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In Klopper's department store in New York City, salesmen Stanley Livington and Buzz Johnson are each approached by separate parties about a book, Dark Safari , which contains a map of diamond mines in the Congo. Although the book is out of print, Stanley swears he recalls the map's details and agrees to copy it for Grappler McCoy and Boots Wilson for a large sum of money. Unknown to Stanley, Buzz has arranged for him to copy the map for wealthy Diana Emerson later that evening for even more money. Grappler and Boots are Diana's henchmen, and when Buzz and Stanley arrive at her estate, Buzz overhears them planning an expedition with famous explorer Clyde Beatty. When Buzz learns how much Diana is paying Beatty, he negotiates higher terms for Stanley's map copying services, insisting that both go along on the safari. Diana reluctantly agrees, for although she tells everyone involved she is searching for the rare orangutan gargantuan, she actually hopes to find an enormous diamond mine to which the map is key. Once in Africa, Buzz discovers Stanley never knew anything about the legitimate map, and to stall, they pretend to be guides, leading the group further into the interior. En route, Stanley meets big game hunter Frank Buck, who is genuinely seeking the orangutan gargantuan. When Stanley accidentally frees the orangutan from one of Buck's traps, the beast is grateful and becomes attached to him. After some near mishaps with crocodiles and lions, Stanley and Buzz stumble across the diamond mine and realize it has been Diana's goal all along. A group of cannibal natives then kidnap Stanley and Buzz, taking them back to their village as food. The orangutan frees Stanley and once back at camp, Buzz bullies Diana into cutting Beatty, Boots and Grappler out of the deal. Meanwhile, the native chief and a group of his men come into the camp offering a huge bag of diamonds in exchange for the savory Stanley. Stanley and Buzz flee, pursued by both the natives and Diana's men. Buzz stops to hide his bag of diamonds, but when he runs into the orangutan he faints in fear, and the orangutan takes the diamonds. The orangutan them summons all the jungle monkeys to aid Stanley and Buzz and the garangutuan appears, frightening off the entire expedition. Back in New York a daper looking Stanley enters the towering new Livington building where Buzz works as the elevator man. Stanley goes up to the president's office and reports to his boss, the orangutan.
David S. Garber
Joe C. Gilpin
Charles Van Enger
Africa Screams - Abbott & Costello in AFRICA SCREAMS on DVD
As it turns out, Africa Screams itself is worthy of an upgrade from the years of PD viewing. The plot launches through a typical Costello situation: Buzz Johnson (Bud) and Stanley Livingston (Lou) work in a department store and field questions about an out-of-print book called Dark Safari. Stanley tells the inquiring hoodlums that he has memorized and can recreate a map that was in the book. The map, which details diamond mines in the Congo, is desired by the wealthy Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke). Emerson has already hired the famous African explorer Clyde Beatty to take her through the Dark Continent, but she falls for Stanley's story and takes him and Buzz along on the expedition. In Africa, Buzz figures out that Stanley has no idea about the map, so they stall to save their necks. Along the way, the group encounters native cannibals, lions, crocodiles, and big game hunter Frank Buck, who is seeking a rare, gigantic orangutan. The movie offers the expected stagebound "jungle" with tame lions, rubber crocs, and men-in-a-gorilla-suit menaces. Lou gets to go through a wonderful grouping of reaction shots; Costello honed the Scared Take into a fine art, and as in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), he has plenty of opportunity to show off here.
Africa Screams has a dizzying number of familiar character actors and guest stars. Aside from Clyde Beatty and Frank Buck as themselves, guest stars include heavyweight boxers Max and Buddy Baer and, best of all, two "Third Stooges": Joe Besser appears as Harry, another member of the expedition (watch for the great "My tent's on fire" gag), and Shemp Howard is Gunner, a horribly nearsighted trail guide! The orangutans and gorillas (little distinction is made in the film, of course) are played by career-gorilla-player Charles Gemora. Besser and co-star Hillary Brooke, of course, would go on to be featured players on The Abbott and Costello Show on TV.
A niche market seems to have sprung up among DVD buyers one which is willing to pay a bit more for the "definitive" edition of a movie available previously only in Public Domain Theater. Image Entertainment's release boasts a new transfer which they state is "Mastered from the original 35mm camera negative." It retails for about four times the price of an average PD copy (maybe more you can probably buy a copy of Africa Screams at the Dollar Store), and it is worth it. I'm not sure if the transfer is actually from the camera negative or an internegative there is the slightest hint of a boost in contrast, with a whiting-out of some of the brightest spots in the picture. But overall, the picture is sharp and the print used is immaculate. The sound is also nearly flawless.
An earlier Laserdisc edition of Africa Screams also contained some outtake footage, and it would have been nice to have seen that bonus feature retained here, but for the basic needs of having the film on DVD, it would be hard to beat this version.
For more information about Africa Screams, visit Image Entertainment. To order Africa Screams, go to TCM Shopping.
by John M. Miller
Africa Screams - Abbott & Costello in AFRICA SCREAMS on DVD
Making no attempt to duplicate the look of a travel documentary, Africa Screams wastes little time in packing off Lou and Bud to a backlot Africa complete with a guy in a gorilla costume and Hollywood extras pretending to be Ubangi tribesmen. Lou plays Stanley Livington, a bookstore clerk whose co-worker Buzz (Bud) convinces him to pose as a famous explorer so they can join a profitable expedition to Africa. Once there, the boys discover the real intent of safari financier Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke) - to locate a remote tribe that guards a fortune in uncut diamonds. A race among the safari members to find the treasure first ensues with various distractions along the way such as Stanley being chosen as the main entree for a cannibal feast.
Shot on a sixteen day schedule with a budget of less than $500,000, Africa Screams was filmed on Stage 4 at United Artists where two hundred thousand gallons of water mixed with condensed milk were piped in to replicate the Ubangi River while prop technicians wrestled with operating an eleven foot synthetic crocodile for key sequences. The film's producers, Edward and William Nassour, came from a background in industrial films though they had shared a connection with Lou on a previous short, 10,000 Kids and a Cop (1947), which promoted the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Center. Africa Screams was the Nassour brothers' first commercial feature but it would be the end of their partnership with Lou and Bud, mainly due to the Nassours' penny-pinching budgetary concerns. Of course, the producers were probably right to object to the boys spending over $3,500 on pies for the cast and crew. According to writer Martin Ragaway, who visited the set during production, "There seemed to be a friendly feud between the Abbotts and the Costellos. Different people on the set had been enlisted on different sides. Somebody would blow a whistle and suddenly, on this jungle set, people began throwing pies at one another. There was a pie war!...I remember saying to myself, well, this is how pictures are made. Apparently they had to have something to relieve the tension, and this was it" (from Abbott and Costello in Hollywood by Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo). The Nassours were not amused and tensions eventually reached the breaking point according to the cinematographer Charles Van Enger, "Eddie Nassour had the studio painted and charged it to our production. Lou refused to pay it. They had a hell of a fight. Eddie came down to the set with a gun, looking to kill Lou. Really! I took the gun away from him." After the film was released, Abbott and Costello filed suit against the Nassours over alleged production costs; the case was eventually settled to the satisfaction of no one.
Co-star Hillary Brooke, who plays the safari organizer, enjoyed a much better relationship with the comedians. Africa Screams was her first film with Bud and Lou (they would reteam for Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd in 1952) but she had some major reservations in the beginning. After her first day on the set, she called up her agent in frustration. "I can't do it, Ed. I can't keep up with them. I'm a nervous wreck. I never get a cue!" she recalled. "Ed said, 'Stay with it, Hillary, you're going to have a wonderful time.' And, of course he was absolutely right. I loved working with Abbott and Costello. Lou and I had a very unusual, wonderful friendship....He taught me more about comedy than anyone I ever worked with. I was not a comedienne by any means, but he taught me timing and how to handle a joke...And I must say that Bud was one of the greatest straight men that ever existed, and he never got the credit for it" (from Abbott and Costello in Hollywood).
One unexpected curve ball: Africa Screams attracted the attention of the Breen Office, Hollywood's self-appointed censorship board, who expressed their concern over two points. First, they inquired about the use of some stock footage from an earlier Clyde Beatty film; they wanted to make sure that a particularly violent encounter between two lions was not used. Secondly, they pointed out a disturbing subtext in the film: "We refer to those instances in your story in which the comedy is based upon, or bordering upon, the idea that the animals are falling in love with Stanley. Such a suggestion, in any form, would cause serious, unfavorable reactions generally, as well as being a Code violation. We direct your attention to...Page 75, where Leota [the female gorilla] falls for Stanley." As absurd as it seems, the producers had screenwriter Earl Baldwin change the gorilla's gender, prompting writer Andrew Dowdy to state in his book, Movies Are Better Than Ever, "Presumably, the alteration cleared up the context of the gag, but writers along the Strip were quick to spread the word that this year gay gorillas were in with censors" (from Abbott and Costello in Hollywood).
By Abbott and Costello standards, Africa Screams was deemed a success by the studio. Critics, as usual, were mixed in their assessments with Cue stating "If you've been making a point of avoiding these Abbott and Costello comedies, you'd do well to continue the practice." But there were positive notices too with the Los Angeles Examiner proclaiming Africa Screams as "Far and away the funniest picture the boys have made in years..." And the Los Angeles Daily News wrote, "[A] movie considerably better than the stuff they've been turning out in recent years...The audience...laughed so hard it was difficult to hear the dialogue, which must mean the picture satisfies Abbott and Costello fans."
Producer: Huntington Hartford, Edward Nassour
Director: Charles Barton
Screenplay: Earl Baldwin, Martin Ragaway, Leonard Stern
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Film Editing: Frank Gross
Art Direction: Lewis H. Creber
Music: 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).
by Jeff Stafford
There is a scene where Abbott & Costello are talking in their tent and Joe Besser dashes into the tent, grabs a glass of water and dashes out again. He repeats this several times until Abbott stops him and asks why he's so thirsty. Besser replies that he's not thirsty, it's that his tent is on fire. That was based on an incident in Lou Costello's childhood, when he accidentally set some clothes in his bedroom on fire. His father was in the living room, which was between the kitchen and Lou's bedroom. Costello, not wanting to let his father know that he had set his room on fire, dashed back and forth between the kitchen and his bedroom with glasses of water until his father finally asked what he was doing, whereupon Costello was forced to tell what he had done.
The working title of this film was Abbott and Costello in Africa. Although reviews list Lou Costello's character name as "Livingston," closing credits list him as "Livington." According to a Hollywood Reporter news item dated December 7, 1948, production was to halt on that day to permit Bud Abbott, Costello and other members of the cast to attend funeral services for Abbott's stunt man and stand-in, Irving Gregg. According to copyright materials, this was the first independent production of brothers William and Edward Nassours' company, Nasbro Productions, Inc. Some reviews incorrectly list film editor Frank Gross's first name as David. Animal trainer Clyde Beatty and hunter Frank Buck, who play themselves in the film, were well-known performers with the Ringling Bros. Circus as well as stars of many 1930s films.
On June 9, 1949, Hollywood Reporter reported that Classic Pictures, Inc., which had acquired distribution rights to the 1930 Columbia film Africa Speaks, filed suit against United Artists for copyright infringement. According to Daily Variety news items, Costello, who had signed a deal with the Nassours to be paid "a straight salary, plus 60 percent of profits," sued the producers in November 1950, accusing them of "deliver[ing] to their own use and benefit large sums due plaintiff." The suit alleged that the Nassours overcharged the production by $250,000. The disposition of these suits is not known.