Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

Lost in Alaska, 1952

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Unlike Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, this is the bottom of the barrel as Abbott and Costello movies go. But the great thing is that with A&C there’s a baseline of quality to their work. However bad the script, low the budget, or awful the cast, Bud and Lou are pretty much always Bud and Lou, and in any movie they did, there is always something worth watching.

The things worth watching in Lost in Alaska include Lou winning and losing tens of thousands of dollars at roulette and then losing them, all without having a clue that he’s doing so, Tom Ewell, and the studio sets masquerading as the frozen north.

Which, as reasons to stick with a movie go, really aren’t much. But I watched it all the way through. Without skipping. And I more or less remembered it in outline from when Channel 7 in Detroit ran Abbott & Costello movies every Sunday morning. So something kept me watching. Probably nostalgia.

The bit with the roulette wheel is classic, and I won’t simply rehash it. But there’s another gag early in the film that some consider classic, but which I considered simply mean when I was a kid, and still do. For reasons I won’t go into, Bud and Lou agree to sleep in two hour shifts, one sleeping while the other stands watch. Despite the fact that Lou is falling down tired, Bud sticks him with the first shift. Then Lou wakes him, and gets in bed. Bud then sets the clock two hours ahead, gets Lou back up, and goes back to sleep. This goes on all night and into the morning. Granted, the ways Bud talks his way around the difference between the clock in the room and the town hall clock are clever, but at no point does he cut Lou a break or let him get any sleep.

I was shocked to see Tom Ewell in this. Just a couple years later he was co-starring with Marilyn Monroe and being directed by the great Billy Wilder in The Seven Year Itch, but here he is not long before, playing second fiddle to Abbott and Costello in one of their worst movies, and he not only makes the most of it, he might even be the best thing in the movie (partly because he assuredly does not try to steal scenes or expand his one-note part; he just plays it very, very well).

A&C are volunteer firemen in San Francisco and, one night during an alarm, Costello sees a man standing on the docks and somehow knows he’s trying to kill himself. The man jumps in the water, Costello jumps in and saves him, even though the man objects strenuously that he wants to die.

That man turns out to be “Nugget” Joe (Ewell), a guy who struck it rich in the Yukon, but who has nothing to live for since the love of his life (Mitzi Green) won’t marry him. The boys save him, keep him from offing himself long enough to receive a letter from the gal asking him back, and accompany him back up north on a steamer. (The time period of the tale is unclear, but certainly not contemporary to the film.)

When they get to Alaska, the town on the border of the Yukon where the gal can be found, it turns out that lots of people want Nugget Joe dead. He used to be sheriff, see, and the relatives and friends of all the guys he hanged want revenge.

Plus there’s all the old-timers he willed his gold strike to. They can’t wait to see him pushing up daisies, either.

Plus… well, let’s just say that he can’t show his face much of anywhere. Everybody but his gal wants him dead. She doesn’t hate him, she just doesn’t love him.

From that point there’s a lot of chasing about in the snow, ice fishing gags, dog sleds, igloo jokes that are just plain silly, eskimo jokes, and so forth. In the end the gold is lost, robbing everyone of their reasons for wanting Joe dead, and the gal decides for no reason at all that she really does love the sad sack. (Joe, not Lou.)

All in all, below-average Abbott & Costello. Which is better than most of the “comedy” put out these days, and no kind of a slam. But, if nothing else, it is absolutely not the place to start with their movies.


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