Alice Oscura, Featured Writer
Plot: The lives of freight handlers Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) and Chick Young (Bud Abbott) are turned upside down when the contents of two mysterious crates from Europe escape during delivery.
Background: Abbott and Costello were an American comedy team who were most popular during the 40s and 50s for their work on radio, film, and television. Their most popular routine, which is also considered to be one of the best known routines of all times, is “Who’s on First?” The duo was among the most popular and highest-paid entertainers in the world during World War II. During a national tour in 1942 they sold $85 million in war bonds in 35 days.
Review: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the first of several films in which they were partnered with the Universal Monsters. At the time that this film was released the popularity of the classic monsters began to fizzle and countries were still reeling from the destructive aftermath of WWII.
Audiences were clamouring for something new and refreshing since they were being bombarded by reels of footage showing the utter death and devastation left behind by the war. In walks the dynamic duo of Bud and Lou ready to take on the monsters with a barrel of laughs and dash of horror on the side served up as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
The pompous, bossy attitude of Abbott always rubbed me the wrong way, but I have to admit that therein lies the perfect comedic balance between the duo. In the film, Costello/Wilbur sees the monsters first beginning with Dracula (Bela Lugosi). Whilst reading an exhibition poster on Dracula, he begins to hear the Count’s coffin opening and starts screaming for his partner Chick/Abbott.
The execution of the entire scene is absolutely hilarious! It brings to mind a particular sketch that I saw years ago on Sesame Street that involved Bert and Ernie going to visit a pyramid. That particular sketch managed to scare the living daylights out of me as a kid. Basically, it goes like this: one of the Egyptian statues (that looks eerily like Ernie) begins to move and Ernie, scared out of his mind, begins calling repeatedly for Bert who thinks that Ernie is just freaked out and imagining things. Sounds familiar? I couldn’t help thinking about that sketch while I was looking at that particular scene of the film, and I kept wondering if Sesame Street drew their inspiration from it.
Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role of Larry Talbot aka The Wolf Man and is cast as the underrated hero as he tries desperately to stop Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster (here played by Glenn Strange after Boris Karloff had opted out). Basically, Dracula has hatched a plot that he wants to replace the current brain in Frankenstein monster’s head with a more pliable, obedient one that he can control. Unfortunately for Wilbur, it just so happens to be his brain, and his current main squeeze is the doctor who is going to be performing the surgery.
Larry’s handicap remains his lycanthropy and more hilarity ensues when he begs Wilbur to lock him in his hotel room as the moon rises before he turns into a werewolf. Thinking that Talbot is just a nut job Wilbur humours him with his request, until he has to go back into Talbot’s room after having discovered that he left his suitcase in the room he shares with Chick. The back and forth into Talbot’s room after he has already made the werewolf transformation is both comical and nail biting at the same time. Costello has a talent for portraying fear in a hilarious way and he is always a character that is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Bela Lugosi still performed Dracula with as much passion as his 1931 debut in the role. The transformation to and from bat form utilised a more animated technique making the transition more fluid. It is not made quite clear why Dracula wanted to control Frankenstein’s monster, but I would assume that he wanted to make use of the monster’s sheer strength and size in order to intimidate his victims.
Dracula blackmails Dr Mornay (Lenore Aubert), who is wanted by the law, into making the necessary preparations to achieve the brain transplant. His plans are eventually thwarted when Talbot sacrifices himself by grabbing Dracula in bat form while jumping over a railing into the sea below. The rest of the team manage to clumsily set fire to the monster.
When all seems to be resolved The Invisible Man makes a cameo in the end in the form of Vincent Price’s voice. Price took over the role from Claude Rains in the 1940 sequel The Invisible Man Returns but didn’t reprise the role in Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man in 1951.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a massive hit in cinemas and proved to be a much-needed revitalization to the careers of Abbott and Costello. It even spawned other monster partnership movies.
While the film has been maligned by horror fans for “killing” the classic horror film genre, I believe that it actually succeeded in saving the genre, and is responsible for the creation of the horror/comedy branch that still influences many movies to this day. Life is all about the variety and choices folks!
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was a fantastically fun approach to classic monsters. It is also a significant film in both the history of American film comedy and the legacy of horror.
Alice’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
Hope you enjoyed my Universal Horror Monster Retrospective series. For all my previous entries you can check the links below:
Dark Alice has an old soul and a curious mind. I believe that anyone can be a hero and that the good guys should always win! I dislike cruelty to animals and think that they have far superior qualities to humans. My motto is there is no future without the past. I also have a weird penchant for Paranormal TV shows even though the slightest sound makes me jump.
I enjoy writing reviews and throwing in fun facts to pique the readers’ curiosity. My ultimate goal in life would be to become a published writer one day. You can find me as Dark Alice Reviews on Facebook, my Instagram is alice_oscura and my Twitter handle is @lise_veliz2. For more on me you can click here.