For their first color film, screen comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello decided to go the fantasy route with Jean Yarbrough’s Jack and the Beanstalk, a film designed more for the team’s hordes of youthful fans rather than their elders.
The Production: 3/5
For their first color film, screen comics Bud Abbott and Lou Costello decided to go the fantasy route with Costello’s production company mounting Jack and the Beanstalk, a film designed more for the team’s hordes of youthful fans rather than their elders. While the production lacks charm and was obviously filmed with a small budget (as fantasy films go), it has its merits: a couple of sprightly songs, colorful fairy tale costumes, and Lou himself indulging in mounds of slapstick that gets funnier as the film runs. It’s no Wizard of Oz (nothing else is either), but there is mirth and merriment to be found here.
Unemployed Jack (Lou Costello) and his agent Dinkle (Bud Abbott) are assigned a babysitting gig even though they’ve never tried it as a profession. Their charge is a terror, Donald Larkin (David Stollery), but Jack persuades him to read a bedtime story which happens to be Jack and the Beanstalk. As Donald reads, Jack falls asleep and enters a fairy tale land terrorized by a giant (Buddy Baer) who has stolen everything of value from the villagers. After planting magic beans given to him as payment for his cow Henry, Jack and his mother (Barbara Brown) are shocked by the giant beanstalk leading to the giant’s heavenly domain where all of the villagers’ stolen gems, gold-laying hen, and talking harp Patrick (Arthur Shields) are housed. With the help of the giant’s housekeeper (Dorothy Ford), Jack and village butcher Mr. Dinklepuss (Abbott) attempt to free a kidnapped prince (James Alexander) and princess (Shaye Cogan) and end the giant’s reign of terror once and for all.
Nat Curtis’ screenplay (suggested by Pat Costello’s story) uses The Wizard of Oz film as inspiration for its cinematic motif: a framing story filmed in sepia tone which contains all of the major characters who will eventually show up as characters in the fantasy sequences which have been filmed in color (Super Cinecolor, to be precise; director Jean Yarbrough cleverly adds in color once the fantasy starts). As framing devices go, it’s not bad though there’s not much comedy and it slows down our anticipation to get to the colorful fantasy world as quickly as possible. The fairy tale has been musicalized somewhat (music and lyrics by Lester Lee and Bob Russell) though most of the songs are rather forgettable except for Costello’s “I Fear Nothing” and the love song between the royals “A Dreamer’s Cloth.” Budgetary limitations are most keenly felt when the villagers dance: only five dancers – choreographer Johnny Conrad and four ladies – in very uninspired terpsichore while the rest of the cast stands and watches (unimaginative direction there by Jean Yarbrough). Yet, another dance, Costello’s jaunty lark with Dorothy Ford, is the film’s high point, a hilarious few minutes of inspired Costello lunacy (with some riffs recycled from his dance with Joan Davis in Hold That Ghost) that offer laughs for viewers of all ages. Elsewhere, there are some good gags: eggs which explode due to Lou’s mixing gunpowder into the chickens’ feed and an extended escape sequence where the giant and Lou engage in some funny tomfoolery.
Bud Abbott doesn’t actually have much to do in this film, clearly a payday for him (Costello’s production company paid him a flat salary) while Lou Costello has more of a field day than ever as the title character (and he gets the last slap with Abbott at the end, a most satisfactory conclusion). Given the more juvenile nature of the material this time out, there is more slapstick than verbal humor for Lou, but he and his stunt team are more than up to the task. Buddy Baer in his second encounter with the boys (after Africa Screams) is a great foil as the giant (and an intimidating cop in the framing story) for the short, portly Lou, and even the few notes he sings show off his fine bass-baritone voice. Speaking of fine voices, James Alexander as Prince Arthur has a good strong tenor, but the camera doesn’t love him, and it’s easy to understand why he had more success on stage than in film. Shaye Cogan is lovely as Princess Eloise but is only a moderate actress even with this less than sophisticated character. Dorothy Ford as Polly and Barbara Brown as Jack’s mother lend strong support. David Stollery, a fine child actor in other appearances, has a rather stilted delivery here.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.37:1 original theatrical ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. If one has seen the previously available pathetic transfers offered for this film down through the years, then he can better appreciate the miraculous restoration work achieved by the 3-D Film Archive in bringing this movie back into a condition worthy of a Blu-ray release. Sharpness is quite keen now, and the Super Cinecolor has been made considerably more palatable with hues that are solid and consistent (and much less chalky looking than ever before) and much closer to other more expensive color processes of the era. The grain levels present are also quite consistent throughout giving the movie in both the sepia and color sequences a well-balanced and well-defined appearance.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix (though we get a surround experience in the two-minute end credits appendage added by the 3-D Film Archive) has been wonderfully remastered to ensure excellent fidelity for these very old sound stems. Dialogue is always easy to understand, and it has been mixed with the songs and music (Heinz Roemheld supervised the background score) and sound effects to excellent effect. There are no problems with age-related hiss, flutter, pops, or crackle.
Special Features: 5/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Ron Palumbo tells you everything you always wanted to know about the production and personnel connected with Jack and the Beanstalk. It’s an entertaining and comprehensive examination of the movie even noting continuity and production gaffes, and he’s assisted with audio comments from Lou’s daughter Chris and actor David Stollery.
Chris Costello Introduction (1:12, HD): Lou Costello’s youngest child shares a few memories in this introduction which is offered as an alternative on the main menu.
Newsreel Footage (4:05, HD): a performance of their famous “Who’s on First” routine filmed in December 1940.
Imperfect Spectrum: A Brief History of Cinecolor (13:21, HD): film historian Jack Theakston’s featurette on the color process used in the making of Jack and the Beanstalk with examples from other films which used the process.
Climbing the Scales (9:18, SD): film historian Ray Faiola discusses the music and song score of Jack and the Beanstalk.
Beanstalk Ballyhoo (13:43, HD): film historian Ron Palumbo covers the promotional itinerary for Abbott and Costello in publicizing the movie. Included is a clip from The Colgate Comedy Hour which they used to promote the movie’s premiere as they served as the show’s hosts that week.
Cutting Down the Beanstalk (18:30, HD): historian Ron Palumbo covers the deleted scenes from the movie using stills and actual clips to illustrate his discussion points. Included are more complete versions of the songs “Darlene” and “A Dreamer’s Cloth.”
Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature (15:01, SD): comedy skit from The Colgate Comedy Hour with the boys hosting in February 1954.
Rudy Vallee Radio Sketch (6:16, HD): radio skit from February 1945 illustrated with stills collated by Shane Fleming.
Restoration Demo (3:10, HD) before and after scenes arranged in a variety of ways to illustrate the tremendous restoration effort to bring the film up into exacting 2022 standards.
Photo Gallery (7:02, SD): animated array of behind-the-scenes shots arranged by Chip Ordway with Abbott and Costello’s 1952 children’s recording of Jack and the Beanstalk serving as the soundtrack.
Publicity Materials (12:15, SD): animated array of production stills, press book, lobby cards, and posters all compiled by Chip Ordway.
Abbott and Costello Trailer Rarities (41:04, SD): a montage of eighteen trailers (containing material unseen in other venues) from the boys’ movie career including Jack and the Beanstalk.
Fireman Save My Child trailer (2:10, HD): trailer for a film that was to have starred Abbott and Costello but was subsequently made without them with audio commentaries by Mike Ballew (who discusses its 3D pre-production work) and Ron Palumbo (who discusses the film’s subsequent production).
ClassicFlix Trailers: A Night in Casablanca, The Abbott and Costello Show, The Little Rascals Vol. 4, Merrily We Live, Zenobia.
Jean Yarbrough’s Jack and the Beanstalk may not be the most notable film ever made by Abbott and Costello, but with the outstanding restoration of the movie by the 3-D Film Archive, the film now can show its quality to much greater effect than ever before. A treasure trove of bonus material is also available on the disc which fans of the comics or the film itself will find most edifying. This is a limited release so those interested would be wise to find a copy as soon as possible.
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