters, you can experience all their other adventures. The duo did so much over the course of the 28 films and yet they stayed true to their burlesque roots. They never backed down from a slapstick moment. You can just sit back on the sofa and enjoy their routines. If you bought the previous DVD version back in 2008, don’t hesitate in upgrading.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The 1080p transfers bring out the details in the sets. You get to see the looks of confusion when Bud verbally trips up Lou. The audio is DTS-HD MA mono. The levels are fine for both the musical moments and the burlesque routines. This is the prime way to experience Abbott and Costello. The movies are subtitled.

ONE NIGHT IN THE TROPICS (1940)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
BUCK PRIVATES (1941)
Audio Commentary By Authors/Film Historians Bob Furmanek And Ron Palumbo (Abbott And Costello In Hollywood)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
IN THE NAVY (1941)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
HOLD THAT GHOST (1941)
Audio Commentary By Film Historian Jeff Miller
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
KEEP ‘EM FLYING (1941)
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Recruitment Short/Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
RIDE ‘EM COWBOY (1942)
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian James L. Neibaur
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
PARDON MY SARONG (1942)
Still Gallery
Production Notes
WHO DONE IT? (1942)
Audio Commentary With Film Historian Frank Conniff
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
IT AIN’T HAY (1943)
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Still Gallery
Production Notes
HIT THE ICE (1943)
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
IN SOCIETY (1944)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
HERE COME THE CO-EDS (1945)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
THE NAUGHTY NINETIES (1944)
NEW Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Still Gallery
Production Notes
LITTLE GIANT (1946)
NEW Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES (1946)
Audio Commentary With Film Historian Frank Thompson
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
BUCK PRIVATES COME HOME (1947)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
THE WISTFUL WIDOW OF WAGON GAP (1947)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)
Audio Commentary By Film Historian Gregory William Mank
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
MEXICAN HAYRIDE (1948)
Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Scott Allen Nollen
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949)
NEW Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Troy Howarth
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Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION (1950)
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951)
Theatrical Trailer
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Production Notes
COMIN’ ROUND THE MOUNTAIN (1951)
Still Gallery
Production Notes
LOST IN ALASKA (1952)
Theatrical Trailer
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Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953)
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953)
Audio Commentary By Film Historians Tom Weaver And Richard Serivani
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KEYSTONE KOPS (1955)
Still Gallery
Production Notes
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955)
NEW Audio Commentary By Author/Film Historian Troy Howarth
Theatrical Trailer
Still Gallery
Production Notes

THE WORLD OF ABBOTT AND COSTELLO (74:53) is a documentary about the boys from 1965. Jack E. Leonard narrates. It’s mostly clips from their various Universal film since 1965 was a time before home video so it was a great way to give a quick retrospective of their work and probably get their syndicated on TV.

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET JERRY SEINFELD (45:44) was a TV special from 1994. This was from when Jerry had finally had a hit with Seinfeld. Jerry explores the burlesque origins of the duo with a recreated stage. Besides clips from the movies, they delve into TV appearances, their TV show and home movies.

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MONSTERS (33:19) is a documentary about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein that was from the Special Edition DVD that came out in 2000.
David J. Skal hosts.

Abbott And Costello: Their Lives And Legacy (73:12) features interviews With Chris Costello (Daughter Of Lou Costello) And Ron Palumbo (Co-author Of Abbott And Costello In Hollywood). Tells how Lou practiced various ways to come down a staircase. Lou’s cinematic idol was Charlie Chaplin and after they became stars, Chaplin complimented his comic performances.

Abbott And Costello: Film Stories (50:36) includes an interview Wwith Author/Film Historian James L. Neibaur (The Monster Movies Of Universal Studios). He charts their career at Universal over the 15 years.

Abbott And Costello: Behind The Scenes (17:08) lets Ron Palumbo give the background on the various writers and directors that made their movie.

Abbott & Costello Meet Castle Films (71:38) includes 8 of Abbott And Costello’s Best Castle Films 8mm/16mm Films. When I was little, my grandfather would show us a few of these that were in his collection. This is what was done before VHS and Beta arrived. Besides the films, they have the boxes.

Outtakes From Pardon My Sarong (3:55), It Ain’t Hay (7:16), Hit The Ice (12:42), Little Giant (18:44) and Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (12:14). There’s a bit of cussing so you might not want to run these with the kids around. They did know how to swear in the 1940s.

The Abbott And Costello Trailer Reel (65:10) is all the found trailers together so you can play this at your next party.

Shout Factory presents Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection (80th Anniversary Edition). Starring: Lou Costello and Bud Abbott. Rated: G. Boxset Contents: 28 Films on 15 Blu-rays. Released: November 19, 2019.

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