The Bootleg Files: Have Badge Will Chase

BOOTLEG FILES 797: “Have Badge Will Chase” (1959 8mm one-reel excerpt from “Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops”).

LAST SEEN: On YouTube.


It fell through the cracks.


Long before video cassette recorders invaded living rooms in the 1970s, movie lovers who wanted to replay their favorite films at home would purchase projectors and screens and create their own private cinematic viewing experience.

Consumers who purchased the Bell & Howell 8mm film projectors from Sears Roebuck & Co. in the late 1950s and early 1960s would receive free demonstration reel that could be used for a test run. According to film historian Ted Okuda, that demonstration reel was “Have Badge Will Chase,” sold under the Castle Films banner.

If “Have Badge Will Chase” doesn’t sound very familiar, that’s because there was no Hollywood film by that name. Instead, this was a new title given to the climactic excerpt from the 1955 “Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops,” which Castle Films licensed as standalone footage sold in a one-reel format for the home movie audience.

“Abbott and Costello Meets the Keystone Kops” is, quite frankly, one of the duo’s least interesting films. The premise is certainly intriguing – set in 1912, the pair play suckers who are conned into buying the Edison movie studios. They track the flim-flam man who tricked them to Hollywood, where he is impersonating a Russian director. Abbott and Costello get work as stunt men in the silent movie industry while trying to apprehend the con artist.

By the time this film was being shot, Abbott and Costello were clearly played out. The 58-year-old Abbott and the 49-year-old Costello seemed too old and lethargic for the rigorous slapstick required for a film of this nature, and neither man seemed enthusiastic about the screenplay they were forced to perform – film historian Jim Mulholland, in his definitive text “The Abbott and Costello Book,” complained that this work was a “succession of tired sight gags” until the film’s final chase sequence, which is the basis of “Have Badge Will Chase.”

In this sequence, Abbott and Costello come from playing police officers in a film to catch the man who conned them (Fred Clark) and his lovely accomplice (Lynn Bari) robbing the safe of the studio’s president. As the crooks get away in a stolen car, Abbott and Costello spot the actors who played Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops in their costumes and mistakenly believe they are real cops. The Keystone Kops and Abbott and Costello engage in a wild chase to pursue Clark and Bari that include hair-raising encounters with an oncoming train, a construction site and bakery truck full of pies.

The chase sequence is the best part of the film – it has speed and imaginative humor that is conspicuously absent from the rest of the production. Director Charles Lamont clearly studied the classic Keystone Kops film to approximate the camerawork and editing needed to pay proper tribute to the old-school chase. And the stuntmen at Universal-International who doubled as the Keystone Kops did a marvelous job. The film also has a merry musical score that mirrors the on-screen shenanigans – Henry Mancini was an uncredited contributor to the score.

But oddly, the sequence fails to click when Abbott and Costello are on the screen. The studio clearly would not take the risk of having their stars in dangerous stunts, so they were filmed with a too-conspicuous rear projection – at one point, Abbott’s shadow can be seen on the rear projection screen. The comics also seemed vaguely bored with their duties and never give the impression that they are in the scene, but instead are just going through their paces.

“Have Badge Will Chase” was released in both a silent format with intertitles filling in for the missing soundtrack and a sound version that kept the intertitles even though they were not needed. While it was not top-tier Abbott and Costello, this short film was among the most popular of their comedies in Castle Films’ catalogue – and copies can still be located for sale online.

“Have Badge Will Chase” is not on any digital home entertainment, but a decent copy can be found in an unauthorized upload on YouTube, and it makes for a pleasantly mindless seven-and-a-half minute distraction.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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