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In Society (1944)

“Call a Plumber!”

And with that one phone call the boys, Bud and Lou, spring into action in this offering from director Jean Yarbrough that gives the box-office champs plenty of opportunities to bring their schtick and burlesque gags to the screen.

On the night of a swank high society costume ball the boys get an emergency call to come to the home of the Van Cleve’s (Thurston Hall and Nella Walker) to put a stop to a most annoying drip in Hall’s washroom located just off his bedroom. Before making the journey the boys get tied up with a cop while awaiting for their ride. It gives Bud a chance to push Lou into a confrontation with a cop that sees poor Lou getting roughed up in a classic sketch. Fortunately their cabbie shows up. Not just any cabbie either.

Our cab driver is played by the very attractive Marion Hutton who Lou is madly in love with. She drives the boys to the party and when they arrive the three of them fit right in. Don’t forget it’s a costume ball for the elite of society. The shenanigans are quick to follow for the boys when they begin to tackle that sleep disturbing drip for Mr. Hall who wants nothing to do with his wife’s costume ball. It won’t be long before Bud and Lou are soaked to the skin and that drip has turned into a powerful river of water coming from the shower head and busted pipes. Make way for that floating bathtub!

I guess it’s safe to point out that if you’re a Stooges fan you’ll be wondering if this scene has been lifted from one of the more memorable shorts featuring Curly, Larry and Moe. I’m referring to the 1940 short, A Plumbing We Will Go. I should think it’s more of a coincidence in this case. Either way both comedy teams deliver some solid laughs in their plumbing expeditions.

It’s while Miss Hutton is awaiting the boys in the foyer of the Van Cleve home that she’ll meet the most eligible bachelor about town, Kirby Grant. It’s like a Cinderella story come true for Hutton when he’s instantly smitten with the gal in the cabbie outfit and a singing voice to match. While she tries to explain it’s not a costume, he’s not buying it and wants to know more about her. Looks like Lou is about to lose his love.

With the waters rising, the boys make for the door and once again enlist Hutton to take the wheel. Her leaving has left Grant longing for the cute gal in the cabbie outfit. Jumping ahead Grant will track her down and invite her out to a swank estate in the countryside for a weekend get together with posh society. How are Bud and Lou going to fit in to this? Well their names have been added to a list by the Van Cleve’s of undesirables but in a classic mix up Bud and Lou find their names attached to the weekend getaway and receive invites.

And why not, it’s at the weekend getaway that “The Plunger” is to be unveiled.

That’s a definite play on works for a pair of working plumbers with less than a full deck of cards on hand. The mix up will continue upon their arrival at the estate and the two are mistaken for another pair if invitees. They’ll even score a personal butler played by Jeeves himself, Arthur Treacher, which presents Lou with some stellar comedy work wrapped around Treacher drawing him a bath and attempting to undress our childlike comedian. “The last person who undressed me was my Mother … and that was a year ago.” 

Not only are the boys and Miss Hutton at the weekend getaway but there’s Thomas Gomez turning up. He’s a loan shark that the boys are in hawk with and all they have to do to even up their debt is to help the gangster steal “The Plunger.” Turns out it’s a very expensive painting and not the antique plunger Lou was thinking it might be considering it’s appraised value. Comedy hijinks ensue as the boys attempt to make good and save the day amidst knife throwers, car chases and The Fontane Sisters who it would seem have taken over for Patty, Maxene and LaVerne. Better known as The Andrew Sisters who had appeared in both Buck Privates and In the Navy with Bud and Lou as the musical feature.

In Society was the first of five Abbott and Costello features that were directed by Yarbrough. He’d also helm the 52 episodes of the comedy duo’s television show that ran between 1952 and 1954. There’s a high speed chase scene in the final reel of this 73 minute special that gave me pause knowing that Jerry Seinfeld is a huge fan of the pair and Bud Abbott’s work as a straight man. Lou finds himself on a fire truck driving the back end with the oversized steering wheel. In season 7 in the episode The Secret Code, so does funny man Kramer. I know, I’m reaching again but one never knows where the influences come from for the next generation. …. Just a thought.

As a team, Bud and Lou, were ranked the 8th most popular movie star attraction of the year. Down from peaking at number 1 in 1942. They’d fall out of the top ten but storm back to a number three ranking in 1948 on the strength of their best film and bona fide classic, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. They’d remain in the top ten into 1951 before falling out once again and making way for the next comedy duo who were shaking up the box office, Martin and Lewis.

Abbott and Costello fans can rejoice at the recent release of 28 films on blu ray in a collector set from Shout/Select Factory which has made it’s way to the movie room here at Mike’s Take.

5 Comments »

  1. I just checked out that box set on-line…looks like a lot of fun, with some great extras! I didn’t realize those two had made so many feature films together, and in such a short time frame. And just curious: the poster and lobby card above contain images of bathing beauties at the beach or at a pool…is there such a scene or scenes in the film?

    • There is a pool bit at the fancy estate so yup there are some bathing beauties in the backdrop while Bud and Lou schmooze with the upper crust. There are a few films they made not included in the set. Some of the later films once Universal dropped them and a couple they made on loan in mid 40’s to MGM.

  2. You are so right to label ABBOTT AND COSTELLLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) a classic.
    Also loved them in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO GO TO MARS (1953.
    This commentary about IN SOCIETY (which as we know is crumbling as we speak) is from film director John Landis (BEVERLY HILLS COP 3) –

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