One of the things I always liked as a kid about Bud Abbot and Lou Costello movies was the ebullient mish-mash of comedy, music and even occasionally the dancing, all for less than 90 minutes. And the first twenty-five minutes of Pardon My Sarong has it all. It is my favorite twenty-five minutes in all their movies.
Abbott and Costello are bus drivers, Algy Shaw (Abbott) and Wellington Pflug (Costello), who have been hired by a rich playboy (Robert Paige) to drive him and his multitude of giggling female companions to his club, where he is going to enter a yacht race. Unfortunately, Algy and Wellington do not have the permission of the bus company to take their bus and the irate owners send out a detective to arrest them (if you look carefully, the meeting full of bus executives contains ubiquitous bit actors like Charles Lane and Chester Clute).
The songs at the club are provided by the Ink Spots, a quartet that was extremely popular in the 1940s. They sing “Do I Worry” and “Shout Brother, Shout.” The latter song is sung while Tip, Tap, & Toe – a tap dancing trio – perform a dance on a table, slipping and sliding and tapping on the well polished tabletop. I’ve always been a sucker for a tap dancing interlude in a movie and I particularly liked this one as a kid (I loved tap dancing so much I even took lessons for seven years – though I hardly recall a step now). If a tap dance were to break out in the middle of a film noir or horror movie I would probably still enjoy it.
During the singing, the spoiled playboy discovers that his agent stole the crew of a rival yachtsman, whose sister is now extremely angry with him (played by Virginia Bruce). Algy and Wellington run into the private detective (played by one of my favorite character actors, the always cantankerous William Demarest), who chases them into the backstage of a theater, where Marco the Magician is performing (Sig Arno, a Preston Sturges regular). Algy and Wellington pretend to be magicians and the three men have a field day among Marco’s various props, such as the inevitable trunk with the trap door. Costello even makes an omelette in Demarest’s hat.
That is the first twenty-five minutes, but the rest of the film is even more ridiculous. Virginia Bruce manages to accidentally get herself aboard Robert Paige’s yacht, along with Algy and Wellington, and they run into a storm and get lost at sea until they happen upon an island in the south seas, where they run into the villainous Lionel Atwill out to steal the native’s jewels while the natives think Wellington is a great hero.
The movie is politically incorrect, ridiculously plotted (Lionel Atwill’s plan is rather strange) with seriously Hollywoodized and naive natives (though the villains seem pretty dense, themselves) who sing and dance and turn their song in praise of their god into a jive song (and they wonder why the local volcano god is angry).
Another amusing visual gag in the second half is when Algy and Wellington are running away from Atwill’s henchmen and pose as statues while the henchmen mill about in perplexity. Every time the henchmen turn around, they are in a different pose. Abbott’s imitation of the blank and straight-faced look that many statues have is particularly good.
Lionel Atwill, that scion of classic horror movies, does hardly anything, but his very reputation as a horror actor lends suitable villainy to the proceedings. Leif Erickson has a role as a jealous warrior whose fiance is interested in Costello and gets to wear the most extraordinary hat you have ever seen. All the costumes are a riot, the music is lively (there was a craze for south seas music during the early forties), it’s fun to recognize all the different character actors and Abbott and Costello are in top form. Wacky, but I think one of their most entertaining films.