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  Jack and the Beanstalk Don't Amount To A Hill Of Beans
Year: 1952
Director: Jean Yarbrough
Stars: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Buddy Baer, Shaye Cogan, James Alexander, Dorothy Ford, Barbara Brown, David Stolery, William Farnum, Johnny Conrad, Arthur Shields
Genre: Musical, Comedy, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 2 votes)
Review: Jack (Lou Costello) and his agent Mr Dinkel (Bud Abbott) are keen to put him to work, so they arrive at this employment agency to see if there are any posts he can take. Unfortunately Jack's driving is not the best and he bumps into a police car, the giant-sized cop (Buddy Baer) getting out and remonstrating with him, then finding they're both going into the same place as they end up inside the agency. The cop is there to see a receptionist (Dorothy Ford) almost as tall as he is, but before she goes she offers Jack a babysitting job - what could be simpler?

And what does this have to do with the fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk? Patience is necessary, although perhaps a lot more than you might have anticipated when settling down to watch an innocuous children's film. It was notable for a few reasons, one being that Abbott and Costello were making one of their few outings expressly aimed at the kiddies; they were enormously popular with them at the time, having seen their audience with adults growing out of them to some extent, so it was a natural choice for them to star in a fable retooled for their particular brand of humour. Actually it was Lou's brother Pat who had the idea, and it sounded good enough to both of them to go with.

Another reason it was interesting was the boys hardly ever worked in colour: most of their films were in black and white, as was their television series, but here in true Wizard of Oz fashion the film began in sepia tones and once the fantasy plot commenced we were treated to a glorious wonderland of rainbow hues. Well, that was the idea, but this didn't half look cheap with its obvious sets and costumes brought out of mothballs to suit their purpose; what happens is rather than a tornado picking up the duo to the Land of Oz, Jack is being read the story by the obnoxious child he's supposed to be looking after for the night, then drops off and in his slumber he dreams up the whole thing.

With Costello as the hero, living with his not-so-doting mother on their farm where he looks after Henry the (female) cow, to the extent that he puts lipstick and rouge on its face, which will have you pondering the degree of his affection for the creature. Anyway, mother tells him to sell the cow because the giant has been raiding the area and nobody has much to eat anymore, so off Jack goes to the butcher, Mr Dinkelpuss (Abbott again), who buys it from him for five magic beans. You know how this goes, but the trademark fast talking vaudeville style of routines that made the comedians' names is not much in evidence, preferring to let them play out various creaky gags and lots of running about once they reach the top of the beanstalk.

You might have thought with their juvenile following Abbott and Costello would be a fine match for pitching their material at a younger age group, but oddly it doesn't turn out that way, and they're not much good here at all. Not half-hearted exactly, but obviously out of their element far more than their other excursions into fantastical genres were, though not helping was that they blatantly did not have the budget that would have made this succeed better than it actually did. This was a musical, and the songs were to a note absolutely diabolical with some appalling rhymes for ballad and humorous ditty alike, not helped by the one thing everyone recalls, the dreadful choreography, with the lead male dancer apparently making it up as he goes along. Costello and Ford also have a number where he takes his character's habit of bumping into things to ludicrous extremes: she even boots him in the face at one point. For a short film, there was a lot of padding as Baer (the giant) chases Lou about, and for creepiness check out the talking harp. No wonder it went unloved to public domain.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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