Bud and Lou (1978)

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They were the greatest partners that ever partnered, partner.  No, I haven’t lost the ability to write, I’m simply repeating the word repeated ad nauseam in the 1978 television biopic, Bud and Lou.  I avoided watching/reviewing this for a while, predominately because I know absolutely nothing about Abbott and Costello, and the duo, embodied by Buddy Hackett and Harvey Korman, instilled a belief this was a cheapo TV movie….which it is.  Bud and Lou plays as if the screenwriter read a Sparknotes write-up about the duo and thought it was too long.  On top of it all, the characters are bipolar in temperament and horribly miscast.  For a movie about two comedians, the only humor derived is in the belief this television movie was a good idea.

Bud Abbott (Korman) and Lou Costello (Hackett) struggle to rise up the burlesque ranks, eventually becoming successful comedic actors.  However, various problems complicate their fame.

Despite the joined title, Bud and Lou, billing is an issue, both for the audience and within the narrative.  Abbott jokes about billing the straight man first, but this biopic is interested more in the life of Lou Costello.  It certainly doesn’t start that way, only making you wonder if a last-minute pardon of Costello’s character (or the idea there was more conflict in his life to mine material from) was decided upon.  I joke about the overuse of the word “partner” because in the first half hour almost every line Hackett says is punctuated with the word “partner,” as if the audience is going to forget they were a duo.  The film’s first half explores their partnership-which the film erroneously says was because of Bud previously dating Lou’s wife…or something-and rise up the ranks before they make their debut appearance on the Kate Smith Show where they infamously perform “Who’s on First.”  After that, Lou’s health problems and the death of his child cause the movie to move away from Abbott and follow Costello’s deteriorating marriage, anger issues, and subsequent death.  Abbot becomes the straight man to the point of irrelevance, content to sit around and comment on what’s happening in the moment.

The scaling down of Abbott’s character is exemplified in the detailing of each man’s health.  The movie opens with Abbott’s struggles with epilepsy complicated by excessive drinking.  He explains the reason why he’s gone through so many partners is because of his issues with the disease (epilepsy, as defined by the film, involves pausing and falling down), and thus Costello’s decision to stick with him in spite of it bonds them further.  However, this entire subplot is a bump in the road, never mentioned again past the thirty-minute mark.  Costello’s health problems take center stage, probably because he died first, although when he dies it laughably involves his manager, Eddie Sherman (Arte Johnson) just staring at him.  The man could have been saved but Eddie just looks at him and the movie cuts to commercial.  Other transitions between moments of heartbreak into bizarre “happy” sequences are used again when Costello has a heart attack.  The movie cuts from Costello lying on the ground, his health in peril, to an idyllic sequence of Anne Costello (Michele Lee) playing with their son and oh, yes Costello is fine.

Buddy Hackett bears a slight resemblance to Lou Costello in that they’re both heavy-set with black hair, but Hackett and his Catskills comic voice aren’t quick enough to spit out the rapid-fire dialogue the comedic duo were known for.  Harvey Korman is better as Bud Abbott, but he’s nothing but the straight man.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but Abbott and Costello had defined personalities.  In this incarnation, they’re just “loud” and “dull.”  The “Who’s on First” sequence falls flat because the two are taking an unnaturally long time to pull it off.  You note every pause in dialogue, usually coming from Hackett.  Hackett fares the worst with the material, especially in the dramatic moments.  A scene of him coming to grips with his young son’s death is ruined as he covers his eyes because Hackett is incapable of crying.  He’s content to scrunch up his face and call it sadness.  Conversely, his “temper” comes off like a child throwing a temper tantrum and springs from out of nowhere; one minute, Costello is a pie-eyed gentle giant and then he becomes the Queen of Sheba.  Based on what I read off its IMDB page, this movie inflamed Costello’s daughter who refuted everything the “source material” claimed.

If you’re wondering where Hollywood fits into everything, it doesn’t.  Buck Privates is mentioned but the studio and director’s names are changed.  I’m actually unsure if the studio is even mentioned.  Robert Reed (TV’s Mr. Brady) plays one of the production heads but comes off as a villain or general cynic depending on whether he likes Costello or not.  In the end, Bud and Lou is disappointing, content to wallow in hitting key moments with absolutely no context or depth.  You’ll feel as if you started the movie in the middle with scenes happening quickly before moving on to another scene. At a brief 98-minutes you won’t want to gouge your eyes out, but you’ll be close to it.

Ronnie Rating:

1Ronni

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Bud & Lou: Comedy Is No Laughing Matter

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6 thoughts on “Bud and Lou (1978)

  1. Hi, Ronnie!
    I haven’t seen this biopic on Bud and Lou. From the photos you’ve provided Buddy Hackett was the right choice to be cast though. I’ve never been an Abbott and Costello fan though so that might be why it’s never been on my radar.
    I appreciate your honest review. If any two comedians deserved a biopic tribute, it would be this talented duo.
    Cheers!
    Page

    • Hackett certainly pulls off the appearance, but he falls flat in the acting. I would definitely love a proper biopic about these two, especially after I started researching the duo and learned of their stormy friendship. Hollywood needs to get on that!

  2. it for a lot of reasons you mentioned that I avoid watching bios about any of Hollywoods beloved performers.. they fall flat.. i.e. Gable & Lombard with James Brolin & Jill Clayburgh… shudder….. sadly IMHO the reality is that these performers cannot be imitated or impersonated. They, like their films are classics. I am a HUGE A & C fan and their lives were full of sadness, drama, and unpleasantness….I prefer to remember them as they are on the screen. The ONLY bio that blew me away was Me & My Shadows starring Judy Davis & Tammy Blanchard as older and younger Judy Garland. Their resemblance to Judy at those stages in her life were uncanny. Especially when you see Blanchard appear as Dorothy.. eerie.. also the 2 actresses went on to BOTH win Emmys for playing the same person. To my knowledge that is the only time that has ever happened….. When all is said and done, while the premises behind these movies are certainly well intentioned, they are best left undone….

    • Gable and Lombard had decent acting but boy the story was just insane lol. True, there is no perfect biopic and I never seek perfection when I review these movies. I look for entertainment value, some type of authenticity in the characters or relationships, and a genuine love or appreciation for the person depicted. Too often I review biopics that seek to glorify a star’s troubles or exploit them in the name of entertainment (I point to Goodbye, Norma Jean for the ultimate failings in biopic land). I definitely agree with you about Me & My Shadows which is probably the best TV biopic I’ve ever reviewed. I also enjoyed The Mystery of Natalie Wood, to a point. It’s interesting to compare proper Hollywood-produced biopics with TV-produced ones. The former tends to have a deeper interest in the star, better actors and production design (Hollywoodland, The Aviator). Biopics don’t look to be a dead genre with so many in the pipeline, but hopefully they can be a bit more reverential.

  3. Pingback: The 20 Worst Classic Films of 2014 |

  4. Pingback: The Fiasco of Bud & Lou (1978) – The Life and Times of Hollywood

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