Directed by Charles Barton
Original Story and Screenplay by Earl Baldwin
Music by Walter Schumann
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Film Editor: Frank Gross
Music by Walter Schumann
Cast: Bud Abbott (Buzz Johnson), Lou Costello (Stanley Livington), Clyde Beatty (himself), Frank Buck (himself), Max Baer (Grappler McCoy), Buddy Baer (Boots Wilson), Hillary Brooke (Diana Emerson), Shemp Howard (Gunner), Joe Besser (Harry), Burton Wenland (Bobo), Charles Gemora (The Ape)
Back in December, we were given the opportunity to help The 3-D Film Archive restore Africa Screams (1949) for Blu-Ray. If you were one of those that did, you’re probably feeling pretty good about yourself right now. And you should, because the results of that Kickstarter campaign, and the painstaking work it funded, are really something to see.
The new Africa Screams Blu-Ray, available from ClassicFlix, shows what a little money — coupled with a whole lot of love, dedication and technical knowhow — can accomplish. One of Abbott & Costello’s funnier movies, an independent production, Africa Screams has been rescued from the PD slag heap and allowed to shine every bit as bright as its richer cousins from Universal. And that’s quite a feat indeed.
Robert Furmanek of The 3-D Film Archive is the author (with Ron Palumbo) of one of my all-time favorite film books, Abbott & Costello In Hollywood. This is not Bob’s first time working with this movie — he put together a terrific, extras-packed laserdisc back in the pre-HD late 80s. (That’s it on the left.) My love of Africa Screams came from watching that disc many, many times. For Blu-Ray, Bob had to start all over. The 35mm camera negative and a fine grain positive, both on nitrate stock, were scanned in 4K, and those scans were given a painstaking clean-up. The results are staggering at times.
Africa Screams (1949) was an independent production from Nassour Studios. It offered a chance for more dough for Bud & Lou, so they were pretty stoked for this one. The team was riding high — they’d just done Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), both one of their best pictures and one of their biggest hits.
Charles Barton, who directed A&C Meet Frankenstein, was hired on, along with Charles Van Enger, who shot it, and Frank Gross, who cut it. Bud & Lou also brought in friends like Hillary Brooke, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser and Max and Buddy Baer. So they both stacked the deck and made sure they’d have a good time doing it.
Africa Screams is a spoof of jungle pictures, complete with appearances by Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck. Costello works in the adventure books section of a department store (he even wears a safari outfit). He and Abbott end up joining an expedition to search for a giant ape. It’s really a bunch of crooks after a secret diamond mine. A map to the mine was printed in an old book, which Costello claims to remember. They end up not only battling the bad guys, but being captured by cannibals and coming face to face with Charles Gemora in one of his great gorilla costumes.
The picture has plenty of opportunities for Costello’s classic scared routine (the gorilla, a crocodile, etc.) and Abbott’s abuse of his chubby friend. Shemp Howard is terrific as a near-sighted big game hunter and Hillary Brooke is as perfect as she ever is when dealing with Bud & Lou. Of course, it’s all very silly — and at times, extremely funny.
Now back to the Blu-Ray. Black and white movies really benefit from high definition, and Africa Screams is a sterling example. The sharpness, the deep, rich shadows and the expanded contrast levels help create a sense of depth that can be really effective at times. You see it in film noir quite a bit, and in this picture, it makes the scenes shot on the jungle set really come alive (though you never, ever think it’s an actual jungle). This restoration was probably an uphill battle, but you’d never know if from looking at the results. Every frame is perfection.
It’s loaded with special features, too — trailers, outtakes, stills, a TV appearance, some old interviews, a 3-D comic book (with glasses even!) and a wonderful commentary from Ron Palumbo, Furmanek’s co-author on Abbott & Costello In Hollywood.
Africa Screams is one of Abbott & Costello’s best pictures (I’d put it at #2). This is certainly the best presentation any of their films has received on Blu-Ray — and if you’ve seen the Shout Factory box, you know just how high the bar is. Highly, highly recommend.