From how hard the movie is trying to be sold as a wacky comedy, I would expect that the change that Avalon’s undergoes in space would be really wacky, like he comes back really loopy, or having switched minds with his simian copilot. At the very least, “Deadhead” suggests to me an “idiot comes turns smart” story, which isn’t necessarily funny. But the summary I read says that he returns with a more “aggressive” personality. That doesn’t necessarily sound funny. Maybe it’s funny because he’s aggressive like a chihuahua, overconfident in his abilities.
It seems like the 50s and 60s had a fascination not just with science shenanigans making small things gigantic, but making women gigantic in particular, and apparently even Lou Costello got in on it.
This is notably the only film Costello made without Abbott, and I’m not sure how that will work out because while in modern comedy, comedians work solo just fine, I know that back in the day it was considered correct and proper to pay Abbott more than Costello because anyone could be a comedian, but a good straight man for the comedian to play against was worth his weight in gold, and that’s something that’s evident in the duo’s greatest hits.
After watching the movie:
Artie Pinsetter is a broke garbage collector who studies science in his spare time and hopes to make his name by uncovering an atomic energy source behind the strange activity in the cave outside of town. His girlfriend Emmy Lou wants him to marry her already, but he’s too preoccupied with his research, and after an argument, she runs into the cave and suddenly grows to 30 feet tall. When Artie tries to explain what’s happened to her wealthy uncle Raven Rossiter, he says that Emmy Lou has gotten “big”, and Rossiter assumes he means she’s pregnant, and sends a priest to perform a shotgun marriage so they won’t wreck his chances at being elected to public office. But the problems inherent in suddenly being a giant woman outside of town won’t go away so easily, and Artie and Emmy Lou’s relationship is strained by the hardship. Also the army decides she’s obviously an invading Martian and diverts a war game exercise to shoot her down.
Gale Gordon’s Rossiter is somewhat of a type with Bud Abbott, and he’s certainly the main straight man to Artie’s antics, but it wouldn’t have worked with Abbot because Bud and Lou are always friends or at least partners, and Rossiter is more of an antagonist. He berates Artie constantly and doesn’t want him anywhere near his niece until he thinks she’s already pregnant, and then she’s suddenly just as poisonous to his image and power as Artie is. He’s also reminiscent of The Beverly Hillbillies’ Mr. Drysdale.
Of course, the giant effects rarely avoid having the characters seem isolated. The budget doesn’t have room for much more than high/wide shots and low/tight shots, but they go a long way with tiny props. There are a handful of shots that might have been optically printed, and there’s at least one very successful shot that I think was done with rear projection where the camera actually tracks with Artie as he walks along the length of Emmy Lou’s reclining figure and they actually share a shot while trading dialogue.
The finale gets really weird, to the point that I was anticipating a reveal that it’s all a dream. It’s not really incorrect to say that everything is resolved from Artie’s scientific skill, but it’s much more informed and indirect than earned. It feels more like it’s just time to have exciting comedic hijinks, and then once those are over, so is the movie.
I appreciate that it’s clear throughout that Artie earnestly loves and cares for Emmy Lou. He’s not just quick to reassure her when she’s scared and putting herself down about suddenly being five times her old size, but his reaction seems to come from a genuine place of having more of his sweetheart to love. He only wavers when they have an argument and she goes against his advice and orders, but he’s already ready to forgive her when she comes back. His attempt to assert authority as her husband is not something that’s aged well, but for the kinds of characters that Costello plays, trying to claim authority is kind of a character growth moment, so I try not to let it bother me too much.
This is a sweet, fun movie that tells its story with the visual tools available pretty well. I would have liked the end to have been stronger from a story perspective, but the character work makes up for it. It’s probably not the worst thing Costello could’ve gone out on.