Original theatrical release lobby card
|Directed by||Charles Barton|
|Produced by||Huntington Hartford|
|Written by||Earl Baldwin|
|Screenplay by||Martin Ragaway|
Leonard B. Stern
|Music by||Walter Schumann|
|Cinematography||Charles Van Enger|
|Edited by||Frank Gross|
Huntington Hartford Productions
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$1.5 million|
Africa Screams is a 1949 American adventure comedy film directed by Charles Barton and starring Abbott and Costello. It parodies the safari genre. The title is a play on the title of the 1930 documentary Africa Speaks! The supporting cast features Clyde Beatty, Frank Buck, Hillary Brooke, Max Baer, Buddy Baer, Shemp Howard, and Joe Besser. The film entered the public domain in 1977.
Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke) visits the book section of Klopper's Department store looking for a copy of Dark Safari by the famed explorer Cuddleford. She tells the clerk, Buzz Johnson (Bud Abbott), that she will pay $2,500 for a map that is inside the book. Buzz's friend and co-worker, Stanley Livington (Lou Costello), an armchair explorer, has read the book and says he is familiar with a map in it. Buzz brings Stanley to Diana's home to draw the map, but when he overhears Diana offer Clyde Beatty $20,000 to lead an expedition to capture a legendary giant ape, Buzz realizes that the map is worth considerably more than $2,500. Buzz asks for more money and for he and Stanley to join the safari.
They travel to the Congo with Diana's team of explorers, including Harry (Joe Besser), 'Boots' Wilson (Buddy Baer), 'Grappler' McCoy (Max Baer) and Gunner (Shemp Howard), a nearsighted professional hunter. When he learns that the expedition's true goal not the giant ape but a fortune in diamonds, Buzz renegotiates their deal again. However, it turns out that the map in the book that Stanley is familiar with is a map he drew himself of the route to his job at Klopper's. However, Stanley's memory of details in the book bring the party to the region Diana is interested in.
A cannibal tribe sets a trail of diamonds to lure Buzz and Stanley and capture them. The boys are rescued by a grateful gorilla (Charles Gemora) who Stanley had inadvertently rescued from one of Frank Buck's traps. The cannibal chief offers Diana diamonds in exchange for Stanley ("Chief have sweet tooth for little fat man," explains his translator). Stanley flees, while Buzz recovers the diamonds and hides them. While pursuing Stanley, the expeditionary team and the cannibals are frightened away by the giant ape whose existence had been dismissed as myth. The friendly gorilla, meanwhile, recovers Buzz's diamonds before Buzz can. Distraught over the loss of his treasure, Buzz abandons Stanley in the jungle.
Some time later, back in the United States, Stanley appears prosperous and owns his own skyscraper. Buzz works as the elevator operator. It turns out that Stanley's partner is the gorilla who had recovered the diamonds.
Africa Screams was filmed from November 10 through December 22, 1948, at the Nassour Studios in Los Angeles. The film was produced by A&P heir Huntington Hartford. The film was the second of the independently financed productions Abbott and Costello made while they were under contract with Universal, and it was released by United Artists.Clyde Beatty provided his own animals for the film.
The subplot regarding the affectionate gorilla originally presented a female simian pursuing Costello. However, the Breen Office censors that enforced the Production Code in Hollywood demanded that the gorilla's gender be changed because they felt a female gorilla's pursuit of a man would be on par with bestiality.
Africa Screams marked the first time that Abbott and Costello worked with Hillary Brooke and Joe Besser; both actors would later become part of the ensemble cast for the duo's television series The Abbott and Costello Show. The film also marked the only time that Shemp Howard and Joe Besser appeared together in a film; Besser would replace Howard as one of the Three Stooges following the latter's death in 1955.
The film was purchased in 1953 by Robert Haggiag, an independent distributor in New York. Haggiag failed to renew the copyright because he lost interest in the film, and it fell into the public domain in 1977. Author and film historian Bob Furmanek contacted Haggiag in the late 1980s and obtained the original nitrate stock. Most of the original camera negative had decomposed, but the nitrate fine grain was still serviceable and he had it transferred to 35mm for preservation.
This film is in the public domain and has been released multiple times on VHS and DVD by several companies. A Kickstarter to restore the film for Blu-ray was launched by Bob Furmanek on December 1, 2019, and reached its original $7,500 goal in about 29 hours. The Blu-ray is scheduled for release in the spring of 2020.
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The main character's name Stanley Livington is suggestive of the surnames of British explorers Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingstone who had a famous meeting in 1871. It is not known whether the change from Livingstone to Livington is the result of a typist's error or a deliberate obfuscation.