Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Abbott and Costello

Thin Man –vs.- Fat Man

By David Luhrssen
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Thoroughly rooted in vaudeville, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello joined the ranks of the most popular Hollywood comedians in the 1940s with hits such as Buck Privates and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. Their career had passed its peak by 1952 when they turned to the rising medium of television. All 52 episodes of their program, along with bonus footage and an extensive booklet, are packaged on a DVD collection, “The Abbott and Costello Show: The Complete Series—Collector’s Edition.”

Like Seinfeld in decades to come, the episodes opened with a warm-up routine in from of the curtain, followed by story skits. Abbott was the thin man, playing it straight, while Costello, fumbling nervously with his hat, was the fat fetcher of laughter. Neither as sophisticated as the Marx Brothers routines nor as lowbrow as Three Stooges, their slapstick bristled with odd moments of sheer absurdity.

A subtext can be discerned without straining: the superficially reasonable and mature Abbott was continually manipulating the hotheaded, childish Costello. It was a story of power relationships. Abbott was a smirking smooth operator who allowed his sidekick to take the punches for him—often literally. Like Laurel and Hardy rolled into one, Costello was an inadvertent agent of chaos, perennially put-upon and acting out in response, leaving havoc in his wake.

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