Rixflix A to Z: Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953)

Director: Charles Lamont
Universal, 1:17, b/w
Crew Notables: Henry Mancini (music, uncredited)
Cast Notables: Abbott and Costello, Robert Paige, Martha Hyer, Mari Blanchard, Horace McMahon, Jack Kruschen, Joe Kirk, Anita Ekberg, Harry Shearer (boy at orphanage)
TC4P Rating: 5/9

It hardly mattered that the boys never got to Mars. Seen first on a Christmas morning in my youth, the planet that Abbott and Costello actually landed on was not the point. Sitting down to watch Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, and basing my reactions off that title alone, a rocket ride into space was a point. The promise of slithery, slobbering alien creatures was a point. Abbott and Costello goofing off in what were sure to be ridiculous-looking, poofy spacesuits was yet another point. That the film's title turned out to be a complete lie really never was an issue to me, though it seems to be the main sticking point with most movie guides, where certain of these overpriced volumes of committee-tossed opinions consider the film a colossal bomb. "But they never even get to Mars...!" etc., etc. Ugh...

Military base handyman Bud and professional orphan Lou bumble their way into stealing a rocketship destined for a Mars landing, but their flight pattern goes wackily awry. Science-ignorant Bud and Lou think they are on Mars, when in fact, they are actually in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where they mistake the multitude of revelers gussied up in costumes and giant head masks to be Martians of the silliest kind. Circumstances will have them eventually and quite accidentally take to space for real, but they will land on Venus instead, and this is where my head did a swivel as a young'un. Somewhere amongst the space vixens of the second planet, naturally inhabited not just by women, but by gorgeous women only (and all played by Miss Universe entrants), is the voluptuous Anita Ekberg. I know this now, but at that young age (what was I? 10, 11?), I was years away from seeing Fellini's La Dolce Vita. (It didn't matter anyway: Mari Blanchard, who plays Queen Allura, was more my type at the time.) What I did know was that once the parade of high-heeled hotties began, all of my concerns about seeing monsters in the film dissipated. Had I at last found my special purpose?

Watching the film anew, I am struck by how it is actually taken over by another accidental comedy team, that of Horace McMahon and Jack Kruschen as Mugsy and Harry, two escaped convicts who stow away on the rocket to Venus, thereby running afoul of Bud and Lou as both teams do battle for control of the spaceship. And of the movie, it seems. McMahon and Kruschen actually get the sharper of the dialogue sequences, with McMahon's gangster tough having a bottomless reservoir of scientific and arcane knowledge at his fingertips, knowing and explaining to Harry exactly how the blaster ray works, and understanding with only the barest hint that the Venusian queen has placed some form of a curse on Costello. Kruschen, who would be nominated for an Oscar a handful of years later for Billy Wilder's The Apartment, and his character of Harry is a brick wall of a man in both size and brain, but he punctuates all of McMahon's suggestions and directions with the charmingly assertive, and oft repeated, "I am with you!" As a child, I remember saying this line here and there, though I probably had forgotten its origin when I did. (Seeing the film a few times over the intervening years has kept the line in my repertoire.)

Despite the sci-fi elements, the film comes out as merely average, though I don't place it as low as others would have done. This is not because of Bud and Lou, however, for they seem overly tired in this one and are practically going through the paces. What saves it from the bottom of the heap is some nice production design on the part of Universal (some pieces were reused in This Island Earth the following year) and some nice production design on the part of Mother Nature, where the girls are concerned. And also, what saves it is that accidental comedy team of Mugsy and Harry. I am usually with Bud and Lou, but for this time only, I am with them...

RTJ

[This review was edited and updated with new photos on 11//14/2016.]

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