From the barbershop to the big time

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Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid are hosting The Backstage Blogathon, which celebrates pre-1970 films all about making movies, Hollywood, and other types of performance arts. The character’s profession should be a major plot point, and there should be scenes of them working. For a full list of participants, click on either of the above hyperlinks.

Though my heart will always belong to Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges above all other comedians, I’m delighted to finally be able to discuss an Abbott and Costello film. As my personal list goes, I’d probably rank them about #9, but I’ve genuinely grown to like and respect them over the years. It’s the same way I didn’t immediately like the Marx Brothers (thanks to seeing the two worst possible films first), but because I was interested enough to give them more chances, it superbly paid off in the long run.

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Released 22 August 1945, A&C in Hollywood was the last of the three films the team made while on loan to MGM from Universal. During this time, they also made seven Universal films. It’s really sad how Universal used them as cash cows, even long after they’d saved the studio from bankruptcy. It really shows in how formulaic their pictures became as the series wore on, just like what happened to the Marx Brothers.

barber school

Buzz (Bud) and Abercrombie (Lou) work at Hollywood Shop: Barber to the Stars, where Abercrombie is hoping to become a real barber thanks to the pretend barber college classes Buzz is giving him. One day, they’re given a very important client to whom to give a shoeshine and haircut, Mr. Norman Royce, a Hollywood agent. As they’re on their way there, they see their co-worker Claire in her car, on her way to have lunch with Ruthie, a co-worker whom Abercrombie has a crush on.

Abercrombie and Ruthie

Fading screen sheik Gregory LeMaise pulls up alongside Claire. They’re going to co-star in an upcoming musical, and Gregory invites her to come to his beach house and skip out on her lunch date. He’s very annoyed and angered when she refuses, but as Claire explains to Buzz and Abercrombie, her reputation is more important than her fame.

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While the boys are still in Mr. Royce’s office, a young hopeful named Jeff comes in to audition, and impresses Mr. Royce very much with his singing and piano-playing.  Mr. Royce initially agrees to replace LeMaise with Jeff, but when LeMaise himself arrives, he declares he can’t co-star with Claire, and gets Mr. Royce to take him back since he’s a much bigger star, with more staying power. The next time Jeff comes in, Mr. Royce will tell him he’s fired.

Buzz and Abercrombie think it’s a dirty trick to play on a nice guy like Jeff, and quit the barber shop to become agents. They’ll represent Jeff and get him some kind of acting job, though things don’t exactly start off on the right foot. When they arrive at the gates of Mammoth Studios, they crash the car of studio boss Mr. Kavanaugh, and are promptly kicked off the lot.

Determined to help Jeff, the boys find a way to sneak back onto the lot and put on costumes. No one can find Buzz, but Abercrombie is all over the lot, popping in and out of various sound stages. The best scene during this part of the film is when Abercrombie is mistaken for a dummy in a Western-themed movie being filmed. Another scene features a young Lucille Ball.

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The day doesn’t end so successfully, but they’re still determined to prove themselves as agents and get Jeff a job. They plan to be up bright and early to take Jeff to as many other studios as possible, but unfortunately, Abercrombie can’t sleep. His insomnia only increases when Buzz tries to help with a record that’s supposed to put the listener to sleep, and now no one can sleep.

They come up with an even better plan the next day, to get LeMaise in trouble and have him replaced by Jeff. Buzz plans to take a picture of him socking Abercrombie, who’s severely guilted into being the fall guy yet again. Once that picture hits the news, LeMaise will be arrested and can’t act in anything. The plan takes a complicated twist when LeMaise knocks Abercrombie clear overboard, and they can’t find him. LeMaise is now believed to be a murderer, and Abercrombie is presumed dead.

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LeMaise goes into hiding, and Jeff gets his part. However, LeMaise eventually discovers Abercrombie survived, and chases him onto the studio lot, right onto the sound stage for the movie Jeff and Claire are in. It’s set in an amusement park, with all the expected gags, like carnival booths and a freakshow. The funniest scene is when Abercrombie and LeMaise are on a roller-coaster filled with dummies and set to be blown up at the end of the scene.

On a side note, I cringed when the sign on the side of the seafood restaurant where Buzz discovers Abercrombie is still alive. “Seafood at it’s finest.” I just want to bang my head against the wall when I see such blatant grammatical errors in such high-profile places! It’s is a contraction of it is or it has, not the possessive form of it!

Another interesting detail was clip-on earrings. Real pierced ears were by and large seen as low-class and slutty in the U.S. during much of the early 20th century, while fancy clip-ons soared in popularity. I so far have a quintuple-pierced left ear and a quadruple-pierced right ear, and can’t imagine living in an era when even one set of lobe piercings was considered scandalous!

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This is such a fun, cute film, and right in the sweet spot for the perfect length of a classic comedy. All the MGM production values are on display, and the musical numbers and subplot don’t hog up too much screentime (as unfortunately was the case with certain of their later films, just as what happened to the Marx Brothers). Bud’s abuse of Lou also isn’t as severe as it is in certain of their other films.

Probably the biggest reason it took so long for me to really start liking A&C was this aspect of their partnership. When Laurel and Hardy or the Stooges are less than nice to one another, we still know they truly love one another beneath it all and will stand up for their own when an outsider abuses them. So many times, Bud is quite mean to Lou, and even sets him up to be exploited or abused, without any sense there’s a genuine love for his supposed best friend. But if you can get past that stumbling-block and love classic comedy, I really think you’ll enjoy most of their films.

And on a shallow note, I think Bud was rather handsome during his physical prime!

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2 thoughts on “From the barbershop to the big time

  1. I can’t believe I haven’t seen this film! I know what you mean about Bud being snippy to Lou, and it does take a bit of work to get past that (in my opinion), but this film does sound like a lot of fun.

    I didn’t realize pierced earrings were regarded with such low esteem in the first part of the 20th century. I guess that explains the abundance of clip-on earrings in classic film! 🙂

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  2. When I was a kid Abbot and Costello were a big favorite of mine. I remember going to the theater to see their films back in the 50’s. I don’t recall seeing this particular film though I’ve probably seen the majority of their films.

    Back in the early 60’s when we lived in San Diego, my sister took acrobatic lessons from Vic Parks who had been the stand-in for Costello. He did the stunts and pratfalls. Since I had been such a fan of the comedy duo I was a bit awed about Parks. There were photos of him and the duo in his studio. I was a kid and didn’t talk to him, but still I thought it was pretty cool.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out
    &
    Wrote By Rote

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