Cinema of yesteryear Africa Screams | Sunday Observer
Retro reviews:

Cinema of yesteryear Africa Screams

10 January, 2021

A tribe of cannibals with a sweet tooth for fat bellied white men, a professional hunter so near sighted he can’t see six inches in front of him, an armchair explorer who is terrified of any and all animals leading a safari expedition, and a gorilla determined to repay the kindness shown him by his unwitting rescuer come together along with many other amusing comedic elements in Africa Screams, an adventure comedy film directed by Charles Barton.

Released in 1949, ‘Africa Screams’ is a studio shot safari genre movie starring Bud Abbot and Lou Costello in the lead roles as Buzz Johnson and Stanley Livington, two best friends working in the book section of a large department store who set off on an African treasure hunt with turns of good fortune and misfortune sweeping over them.

The story begins when a sophisticated woman named Diana Emerson visits the book section of Klopper’s Department store where Buzz and Stanley work, looking for a book titled Dark Safari written by a famous explorer named Cuddleford. Buzz tells Diana that they sold the last copy of that book and in turn, is told by Diana that she will pay $2,500 for details of a map that is inside the book. Buzz asks Stanley who has an eye for detail and a sharp memory if he remembers the map in Dark Safari.

Striking a deal

When Stanley affirms he can remember the map, Buzz strikes a deal with Diana. Later in the evening, Buzz takes Stanley to Diana’s home where they are to meet and conclude the deal once Stanley draws the map and provides it to Diana. However, while there, Buzz overhears Diana speaking to a well known circus impresario and animal trainer named Clyde Beatty that she will pay him $20,000 for his services in their attempt to capture and bring back a large ape thought to be near mythical due to its sheer colossal size.

Realising the map that they have is more valuable than $2,500, Buzz ups his price and renegotiates the terms of the deal as $20,000 and also the opportunity for Buzz and Stanley to be part of the expedition to Africa. The story moves to what is a ‘studio filmed’ Africa as the safari party moves through the Congo filled with thick jungle, rivers and streams, crocodiles and simians, and also cannibal tribesmen! The expedition consists of an array of characters whose engagements create a humorous fabric of buffoonery that makes this expedition anything but a sane and serious affair!

After setting up camp, Buzz overhears that Diana’s actual intentions of being in the Congo are not to trap a gargantuan ape, but to find diamonds. The ‘map’ that Stanley has memorised in his head turns out to be not the actual map of the Congo territory in the book Dark Safari but Stanley’s map of his route to work. The stage is thus set for a potpourri of confusion and prevarication which sees Buzz whipping up measures and means to get out of the Congo not only with his life but also wealthy with diamonds.

Along the trail of mishaps and moronic machinations, Buzz and Stanley get lured by a cannibal tribe that sets a trail of diamonds to lure them into their village and of course, thus their cooking pot! While waiting to be turned into a delicacy to the hungry tribe, the two of them are rescued by a grateful gorilla that Stanley had inadvertently rescued from a trap set by a renowned explorer named Frank Buck who is also on the hunt for the gargantuan ape. Following their escape, the cannibal chief arrives at the camp of Diana’s expedition and offers Diana diamonds in exchange for the two men the tribal chief believes is part of that camp and especially mentions that he wants Stanley! The translator of the tribe who speaks in broken English says, “Chief has sweet tooth for little fat man!”.

Giant ape

Diana who sees the sack of diamonds immediately agrees to the deal. Stanley and Buzz flee the camp and in the commotion that ensues with the cannibal tribesmen, Buzz recovers the diamonds and hides them. The expeditionary team and the cannibals pursue Stanley, but while hot on his heels, the cannibals suddenly back off. The sight that deters them is revealed to be the colossal giant ape which is the size of King Kong, whose existence had been dismissed by many as a myth!

Stanley doesn’t realise the ‘force of nature’ that saves his skin and simply passes through the wide space between the parted legs of the massive ape standing tall as a multi-storey building! Meanwhile, the friendly gorilla who is ever so grateful to Stanley for having pulled it out of the pit it was trapped in, recovers the diamonds before Buzz finds them.

The whole exhausting experience of the expedition and more so due the loss of the enormous wealth in the form of diamonds that was actually in the palm of his hands but slipped through his fingers, makes Buzz very distraught and he sets course to get out of the jungle on a small raft abandoning Stanley in the jungle calling Stanley a jinx who had brought misfortune to his life.

The final scene shows that some time has passed since the expedition to Africa. Stanley is back in the US, dressed in the manner of a wealthy man and the owner of his own skyscraper building. He had made it out of the Congo and evidently wealthy! Soon it is shown that Buzz is working in Stanley’s building as the elevator operator.

While taking Stanley up to his floor, Buzz appeals to his employer for a raise, to which Stanley answers that he must discuss it with his business partner. The business partner is revealed to be none other than the gorilla who provided Stanley the stash of diamonds while on their safari, deep in the jungles of the Congo!