Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Africa Screams (1949)

Average Abbott & Costello vehicle, with Bud and Lou as a couple of New York department store salesmen who join a safari to Africa after convincing a scheming fortune hunter (Hillary Brooke) that Lou possesses knowledge of a rare map that will lead them to diamonds. What the film lacks in top-notch comedy material, it makes up for in a top-notch cast, especially Shemp Howard as a far-sighted crack shot and Joe Besser as the fussy butler. There are also fun appearances by Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck, playing themselves, and Max and Buddy Baer as a suitably tough pair of henchmen.

As one of the team's independently-produced pictures, it shows its low budget, with the safari clearly taking place entirely on sound stages and studio tanks, but in some ways the artifice just adds to the charm of the film. It certainly benefits from the skillful direction of the always-reliable Charles Barton. Though it's below the level of their best work, it still provides some solid comedy, especially in Costello's interactions with Howard and Besser. Costello also gets some good "fright" gags involving various wild animals, which are always good for a laugh. Other highlights include Costello trapped in a lion's cage, and a subsequent scene in which Abbott -- believing the lion has devoured Costello -- laments inconsolably about the way he treated his old pal, until he realizes Costello is still alive, and immediately loses his temper and smacks him across the face.

The best gag occurs as a throwaway. While Bud and Lou are having a heated argument in their tent, Joe Besser keeps popping in and out, filling up a glass of water. When they finally ask him what he's doing, Besser replies, with his inimitable delivery,  "Oh, my tent is on fire!"

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