Africa Screams (1949)
|Year Of Production||1949|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (34:15)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Charles Barton|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
"Abbott and Costello on the silliest safari ever!"
Until their crowns were taken by Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in the early 50s, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were the kings of movie comedy. Their unpretentious knockabout comedy was the perfect tonic for the war-weary home front and their movies were box-office gold. A&C's popularity with audiences, along with that of soprano songbird Deanna Durbin, kept Universal Pictures financially afloat during those difficult war years. With the end of the war the duo's innocent style of comedy fell out of fashion, but they enjoyed a resurgence of big-screen success from 1948 to 1951, followed by their venture into television where they found a new younger audience. It was the period 1948 to 1951 that produced Africa Screams .
Buzz (Abbott) and Stanley (Costello) are booksellers in a New York department store. They are conned by a beautiful female customer (Hillary Brooke) into travelling to the jungles of Africa to find hidden diamonds. After much intrigue and encounters with a lion tamer, a great white hunter, a visually impaired gunner (Shemp Howard), a rampaging lion, wild apes, a raging river and a tribe of voracious cannibals, Buzz returns to America. Stanley finds the diamonds, returns to New York and buys the store where they once sold books, hiring Buzz as the elevator operator.
The success of any Abbott and Costello movie depends not on the plot - just as well - but on the inclusion of old vaudeville gags and routines that the comedy pair had honed over the years. Some of these routines, such as "Who's on first?", surfaced in more than one film. Africa Screams never gives us time to be bored, or to dwell on the silliness of it all, as we are propelled through a series of these routines involving, amongst other things, a kitten, various wild beasts, cannibals, unseen burning tents, an egg beater and an anchor. Another plus for the audience is the interesting supporting cast, including a number of non-movie celebrities. We have animal-trainer/circus-owner Clyde Beatty, American explorer Frank Buck, and Buddy and Max Baer, both heavyweight prizefighters, Max actually having been heavyweight champion of the world. The film is also notable for having two members of The Three Stooges, Shemp Howard and Joe Besser, working together in a non-Stooge vehicle.
Although they worked mainly for Universal and occasionally for MGM, Africa Screams was one of A&C's five independent productions, this one released through United Artists. Perhaps this production did not quite have the gloss of an MGM, or even a Universal vehicle but an A&C audience did not go to the movies to be critical. They went in their droves to see these movies, to laugh with and at these loved performers and their frequently infantile, and familiar, antics. There is much in Africa Screams to gladden the hearts of their admirers. Maybe Jerry Seinfeld has said it better than anyone else:
"They were giants of their time, who truly immortalized burlesque forever. Maybe that art form is largely lost, but I try to keep it alive in my own show."
As I said above, Africa Screams was not made under the banner of a major studio. It was a Huntington Hartford Production, I suspect a company set up by Abbott and Costello themselves because of their tax problems. The producer, William Nassour, is only credited with two other films, Street of Shadows (1953) and The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956). Over time Africa Screams has fallen into the public domain, and the result is that we have a decidedly sad transfer on this DVD.
After the credits, faded and blurred with a bad case of the telecine wobbles, things do improve somewhat. Two different sources perhaps? The film proper seems to be from a video source with breakup at the top of the screen throughout the film, particularly bad just prior to and after the layer change at 34:15 . However, the overall grey scale of this black and white production is surprisingly good, with an absence of low level noise. There are few artefacts, with only the occasional white fleck.
The main problem with this transfer is the lack of sharpness, which no doubt comes from the source material. There is not one sharp frame in the entire film. The movie is more than "watchable", but just look at the earlier Abbott and Costello films, still controlled and released by Universal, to see how much better this film could look.
There were no reel change cues. Does this indicate that there has been some attempt at restoration?
Africa Screams is presented in as aspect ratio of 1.33:1, approximating that of its initial theatrical release. Naturally there is no 16x9 enhancement.
There is only one audio track, Dolby Digital 2.0, from the original mono soundtrack.
Played as "stereo" the sound was sharp and clear, with only a little hiss evident. All dialogue was perfectly easy to understand and there were no sync problems. At times there was a little sibilance, strangely only from Bud Abbott.
Animal noises, jungle drums and native chants were all satisfactorily reproduced with no distracting distortion.
The atmospheric orchestral score by Walter Schumann added to the enjoyment of the film. It was surprisingly rich, full and well reproduced,
|Surround Channel Use|
Very basic, with only "Play Feature" and "Skip to Chapters" - eight of them. Two stills from the movie used behind the two menu screens, without animation or sound.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
In 2006 Region 1 saw the release of this title by Image under the Hal Roach Studios banner. That transfer was from the original 35mm nitrate negative and is said to be "excellent". There are no extras. Image's earlier Laser Disc release from the same nitrate source had included bloopers and out-takes.
So, if you love Abbott and Costello and/or Africa Screams, go for the Region 1 issue - at just under US $20.
If you're just curious, pick up a local copy for a few dollars.
Good clean, silly fun.One of the more enjoyable Abbott and Costello romps. Not to everyone's taste, but should be assessed in its cinematic historical context.
The video is clean but disappointingly soft.
The audio is surprisingly good.
Sadly, no extras.
|DVD||Onkyo-SP500, using Component output|
|Display||Philips Plasma 42FD9954/69c. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.|
|Speakers||VAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)|