Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

One Dollar DVD: Africa Screams

I was in Wal-Mart a while back (yeah, I know), picking up some groceries with the wife, when I came across a bin of dollar DVDs. These were the usual public domain titles – you know, old 50s TV shows, movies that the studios didn't care enough to renew copyright on, and old black and white cartoons. (Actually, I'm grateful for those last ones. Parents buy these for their kids because they're cheap, and at least the kids get to see old Iwerks and Fleischer cartoons before they get too jaded to enjoy them, so at least they won't be completely forgotten.)

I picked up a handful – hey, they were only a buck each – and figured that even if they were the usual multi-generation, beat-up, crappy PD prints that everyone else had, I wasn't losing too much. One of them was the Abbott & Costello film Africa Screams, which I'd bought on a cheapo tape many years ago but never actually watched because the quality of the tape was so bad. It's available on about a hundred video labels and, from what I've been able to discern, it always looks crappy, which is why I never tried to replace that tape.

But I'm an Abbott & Costello fan. I've bought and watched all of the films in those four great, modestly-priced DVD collections of the films that the team did for Universal (The Best of Abbot & Costello Vols. 1-4), and really wanted to take another shot at Africa Screams, one of their handful of "independent" productions, made at Nassour(?) Studios. The fact that it was directed by Charles Barton, who had directed several of the boys' better Universals (including Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein), especially intrigued me, along with the fact that two of the most famous real-life African big game hunters, Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck, were in the cast.

Well, surprisingly, the print used for this Digiview budget DVD was nearly flawless, and the transfer was great, with no visible compression problems or signs of digital artifacts. In fact, it looked as good as any of the films in the Universal sets. Already, I was pleased with my $1 purchase.

The movie's not particularly well regarded, but I thought it was a hoot. Aside from Bud, Lou, Beatty and Buck, the cast includes the lovely Hillary Brooke, the wrasslin' Baer brothers (Max and Buddy) and two once-and-future Stooges: Shemp Howard and Joe Besser. Shemp's under-utilized, although he's got a good gag or two, but Besser – nobody's favorite Stooge – has some real standout bits. His "tent's on fire" scene is fall-down funny, and he gets a lot of mileage out of his line deliveries. His voice – which kids of the Seventies (like me) heard on countless Hanna-Barbera cartoons – can be hysterically funny all by itself.

And Bud & Lou are in good form. Lou, as usual, is great when doing his "scaredy cat" routine, but Bud gets a chance to do a little genuine acting here when his character develops a Fred C. Dobbs-like obsession over some diamonds.

It's a fun flick, and better than its reputation (probably because most commercially available versions of it look like crap). Well worth a buck.

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