Lost in a Harem [1944]

This three-disc set is perhaps not the ideal introduction to Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, and Laurel and Hardy, but vintage comedy buffs and fans of these legendary teams will welcome the opportunity to fill in their collections with these lesser-known and rarely seen films, packaged as three double features (each volume also available separately). Abbott & Costello fare best with two films they made for MGM while they were still relatively in their prime. Lost in a Harem(1944) is sublime silliness as hapless entertainers Bud and Lou, stranded in the Middle East, who become embroiled in a plot to dethrone an evil king. This film features a knockabout version of the vintage vaudeville routine "Slowly I turn," as well as bizarrely gratuitous numbers by Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra, whom the king has kidnapped and hypnotized (!). In Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945), the duo are barbers-turned-agents who run amuck on the MGM lot. Less star-studded than the title promises (Rags Ragland, anyone?), there are some great routines, including a sequence in which Lou must act as a prop dummy to elude studio guards. This collection is a particular treasure trove for Stooges fans, unearthing two of the trio's obscure features. The first, Meet the Baron (1933) captures Moe, Larry, and Curly at the beginning of their screen careers with original partner Ted Healy. The film itself is more a vehicle for radio comedian Jack "Vas you dere, Charlie?" Pearl as his signature character, Baron Munchausen. Gold Raiders (1951) was the only feature the Stooges made with Shemp. It's a slaphappy "C" western costarring George O'Brien as, yes, a lawman-turned-insurance salesman. Despite the premise, it's played mostly straight, and is not an all-out spoof like the later, The Outlaws Is Coming. Laurel and Hardy, who began in silent films, were in sad decline by the time they made Air Raid Wardens (1943) and Nothing but Trouble (1944), but these two films at least manage to recapture some of the magic of this most beloved of comedy teams. Wardens is a wartime "we must all pull together" homefront comedy in which the blundering boys stumble upon a Nazi sabotage plot. Pathos does not become the team ("I guess we're not smart like other people," a dejected Stan says at one point), but a poster-hanging sequence and an all-too-brief tit-for-tat encounter with the great Edgar Kennedy will evoke fonder memories. In Trouble, Stan and Ollie are in another fine mess as a butler and chef who make a shambles of high society and foil a plot to murder a boy-king. Whether as sheer nostalgia for a bygone era or as the simple provider of family-friendly laughs, this welcome collection fits the bill. Donald Liebenson

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