Thursday, September 17, 2015

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein
Director:  Charles T Barton, 
Starring:  Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr, Bela Lugosi, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Glenn Strange
Rating:  "Passed"

You're awful silly to call me all the way from London just to have your dog talk to me.

                       ~Wilbur Grey

The Universal Monsters lie dormant for three years following House of Dracula after an impressive revived run in the 1940s.  Also down on their luck was the famous comedic duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.  To some kids they're the "Who's on first?" guys and probably most modern kids are like "Who?"  Anyway, the team decided to make a comedy using the likes of the monsters Universal had made so famous.  Bud Abbott at first went along, thinking this was a dumb, childish idea, but once the filming started he "got it".  While the film ended up reviving the Abbott & Costello brand as well as Universal doing monster movies into the 1950s, the film does end up being the swan song for the "big three" of Frankenstein Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man.
Bela Lugosi finally returned as Dracula in the film, one he apparently never cared to see but agreed to all press outings and obligations.  Lugosi looks a bit aged, but convinces me enough that he's having fun with the role again.  Its a bit more of a campy take on it before, but that's needed here due to the material.  Once again, the film's villain plot winds up being about someone transferring a new brain into the Frankenstein Monster, not realizing EVERYONE ends up failing at that.  But, this time that failure candidate is Count Dracula, so it adds a little more fun to it.  For not having played the role in 17 year, Lugosi sure seemed able to just "turn it on" like he'd never left.
Lon Chaney takes on Larry Talbot for the fifth and final time.  This man surely was the heart of the Universal Classic Monster series even if he didn't enter until late in the game.  He once again is the "hero" of the monsters, trying to stop the other two and assisting our comedic protagonists along the way.  Also, Glenn Strange wound up being injured on set, so Chaney got his wish and played a stand in for the Frankenstein Monster in a few scenes, including the finale.  I love the man's gung ho attitude and willingness to jump right in and do thing just for the love of the genre.  You didn't get that much I'm sure back then and we definitely don't see a lot of that now.  
This comedy grouping almost had the perfect reunion, but alas Boris Karloff didn't make it.  He'd appear in the following Abbott & Costello movie, where his name was in the title.  Karloff was 61 years old, so I understand if he's not going to take on being the monster again.  Instead we get Glenn Strange in his third and most active outing as the monster.  He's decent enough.  Appearance-wise, Strange has actually always looked very good and closest to Karloff's.  I think one of Strange's strength's as the monster is that there is the least to say about him in the role in a positive way.  I mean, Lugosi's monster wasn't in much of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man but that performance is very widely know and discussed.  But also, up til this one, Strange's monster has been a non factor in his movies until the end.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is actually a bit of a landmark film in cinema history.  While not the first horror-comedy hybrid film, its one of the most significant ones.  This opened the door for some more comedic takes on more familiar territory.  It also launched a handful of Abbott & Costello Meets __insert monster here__ films.  One thing I appreciate from it a lot is some of the filmmaking here that I think could go lost on the untrained eye.  There are fantastic sequences here of something I'll refer to as "comedy suspense".  When Wilbur (Costello) goes into the Wolf Man's hotel room to check on something and procrastinates on taking an apple while we all know the Wolf Man is around ready to pounce is terrific.  Its a situation where you both laugh, but are tense hoping the man isn't mauled by the Wolf Man.  This is my favorite one of those moments, but many of them play throughout the film and I feel like this is one of the biggest early examples of where this sort of scenario was used in film.  And its done quite well.
A team up for the ages, this is a film I've enjoyed since my youth.  I probably saw it before I saw most of the rest of the Universal Monster movies.  I (and apparently Universal) consider it to be a piece of the canon and final film for the Frankenstein, Dracula and Wolf Man storylines. Yes, it doesn't pick up a lick of continuity from the previous film, but does adhere to the rules, returns cast members and could easily fit the setting.  This is also franchise horror, which would be none for loose continuity, revisionist parts and redoes.  So yeah, why not, Frankenstein 8, Dracula 6 and Wolf Man 5.  And yes, I call it Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, not Bud Abbott & Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein.  That what it was always called and referred to when I was growing up and its what their comedy troupe was called.  I dunno when the pretentious change happened, but I'm sticking with what I'm familiar.  The film is definitely a good romp for kids, and I think adults with a nice childish sense of humor like myself can find the fun in it, too.  The Mummy and Invisible Man would each get another turn at bat following this, but Universal took a different direction with the monsters in the 50s, evolving to something new, so this one last tip of the hat was a fun farewell to a terrific 17 year run for Frankenstein and the rest of the monsters. 

NEXT TIME:  Thought we were done?  Not yet

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