Monday, December 5, 2016

'FRAIDY CAT (1951)

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RATING: *** & 1/4 out of ****

PLOT: Joe Besser and Jim Hawthorne are detectives who have slacked on the job and are given one more chance to capture the simian robber pillaging antique shops by night. With nothing but each other and a penchant for sight gags and wordplay, can the daffy detectives cage this ape, or will their hair-trigger fears get the best of them?

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: Typically, I’ll break down my reviews into a plot synopsis, followed by an overview of the film often including background information on the talents involved, and finishing up by highlighting some of the best verbal and visual gags in the film. This review simply can’t be structured that way because this short is practically ALL verbal and visual gags. There’s very little plot to speak of – it’s all shtick and comic mayhem. Therefore, this review will not include the usual separate sections for Verbal and Visual Gags. This review will also be less of a review than a celebration of the various bits, because the comic timing and energy in this film is splendidly entertaining indeed!

AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: This is a remake of the Three Stooges’ short, Dizzy Detectives, and reuses some gorilla footage in that short. In turn, ‘Fraidy Cat was remade four years later as Hook a Crook (1955), with mostly stock footage from ‘Fraidy Cat and the gorilla bits from Dizzy Detectives, but very little new material, which is noted at the end of this review. Special thanks to Three Stooges historian, Brent Seguine who contributed additional information for this review. Brent has helped provide research on several Scared Silly reviews.

REVIEW: ‘Fraidy Cat is a solo Joe Besser short, but as in many Columbia shorts, it’s really a “comedy duo” short (see the Hugh Herbert-starring shorts in which he’s equally paired with Dudley Dickerson, despite not being equally billed). Columbia was almost always trying to come up with a new Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello... and mostly not succeeding.

Joe Besser tread the boards on vaudeville, honing his comic timing and bag of tricks. He used it to great effect as a supporting player in many films (including Abbott & Costello’s famed jungle spoof, Africa Screams which also featured another “third Stooge,” Shemp Howard), and most famously as “Stinky” on the Abbott & Costello TV show, and as the “third Stooge” in the final group of Three Stooges shorts. Those include a trio of horror-comedy-esque sci-fi themed shorts: Space Ship Sappy, Outer Space Jitters and Flying Saucer Daffy. He also thrived for many years beyond the “classic comedy” period with guest-spots on many TV shows (including a regular role on Joey Bishop’s sitcom) and doing voices for several animated cartoon series right through the early 1980s, stopping on a few years before his death.

Jim Hawthorne was a veritable everyman – not just an actor but also a radio announcer and performer, a disc jockey often cited as a pioneer of free-form radio, a creator of children’s shows, and originator of the first late-night TV talk show. The latter fact is fitting as Hawthorne comes off very much like a Steve Allen-type, particularly in appearance (he also seems a bit of a Stan Freberg-type in performance). ‘Fraidy Cat is not only Hawthorne’s first short, but his first film appearance of any kind.

Besser and Hawthorne have great chemistry, and their size disparity also makes them an appealing duo, reminiscent of tall and short duos such as Abbott & Costello. In many ways, too their interactions mirror Bud and Lou, with Besser impulsive, gullible and prone-to-be scared as Hawthorne plays the straight man. He does get to insert several of his own comedic moments through humorous takes and line readings, but most often is operating as Besser’s foil, setting up Joe’s punchlines.

The action starts right in with Joe and Hawthorne getting chewed out by their boss at the detective agency (as in some Stooges shorts, the door reads “Wide Awake Detective Agency”) for not doing a good job guarding various antique stores they’ve been assigned to protect. Apparently, they stepped out for beer one too many times, which is when all the robberies occurred. Joe protests that they really left their posts for sarsaparilla!

For no other apparent reason than perhaps plot expediency purposes, they mention to their boss the various reports of a “huge ape” having committed the crimes (or as Joe says, “an o-rang-o-tangle”).

The boss rattles off the names of the various stores knocked over and many include colors in their names, prompting Hawthorne to crack, “White, blue, gold, black – it’s a very colorful job, eh boss – they covered the rainbow!”

A great sight gag soon follows – Joe puts a walnut on the boss’s desk so that when the boss pounds his fist on the desk, the nutshell is cracked.

This opening bit sets the tone the for the entire short, as clever dialogue is interspersed with groan-inducing puns at equal intervals. Example:

JOE: “You know what I think? It’s an inside job.”
HAWTHORNE: “Why is it inside?”
JOE: “Because it’s not outside!”

The short also includes a lot of “déjà vu” bits, as in “haven’t I seen this before?” But Joe and Hawthorne pull them all off seamlessly with expert comic timing.

This includes the old “hello” bit where they both answer two ringing phones at the same time, their backs turned to each other, and then end up answering each other’s greetings, and turning to shake hands and introduce themselves to each other.

The phone antics continue when Joe answers a call saying “yes… yes, oh yes.” Hawthorne asks, “what was it, Joe?” Joe answers, “a friend of mine just gave me a recipe for an upside-down cake”… and Joe proceeds to recite it!

When Hawthorne gets a call with a tip on the ape’s whereabouts, he and Joe are off to the chase… but not before some entanglements with the telephone line that end up knocking their boss out!

When Joe and Hawthorne arrive at the antique shop, they’re not sure what key to use. Joe pulls a huge key chain out of his jacket with dozens and dozens of keys on it – a nice sight gag. There’s also a can opener gadget prompting Joe to ask Hawthorne,” “You haven’t got any beer on ya’, have ya’?”

As they fumble through the keys, the ape opens the door from the inside.

When they realize the door has been opened, Joe tries to leave. “What’s the matter, are ya’ afraid?” bellows Hawthorne. Besser says, “Um… (pause)… YEAH!” It’s these touches of thoughtful comic timing throughout that really help sell the barest of material here, and leave audiences smiling.

Besser also gets to do some signature shtick. When Hawthorne insists, “will you snap out of it?!,” Joe gives Hawthorne a gentle nudge and exclaims, “Not so loud!” (this bit of business would come into play in many of Besser’s Three Stooges and Abbott & Costello outings, often changed to “not so hard!” when Joe was being roughhoused a bit).

Often unfairly maligned for his work as a Stooge in shorts where, in my opinion the blame lies more in the fact those shorts were more ill-conceived and poorly written or directed (I feel Joe is often the best thing in some of those short), here in this solo short Joe’s talents are shown to great advantage. Joe gets a terrific moment alone guarding a room in the antique shop while sitting in a rocking chair and smoking a cigar. As Joe rocks in the chair, telling himself “I’m not afraid – why should I be afraid? Babies are afraid. I’m not a baby… but I’m afraid!” What follows is a classic comedy gag of the leg of the rocking chair just narrowly missing a cat’s tail several times until...

“SCREEEEEEECHHHH!!!!!”

This sends Joe flying out of the rocking chair, practically swallowing his cigar. He retrieves Hawthorne and tells him a woman screamed and clawed his leg.

“A woman? That’s bad? Is she pretty? Where is she?...” inquires Hawthorne.

This begins a series of more “aged-up” dialogue that likely went over the heads of any kids in the theater audience.

When Hawthorne chastises Joe that there’s no woman, Joe protests, “I could swear...”

“No, no Joe – no profanity – swearing’s a bad habit,” chides Hawthorne.

It gets even more outrageous from there. When Hawthorne asks Joe where his revolver is, Joe responds that he gave it to a baby to play with!!! Hawthorne is shocked.

“You gave the baby a revolver?” asks Hawthorne in disbelief.

“What, I should give her a knife so she can cut herself?!” replies Joe.

Meanwhile, the ape is rummaging through the other rooms, and plants a dummy in the room that Hawthorne and Joe are “guarding.”
Naturally, the duo mistake the dummy for the dead woman Joe insists grabbed his leg.

Hawthorne soon realizes their error and exclaims, “that’s not a woman – that’s a dummy – like you!” Joe retorts, “Oh I don’t look nothing like her!”

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Another hilarious solo scene for Joe has him tripping over a cat, whose screech sends Joe hiding under the covers of a futon. He kicks a light stand which just happens to have a scary fright mask hanging on it and it lands on his foot. Of course, as Joe peeks over the covers, his foot rises so that it looks like the scary face is rising up to get him! Of course, the punchline has Joe shooting at his own foot!

Ultimately, Joe and Hawthorne come face-to-face with the ape, who handily breaks one of their guns in half! Joe exclaims, “maybe he’s a real chiminy-zanzee!

“That’s no chimp, you chump,” counters Hawthorne. “That’s a gorilla!”

Joe and Hawthorne run from the gorilla, but Joe falls down and again does a hysterical bit: he crawls backwards while on is back, his arms flailing, in a move previously perfected by Curly Howard.

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More notable wordplay follows:

HAWTHORNE (huffing and puffing): “Well we’ve sure been running.”
JOE (also huffing and puffing): “When I catch my breath we’re gonna’ run some more!”

In a short that already had its share of black humor, it saves one of the blackest pieces for last: Joe accidentally falls into a replica of a guillotine and the “blade” comes crashing down. Not realizing it’s a rubber prop, he implores Hawthorne – who has fainted at the sight – to not just be lazy and lay there but help Joe “nail” his head back on! Then Joe realizes, “Hey, if I’m dead how come I’m talkin’?”

Hawthorne is beside himself. “Poor Joe – I can’t look.” Just then a dummy head the gorilla has punched across the room lands at Hawthorne’s feet and he passes out all over again, thinking it’s Joe’s head!

Ultimately, a couple of mugs arrive to retrieve their “trained circus gorilla” and do a bit of pillaging themselves. A slapstick melee ensues, and somehow our heroes triumph.

A particularly satisfying parting shot – literally – evokes a similar gag Stan Laurel employed in the film, Blockheads. Joe is getting pummeled right and left by one of the crooks when he merely steps back from the punches and asks, “this is getting monotonous, isn’t it?” Joe makes a fist and draws the crook’s attention to it, and while the crook gazes at Joe’s right hand, Joe clocks him in the chin with his left!

Overall, this short is... well... short on typical darkly spooky or ghostly gags. It falls squarely into the realm of the “scary gorilla” sub-genre of horror-comedies – but it’s likely audiences seeing this in a theater were literally rolling in the aisles. The energy and chemistry in the pairing of Besser and Hawthorne brings a lot of good will, making even some of the many recycled gags and ripe puns amusing. This short proves that, with the right performers at the forefront, the slightest of material can be pulled off to entertaining effect.

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Let’s start with the gorillas. Two of the most famous gorilla suit men, Steve Calvert and Ray Corrigan are both in this short. Calvert is in the new footage, while Corrigan’s simian scenes are lifted from Dizzy Detective s. Footage of both, from both Dizzy Detctives and ‘Fraidy Cat, made its way into Hook a Crook.

Tom Kennedy plays the head of the detective agency, I. Katchum. A veteran of comedy shorts and features, he worked alongside Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello and many more.

Eddie Baker features in the Jimmie Adams horror-comedy, Goofy Ghosts, and also appeared alongside W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers and more.

Our old pal Joe Palma is also here. He, of course, in addition to being a frequent supporting player in Three Stooges shorts also has the distinction of being the “Fake Shemp” – doubling for Shemp in from-behind and obscured shots AFTER Shemp had passed away, which enabled Columbia Pictures to make four “new” (read: mostly stock footage) Stooges shorts with Shemp! A mainstay at Columbia, Palma worked alongside many of the players there, including an appearance in one of Andy Clyde’s horror-comedies, One Spooky Night. He also appears in the Joe E. Brown feature starrer, Beware Spooks.

THE REMAKE: Hook a Crook features much of the same footage as ‘Fraidy Cat, but adds a couple new touches. One is the addition of a scene with horror-comedy stalwart Dudley Dickerson, and another where the gorilla knocks out Joe and Hawthorne, but is finally taken down by a socialite’s kiss.

It’s been reported that the new gorilla footage in Hook a Crook features Dan Blocker of Bonanza fame, but film historian Brent Seguine has put this into question for understandable reasons: “Yes, he's listed on a production call sheet for new footage. But the gorilla suit is clearly the Corrigan/Calvert Naba outfit, which would not fit Blocker. New scenes, even with the actor in a crouched position, show someone shorter than Blocker.”

Thursday, December 1, 2016

ARCHIE: COMICS' 1st MONSTER KID?

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Recently I received a few requests pertaining to locating and identifying some key Archie Comics covers. That's because, in my past professional life, working on staff at Archie Comics as a writer, editor, PR guy and archivist in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time exploring the history of the long-lived publisher. Inevitably, when folks find this out I end up with all sorts of requests related to Archie.

In particular, I was tasked with researching, compiling and editing the Archie Americana Series, a series of paperback collections gathering the best and most exemplary stories, decade-by-decade in Archie’s publishing history.

I noticed something interesting as I pored through the company’s library. (Side-note: in their company library, Archie has nearly every comic book issue they ever published, compiled together by years in-between hard covers custom-made for the company). It seemed that between late 1961 and early 1962, there were several covers featuring caricatures of Universal Monsters!

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I didn’t immediately put the connection together, but it ultimately became apparent to me that this string of covers was a direct result of the “Monster Kid” craze that had swept the country.

This craze was kicked off by the 1957 syndication of Universal Horror movies in what was known as the "Shock Theater" package, which introduced a whole new audience (especially kids) to monster movie classics (read my friend Pierre Fournier's excellent multi-part article about it on his Frankensteinia blog when you click here). It was a craze that stuck, touching all spheres of pop culture including music (the Monster Mash), toys and merchandising, magazines (Famous Monsters of Filmland, Castle of Frankenstein. etc.), animated cartoons and sitcoms (Mad Monster Party, Milton the Monster, Addams Family, Munsters among them), and yes, comic books.

The thing about comics is that they are usually produced (script, art, printing) months in advance of their distribution. So a comic book cover dated July 1961 may have actually been produced as early as January of that year. Which would put the covers below even closer to the debut of Shock Theater (not that it mattered – again, the craze was enduring and Shock Theater lasted for years).

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This wouldn’t be the last time caricatures of Universal Monsters figured into Archie Comics – they’d make appearances for years to come (including in the series I wrote, Archie’s Weird Mysteries), but these covers most certainly represent a direct response to the renewed popularity of the Universal Monsters due to Shock Theater, and the enduring popularity of the “Monster Kid” craze.

Speaking of which, no fan of the Monster Craze will want to be without the book, Monster Mash by my friend Mark Voger. It’s a delightful coffee table book filled with photos covering the breadth of monster mania in the 1950s and ‘60s, available from TwoMorrows Press when you click here.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

GOOFY GHOSTS (1928)

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RATING: ** & ¼ out of ****

PLOT: On a dark, stormy night, Jimmie Adams, his wife, Mary and the family dog, Buddy head to Jimmie’s uncle’s house for a relaxing vacation. It turns out to be anything but relaxing as they arrive right in the middle of a skull-masked thief’s plot to pilfer uncle’s riches! Worse, the thief is pulling out all the stops to scare everyone out of their wits in the process. Can Jimmie and his family help his uncle and the servants foil the masked fiend’s machinations before fear drives them from the premises?

REVIEW: Jimmie Adams was a silent film comedian who began his career in films in 1917 for Fox Sunshine Comedies, and soon added to his resume Universal's Century Comedies and Jack White's Mermaid and Cameo Comedies for Educational, plus a very brief stint in the Hall Room Boys comedies from FBO/Columbia. Ultimately, the bulk of his work was primarily done for producer Al Christie. Christie’s comedy shorts were distributed by both Educational Pictures and Paramount. Ill health in 1928 led to a hiatus for Adams, but he returned in the early 1930s as part of the singing group The Ranch Boys in a number of Charley Chase shorts.

Goofy Ghosts fell right in line with the typical one and two-reel silent horror-comedy shorts of the day. There was barely an idea provided as a reason for the main comic and cast to end up in a haunted (usually allegedly-but-not-really) haunted house – it was just, “get them into the haunted house as soon as possible and let the gags fly.”

Only thing is, there weren’t always gags. When there were – as in pretty much all the Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang (aka Little Rascals) silent horror-comedies – they were simultaneously explosively funny and wildly inventive. But when there weren’t, you got entries like Snub Pollard’s Grab the Ghost.

Goofy Ghosts, alas doesn’t have many gags, and not much invention, but it does have game performers, and here that makes all the difference.

The set-up is simple: Jimmie and family are temporarily stranded on a flooded road during a storm while headed to Jimmie’s uncle’s house. Meanwhile, at Jimmie’s uncle’s place, a spooky drama unfolds when the uncle hears odd noises in the house.

Uncle and his servants fear there may be intruders in the house, a fear that is accelerated when they realize the telephone line has been severed. The fear is then confirmed when a handwritten note is slid through the mail slot that reads, “Give me ten thousand dollars or you’ll look like me. The Skull” (including an illustration of a skull next to the signature, naturally).

The exaggerated, broad acting by this trio in reaction to this note is comical indeed, and sets the tone for the rest of the short.

When Jimmie arrives at the front door, he slips on the welcome mat and his thud sends Uncle and company scampering. Then when he enters the house, he’s greeted by buckshot in the behind, a broom to the face and a pop with a baseball bat. Meanwhile, Mary sees a skull-faced figure in the bushes outside.

Before too long, the house residents realize it’s just Jimmy and his wife and everyone teams up to face the common threat... but not before a false scare is provided by Buddy the dog ringing the doorbell.

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As the heroes peer in the yard to look or the skeleton, the figure sneaks into the house behind them.

They try to keep their heads and remind themselves it’s likely bandits just after the money, but the skull-adorned crook capitalizes on their fear, constantly turning out the lights, letting the wind from the storm bluster through open doors and windows, and kidnapping various members of the cast when the lights go out.

The entire cast as I mentioned is very broad, and as Dave Sindelar mentions in his own review from Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings, this makes the “scared-servant” reactions of the African-American butler slightly easier to take, though barely, as everyone is doing wild takes in this film practically simultaneously. It’s still marred by the horribly written title cards that force the character to speak in stereotyped dialect, and worst of all, the character being named “Snowball.” But it gets even worse: apparently this was the known moniker of the actor playing the part: Curtis “Snowball” McHenry.

As Dave also notes, this one is played with a significant amount of energy which helps put over what is otherwise an unremarkable story and set of gags. The comic actors are all just that – comic indeed in both facial expressions and body language, and as mentioned above, that goes a long way in a film like this.

Of particular note is a scene where Jimmie and the butler end up sliding in a hallway in such a way that it’s almost balletic, a la Keaton and Lloyd. This is swiftly followed by a similar scene in the kitchen where the pair come across a figure in a sheet, and then back to the hallway for more slipping-sldiing antics. This fancy footwork continues for much of the rest of the short, and frankly, it never gets old – it’s always delightfully amusing.

Of course, the figure in the sheet is soon revealed to be the abducted uncle, but not before the butler is thoroughly scared out of his wits.

The film winds down some as the culprit abandons the scare tactics and just reveals himself, commencing in some chase gags as the villain attempts to steal whatever money’s left in the house.

The silent movie standby is utilized to help wrap things up: Buddy the dog goes to get help and retrieves the sheriff to save the day.

A rather inauspicious end to a short that had its moments, but is noted more for the remarkable performances of a game cast than for its content.

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SPOTTED IN THE CAST: Let’s start with the director, Harold Beaudine. He is, indeed the brother of William “One-Shot” Beaudine, that ubiquitous and tireless veteran of countless horror-comedy films, low-budget horror flicks and TV episodes. It seems Harold wasn’t quite as prolific, directing primarily shorts through 1931 and then getting out of the business. Along the way, he did do another Jimmie Adams short called Oh, Mummy that may have been a horror-comedy (my research to date is showing that one to be a lost film – if anyone out there knows otherwise please let me know), and Seeing Things, a William Demerest old dark house comedy short complete with that trusty old standby: if you can stay in this “haunted house” for the night, you’ll inherit a fortune!

Billy Engle features here as Jimmie’s uncle, and he went on to appear in a slew of shorts and features, including many comedy efforts alongside the likes of W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, Wheeler & Woolsey and at least two other notable horror-comedies, Buster Keaton’s The Gold Ghost and the Three Stooges’ Flying Saucer Daffy.

Eddie Baker is the bad guy and he also has copious credits, including work with Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, Charley Chase, Harry Langdon and other comedy legends. His horror-comedy credits include the Joe Besser short, ‘Fraidy Cat and the man who dunks Ollie in the lake in Babes in Toyland, aka March of the Wooden Soldiers.

BEST GAGS: As stated above, no real gags here but lots of wonderfully rubbery flailing arms, funny faces and fancy footwork. Light horror-spoof content, with masks and sheets and blowing wind providing most of the “scares.”

BUY THE FILM: This short is available from Animation historian Tommy Stathes on his DVD, The Tom Stathes Halloween Cartoon Reel which can be ordered from Cartoons On Film (just click here). In addition to this Jimmie Adams live-action comedy, the DVD includes nine wild silent animated cartoon shorts in the same, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night horror comedy tradition.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

A THANKSGIVING TRADITION CONTINUES!: BABES IN TOYLAND (aka MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS) (1934)

NOTE: This is a re-post of an entry I originally posted on Thanksgiving, 2010.

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RATING: *** & ¾ out of ****

AUTHOR’S NOTE #1: I’m running a review of this film today because the film is a Thanksgiving tradition in the New York Tri-State area where I grew up and still live. WPIX Channel 11 has run this film almost every year on Thanksgiving for the past 40 or so years (and is doing so again today) and I can not underestimate the impact this film had on me, truly an annual "event" I looked forward to year after year as a child.

AUTHOR’S NOTE #2: As of this writing I’m still debating whether to include this film among the main Laurel & Hardy horror-comedy entries or whether to place it in the “horror-onable mention” section. The film is not a horror-comedy per se – in fact, it is a children’s fantasy that makes ample use of classic fairy tale characters. Furthermore, a major motif in the film is Santa and his toymakers readying Christmas gifts for the children in the off-season. But its horrific moments and characters are quite palpable and place it in a unique category all its own. More on that in the review...

PLOT: The peace and tranquility of the citizens of Toyland (where all the famous nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters live along with Santa Claus and all his helpers) is threatened by its one bad apple: sinister Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon), a creepy landlord who holds the mortgages on most of the homes in the land, including the shoe-shaped home belonging to the old woman (who lived in a shoe). He also rules the frightening “Bogeyland” and the monstrous “Bogeymen” that inhabit it, a place where criminals are banished as punishment for major crimes. Barnaby is sweet on the old woman’s daughter Little Bo Peep. When Mother Widow Peep (Florence Roberts) can’t meet the mortgage payment on the shoe, Barnaby offers to forget the whole matter if she’ll consent to offering Bo Peep’s hand in marriage to Barnaby. Neither Mother nor Bo Peep, who is in love with Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (Felix Knight) are willing to submit to Barnaby’s demand and so he threatens to evict everyone out of the shoe. Enter two of the shoe’s tenants, Stannie Dumm (Stan Laurel) and Ollie Dee (Oliver Hardy), who vow to get a loan from their boss the toymaker (William Burress) to prevent such a travesty. That doesn’t go over too well as the “boys” get in a heap of trouble with the toymaker after Santa does a spot check at the toy factory. St. Nick wants to see how things are coming along and learns that Stannie got his wooden soldiers order all mixed up – instead of 600 soldiers at one foot high, 100 soldiers each six feet high have been created! A series of triumphs and reversals follow for Stannie, Ollie, Bo Peep and Tom Tom and when it becomes apparent that Barnaby can no longer “trick” his way to achieving his evil desires, he enlists the aid of the ferocious half-men, half-monster Bogeymen to rout Toyland. Can our heroes find a way to defeat these abominable creatures, and what will become of Bo Peep, Tom Tom and the wooden soldiers?

REVIEW: Testament to the role this film has played in my life: I’ve seen it so many times I didn't even need to re-watch it to review it! Without question, this film, based on the Victor Herbert operetta is one of the most unique films ever made – as both a comedy film by major stars and as a holiday classic it stands pretty much alone. Only the all-star “Alice in Wonderland” which also stars Charlotte Henry in the title role (along with Cary Grant, W.C. Fields, Leon Errol, Jack Oakie, Sterling Holloway, Edward Everett Horton, Charles Ruggles and others) comes close but ultimately it's no cigar – while that earlier film shares “Babe’s” weird and spooky oddness it lacks the charm and humor of the Laurel & Hardy opus which despite several terror-filled sequences is filled with hope and optimism. And “Alice” certainly doesn’t evoke any warm-fuzzy holiday feelings... it is most decidedly not a holiday classic.

Where can I even begin? This is one of those films that has to be seen – mere words cannot convey the wonders this film undolds. I suppose I’ll get the intentional and unintentional scares out of the way first:

Silas Barnaby, as performed with relish and flourish by Henry Brandon (real name: Kleinbach) is a dastardly villain of the highest order. He has a huge “creepy” and “spooky” factor, not unlike many of the fiends Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price essayed over their illustrious careers. It is a performance for the ages. Brandon treads that line between funny and purely evil that not many actors since have accomplished (Heath Ledger’s interpretation of Batman’s nemesis “The Joker” is the most recent example I can think of but there have been few and far between). Most amazing of all, Brandon did it at the tender age of 22. That is an amazing accomplishment not just because he’s playing a character much older but also because of all he was able to bring to the character – if you didn’t know Brandon’s real age you’d swear that he had already witnessed decades of villainy to inspire his portrayal. Brandon played many other notable roles through the years (including a part in the Martin & Lewis horror-comedy “Scared Stiff”) and even acted up until the year before his death in 1990 but when all is said and done it is not a stretch to claim that history will put Barnaby at the top of his most memorable roles. Brandon returned to the character three years later and that turn was just as memorable as the original. In the short “Our Gang Follies of 1938” (filmed and released in 1937) Brandon is the Opera House impresario who signs famed Little Rascal Alfalfa to a crooked contract whose deception is worthy of those the devil dealt in “The Devil & Tom Walker,” “The Devil & Daniel Webster,” “Damn Yankees,” “Bedazzled” and so many other tales. The unbreakable contract requires Alfalfa to sing “The Barber of Seville” at his opera house… forever! The character is never called “Barnaby” by name in the short, but in the script he is identified as such.

Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

Barnaby has a manservant, naturally, and as the illogic in old movies usually goes, the villains always pick ineffective manservants like hunchbacks and mutes (sometimes they’re both at the same time). Here, the manservant is a diminutive dwarf played by John George. He is oddly creepy in his own right (which may be the context more than anything – the costumes in this film are creepy as is the lighting and Barnaby’s villainy and lair, and since George appears in those scenes, his character takes on those attributes as well… except when Barnaby laces into him, resulting in some audience sympathy toward the character). He is also somewhat reminiscent of Angelo Rossitto, another dwarf actor with a lengthy career who often appeared in the same manservant capacity, most notably alongside Bela Lugosi in various films including the East Side Kids horror-comedy, “Spooks Run Wild.” Rossitto also appears in "Babes," as one of the little pigs as well as one of the sandmen fairies during the lullaby scene (more on both below).

Barnaby’s minions, “The Bogeymen” are horrific monster-men designed to give children (and maybe a few adults) nightmares. Less frightening once you get past a certain age and spot the rubber faces and the pillow pads within their shaggy suits, they are also fairly unique considering the year the movie came out. The most natural comparisons would be movie werewolves and ape men but most of those types of films (such as “Werewolf of London” and “The Wolf Man” and “The Ape Man”) came out after “Babes.” Prior to “Babes,” the most notable example was “The Island of Lost Souls” a year earlier and perhaps some of Lon Chaney Sr.’s silent monster films. Like Barnaby, the Bogeymen (or at least A BogeyMAN) would return in an “Our Gang” short. Well, at least the costume and mask (without an actor inside) would, as Alfalfa, Buckwheat and Porky are scared witless by a Bogeyman that flings out of a hidden panel during an unplanned (and unrealized by the kids) journey through a spooky carnival funhouse in the last Hal Roach-produced “Our Gang” short , “Hide & Shriek” (1938). Not to be outdone, Barnaby is also evoked in an early scene that has "detektive" Alfalfa showing off his expertise at disguises - answering the door dressed as Barnaby complete with hat, cape and cane!

Barnaby and the Bogey Men are the obviously scary elements, but the whole production has an (appropriately) surreal and otherworldly sensibility that sometimes borders on the eerie, with even some of the favorite children’s characters rendered in slightly “off” costumes and masks that are downright spooky at times. These include the Three Little Pigs, played by dwarves (including the aforementioned cult film favorite Angelo Rossitto) and children (including Payne B. Johnson who is still with us as of this writing – I had the pleasure of meeting him at the 2006 Sons of the Desert convention in Atlanta, GA) in garish costumes. The masks make the faces of the pigs seem a little scary – they look old and wrinkled and not capable of showing much emotion (especially since you can’t really see their eyes), which heightens the bizarre feeling (a pig jumping up and down and clapping its hands in victory with an emotionless face is an odd thing indeed. There is also man in a cat suit (Pete Gordon, who played the Chinese cook in Laurel & Hardy’s horror-comedy classic “The Live Ghost”) with a fiddle, naturally, who comes off slightly scary – mostly unintentionally although there is one cheat scare when Ollie is explaining to Stan about the Bogeyman’s horrible claws… just as the “cat” puts its paw on Stan’s shoulder!

One scene that was edited out of many television prints through the years had Tom Tom, having been banished to Bogeyland after being falsely accused of pignapping (Barnaby framed him of of course) comforting Bo Peep, who had traveled into Bogeyland after her true love. Tom Tom sings Bo Peep to sleep with a lullaby while fairies (played by dwarves again… perhaps the producers of the still-a-few-years-away “Wizard of Oz” took notice of these diminutive thesps with big talents) dance overhead in spectral, see-through form. The ghostly figures make the scene more eerie than magical for me.

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Oddest of all however has to be... Mickey Mouse. You heard that right, Mickey Mouse. PLAYED BY A MONKEY! I always personally loved the monkey-in-a-mouse suit character, but I know others who were totally frightened by it. It is weird to say the least (I still wonder how the heck the monkey was able to breathe in that costume). The character is a mix of the plucky and resourceful Mickey from the 1930s black & white cartoons combined with the offbeat, bouncy movements of a typical monkey (the character gets a major moment of its own during the climactic battle with the Bogeymen, piloting a toy zeppelin and dropping explosives onto the monsters from overhead). The Hal Roach Studios (producers of the film) had a long-standing relationship with the Disney studio and their “stars” occasionally crossed over (Laurel & Hardy are prominent in the classic “Mickey’s Polo Team” and in the same year as “Babes” Mickey and Stan & Ollie co-starred again in the all-star MGM feature, “Hollywood Party”). This friendly co-existence between Disney and Roach also extended to Disney granting Roach the rights to use the smash hit song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” in “Babes” (the award-winning animated “Three Little Pigs” Disney short having debuted the year before).

I have always found this film absolutely delightful. As a child I don’t remember being scared by the spookier elements; it’s only as I grew older that I realized how frightening some elements in this film are. But I am still delighted by it, for two reasons. First, Laurel & Hardy are simply sublime as usual in this film. Their comedy is warm, funny and at times magically surreal and the screen characters audiences had become used to remain intact in the middle of this high fantasy. Perhaps since I had seen so many other features and shorts by the duo as a child I knew that they “always came back” for another adventure, so I was certain that they would help defeat the marauding monsters (despite fearful moments of real terror and concern – such as when the Bogeymen snatch Toyland’s children from their beds). I also grew up in a time where Hollywood saw the value in the darker side of the fairy tale. Overcoming fears and learning important lessons through scary allegories were hallmarks of children’s stories. Disney knew this well – during Hollywood’s golden age his “Snow White & the Seven Dwarves” and “Pinocchio” didn’t pull any punches in the “scares” department. This approach lasted at least through the early 1970s with Gene Wilder’s masterful portrayal of the alternately whimsical/frightening title character of “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Somewhere along the line, the “gatekeepers” decided that scares had to be skirted in children’s fantasies, leaving whole generations with much more homogenized stories lacking true heart and humanity.

“Babes in Toyland” has a slippery history. Hal Roach originally bought the rights to do a film version of the Herbert operetta "Babes" then realized it had very little plot, at least not one that would easily accommodate a feature film (it was fine for the stage where it worked perfectly as a lovely revue of childhood memories of the toy chest set to song). So Roach conceived a story with Stan and Ollie as “Simple Simon and the Pie Man.” The villain was a spider who turned into a man and put “hate” into the wooden soldiers so they could ravage the town and eliminate “love and happiness.” It sounds a lot like the Beatles’ classic animated feature “Yellow Submarine” which would be released 32 years later… but as envisioned by Roach, the studio would have been hard-pressed to convey the abstract elements of his idea and there hardly seems room for typical Stan and Ollie antics within. Thankfully Laurel, the creative architect of most of the team’s films (he wrote gags and stories and often directed many scenes – mostly uncredited) won out over Roach and collaborated with his own writers and gagmen to deliver the film we know and love today. As odd as it may sound, to me Laurel’s version anticipates Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (condensed from a combined ten plus hours to “Babe’s” compact 78 minutes) with the unlikely heroes (Stan & Ollie/Frodo & Samwise) routing the mephistophelean villain (Barnaby/Saruman) and his minions (The Bogeymen/The Orcs). But maybe that’s just me...

The other side of this film’s checkered past has to do with its release history. (it’s so confusing in fact that I’m not even fully certain if the following is entirely accurate). The film was sold off by Roach to an independent distributor named Robert Lippert. It was reissued to theaters several times over the years under various names such as “March of the Toys,” “March of the Wooden Soldiers” (its most commonly known moniker) and the non-sequitur non de plum, “Revenge is Sweet.” It made the rounds of schools where it was shown to students on 16mm projectors. Ultimately it wound up on TV, where it became a staple broadcast around the holidays (run on or near Thanksgiving or Christmas and sometimes both). When the growing popularity of VCR’s made videotapes as attractive to buy as they were to rent, several companies released the film under the mistaken notion that the film was in the public domain. The truth was that the Tribune Broadcasting Company (owners of WGN in Chicago and WPIX in New York City) had an ownership stake. At some point they lost the rights and the Samuel Goldwyn Company snatched them up, colorizing the film for home video release and then a national syndication deal (which Tribune signed on for). This colorized version is broadcast on TV to this day. Meanwhile, the DVD age ushered in more home video releases by companies assuming the film was in the public domain (these included a newly colorized version from Legend Films that was an improvement over the original color job but still looks like kids using their Crayolas over old film frames to this reviewer). When MGM bought out Goldwyn’s assets, they ended up owning a film they had released and distributed in the first place. A couple years back they gave the world a wonderful Christmas present in the form of a DVD of the film in its pristine, original black & white form… complete with all scenes intact and the original “Babes in Toyland” title cards!

Cat Fiddle Babes Toyland Wooden Soldiers

The film as it stands is an amazing, unique achievement. The comedy of Stan & Ollie is in high gear and one can’t help but laugh and smile from ear to ear when they are onscreen. The horrific aspects are appropriate for a classic approach to fairy tales, the benevolent Toyland characters are warmly drawn and the rescue of Toyland by Stan, Ollie and the Wooden Soldiers is rousing indeed. While some of the songs sung by the romantic leads have a tendency to slow the film down in spots (the one thing that keeps me from giving it a full four star review), they don’t overpower it. The overall plot, while taking a few meandering detours still has a beginning, middle and end and adheres to the old adage from Chekhov wherein he states that if a gun is shown in the first act, it better go off in the third. The gun here is the wooden soldiers, and the resonance is the fact that the hero’s seeming mistake (Stan’s botching of the wooden soldiers order) is the very thing that ends up saving the day. Kind of like Frodo taking that ring...

BEST DIALOGUE AND GAGS (normally I separate these categories but in this film, as in most Laurel & Hardy sound films the verbal and visual gags are often intertwined)

Stan explains to Ollie that he borrowed money from their piggy bank to replace a “pee wee” – a little wooden peg that when hit with a stick returns like a boomerang. Unless you are Ollie, who pompously insists that anything Stan can do he can do… but he can’t! To add insult to injury, Ollie also learns he can’t do Stan’s finger tricks either.

Ollie and Stan have chased Barnaby down a well. “You better come up, dead or alive,” says Stan, alluding to the King’s edict that Barnaby is a wanted fugitive (when the King announces the award for bringing back Barnaby "Dead or Alive," Stan asks "Can't you make up your mind how you want him?"). “Now how can he come up dead when he’s alive,” protests Ollie. “Let’s drop a rock on him,” counters Stan. “Then he’ll come up dead when he’s alive!”

Stan and Ollie have a plan: Stan will show up at Barnaby’s door with a big box – a Christmas present! Inside is Ollie, who plans to sneak out once inside to find and destroy the shoe’s mortgage. Barnaby asks, “Christmas present… in the middle of July?” “We always like to do our Christmas shopping early,” retorts Stan. Their plan backfires when Stan says goodnight to Ollie and Ollie pops his head out of the crate, leading to them being put on trial.

When Ollie gets "dunked" in the lake as punishment for the attempted robbery of the mortgage, he hands Stan his watch for safe keeping. Distressed by the dunking Bo Peep consents to become Barnaby's wife... which means that the charges are withdrawn and Stan doesn't have to get dunked! Ollie doesn't like this and pushes Stan into the lake... and a soaked Stan emerges pulling Ollie's waterlogged watch out of his pocket!

When Bo Peep gives in to Barnaby’s marriage proposal, Ollie explains that Stan is so upset he’s not even going to the wedding. “Upset,” exclaims Stan. “I’m housebroken!” When Mother Peep determines to speak to Barnaby to try to change his mind, Stan says "Her talking to him is just a matter of pouring one ear into another and coming out the other side... can't be done!"

The boys realize that they can pass Stan off as Bo Peep as long as he keeps his face covered by the veil. Their ruse is a success, but Stan is surprised when he can’t leave with Ollie. Ollie explains that now that Stan’s married, he has to stay with Barnaby. “But I don’t love him,” Stan wails!

During Tom Tom’s trial for pignapping, Stan and Ollie sit on the sidelines. The evidence (a plate of sausage links) is placed near where they sit. Stan asks Ollie what it is and Ollie explains that the sausage used to be Elmer the pig (allegedly at least). Stan takes a bite and says it doesn’t take like pig – it tastes like pork to him! This inspires Ollie to take a bite and brings Tom Tom’s innocence to the forefront as Ollie exclaims, “why that’s neither pig nor pork… it’s beef!”

SPOTTED IN THE CAST: My favorite Our Gang/Little Rascals kid, Scotty Beckett has a small part. He made several movies apart from the Gang shorts, but his only other recurring part was as Winky in the “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” TV series. He worked until 1957 then tragically died eleven years later due to a drug overdose.

Ellen Corby will forever be known as the grandmother on “The Waltons” but her roles are numerous. They include bit parts in two Laurel & Hardy classics (“Sons of the Desert” and “Babes in Toyland,” aka “March of the Wooden Soldiers”), playing a maid in Abbott & Costello’s “The Noose Hangs High” appearing in Jerry Lewis’ “Visit to a Small Planet” and three major horror-comedy roles: playing one of the Gravesend clan in “The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters,” Mother Lurch in the classic “Addams Family” TV series, and Luther Hegg’s childhood schoolteacher in “The Ghost & Mr. Chicken.” In addition to her acting roles, apparently Corby was also a script supervisor at the Roach Studios on numerous Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang, Charley Chase, Thelma Todd & Zasu Pitts/Patsy Kelly, etc., shorts and was also married at the time to Hal Roach cinematographer Francis Corby.

Ironically, Billy Bletcher started out in silent movies, but his career would be made via his deep baritone voice. He appeared in many vintage comedy shorts alongside Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals (including “Hide & Shriek”), W.C. Fields and others; classic animated shorts from Disney and Warner Brothers, did a couple voices in “The Wizard of Oz,” and appeared in Red Skelton’s horror-comedy “Whistling in the Dark.” His voice was often utilized to portray villains (he was the voice of The Big Bad Wolf) as well as ghosts and other spooky characters (he lent his talents to the classic Mickey/Donald/Goofy horror-cartoon, “Lonesome Ghosts”).

FURTHER READING: There are many great books on Laurel & Hardy out there but I will single out three that particularly highlight “Babes.” The coffee table book "Laurel & Hardy" by John McCabe and Richard W. Bann has some great production and promotional stills from “Babes.” Randy Skretvedt’s essential, impeccably researched “Laurel & Hardy: the Magic Behind the Movies” goes into deep detail about the behind-the-scenes trials and triumphs of this film, from Roach’s ill-conceived plot to young Henry Brandon getting into bar brawls when off-camera. Scott MacGillivray’s equally essential “Laurel & Hardy: from the Forties Forward” presents the story of the film’s second (and third and fourth and fifth, etc.) life as theatrical reissue, television staple and home video release. Just click on the above titles to access Amazon.com links for each book.

You'll also want to check out the following link to a Village Voice article that is more of a remembrance of the impact this film had on so many kids growing up with it on TV in the New York area – click here to read it.

BUY THE FILM: There are lots of versions out there – some unauthorized, some colorized, some butcherized (as in edited). But I really can only endorse the official MGM DVD release in glorious black & white which you can order from Amazon when you click here.

WATCH THE FILM: Here's the original trailer for “Babes in Toyland” (note that it uses Henry Brandon’s real name and also exaggerates the running time, claiming the film contains 12 minutes more than it actually does) ENJOY!... and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 31, 2016

HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM AN ERRANT GHOST & A BUNCH OF BOWERY MUGS!

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That errant ghost would be me, as I’ve been scare(ce) in these here parts as of late. Simply put, “life,” in the form of both personal situations and professional considerations (and often tricky vs. treaty stuff at that) has greatly limited the amount of time I’ve been able to spend on Scared Silly. As a “hobby” project that I hope one day becomes a real publication, it is, unfortunately, the first thing to be put on the “back-burner” list when “life” rears its ubiquitous, hydra-like head.

I’m hoping in the coming months that situations progress to the point where I can tackle Scared Silly with gusto once more. That’s certainly the goal.

Of course, not everything contributing to Scared Silly’s delay has been tricky. One of the true treats in my life has been the opportunity to take part in the upcoming documentary film, Bowery Rhapsody: the Rise & Redemption of Hollywood’s Original ‘Brat Pack.’

The film is the brainchild of Executive Producer and owner of Handshake Away Productions, Colette Joel. Her lifelong love of the Dead End Kids, East Side Kids and Bowery Boys is manifesting itself in a wonderful production that I know all fans of classic movies and classic comedy will enjoy. And that includes you, Scared Silly readers!

Given the above, what better way to celebrate Halloween than with a selection of classic horror-comedy trailers from the East Side Kids and Bowery Boys?!:

EAST SIDE KIDS:



BOWERY BOYS:






“HORROR-ONABLE" MENTIONS:




…as if that wasn’t enough, I’m offering one last Halloween treat (or is it a trick?!): from the night before Halloween, 2015 – here’s an encore posting of me performing “Monster Mash” with my pals, “The O>Matics!” (remember, I’m not a professional singer… no hurling rotten fruit, please)!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

RIP JACK DAVIS

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This past week, a legend in the world of cartooning left us. The impact and influence of Jack Davis’s work, and the legacy of what he left behind cannot be underestimated. For those of us who love horror-comedy, Jack was one of its premiere practitioners, and a vital component in the “monster kids” craze that ensured the popularity of classic movie monsters would endure eternally.

As long-time readers of this blog know, Jack was the artist who conceived the character designs for one of the great horror-comedies films of all time, the stop-motion animated monster rally classic, Mad Monster Party.

However, Jack did so much more than that. From magazine covers (including TIME and TV Guide!) to comic book stories to trading cards to print ads to animated TV commercials and more, Davis’s amazing illustrations dazzled with detail even at their looniest and cartooniest.

At EC Comics, his command at sequential storytelling in the horror, crime and war genres begat an army of comic book artists. Many became superstars in their own right. Many owe Jack their debt! Davis’s expert renderings of forms, detailed compositions and perspectives underscored just how dramatic well-drawn comic books could be.

As a member of the founding class of “the Usual Gang of Idiots” at Mad Magazine, he helped define what an all-out, no holds barred humor magazine could be. Here was unbridled lunacy on par with the Marx Brothers and Three Stooges, but writ in pen and ink and (sometimes) color. Again, some of the zaniest cartoonists appearing in Mad’s wake were no doubt inspired by Davis.

It’s rare to find talents who excel at being both illustrators and cartoonists, at both drama and comedy, but Davis was such a talent.

Davis’s connection to horror-comedy doesn’t begin and end with Mad Monster Party. Davis was extremely fond of the Universal Monsters, so any opportunity he got to draw these characters was cherished and tackled with gusto. From Mad Magazine stories and gag pages, to record album covers, to advertisements, to trading cards and more, Davis’s great reverence for the classic monsters shines through the parody.

Rather than go through a lengthy history of Mr. Davis, I invite you to read the two fine articles writer and pop culture historian Mark Evanier has written:

Jack Davis remembered by Mark Evanier Part 1

Jack Davis remembered by Mark Evanier Part 2

More importantly, I’m going to let his work speak for itself… so gaze upon this marvelous selection of creepily kooky, eerily cartoony work from the master, then check back in with me below for a special last word:

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The Mad Monster Party character design model sheets come courtesy of leading Rankin/Bass historian Rick Goldschmidt’s book, Rankin/Bass’ Mad Monster Party. © 2011 Miser Bros Press/Rick Goldschmidt Archives. Rick also provided the Mad Monster Party movie poster at the top of this post. Last but not least, Rick offered some insight into Mr. Davis, based on his own cherished interactions with the artist:

"Jack always said he was scared by Boris Karloff in Frankenstein as a child. Ironically, he would go on to draw Frankenstein hundreds of times. Arthur Rankin loved Jack's Abraham Lincoln pen and ink work and that is what led to him hiring Jack many times over the years."

If you’d like to see more of Davis’s monster-related work, Gamma Illustrations' Monster Kid site has a wonderful overview of it that you can view when you click here.

Rest in peace, Jack… and thanks for all the laughter and entertainment!

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Monday, July 4, 2016

THE SPIRITS OF '76 - 2016 EDITION!

Bud Abbott Lou Costello

NOTE: This is an encore edition of a post I originally wrote in 2010:

Here’s a film that will be going into the “horror-onable mention” section of my book. It’s not a “horror-comedy” per se – it’s more of a fantasy-romance, but it does involve ghosts (albeit friendly ghosts) who take the opportunity to put a good scare in some folks as needed. For me, Abbott & Costello’s “The Time of Their Lives” is every bit as classic a movie as “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein;” even if it has more in common with “Topper.”

It’s also tied into the American Revolution, hence this post falling on America’s Independence Day. The film’s script is very well written. It tells the tale of Horatio Prim (Costello), a bumbling but masterful New England tinker in 1780 who longs to marry Nora, the housemaid of wealthy estate owner Tom Danbury. To that end, Horatio procures a letter of commendation from General George Washington in hopes of obtaining permission to marry Nora from Tom. Unfortunately, Horatio has a rival for Nora in butler Cuthbert (Abbott), who causes him trouble no end. But the real trouble comes from Danbury himself, who is secretly a traitor out to aid Benedict Arnold. Both Nora and Danbury’s fiancé, Melody (the luminous Marjorie Reynolds) learn of Danbury’s plot. Nora is captured and Danbury confiscates the commendation letter from her (she had been holding it for Horatio) and hides it in the mantelpiece clock, but Melody manages to escape on horseback in an effort to warn George Washington. She soon encounters Horatio, and the two are framed as traitors, executed and dumped into a well.

It’s here that the fantasy element kicks in. Horatio and Melody are now ghosts who haunt the grounds of the estate and will continue to do so until they can prove their innocence. They just need to somehow get the letter into the hands of the authorities who can rewrite the history books so the truth can be known. This becomes a more hopeful quest 166 years later when the estate is restored to its original condition, and that includes the original furniture. When the restoration is complete, the new owner invites some guests for the weekend to celebrate. Among the guests are psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenway, a descendent of Cuthbert (also played by Abbott). Horatio and Melody decide to have some fun “scaring” the guests. Horatio takes particular delight in spooking Greenway. A séance is held wherein the identity of the ghosts and their plight is revealed, resulting in the living doing what they can to help set Horatio and Melody free.

The film has grown in status over the years and has quite a following (and may have even inspired a line in the classic Gordon Lightfoot song, "If You Could Read My Mind"). In fact, while embraced by many Bud & Lou fans, it’s also been touted as “the Abbott & Costello movie for people who hate Abbott & Costello movies.” This is due to the exceptional dramatic acting of both Lou and Bud that full-bloodedly brings their well-written roles to life. They are both so good in this that it’s hard to say whether one outshines the other (although I might give the slight edge to Abbott whose rarely used talent for character acting is on full display here). It stands out from the majority of the team’s other films which primarily feature a variation on their con man/patsy burlesque characters. It’s one of the few films where the team stretched beyond their usual archetypes and managed to pull it off (for examples where this departure from the norm didn’t work in my opinion, catch “Little Giant” and “Dance With Me Henry.” Or don’t). It also includes a wonderful supporting cast, including horror-comedy stalwart Gale Sondergaard as the maid of the restored estate who definitely believes in ghosts. And it features beautiful sets, wonderful costume designs and marvelous special effects - a top-notch production all around.

If you haven't guessed by now, I consider "The Time of Their Lives" a wonderful film to watch on Independence Day... or any day, for that matter! Here’s the trailer for your enjoyment: