Release Date(s)1949 (October 27, 2020)
Studio(s)Nassour Studios/United Artists (Classic Flix/3-D Film Archive)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
In between their Universal Pictures projects, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello ventured on to their second independent production with Nassour Studios, Africa Screams. A play on the title of the exploitation documentary Africa Speaks!, it was also their sixth straight project with director Charles Barton, who they had previously collaborated with on Buck Privates Come Home, The Noose Hangs High, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Much of the film’s threadbare storyline relies primarily on the duo’s customary routines, including their rapid fire back-and-forths with each other. Unfortunately, many critics were mixed on it when it was originally released in 1949. By that time, the pair were so overexposed due to the number of films that they were appearing in that their popularity was beginning to wane. Even so, audiences were still packing theaters to see them. There’s also plenty about the film that’s far from culturally sensitive, particularly once the African natives get involved in the story, but Africa Screams is a valuable piece of Abbott and Costello history that haphazardly fell into the public domain and, up until now, hasn’t had a satisfying home video release.
Buzz (Bud Abbott) and Stanley (Lou Costello) are a pair of schlubby department store clerks working in the books department when they are approached by the beautiful Diana (Hillary Brooke). She inquires about a book that features a story about an expedition to Africa with an important map inside. Though the book is out of print, Stanley remembers the map and is offered money to reproduce it. They secretly learn later that the real reason Diana is going to Africa is to search for diamonds under the pretense of finding a legendary giant gorilla. Eager to cash in, they tag along and soon find themselves in danger from the local wildlife and tribal natives who are anxious to have them for dinner. They must also avoid the men that Diana has brought along with her, including strongmen Grappler (Max Baer) and Boots (Buddy Baer), her servant Harry (Joe Besser), the nearsighted Gunner (Shemp Howard), and animal experts Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck.
After years of increasingly poor home video releases, Classic Flix brings Africa Screams to Blu-ray in a new Special Limited Edition release. The talented folks at 3-D Film Archive have carried out a new 4K restoration of the film which combines five reels of the surviving 35 mm camera negative with 35 mm nitrate elements. The result is a beautiful black-and-white presentation, particularly for a film that hasn't been seen in anything approaching decent quality. The combination of elements is never an issue, and at times, it’s even difficult to tell which is which without heavy scrutiny. Grain levels are healthy and everything appears natural in motion with high levels of detail in the dense jungle setting. Blacks are solid with accurate grayscale and excellent contrast. Everything appears stable with only mild speckling and extremely minor flicker—the latter appearing in only a handful of shots, and even then, barely noticeable.
The audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD MA with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s on the narrow side, as to be expected, but dialogue exchanges are clean and discernible. The score isn’t as boisterous as it could be, but sound effects, particularly the stock animal and jungle sounds, have a nice push to them. It’s also a clean track, free of any major leftover damage.
The following extras package has also been included:
- Audio Commentary with Ron Palumbo
- The Rubdown Sketch (HD – 10:07)
- Abbott and Costello Radio Show with Bela Lugosi – Original (HD – 40:54)
- Abbott and Costello Radio Show with Bela Lugosi – Final Broadcast (HD – 29:48)
- Lou Costello Interviews Max Baer and Joe Louis (Upsampled SD – 1:54)
- The Adventure Parade: Clyde Beatty’s Animal Thrillers (HD – 9:48)
- Outtakes and Bloopers (Upsampled SD – 7:31)
- Abbott and Costello 3D Comic Book in Anaglyph 3D (HD – 6:02)
- Abbott and Costello 3D Comic Book in Polarized 3D and 2D (HD – 6:05)
- Behind the Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 44 in all – 7:12)
- Promotion, Publicity, and Ballyhoo Image Gallery (HD – 102 in all – 13:46)
- El Paso & Jack and the Beanstalk Cinecolor Trailers (HD – 7:26)
- Along Came Jones Clip (HD – 4:19)
- Casanova Brown – Frank Morgan Montage (HD – 5:49)
- Merrily We Live Trailer (HD – 2:16)
- The Noose Hangs High Trailer (HD – 2:11)
- Tomorrow Is Forever Trailer (HD – 2:46)
In the audio commentary by author and Abbott and Costello historian Ron Palumbo, he avidly and thoroughly discusses the history of Abbott and Costello, the personal and career histories for various members of the cast and crew, Bud Abbott’s familial connection with the circus and burlesque, the differences between burlesque and vaudeville, the state of Nassour Studios at the time, the exploits of Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck, various gags and bits that were used and reused in this film and other films, the reaction to the scene of Lou Costello in a cage with a lion, the real world problems between Abbott and Costello that underline a key scene, censor approval of the script, the eventual rights owner Robert Haggiag and how the film wound up in the public domain, and the critical reaction to the film. The Rubdown Sketch is a hilarious live TV snippet from 1953. It has been restored from a 2K scan of a 16 mm kinescope recording utilizing 3-D Film Archive's new enhancement technology, which faithfully replicates the appearance of a live broadcast. Two versions of an episode of The Abbott and Costello Show radio program from 1948 featuring Bela Lugosi (whom they were shooting Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with at the time) have been included: the original recording and the final broadcast. The original contains an opening act, introductions, flubbed lines, missed cues, and closing remarks from Lou—all of which are edited out of the final broadcast. The 1940 interview with Max Baer and Joe Louis after Baer’s fight with Tony “Two Ton” Galento in Jersey City conducted by Lou Costello takes place a mere four months prior to the release of One Night in the Tropics. Clyde Beatty’s Animal Thrillers is a short film released by Castle Films in 1943 about the titular animal trainer’s profession, which is on full display in the main feature. It’s a tad choppy, but it also provides plenty of vintage animal footage. The standard definition outtakes and bloopers are sourced from trims from Africa Screams. The Abbott and Costello 3D comic book restoration is presented in optional 2D, polarized 3D, or anaglyphic 3D, the latter of which has been supplied a pair of red and cyan “Super-Sight” 3D glasses within the package. The two image galleries feature a total of 146 behind-the-scenes stills, promotional photos, publicity stills, posters, lobby cards, press materials, film programs, theater photos, and newspaper clippings. Next is a text explanation of how Africa Screams was originally meant to be shot in Cinecolor, but since it wasn’t, trailers for two other films are presented that were shot in Nassour Studios in Cinecolor at the time to give an idea of what might have been: El Paso, and Abbott Costello’s own Jack and the Beanstalk. Also included is a clip from the Classic Flix restoration of the western film Along Came Jones and a montage of scenes from Casanova Brown featuring Frank Morgan. Rounding out the disc are trailers for Merrily We Live, The Noose Hangs High (which also opens the disc), and Tomorrow Is Forever.
This Special Limited Edition release of Africa Screams does wonders with the film, providing a spectacular restoration and a mountain of great extras. It’s a fabulous disc, and for Abbott and Costello fans, you couldn’t ask for better. Pick this up while it’s still in print. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons