Before watching the movie:
I wouldn’t say that a written script is improvisation, though I have known jazz musicians to plan out the “improvised” solos they intend to play. However, I think “improvising around the fairy tale” is a good way to describe what I expect to see here.
A movie centered around a big green thing and a golden thing (unless the only treasure in this version is the woman) seems like a good choice for an early commercial color film.
After watching the movie:
Jack Strong and his “agent” Mr. Dinkle get a gig from a temp agency as babysitters for self-described “problem child” Donald. Jack attempts to read “Jack and the Beanstalk” to Donald, but he can’t pronounce the 64-dollar words and instead asks Donald to read it to him, then promptly falls asleep and dreams the story. Jack is a dimwitted young man in a town terrorized by a Giant that takes whatever he wants from the people. As Jack and his mother have nothing, Jack’s mother decides to have Jack take the family cow Henry to the butcher for the money. The butcher, Mr. Dinklepuss, cons Jack into accepting “magic” beans instead of “worthless” money, which grows into a beanstalk tall enough to reach the Giant’s castle. Determined to prove that he’s not a feeble-minded boy anymore, Jack climbs the beanstalk to rescue the abducted princess and become a hero. And Mr. Dinklepuss comes along because the Giant has stolen jewels and a goose that lays golden eggs.
This is a musical, but the songs feel very forced. As the lead, Costello sings some even though he’s hardly a singer, but it’s mostly the townsfolk chorus and the captured prince and princess who are both hiding their royalty from the other. These songs seem to be there because light entertainment movies have to have songs.
Most of Abbot and Costello’s movies were made under contract with Universal, but they produced this themselves because Universal didn’t want to spend the money on shooting an Abbott and Costello movie in color, and I have to agree they aren’t enhanced much by it. There are several very bright color choices made to highlight that this is in color, but they don’t add anything. Maybe at this point, Abbott and Costello are consigned to monochrome because that’s how we remember them, but the color seems redundant now.
The story seems unsure of what to do with all its characters. Jack’s relationship with his cow is heavily emphasized in the beginning, and he has a bit of a romance with Polly, the Giant’s housekeeper, but after the cow has been sold and Polly has helped everyone out of the castle, their stories are wrapped up with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of Polly riding out on the cow, neither of them to be seen again. I guess they could hardly get the cow down the beanstalk in a hurry, but it’s a frustrating lack of resolution for both of them.
There’s not as much of a flow to the improvisation around the story as I expected. Some of that comes from having to stop for songs, but mostly I didn’t expect that Jack and Mr. Dinklepuss would be captured and set to work as servants, which gives them a while to stop and do semi-self-contained sequences not in any real danger. It’s fun, just not the kind of fun I would’ve guessed it would be.