Abbott and Costello: Africa Screams

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Abbott and Costello: Africa Screams Movie Poster Image
Classic comedy has some smoking, stereotyping.
  • NR
  • 1949
  • 79 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

This film is intended to entertain, not educate.

Positive Messages

As a movie about farcical misadventure in Africa, there isn't much in the way of positive messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

As an absurd comedy, the characters are too silly to be looked at as positive role models. Some stereotyping of Africans.

Violence & Scariness

While there are numerous scenes in which characters have close calls with lions, bears, and alligators, the special effects make it obvious to even the youngest of kids that this is only a movie.

Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters are constantly shown smoking cigarettes, which is accurate for the period.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Abbott and Costello: Africa Screams is a 1949 movie in which the legendary comedy duo finds themselves deep in the jungles of Africa dodging alligators, lions, bears, and cannibals. The most troubling aspect is the stereotypical portrayal of native Africans, who do little more than grunt, carry heavy objects for the white adventurers on safari, and try their best to cook Lou Costello in a boiling pot of water. Aside from this, many of the characters are frequently shown smoking cigarettes (which is accurate for the 1940s), and characters point guns at one another. The rest of the "violence" -- such as it is -- is both too slapsticky and too obviously done by, say, men wearing lion costumes, to be anything but silly.

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What's the story?

Buzz (Bud Abbott) and Stanley (Lou Costello) are booksellers. When a pair of henchmen and a woman named Diana come in demanding to find a book that contains a map, Buzz and Stanley say the book is out of print, but that Stanley can draw the map from memory, if the price is right. Buzz and Stanley don't stop there, convincing these three that they are world-renowned explorers, which leads to Diana ordering the pair to be abducted and taken with them on a safari in which they hope to meet an African tribe and steal their diamonds. A series of bumbling misadventures ensues, leading to interactions with a myopic hunter (Shemp Howard), a lion tamer (Claude Beatty), and a tribe of cannibals. It's up to Buzz and Stanley to somehow escape all of this and return to America rich from diamonds.

Is it any good?

For fans of Abbott and Costello, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO: AFRICA SCREAMS is the kind of silly romp you would come to expect, with plenty of sight gags, one-liners, and comedic misunderstandings. For contemporary audiences, some of the humor might be a bit dated, to say nothing of the "special effects." Most troubling for modern audiences will be the portrayal of African tribesmen, who stereotypically grunt, carry heavy objects for the white explorers, and seek to eat Lou Costello, because they are cannibals.

In spite of these moments that firmly place this movie in the 1940s, there are some very silly moments, and some entertaining cameos by the likes of Shemp Howard, lion tamer Claude Beatty, and boxing brothers Max and Buddy Baer. As always, it really is wonderful to watch the comedic chemistry between Abbott and Costello. Kids who are able to see past the stereotyping and dated look will find lots to enjoy.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the year this movie was made (1949). What was going on in 1949? What aspects of the movie are out of date now?

  • How are native Africans portrayed in the movie, and if the movie were to come out today, how would that portrayal be different?

  • This movie was "colorized" in the 1980s from its original black and white. Do you think it is a good idea to "colorize" old movies, or are they best enjoyed the way they were originally presented?

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For kids who love to laugh

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