Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ten Days of Terror!: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Film: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Format: DVD from Schmaling Memorial Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you talk about great comedy teams, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are mentioned in the first sentence. They had an up and down film career, and were never more up than their 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (sometimes under the title Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein). This is more than just the pair running into Frankenstein’s monster; the film also pits them against Dracula and the Wolf Man, playing all of this for comic possibilities.

Bud and Lou, named Chick and Wilbur respectively, work as baggage handlers when they receive a call from Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) not to deliver a pair of crates to the McDougal House of Horrors. However, just as Talbot is getting to the point, the full moon rises and Talbot changes into a werewolf, causing Wilbur to think that it’s a prank call. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) then shows up and takes charge of his crates, asking the pair to deliver them to his museum.

The conceit here is that the crates aren’t merely wax museum exhibits. One crate contains the coffin of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) complete with Dracula inside. The second contains the remains of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange), fully capable of being reanimated. Wilbur gets harassed by Dracula for a bit, but every time Chick comes to rescue him, there’s nothing to see. Eventually McDougal shows up and complains that the contents of his exhibits have been stolen and has Chick and Wilbur arrested.

Through all of this, Wilbur is consoled by Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert), his girlfriend. The sad fact is that Sandra is after Wilbur for a more sinister reason. She wants Wilbur’s soft, pliable brain to replace the one currently in the monster. At the same time, McDougal’s insurance company sends in Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph) to see what happened. Joan decides that her best bet to figure out what happened is to pretend to be smitten with Wilbur, giving him two girlfriends. Larry Talbot shows up with information that Dracula is trying to reanimate the monster. But, of course, since he turns into the Wolf Man with the coming of the full moon, he’s not always that useful.

Hilarity ensues. No, really. The joy of this film is that the comic timing of Abbott and Costello was, by 1948, tuned to absolute perfection. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is really a series of comic set pieces. It doesn’t really need to be anything more, because the entire point of the film isn’t so much to scare but to amuse. And it works.

It’s true that a lot of what happens is the sort of thing that you can see coming. When Wilbur is dealing with Dracula coming out of his coffin, we know just as soon as the scene starts that Wilbur is going to see Dracula and be terrorized by him and that Chick will never see anything. It’s a classic comic formula, so it’s not surprising when it plays out. The beauty of it is that despite the fact that we know what’s happening but still laugh at it. Abbott and Costello are really just that good.

You’re not going to find anything here that really scares anyone. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein certainly has a few moments that are along the lines of the classic horror films, the sort of monster appearances that fall in line with the classic films. But that’s not the point. You could put this in front of younger kids and they wouldn’t be too terribly upset by it.

No, the reason to see this is to appreciate what Bud Abbott and Lou Costello were. They aren’t as well known today as they once were, and that’s a damn shame. They were treasures of American comedy, and this is them at their best. That and how much fun is it to see Lugosi, Chaney, and Strange (yes, it was his third movie in the flattop) reprise these roles?

Why to watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: It’s impossible not to like.
Why not to watch: You are incapable of enjoying anything.

4 comments:

  1. It's a true masterpiece, and one of my favorites. But I'm also partial to their performances in "The Time of Their Lives" with Marjorie Reynolds. The backstory on the film (and that of "Little Giant") when there was a very large rift in their partnership/relationship is pretty amazing for just how good the end product ended up being.

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    1. There's something very pure about it. It's like a Vaudeville routine, or a series of routines, put on film. It's predictable--something I really tend to hate with comedy--but it all works because of the two stars. That's pretty special.

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  2. Yes, yes, yes! This movie is brilliant, and I can attest that younger viewers won't be frightened by it. They tried to repeat the success with "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" and "Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man," and while both are fun, they can't top this film.

    Believe it or not, this is the only other movie where Lugosi reprises his role as Dracula.

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    1. I don't watch a lot of comedies because I think it's a genre that has the most problems with making a film really good. Comedy is hard, so not a lot of people do it well. Abbott and Costello did it well.

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