Wednesday, October 27, 2010
31 Days of Halloween: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
By 1948, Universals' horror cycle had pretty much run out of steam. After 1945's rather lackluster House of Dracula, it seemed as if we may have seen the last of those classic monsters. Fortunately, someone hit upon the marvelous idea to give the classic monsters a sendoff with the screen's top comedy team, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The result is a truly hilarious comedy that is surprisingly respectful of its monster characters.
Baggage handlers Chick(Abbott) and Wilbur(Costello) receive large crates that have been imported by McDougal(Frank Ferguson) for his house of horrors. Skeptical of McDougal's claims that the crates contain the real Dracula(Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein Monster(Glenn Strange), the duo agrees to deliver them in person so that they can be inspected by an insurance agent. Dracula rises from his coffin, hypnotizes Wilbur, and leaves with the Monster, and Chick and Wilbur find themselves in jail for theft!
Wilbur quickly becomes a pawn in Dracula's scheme to give the Monster a new brain, while Larry Talbot(Lon Chaney Jr.), in hot pursuit of the vampire, tries to stop him. Wilbur also has to deal with the advances of Dr. Sandra Mornay(Lenore Aubert) and Joan Raymond(Jane Randolph), each of whom have their own motives. On top of everything else, there's a wonderful cameo by the great Vincent Price at the end!
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein--titled The Brain of Frankenstein during pre-production-- is a very satisfying film. The filmmakers made the wise decision to play the monsters straight, treating them with respect, rather than lampooning them. This careful balance makes the film a more fitting sendoff for the three featured monsters than the straightly-played House of Dracula. The film also features some terrific Dracula transformations provided by animator and Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lantz.
The cast does a very good job with the material. Abbott and Costello are wonderful, as usual, and even the monsters get a rare opportunity to display their comedic skills here and there(and be sure to watch for Glenn Strange cracking up during the scene in which Costello accidentally sits in his lap!). It's particularly wonderful to see Bela as Dracula one last time, still bringing every ounce of regal menace to the role that is expected. Unfortunately, this would be Bela's final role in a film at a larger studio; it was zero-budget quickie affairs from here on out. Thankfully, this film provides him a suitable swansong for his most famous role.
Despite its status as a comedy, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is every bit as satisfying for horror buffs as it is for viewers who are in it strictly for the comedic value. There is never a dull moment, and despite a few lapses in logic(a gigantic castle in Florida???!?!), the script is more than adequate, and always respectful of its monsters. It's a far cry from the Gothic horror masterpieces that originated the series nearly two decades earlier, but the film is a pretty good finale for them nevertheless. This one is highly recommended.