Chip Deffaa
October 15, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

And Rodney Dangerfield thinks he gets no respect. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were gifted comics who in 36 movies were almost never given first-rate directors, writers, supporting casts, or production values. Their films generally plod when the pair isn’t on screen, but they do contain some of the best surviving examples of classic burlesque humor, often delivered with flawless timing. For that reason alone, samples of their work belong in any basic movie library.

Of the six Abbott and Costello films MCA/Universal has just released on video (including Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Here Come the Co-eds, Little Giant, and Lost in Alaska) at $14.98 each, perhaps the rarest is the team’s first, One Night in the Tropics (1940), in which they were third-billed beneath Allan Jones and Nancy Kelly. Their dialogue wasn’t scripted. Instead, space was simply provided for the duo to do bits that they and others had long performed in burlesque houses, including ”Mustard,” ”Two Tens for a Five,” ”Jonah and the Whale”—and one that the screenplay casually referred to as ”the Baseball Routine,” their classic ”Who’s on First?” They would rework all these routines in subsequent productions, but there’s something wonderful about seeing these first, fresh movie renditions.

In Society (1944) is worth owning simply for the loony Fluegel Street sequence—a vaudeville sketch dating back to 1918. When Costello innocently asks passersby for directions to Fluegel Street, they take umbrage, tell outlandish tales, berate him, and smash his hat. Beneath the buffoonery, the essential situation is that of a hapless, sweetly naive victim in a world that defies comprehension. Tropics: B- Society: B-

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