The classic comedy duo Abbott and Costello’s first foray into color cinema way back in 1952 returns to home theaters through a 4K restoration of their musical comedy available in the high definition disc format.
In Jack and the Beanstalk: 70th Anniversary Limited Edition (Classic Flix, not rated, 1.37:1 aspect ratio, 78 minutes, $49.99), Mr. Dinkle (Bud Abbott) and Jack (Lou Costello) pick up a babysitting gig and get stuck dealing with a brat (David Stollery). The brat eventually warms up to Jack and the kid ends up reading him the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” which magically takes viewers into a colorful fairytale wonderland.
In that world, the town is terrorized by a giant (Buddy Baer). A young Jack (also Costello and not to be confused with the other Jack who is telling the story) eventually ends up battling the extra-large man to help rescue Princess Eloise (Shaye Cogan), a troubadour (James Alexander) and his mother’s hen that lays golden eggs.
Of course, to get to the giant’s kingdom, Jack uses magic beans traded to him by the butcher, Mr. Dinklepuss (Abbott), for his family’s cow. The beans grow a massive beanstalk up into the clouds, and the pair go on an exciting, slapstick-filled mission.
Throughout, poor Costello takes a beating during the adventure that includes a dance with the housekeeper that the Three Stooges would appreciate; a battle with a stove; a roasting on a rotisserie; and even an attack by a pack of dogs.
Though seven decades old, the simple cinematic fable still offers a classic night of family-friendly entertainment and should amuse younger children.
4K in action: The nearly immaculate restoration takes full advantage of a 4K scan of the 35mm SuperCinecolor original source elements.
Viewers are first welcomed to the action with a sepia-toned opening that after 12 minutes transitions into an explosive color shift saturated to the point of looking like a live-action cartoon. That sepia tone also returns at the end of the movie, denoting another reality shift, just like “The Wizard of Oz.”
The restoration still displays some minor damage such as a line through the film early on, some occasional dirt, and color scenes having too much grain.
However, considering the age of the original, moments such as the stunning blue eyes of Eloise, a matte painting of the giant’s castle, the colorful fairytale costuming and the animated beanstalk look impressive in the square-shaped presentation.
Best extras: Smaller home video label Classic Flix plays with big boys such as Criterion, Kino Lorber and MVD by offering an exhaustive collection of goodies to appreciate this production and the legacy of Abbott and Costello.
Start with Lou’s daughter Chris Costello, who introduces the film with some candid photos of the family and on the set; and then continue watching with an optional commentary track featuring a self-professed expert on the comedy duo, Ron Columbo, and some separate cut-in comments (previously recorded) from Mr. Stollery and Ms. Costello.
Mr. Columbo offers a nonstop “by the numbers” walk-through of the production, discussing cast and crew breakdowns (mentioning their previous and future credits); soundstage locations, script-to-film comparisons; optical effects; the critical reactions; historical origins of “Jack and the Beanstalk”; and even referring to other featurettes on the disc for more information.
Although much of the time, he sounds likes he’s reading from a script, the commentary is packed with facts. A few, for example, include Universal Studios not thinking Abbott and Costello were worth a color film; Mel Blanc doing the voices of the animals in one of the songs; and, it was rumored, famous Universal monster makeup artist Jack Pierce did the visual creations for the scary closeups of the giant.
Viewers then get a series of featurettes and some vintage entertainment featuring Abbott and Costello.
First, watch a 13-minute history of SuperCinecolor by film preservationist Jack Theakston of 3-D Film Archive. He offers incredible tech detail on the film stock and its processing as well equal detail on its rivals as well as examples of films that used the 1940s and 1950s formats. Viewers will be astounded by the information packed into the segment.
Next, take a 14-minute look at the April 1952 promotional tour of the movie (from New Jersey to Detroit), including footage from the comics’ appearance on the “Colgate Comedy Hour’; photos from the world premiere at the Fabian theater in Patterson, New Jersey; and newsreel footage from various city visits including Boston and Washington, D.C.
Viewers will additionally find 18 minutes on the production and nine minutes on the music of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” including discussions of the composers, the five main songs and the casting of singers.
The most insane part of the collection is 26 minutes of deleted footage from the film with a look at the re-creation of the scenes using found footage in black-and-white stills and dialogue spoken by Mr. Palumbo. That’s going pretty deep.
Viewers also get a live TV appearance by the duo in 1954 on the “Colgate Comedy Hour” that finds the guys delivering an amusing skit about visiting the property department at Universal Studios and running into classic monsters including Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange). The highlight is Costello mugging for the audience and crew, and causing Abbott to laugh out loud multiple times.
Equally fun is a 1945 radio presentation of Abbott and Costello with help from Rudy Vallee reading. Abbott and Costello vamp to “Jack and the Beanstalk” and perform their famous “Who’s On First?” skit in 1940.
Close out the immersion with a 106-image production and publicity photo gallery and a whopping 41 minutes of trailers featuring Abbott and Costello that included “One Night in the Tropics,” “Keep ‘Em Flying” and “Pardon My Sarong.”
Dang, that’s a ton of extras, folks, and a great collection of background for film history connoisseurs.