In comedy terms, The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock (1959) is an almost complete failure. It tries hard to be funny - too hard, in fact - but that doesn't take away from its significance in film comedy history: it turned out to be the last film of Lou Costello, his only feature without longtime partner Bud Abbott, whose 20-year-plus partnership Lou dissolved a short time before. Filmed December 3-28, 1958, it was released the following August, by which time the comedian, beloved by several generations of children, was dead and buried - Lou died of a heart attack on March 3, 1959, at the age of 52.
The team of Abbott & Costello had been a top box-office attraction during the 1940s, and they continued to be popular on radio, and then after that on both live (The Colgate Comedy Hour) and filmed (The Abbott & Costello Show) television. By the 1950s the appeal of their movies had shifted away from mainstream audiences and toward a demographic dominated by children. Over time Lou adjusted his screen persona into something like dopey man-child, a sad clown kids adored.
By 1957 Lou was looking to new horizons; he was tired of performing the same old burlesque routines and acrimoniously ended his partnership with Bud. In the summer of 1958 he played his first straight dramatic part, as an alcoholic westward pioneer, in an episode of Wagon Train called "The Tobias Jones Story." After appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show he made The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock, his only solo film.
The picture is an unfunny blend of several genres: science fiction/fantasy, family film, Preston Sturges-esque satire of small town mores. (Lou's character is more of a Sturges-conceived Eddie Bracken type than Costello's usual screen persona.) Overall, it's a lot more like Disney's later The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) than any Abbott & Costello movie, minus that film's considerable charm.
Nevertheless, its release to DVD is most welcome. Part of the first wave of Sony's "Screen Classics by Request," this DVD-R, movie-on-demand title looks just as good as a regular DVD, is in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, and includes a trailer, also enhanced, as an extra.
The slight but frenetically told story concerns trash collector and amateur scientist Artie Pinsetter (Costello), who has invented a fantastic but singularly jealous "time-space" computer-robot-whatsit named Max (also voiced by Costello). Unfortunately, no one in his desert town of Candy Rock is much interested in Lou's latest creation. Television host Bill Burton (Peter Leeds) is in town to interview aspiring politician Raven Rossiter (Gale Gordon), who owns every business in town save Artie's one-man rubbish-collecting company. Raven's niece, Emmy Lou (Dorothy Provine), desperately wants Artie to marry her, but her pompous uncle is against the relationship while his Boosters Club (a fraternal organization populated by character comedians Jimmy Conlin, Bobby Barber, Joey Faye, and Doodles Weaver, among others) spitefully refuses to invite lowly Artie into its ranks.
The young lovers beat a hasty retreat to Dinosaur Springs (Iverson Ranch, in Chatsworth), where an upset Emmy Lou runs off into what look like misty hot springs and, moments later, inexplicably grows to a height of 30 feet. Horrified at her sudden nudity as much as her extreme height, she demands Artie bring her some clothes and, later, comfort food to offset her depression. Meanwhile, troops conducting war games spot the amazing colossal fiancée and mistake her for the vanguard of a Martian invasion.
Written by Rowland Barber and Arthur Ross, from a story by Lawrence L. Goldman (and a basic concept by special effects producers Jack Rabin and Irving Block), The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock is silly instead of funny, lacking in anything like storytelling logic, consistency, and structure; or science, timing, and taste. It's all over the map, at various times featuring broad slapstick, social satire, mild hints of sex-based humor, while vaguely parodying late-1950s science fiction films. Director Sidney Miller, former actor, is singularly ham-fisted and in terms of his editing and maximizing what humor there is consistently makes all the wrong choices.
Except for Artie the characters are unappealing across the board: Emmy Lou pouts and whines through the entire film, Provine coming off like a petulant Shirley MacLaine, complaining constantly like a little kid: "Now everything's ruined!" Rossiter is a self-absorbed blowhard, and townsfolk like Standard Bates (Charles Lane) almost sadistic in their cruelty toward Artie. The amateur inventor is something of a departure for Lou; for instance, this may be the only film in which Lou's character marries (though Lou's character is anything but hot-blooded, even on their wedding night), and though the familiar underdog, he's basically a romantic, reasonably intelligent but not inherently funny.
In all their films together, Bud and Lou rarely adhered to the specifics of their scripts, partly out of simple laziness, and partly because there was a freshness to their "winging it" - approximating the written dialogue without parroting it word-for-word. This varied a lot. In some films they ad-libbed like mad while in others they stuck pretty closely to the written word. For Candy Rock, Lou seems to have memorized all his dialogue precisely and ad-libs not at all. It's a dispirited, uncertain performance. Whenever he speaks a lot of scientific jargon especially, Lou talks much slower than his normal rat-a-tat-tat style, pausing pregnantly between sentences. After the opening scenes he spends most of the film talking to Provine via process shots and reportedly Lou struggled with that technical challenge. He looks tired and so uncertain as to come off almost amateurish.
Ads and the credits tout several new screen processes: Wonderama, Mattascope and, on the posters only, Amazoscope. It's all a lot of hooey. The movie is in standard black-and-white, 1.85:1 widescreen, and the special effects consist of the usual stuff: stationary mattes, miniature sets, rear-screen projection. They're nothing special and the set-ups lack imagination and variety, though technically they're much better than similar low-budget films from the period, such as The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Attack of the 50Ft. Woman (1958), obvious inspirations for this production.
I counted exactly one good joke: Lou, propelled suddenly into the stratosphere, on the way up bumps his head on a passing Sputnik.
Video & Audio
Patterned after Warner Bros.'s Archive titles, the plain-wrap packaging and menu screens belie an otherwise splendid, 16:9 enhanced widescreen presentation on a DVD-R that, visually at least, is indistinguishable from standard DVD. The image is crisp and clean throughout and has never looked better on home video. The mono audio, English only with no subtitles, is fine. Chapter stops are provided every 10 minutes.
The only extra is a hard-sell trailer - "The Funniest Film in the History of Roar-Fare!" - that's also 16:9 enhanced and looks nearly as good as the feature.
Lou's death cast such a pall over Candy Rock's release that it was neither a critical nor commercial success. And yet if only for Abbott & Costello completists and fans of '50s-era science fiction, this is a must-see, must-have anyway, the final film of one of the screen's great clowns. For them this is Recommended.
Film historian Stuart Galbraith IV's latest book, Japanese Cinema, is on sale now.