Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, 1953
This movie was probably a huge influence over who I am. Frightening thought.
As Abbott & Costello movies go, it’s really not that great. Better than the worst, certainly watchable with moments that are genuinely funny, but hardly top of the line. (We’ll be getting to the top of the line next week.)
But if it isn’t that good, it’s still worth watching. In fact, I ostensibly bought the Best of Abbott and Costello — Volume 3 for Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein… but once I saw that this was in the collection, it was an automatic buy. I bought the collection for this, and the other seven movies are just bonuses. Wonderful bonuses, in at least three cases, but not the main entree for me.
Why in the world would I buy the admittedly mediocre Abbot and Costello Go To Mars, then?
Well, first, the production design. Universal spent some money on this flick, and it shows. It’s got the 1950s science fiction esthetic down cold. The silver rocketship, the planetary vistas, the Flash Gordon-inspired costuming, this movie is a visual joy.
And speaking of visual joy, there are the girls. Because A&C do not go to Mars, they go to Venus, and Venus is populated exclusively by women — most of whom are portrayed by 1954’s Miss Universe aspirants. And Anita Ekberg. Who, to give you just a small idea of how much visual joy there is, does not stand out from the crowd(!).
But that’s the end of the movie.
Leading up to that, Bud Abbot is a delivery driver for a scientist, and Costello, due to rather silly circumstances, stows away in the delivery truck. Abbot returns to the scientist’s secret research station, where a rocket has just been completed.
The scientist is meeting with several others in order to determine their destination (the moon is too boring, so they’re going to choose between Mars and Saturn) and which of them will be the crew. This part is a riot, and I wonder how much of the comedy is intentional, and how much was simply that nobody making the movie cared to think things through. When discussing their potential destinations, the scientist points at a wall-size painting of outer space that looks nothing like the solar system, pointing to a cluster of stars for Mars, and a nebula to indicate Venus. Even when I first saw this movie, and I was no older than five, I knew there was something wrong with that.
And the scientists who are meeting were sent from Central Casting, who got a request for a half-dozen or more scientist and professor types. These guys could easily have played the background staff at Huxley College, and none of them (excepting the rocket designer) look fit for accelerations that would take them out of the gravity well. Where the previous bit I’m willing to count as intentional, this casting of minor players was probably happenstance. But it’s funny, nevertheless.
Even funnier, they’re taking off once the rocket is supplied, seemingly that afternoon, even though the crew hasn’t been selected (let alone trained!), and the rocket hasn’t even been tested! ((Other funny and/or silly mistakes or gags include the fact that the Venusians are supposedly hundreds of years in advance of Earth technology, but discarded “that model” rocket only twenty years ago; and the fact that the rocket is established as having a nuclear reactor providing its thrust, but having all the famous scientists standing about fifteen feet away from it as it launches and being bowled over, but otherwise unharmed, by its thrust. ))
Anyway, Bud and Lou load supplies into the rocket, Lou pushes some buttons, and — whoops! — they take off. ((There is, however, no accidental miscommunication or misunderstanding between the words “lunch” and “launch”. That would have to wait for Sid & Marty Krofft’s late, unlamented Far-Out Space Nuts TV series more than twenty years later. )) The rocket zips and zooms through New York City, buzzing the Empire State Building, going through the Lincoln Tunnel, and generally raising havoc, before finally settling down in the bayou near New Orleans. No, I don’t know how they got from NYC to N’awlins in the matter of a few seconds, either, but it’s that sort of a movie.
Not only do they land near New Orleans, but Mardi Gras happens to be in full swing. In an example of extremely lazy writing, there is no explanation of what Mardi Gras is, why anyone would be celebrating it, or anything. The only exposition we get tells the audience that nobody will notice the two guys in space-suits, because everyone is dressed up for Mardi Gras. As far as this movie is concerned, it’s just a time when people in New Orleans put on huge papier maché heads, and it allows that much simply to carry on a not horribly funny gag.
See, Bud and Lou think they’ve landed on Mars (without having been in space at any time between NYC and N’awlins!). So when they encounter people with big heads who do strange things, they think they’re Martians. Har har. This also gets them into their space suits, which are kind of nifty.
And while they’re exploring “Mars”, two escaped convicts get into the rocketship and don space suits as well.
After too much business in New Orleans, the two cons force Bud and Lou to launch the rocket, and they end up on Venus. You know, by accident. (!) Their trip to Venus is monitored on a TV screen by the rocket’s designer and his secretary, through some means for which no explanation is even attempted.
And once on Venus… whoah, baby! The Venusians banned men four hundred years ago, and also have the secret of eternal youth. (Not to mention eternal hotness.) The queen wants the four men who have landed to be sent right back up into space, because all men are the same — lecherous cheats with no faithfulness or loyalty. ((Sorry, but if your entire planet is populated by nothing Miss Universe contestants, with the occasional Anita Ekberg thrown in for good measure, and there are only four males to go around, then expecting said males not to notice any of the other females at all is remarkably silly. )) ((Queen of Venus does not use these words, but that’s what her complaint amounts to. )) But the rest of the girls want a king, it’s been four hundred years since they’ve even seen a man, and they’ve mostly forgotten what men are like.
And that’s more or less how Lou Costello becomes King of Venus. Oh, sure, the ladies notice the other three males, and pay them attention, but they’re all hot for Lou. Including the Queen.
Is this a great movie, or what? 🙂
There are some great gags as the boys are forced to leave Venus and go back to Earth (and again, their takeoff and journey are monitored on a TV screen by the scientist and his secretary, through no means that’s ever explained), and when they get back, they get a stock footage ticker tape parade, and one final gift from the Queen of Venus.
As stated, the bulk of the movie is rather slow going, though there are funny bits along the way. But once the ship gets to Venus, even if it weren’t funny (it is) it would be worth watching for the various sorts of eye candy.
Definitely worth seeing, if only for nostalgia’s sake, and the whole set is a must-buy, if only for the premiere title on it.