Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Funnies - Jack and the Beanstalk (1952)

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Take a well-known children's story, full of outlandish, memorable characters, quests to find magical items, and good triumphant over evil. Then film opening and closing sequences in the present using sepia-tone, but let most of it take place in a fantasy-filled land which would be filmed in full color. Add in a liberal dash of songs. And then mix it all up with the hijinks of one of the world's best comedy teams. Nope, as the last bit should indicate, I'm not talking about the 1939 film great The Wizard of Oz. Instead, I'm talking about a film made some thirteen years later, Abbot and Costello's adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello began working together as a Vaudeville team in 1936. They made their feature film debut in 1940 in the film One Night in the Tropics.From 1940 to 1956 the duo made a total of 36 films, most under contract with Universal, which afforded them the ability not only to team with some of the greatest stars of the day, but also to play around in the pool of some of Universal's great characters, leading to such films as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which, along with the titular monster also included Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolfman and Bela Lugosi making his last turn in the cape as Dracula). However, the pair also had written into their contracts a clause which allowed them to make one independent film a year. it was this clause which led to the making of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Simply put, even though Bud and Lou were two of the most popular and highly paid entertainers of their time, and had just signed a contract to star in their own TV show, there was no way that Universal was going to spend the money to make a color Abbott and Costello film. So, instead of depending on the studio, the boys decided to produce it themselves through Lou's company Exclusive Productions. Of course, this also meant a lower budget than they likely would have had with the studio, but the filmmakers do seem to have made the most of what they had. The beanstalk sequences, for instance, are a good combination of perspective effects, animation, and creative set design. Really, the only misstep in the film is in the opening and closing scenes. Rather than shoot those scenes in Black and White and then color them, the decision was made to shoot them in color then process them for the sepia. This technique, while not terrible, does give these scenes a bit of a murky feel, especially when compared to similar sequences in Oz or other films where the black-and-white process  was used.

Time for a trailer? Yeah, I think so:

Guess that just leaves us with the Skinny:
Title: Jack and the Beanstalk
Release Date: 1952
Running Time: 78min
Color / Sepia Tone
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello
Directed by: Jean Yarbrough
Produced by: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Pat Costello, Alex Gottlieb
Distributed by: Warner Brothers

Jack and the Beanstalk is available to watch or download for free here.
It's available on DVD from Amazon: Jack and the Beanstalk.
And Netflix has it available for rental or for instant watching: Jack & the Beanstalk.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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