The only problem with it is the operative word “Universal,” meaning that films the legendary comedy duo made for other studios were not included.
Two of them, “Africa Screams” and “Jack and the Beanstalk,” had fallen into the public domain and could be found on countless budget releases. On the other hand, “Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd” and “Rio Rita” haven’t been available on DVD until now, thanks to Warner Archive’s manufactured-on-demand arm, both in nifty remastered editions. No longer need you wait for AMC or TMC to put them on their schedules.
From 1952, “Captain Kidd” begins, as do many A&C vehicles, with a mixed-up mishap, as low-rent waiters Puddin’ Head (Lou Costello, naturally) and Rocky (straight man Bud Abbott) are given a letter which accidentally gets switched for a treasure map that points the way to Skull Island and its legends of jeweled riches.
You can bet they’re kidnapped and hoisted onto the ship of greedy Capt. Kidd (Charles Laughton, spoofing his Oscar-nominated “Mutiny on the Bounty” role) in search of that treasure. It’s a move that Kidd soon regrets, especially when dealing with the aptly named Puddin’ Head: “Where’s the port?” asks Kidd, attempting to teach ship terms to Puddin’ Head, who answers, “It’s in the wine closet.”
And from a decade earlier, “Rio Rita” finds them similarly ensnared in a criminal enterprise, this time amid bomb-smuggling Nazis instead of pirates. As Doc and Wishy, respectively, Abbott and Costello nearly take second-fiddle status to a larger spy plot that encompasses many characters.
However, it’s the pair’s set pieces that give the piece its juice. If it’s not Costello being thrown off a twirling car, or stuck in a giant washing machine, it’s Costello thinking a dog is spouting baseball stats, or dreaming of food in a desert haze (“Brown milk!” he exclaims to a mug of beer).
Both films are short, making them easy-to-please time-passers. They’re even shorter if you skip the numerous musical numbers that don’t even involve our stars. Neither picture is essential A&C, but for fans and completists, any is better than none. And “Captain Kidd” is one of the team’s rare color works, lathering a layer of novelty onto the nostalgia. —Rod Lott