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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Abbott and Costello Go to Mars

The comedy duo were hot in the 1940s, but were beginning to wane in popularity by the early 1950s, perhaps due more to over-staturation of the market than anything. Universal had them doing 2 movies a year since 1941. They did not add a lot of new material to their skits, so by 1953, audiences had seen their gags quite a few times already. Some A & C fans call Go to Mars one of their middling productions -- not their worst, but not all that great either. Many of their movies were spoofs on "serious" genre films, like westerns, horror or jungle adventure films.

That aside, Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (GtM) is a fun spoof of the sci-fi genre, which was only just getting popular then. When they were producing GtM, in early 1953, audiences would have seen films like Destination Moon, When Worlds Collide and Flight to Mars -- all having curvy cigar-shaped rockets with pointy fins and stubby wings. So, it's little surprise that GtM has one too. With news of George Pal's impending War of the Words to be release in August, audiences were primed for just about anything with "Mars" in the title.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Orville (Costello) is a 38 year old orphan in a home for orphans. When his toy plane breaks a window, he hides from a policeman in Lester's (Abbott's) delivery truck. While loading supplies on an experimental rocket, Orville presses some buttons he shouldn't have, and the rocket takes off. It zooms around awhile, comically, before landing in a Louisiana bayou. The boys think they're on Mars, but it's just New Orleans at Mardi Gras (everyone has big-headed costumes on). While in New Orleans, a couple of escaped convicts see the rocket, swipe a couple space suits as disguises to rob a bank. A comic chase ensues. All four take off again, this time to land on Venus. Venus is populated only with beauty pageant winners. Men were banished 400 years prior for unfaithfulness. Orville sits in a chair beside queen Allura, a light goes on, and the girls all decide it's a sign that Orville should be their king. Only Allura remembers why men were banished. The rest of the beauties are fascinated with the new men. This idyll unravels quickly, naturally. All four men escape. The rocket is too heavy to take off, however, Only after Orville releases all the girls he had hidden in lockers. They return to a ticker tape parade.

Why is this movie fun?
GtM is nothing BUT fun. It's a spoof. The superimposed model-on-string rocket is hardly serious special effects. The gags are still funny, and the many innuendoes are subtly delivered with straight faces. Their mistaking the outskirts of New Orleans at Mardi Gras for a Mars is silly, but fun. Then their mistaking the planet Venus for Los Angeles, is a fun spoof on their own movie. Thinking that another planet is Hollywood is a neat dig too. The convicts, form a sort of criminal opposites duo to A & C (one the wise-talking straight man, the other the buffoon). Knowing what's gone before GtM in the sci-fi genre, it's easy to see what they're spoofing. Knowing what comes after GtM makes it even MORE fun. They managed to spoof films that hadn't even been made yet, like Missile to the Moon (1958) which has two convicts hide out on a rocket ship which lands on the moon, where there's a society of only beauty pageant winners. They also have a jet-car vehicle which prefigures the one in Forbidden Planet (1956). How did A & C know?

Cold War Angle?
None. This is pure silliness in a sci-fi setting. Enjoy the break.

It might be a subtle bit of humor that the high-tech rocket ship gets stocked with wooden crated supplies. In the spirit of B-film recycling, there's the obligatory stock military footage, but as part of the spoof, some of it is obviously older WWII footage. No mistake, I'm sure. The space suits are recycled from Destination Moon and all those others who reused them too, like Flight to Mars. Their helmets, the clear spheres, were not from those previous wardrobes, but will show up again very soon in Catwomen of the Moon.

Planet Women -- The planet full of nothing but beautiful young women (but not men), who meet a few earth MEN, was not (in 1953) a tired theme. A&C were actually ahead of their time. A few earlier movies featured all-women societies, but these were a few jungle flicks like Wild Women ('51) or Prehistoric Women ('50) stories. These women societies weren't found in space yet. Universal's Abbot and Costello machine isn't often thought of as a ground-breaker or trend innovator, but in this case, they were. GtM predates all the many Planet of Women flicks that were to come, like Catwomen of the Moon, Fire Maidens of Outer Space, Mission to the Moon, Queen of Outer Space, etc. etc. There are many more, but A&C scooped them all!

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