Rixflix A to Z: Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950)

Director: Charles Lamont
Universal, 1:20, b/w
Crew Notables: Bud Westmore (makeup)
Cast Notables: Abbott and Costello, Patricia Medina, Walter Slezak, Douglas Dumbrille, Leon Belasco, Tor Johnson, Wee Willie Davis, Marc Lawrence, Henry Corden, Candy Candido (voice of skeleton), Jeff Chandler (narrator)
TC4P Rating: 5/9

Somewhere in my head is a map of the world as drawn by where I think things are... On that map, the Rolling Stones, a band well-known to be from England, live in Chicago, along with Cheap Trick, Warren Beatty, and for some strange reason, Margaret Trudeau (don't ask...). I place things and people where they seem to be according to the news that I hear and sometimes for the strangest reasons imaginable. I could go on forever with the mixed-up inhabitants of this only slightly plausible map, but I won't at this time.

But there is one thing that is clear: the French Foreign Legion, who operate all about the world, but most famously out of Algeria, don't on my map. They operate out of France. This is actually partially true nowadays, but I don't mean their headquarters is stationed there, or that they bivouac there. On my map, they fight their battles there... in the deserts of France. Yes, even in a film where I am told flat-out that they are fighting in a desert in the middle of Africa, somewhere in my head, I believe that they are actually about an hour outside of Paris (which actually is placed in France on my map.) So, in Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion, even when the title says "Algiers" once the desert action starts, my head tells me that the Legionnaires are back in France.

Average Abbott and Costello, but even average Bud and Lou can still yield some good laughs. Lou's verbal battle with the French word "oui" is amusing, and numerous sight gags pay off well, including an extended mirage sequence (bad backdrops and all) which concludes when they encounter a spitting fish that has stolen a set of false teeth from one of the desert tribesmen. (Once again, don't ask...) There is also a bit where Bud believes that Lou has been blown to smithereens, and the pathos that Abbott wrings out of the by-the-book lines is actually quite touching. At least, until he discovers that Lou is still alive -- boy, does he turn on a dime. But, for a moment, even to someone who has always sided with the pushed-about Costello, I really felt the friendship that had to be at the base of their long partnership, no matter how tired they may have been of each other. It's a feeling that you get from Laurel and Hardy in droves, but that comes rarely in the Abbott and Costello series, and usually from Lou, at that; but there it is, fleetingly, for the taking.

You also have some wrasslin' action with the bear-like Wee Willie Davis and that monstrous icon of Woodsian (Ed, that is) ineptitude, Tor Johnson. Seeing this sequence a day removed from viewing Borat and its nude hotel wrestling shock-a-thon, I couldn't help but flash on the newer film when these two de-shirt and throw down with Bud and Lou (who play fight managers who are trying to locate Davis' Abdullah, cousin to the sheikh that is out to kill them). For those not obsessed with homoerotic affairs of the mat, there is the lovely assemblage of harem girls who become the focus of Lou's attention through much of the film.

My attention? Sorry, it was squarely drawn towards France, and just where the hell they are hiding all those deserts there...

RTJ

[This review was edited and updated with new photos on 11/14/2016. This piece was written before I learned about Le Grande Dune du Pilat.]

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