Diana Emerson (Hillary Brooke) is in the book department of Klopper's Department store looking for a copy of the book Dark Safari, written by the famed explorer Cuddleford. Buzz Johnson (Bud Abbott) overhears Diana saying that she will pay $2,500 for a map that is inside that book. He devises a plan to pass off his friend Stanley Livington (Lou Costello) as a great explorer who accompanied Cuddleford on the expedition described in the book. With claims that he can reproduce the map, the two men go to Diana's home that very night. They agree to accompany her on an African expedition, and when Buzz overhears that Clyde Beatty has been offered $20,000 to lead the expedition, he feels that the map is worth considerably more than $2,500.
They travel to Africa, along with Diana's team of explorers, including Harry (Joe Besser), 'Boots' Wilson (Buddy Baer), 'Grappler' McCoy (Max Baer) and Gunner (Shemp Howard), a nearsighted professional hunter. The boys learn that the true expedition is for diamonds rather than exploration, and Buzz plans to renegotiate the deal. Unfortunately Stanley cannot reproduce the map, as he has never seen it, and the two attempt to bluff their way around the jungle.
Eventually Buzz and Stanley find a trail of diamonds, which lead straight to a cannibal village, where the residents intend to roast the two. Fortunately, they are rescued by a gorilla who has taken a liking to Stanley after he rescues it from a trapper's pit.
The next day the cannibal tribe meets with the rest of the expeditionary team, where the chief offers several diamonds in exchange for Stanley ("Chief have sweet tooth," explains his translator.). They start to chase Stanley all over the place while Buzz buries the diamonds. The expeditionary team, along with the tribal warriors, are finally frightened away by a giant gorilla (Charles Gemora), whose existence had been dismissed as a myth earlier in the film. Stanley rushes to find Buzz, only to discover that Buzz, having lost the diamonds, has had enough and is abandoning his friend. Meanwhile, the friendly gorilla from before digs up the diamonds that Buzz has hidden and gives them to Stanley offscreen.
Some time after returning to the United States, Stanley owns the department store, along with the gorilla, and Buzz works for them as the elevator operator.Bud Abbott as Buzz Johnson
Lou Costello as Stanley Livington
Clyde Beatty as himself
Frank Buck as himself
Max Baer as Grappler McCoy
Buddy Baer as Boots Wilson
Hillary Brooke as Diana Emerson
Shemp Howard as Gunner
Joe Besser as Harry
Burton Wenland as Bobo
Charles Gemora as The Ape
Africa Screams was filmed from November 10 through December 22, 1948, at the Nassour Studios in Los Angeles. The film was produced by A&P heir Huntington Hartford. The film was the first one of the independently financed productions that Abbott and Costello made while they were under contract with Universal, and it was released by United Artists. Clyde Beatty provided his own animals for the film.
The subplot regarding the affectionate gorilla originally presented a female simian pursuing Costello. However, the Breen Office censors that enforced the Production Code in Hollywood demanded that the gorilla's gender be changed because they felt a female gorilla's pursuit of a man would be on par with bestiality.
Africa Screams marked the first time that Abbott and Costello worked with Hillary Brooke and Joe Besser; both actors would later become part of the ensemble cast for the duo's television series The Abbott and Costello Show. The film also marked the only time that Shemp Howard and Joe Besser appeared together in a film; Besser would replace Howard as one of the Three Stooges following the latter's death in 1955.
As this film is in the public domain in the United States, there have been a variety of DVD releases from multiple public domain companies over the years.