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Retro : Slapstick Antics Make a Move to Home Video

July 03, 1994|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Who's new on video?

Abbott and Lou Costello and Ma and Pa Kettle, that's who!

MCA/Universal Home Video has dug into their vaults and discovered five Bud Abbott and Lou Costello comedies and five corn pone features starring those endearing rubes, Ma and Pa Kettle. Each video is priced at $15.

During the 1940s, the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made a series of low-budget, but inspired comedies including, "Buck Privates," "Ride 'Em Cowboy" and "The Time of Their Lives." As the decade came to a close, though, the quality of their films began to wan. Though the movies new to video are not among their best, Abbott and Costello's crack comedic timing still manages to shine through the weaker material.

The five Abbott and Costello films currently available are:

"Abbott and Costello Go To Mars" (1953) A&C parody science fiction films in the weakest of the lot.

"Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer" (1949) OK murder-mystery send-up finds a prominent attorney murdered in the fancy hotel where Abbott works as the house detective and Costello, the bellhop. When the murder is pinned on Costello, the two play detectives to find the real murderer. The main suspect on their list happens to be an evil swami played by Boris Karloff.

"Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion" (1950) Abbott and Costello play wrestling promoters whose star attraction runs out on them. The duo follow him to Algeria where they are tricked into joining the French Foreign Legion. Patricia Medina plays a beautiful French spy and veteran movie bad guy Walter Slezak co-stars as a traitorous legionnaire.

"Comin' Round the Mountain" (1951) A search for buried treasure sends the boys into the backwoods where they run smack into the middle of a Winfield-McCoy feud in this unexceptional entry.

"Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops" (1954): Set in the silent era of filmmaking, this comedy finds A&C becoming a movie team with the Mack Sennett Group. The Keystone Kops in the movie were trained for the film by the real Mack Sennett who also appears as himself. Fred Clark, Lynn Bari and former boxer Maxie Rosenbloom also star.

Be warned: Watch Ma and Pa Kettle at your own risk. These comedies are strictly a matter of taste. If you loved the TV series "Hee Haw," you'll enjoy these down home comedies starring Percy McBride as Pa and Majorie Main as Ma.

The Kettle movies currently available are:

"The Egg and I" (1947) Entertaining comedy based on Betty McDonald's best-selling novel. Fred MacMurray stars as a broker who takes his new wife (Claudette Colbert) and returns to his rural roots to start a chicken farm. They are quickly befriended by their neighbors, the Kettles. Pa, who refuses to get a job, operates an illegal corn-whiskey still. Ma keeps a sloppy but loving house, though, she can't remember the names of all of her 15 children. Main received a best supporting Oscar nomination for her delightful comedic turn. The Kettles proved so popular that over the next 7 years Universal cranked out 9 low-budget comedies starring the two. Unfortunately, none of them are the quality of "The Egg and I."

"The Further Adventures of Ma and Pa Kettle" (1949) When the Kettles' rickety old house is condemned, Pa wins an ultra-modern prefab home by dreaming up a slogan for a tobacco company. Unfortunately, Pa didn't want a fancy new house. He just wanted to win a tobacco pouch.

"Ma and Pa Kettle go to Town "(1949) This time around, Pa wins a trip to New York. But who is going to take care of the 15 kids? Well, the two find a baby sitter when a mobster (Charles McGraw) on the lam shows up on their doorstep and tells the Kettles he is a poet in need of solitude.

"Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm" (1951) Upon returning from New York, the Kettles' oldest son (Richard Long) and his wife (Meg Randall) have a baby. After meeting their proper Bostonian in-law counterparts, the Kettles leave the "modern" world behind and head back to their farm.

"Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair" (1951) When their eldest daughter (Lori Nelson) decides she wants to attend college, Ma and Pa must figure out how to get the money for college tuition. Because Pa won't even hear about getting a job, the Kettles decide to try make money by entering events at the County Fair.

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