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Thursday, February 5, 2015

'The RKO Brown and Carney Comedy Collection' DVD: RKO Version of Abbott and Costello

RKO Brown & Carney Collection
The two-disc four-film DVD set "The RKO Brown & Carney Comedy Collection" is one of the latest groups of the seemingly endless supply of under-appreciated cinema rarities from Warner Archive. The notable aspects of these movies pairing a highly vaudevillecentric team include their obvious similarities to the better-known Abbott and Costello.

Taller and thinner Wally Brown is the fast-talking slightly more intelligent Abbott to the shorter, heavier, and more anxious Costello-like Alan Carney. They respectively play Jerry Miles and Mike Strager in these four '40s era films.

The 1942 "Buck Privates" style "The Adventures of a Rookie" is the first film pairing of Brown and Carney and the first offering in the Archive set. This one has professional performer Miles and truck driver Strager become friends on getting drafted.

The vaudeville aspect of "Adventures" becomes very apparent in a scene in which Strager tries to explain the nature of an Army aptitude test question regarding A and B separately traveling from Chicago. Sharing that Starger asks Miles "A what" illustrates the "Who's On First" vibe of this scene.

One great example of '40s style military humor in "Adventures" has our boys regularly running afoul of a no-nonsense career man. Another example of this wit involves Miles and Strager responding to a request for volunteers with a show business background only to find themselves assigned to peel a mountain of potatoes.

The trouble that these boys encounter during their first days in the service include getting quarantined in a woman's boarding house during their first six-hour leave and later getting separated from their platoon.

The 1943 sequel "Rookies in Burma" is more a Hope-Crosby "Road" film than an Abbott and Costello comic adventure. This one has Miles and Strager stationed overseas only to quickly end up in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Their efforts to escape and then rejoin their unit require the same style of fast-talking and Bugs Bunny inspired quick costume changes as Hope and Crosby employ in their joint films.

The historic elements of "Burma"  include horribly racist depictions of Japanese people that were very acceptable in the 40s. One spoiler is that these impersonations include slanted eyes and comically bucked teeth.

Brown and Carney keep the names of Miles and Strager for "Girl Rush," but transport those characters (who are not the performer and the truck driver of the "Rookie" films) to the 19th century California gold rush. This adventure has our boys heading an all-girl revue whom they agree (without the knowledge of their troupe) to transport the group to an all-male mining community to directly provide entertainment and indirectly to increase the odds of the miners finding wives.

The entertainingly predictable elements in this one include Strager mixing up drinks that they boys have drugged and our boys having to dress in drag only to catch the eye of the men who are out gunning for them.

The general theme of "Rush" is similar to the concept of the '60s dramedy "Here Come the Brides" starring dreamy Bobby Sherman.

The collection returns the boys more fully to their vaudeville roots with "Genius at Work." This one has Miles and Strager as radio detectives whom a criminal mastermind first manipulates and then must try to prevent from figuring out his true nature. Classic Dracula Bela Lugosi hamming it up as the especially evil sidekick of the wrongdoer contributes a great deal to the entertainment in this one.

The fact that vaudeville died decades ago provides a good reason for adding "Collection" to yours. These variations on classic gags are a great time capsule of a part of American culture that is increasingly difficult to find.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Collection" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.