“Have you seen a short fat man and a tall thin man running through the jungle?”
Charles Barton’s 1949 farce, Africa Screams, is a mildly funny Abbott & Costello slapstick that finds the duo on an expedition to Africa in search of the legendary Orangutan Gargantua. Lou Costello plays Stanley Livington (yes, the Livington not Livingston) & Bud Abbott is Buzz Johnson. The pair are clerks in the same bookstore, and they con the rich, suave & corrupt Diana, played marvelously by Hillary Brooke, into believing that Stanley knows a great deal about Africa and can reconstruct a map that is included in the book Dark Safari. She tells them she needs it to locate Orangutan Gargantua on her upcoming expedition. Of course, the truth is that Stanley knows little about anything, let alone Africa. But Buzz sees a path to riches, especially once he learns of Diana’s true intentions for the map – to find a cache of diamonds! Buzz renegotiates deals with Diana over & over until she agrees to take him with them on the trip and later cuts him in at 50%. Of course, the two buffoons end up getting caught up in their usual shenanigans in pursuit of their riches. The plot line is silly & thin, but like their two fellow vaudevillians & movie predecessors, Oliver & Hardy, Abbott & Costello are always good for a few belly laughs (or should I say, LOL’s); Africa Screams is no exception.
One of them most interesting aspects of this film is the supporting cast. Diana’s strong arms are Max Baer & his younger brother Buddy, as Grappler McCoy & Boots Wilson respectively. Max was the heavyweight champion of the world from 6/14/34 until he lost a unanimous decision to James “Cinderella Man” Braddock on 6/13/35. In his next fight, he was KO’d by the great Joe Louis. He was also the father of Max Baer, Jr. – Jethro Bodine of the Beverly Hillbillies. Both the elder Max & Buddy had minor acting careers of their own. Buddy also fought The Brown Bomber unsuccessfully – twice, in fact. Max Sr.’s loss is referenced in Africa Screams when Boots & Grappler square off and Boots says, ” I’ll hit you harder than Louis ever did.”. Famed big game hunter Clyde Beatty and adventurer/lion-tamer Frank Buck play themselves as part of Diana’s expedition team. And the 4th & 5th Stooges, Shemp Howard & Curly-Joe Besser, are also in Africa Screams. They’re both hilarious as Diana’s blind gunner, Gunner, and butler, Harry. It’s marks their one & only time on-screen appearance together, including on The Three Stooges.
The title, Africa Screams, is a spoof on the 1930 documentary Africa Speaks! Africa Screams received no Oscar nominations. However, the late great Blake Edwards, who was nominated for Adapted Screenplay for Victor Victoria in 1983 at the 55th Academy Awards and received the Honorary Award 21 years later, was one of the movie’s two Dialogue Directors. He was not credited & it was his first non-acting film role. Director Charles Barton was one of 7 winners of the first Best Assistant Director Oscar in 1934 at the 6th Academy Awards. For that one year, it was awarded by studio, and Barton won for Paramount. For the following 4 years it was awarded by film, and then retired. Uncredited Executive Producer Donald Crisp won the Supporting Actor Oscar in 1942 for his role as Mr. Morgan in How Green Was My Valley. It was one of 6 Academy Awards for the film, including Best Picture and Director. And the following year, Set Decorator Ray Robinson (as Edward R. Robinson) was on the team nominated for Black & White Art Direction for The Spoilers.
Neither Abbott nor Costello were ever nominated for an Academy Award. Although their legendary skit, Who’s on First, was included in the 1945 film The Naughty Nineties, the movie received no nominations. I’d argue that the 6-man Original Screenplay team, in retrospect, deserved a nod for that skit alone given how forgettable the winner, German language Swiss film Marie-Louise & the 4 other nominees (Dillinger, Music for Millions, Salty O’Rourke, and What Next Corporal Hargrove?) are by comparison. While Who’s on First was part of Abbott & Costello’s vaudeville act, its writer is in question. Many people have laid claim to it but none can be corroborated. If you’ve never seen this hilarious play on words, it’s linked below. Watch it! It’s a MUST SEE!! If you have seen it, you’re most likely reading this subsequent to watching the clip. When you’re through, give Africa Screams (it’s on the public domain, so I included it immediately below in its entirety) a look-see. It’s has some very funny scenes & provides a nice glimpse into the Hollywood comedies of yesteryear. 2 Stars!