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Lost In a Harem (1944)

Up to this point, the smash comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello having graduated from the world of burlesque had starred in twelve movies from 1940 onward. All under the banner of Universal Studios. Lost In a Harem marked the first time the boys would venture outside the confines of their home studio moving across town to the stages of MGM.

Playing like a tale of Arabian Nights, the duo are playing a two bit comedy team appearing as a supporting act for the platinum blonde singing star, Marilyn Maxwell who is stuck singing in night clubs of the middle east. Marilyn will open the show with a song and references that new singing idol, Frank Sinatra, in her lyrics. In between numbers the less than appreciated Bud and Lou will work in one of their skits, this time a magic trick that doesn’t go over well with the all male crowd who just want to ogle the beautiful Miss Maxwell.

One man in particular in the crowd is sending the wrong signal to Marilyn. Played by John Conte, he’s a Prince looking to win back his throne located at the nearest palace on the MGM backlot. His kingdom has been overthrown by Douglas Dumbrille portraying Conte’s evil Uncle who wants nothing better than to see his nephew disposed of so that no challenge to the throne will be forthcoming.

Dunbrille does have one weakness that has plagued men for centuries and Conte intends to fully exploit it. What is it you ask? Blondes! Yes he proposes to help Marilyn get back to her homeland if only she’ll help him gain access to the palace so that he may reclaim his heritage and the throne. She’s having none of it just yet but when Bud and Lou start a riot and the trio end up in jail, she’ll reconsider when Conte offers to break them out. So long as he’s willing to free the boys as well.

There’s a gag that’s used here while the boys are in jail that I recall being used in Three Stooges shorts. What came first? The chicken or the egg? Damned if I know but the gag involves another inmate played by a bearded Murray Leonard. When he hears a specific location (in this case Pokomoko) it sends him over the edge of sanity and as he’ll recount …. “Slowly I turned, step by step … ” all of which leads to poor Lou getting batted around and roughed up in place of Curly Howard. That location of Pokomoko will come in handy when the boys are attempting to evade the prison guards.

Traveling with Conte and his Sons of the Desert followers the foursome are now ready to enter the city walls where Dumbrille and his throne await. This also allows Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra the opportunity to entertain both the crowds and Dumbrille’s entourage which includes his harem of exotic beauties. One look at Marilyn and he’s set to make her wife number 38.

Nothing will go as originally planned and with a pair of magical rings upon his fingers, Dumbrille will easily outsmart Bud and Lou. That won’t stop the boys from trying to make good and free Marilyn from the cell within the confines of the Harem. Looks like the boys will have to take their chances where to be caught means instant death for any male interlopers. Might Lou have to disguise himself as a member of Dumbrille’s harem? And Bud stepping into Dumbrille’s outfit?

Seriously, you had to see that gag coming and no that’s not a criticism. It’s a comical bit to look forward to.

No need to tell one and all that this will work out and a happy ending will prevail upon us. Marilyn? Maybe she won’t be returning home after all. She might enjoy the reminder of her days as a Princess to Conte who it just so happens was actually married to the lovely Maxwell off camera at the time of the film’s production.

Following the many twists on words that will befuddle Lou accompanied by sight and physical gags the boys employed here under the direction of Charles Reisner, they returned to Universal for a pair of comedies before once more returning to the stages of MGM for the 1945 filming of Abbott and Costello in Hollywood. The first film of many to utilize their own names in the movie title. Something that would become quite frequent in the future. It would have been nice had this film been given a little more splendor in the production. Mainly meaning color as opposed to black and white to highlight the costumes on Maxwell and the floor shows put on by Dorsey and the dancers.

Coming along with the boys from Universal was John Grant who was pretty much employed on every one of the duo’s movies as a writer. He began as they did on 1940’s One Night in the Tropics and stayed with them through their TV show of the 1950’s with his final screen credit on Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955, they’re penultimate film as a duo and final one made at Universal Studios.

Both Harem and In Hollywood are available on DVD in a double feature format and no not from MGM or Universal but rather Warner Bros. Go figure…..

In closing here’s a quote credited to John Conte I came across on his bio over at the IMDB that gives us an insight to what it was like on an Abbott and Costello set…. “It was a joy to watch them. I recall that whenever they went into one of their classic bits in the film, the entire company would gather round behind the cameras and watch. There was a lot of interest in Bud and Lou, and it was a sort of built-in habit of the actors who were not busy working on films of their own who could get away and visit the various working sets. I recall a number of visitors would love to come to the set and be contained on the sidelines and watch these guys go to work. It was a treat.”

4 Comments »

  1. Back in the late 1970s or early 1980s, this movie ran on local TV, and our newspaper listed it as ‘Abbott and Costello Lost in Harlem.’ Now that’s a movie I’d like to see.

  2. I just watched ‘Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy’ for the first time…I had no idea it was so close to being their last film together! I’ve never seen this one, but then again, I haven’t seen many of their films, and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe I was too busy watching silent comedies when I was a kid…that, or Godzilla movies.

    And yes, I’d love to see ‘Abbott and Costello Lost in Harlem’…it would make for a nice double feature with ‘Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Central’.

    • We had a channel years ago when I was a youngster that ran one of their movies late every Friday night if I recall for a year or so which allowed me to see most of them as a kid. They also ran the Kettles series so that’s how I got to fall in love with them as well. I was always a bit disappointed in Mummy cause it came no where near the standards of A&C Meet Frankenstein. The best of all horror comedies ….. in my books.

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