Abbott and Costello movies are some of the most reliable movies out there. You always know what you’re going to get, and they never attempt to be anything more than what they seem. The key to the success of these films has always been to combine the duos legendary comedic skits, while throwing in some sporadic musical numbers. The plots couldn’t be more inconsequential, and the acting will never win any awards, but all of their films together have something unique to offer.
Their film “Comin’ Round The Mountain” (1951) has a few interesting and memorable moments, and as far as the plot goes, it surpasses the normal expectations for an Abbott and Costello film. Bud Abbott plays a failing talent agent, Al Stewart. His acts are widely known for their lack of talent, but his latest find is singer Dorothy McCoy (Dorothy Shay), who calls herself “The Manhattan Hillbilly”. The uniqueness of the act comes from the combination of her high-class sophisticated style mixed with her natural deep southern accent and her hillbilly songs.
Since Dorothy has drawn a large audience for her show, Al takes advantage of the opportunity and brings in another one of his acts, “The Great Wilbert” (Lou Costello), the escape artist. Unfortunately, after being tied in chains, Wilbert accidentally swallows the key, making a spectacle of himself and Al. In all of the commotion, Wilbert shouts out an awkward yelp that Dorothy (being a member of the McCoy clan) recognizes as the old McCoy clan yell.
It turns out that Wilbert is the long lost grandson of “Squeeze Box McCoy”, of the famous McCoy/Winfield feud. Dorothy takes Wilbert and Al down to Kentucky to meet Granny (Ida Moore), who is said to know the secret hiding place of “Squeeze Box McCoy’s” millions. Wilber, being his descendant, is the only true heir entitled to the fortune. Granny takes a liking to Wilbert, but won’t tell him where the hiding place is until he gets married. Wilbert wants to marry Dorothy, but she has fallen in love with one of the opposing Winfield clan, Clark (Kirby Grant).
Alright, so the plot isn’t anything too fantastic, but there is a plot that is explainable, and that is a good start. The laughs are plenty, not only with the normal Abbott and Costello routines, but also because of Dorothy and her hillbilly tunes. Dorothy Shay had a brief career performing these types of songs in New York, billed as “The Park Avenue Hillbille”. In “Comin’ Round The Mountain” she performs five hilarious songs: “Sagebrush Sadie”, “You Broke Your Promise”, “Another Notch On Your Father’s Shotgun”, “Agnes Clug” and “Why Don’t Someone Marry Mary Anne?” Each of these delightful songs is filled with comical lines that keep the laughs coming. It is quite apparent how Dorothy Shay was able to become popular singing songs such as these.
Abbott and Costello had made so many films together by this point that they’re comfortable ease was at a high point by the time they filmed “Comin’ Round The Mountain”. Their scenes run so smoothly that they almost feel effortless. With things moving this well, the entire film was completed without any trouble in less than a month. Director Charles Lamount was new to directing Abbott and Costello movies, but ended up directing seven of the last eight they made for Universal.
Despite Abbott and Costello’s normal laughs and the several songs by Dorothy, the highlight of the film is the scene where Wilbert decides he needs a love potion to make Dorothy fall in love with him. Granny sends him to the local witch, Aunt Huddy (Margaret Hamilton), in a role that pays tribute to her own role as the wicked witch of the west in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939). It is only the one short scene, but every single moment that Hamilton fills the screen with her all too memorable witch-like persona is deliciously irresistible and makes for the highpoint in the already immensely enjoyable film, especially when she uses that all-too-familiar combination of the word “deary” and her infamous cackle.
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