Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lou Costello---MURDERER!!!!!!

No, Lou isn't really a murderer. But he once played someone suspected of murder in what I believe was his only purely dramatic role.

I'm always a little reluctant to admit that there is such a thing as a good TV show, because that medium is responsible for killing off dramatic radio. But in reality, the first decade or two of network television included a fair percentage of well-written and well-produced shows. I've mentioned shows like Perry Mason, Bat Masterson and Combat in previous posts. Another good one was Wagon Train, which starred the wonderful character actor Ward Bond as the leader of a wagon train that never actually seems to arrive at its destination. Good writing, great actors and stark black-and-white photography made for a classy and entertaining Western.

An episode from the second season had Lou playing a drunken bum named Tobias Jones, who stows away in a wagon in his effort to reach California. With him is an orphan girl he's befriended.

The girl looks up to Tobias and wants to stay with him. But he just won't stop drinking, no matter how many times he promises to do so. When someone else on the train is found dead with Tobias' whittling knife stuck in him, he confesses to the crime, despite Ward Bond's conviction that he's innocent. By now, he's given up on himself and just wants to die.

Lou gives a strong, believable performance as Tobias--helping build a real sense of personal tragedy. The story itself gets a little too corny from time to time and I'm not sure the twist ending is as much of a surprise as it should have been, but overall the script is solid. It makes interesting viewing, both as good storytelling and as a chance to see one of the world's funniest men play a straight dramatic role.

If you subscribe to Netlfix, the episode is available for instant viewing. ("The Tobias Jones Story"--fourth episode from Season 2).

Comedians often turn out to be quite good at dramatic roles. Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Danny Kaye all played murderers on the radio anthology series Suspense--and all did quite well. So it's not that surprising that Lou Costello can play a tragic drunk and endow the part with real emotion. Perhaps it all relates to the enormous skill involved in being funny on a regular basis. After all, as an actor supposedly once said on his death bed "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

1 comment:

  1. Great post about a show I really want to see now (alas, I'm not a Netflix subber--maybe it'll turn up on Hulu someday).

    Actually, you could do a followup post titled "Lou Costello---PYROMANIAC!" I once read in a book titled Abbott & Costello in Hollywood (by Furmanek & Palumbo)that Lou appeared on GE THEATER playing a firebug, another dramatic role. (That same book also included a still of Bud Abbott on GE THEATER playing a dramatic role playing opposite Lee Marvin!) -- Gary in Omaha


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