Movies Is Good: ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
(ABBOTT reads from a sign near Dracula’s coffin.)
ABBOTT: Count Dracula must return to his coffin before sunrise, where he lies helpless during the day. That’s the bunk!
COSTELLO: That’s what I’m trying to tell you! That’s his bunk!
Few films have given me more pleasure than Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, released on June 15th, 1948. I’ve referenced it countless times in other columns and on the podcast, but I have never written specifically about it. Here’s why I love it so much.
I. It’s very funny.
I have been lucky enough to enjoy the film in a crowded movie theater full of living people, and it still plays. Not only does the film have a good ratio of thrills and chills to laughs and gags, but A & C’s production team made sure of this by repeating some popular bits from their other movies. “The moving candle” gag performed while the two comedians are unpacking exhibits at McDougal’s House of Horrors is lifted straight from Hold That Ghost, another A & C film made seven years prior. A later scene where Costello thinks the Wolf Man is only Bud Abbott wearing a costume and keeps punching him in the nose seems inspired by a similar scene with a bear in the pair’s The Naughty Nineties from 1945. Of course, Costello crying out for “ABBBBBBBOTTTTTTT!” had always been a staple of their act and would continue, as the runaway success of Meet Frankenstein would lead to a bevy of films where the team met other monsters.
II It features the real, original Universal Monsters.
With the exception of Boris Karloff, who did publicity for this film but did not appear it, the monsters in this Universal romp were the real guys. Hell, even Glenn Strange
had appeared as the Monster in House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein (only
one time less than Karloff!) before appearing with Abbott & Costello. We get the real Universal Monster team. Accept no substitutes.
TANGENT: The other night I was enjoying the company of some old friends via a Happy Hour/Zoom Call we share once a month and facetiously call our 40 Year High-School Reunion. One of my friends works for Universal Studios (I’ll call her “Rebecca,” for that is her name.) and another (Tom) had just signed up for the NBC/Universal Peacock streaming service. I was waxing boastful when I mentioned that my perfect “retirement job” would be as a Tram Tour Guide at Universal Studios Hollywood. I practically know the history of the studio already—imagine if I boned up for an actual job interview. (This would be a dream job because the last time I visited this amazing movie studio/theme park, I spent the majority of the day riding the Tram Tour over and over again. I wound up riding it five times in a row. Each ride is different, depending on what’s shooting on the lot and who your guide is. It was fun.)
Tom had been using his Peacock subscription to work his way through the classic Monster films, and he asked me why, after three beautiful, nuanced portrayals by Boris Karloff, the public perception of the Frankenstein Monster was a tall guy walking stiffly with his arms outstretched? How did that come to pass? “Well,” I said and took a deep breath, in 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son Ludwig (Cedric Hardwicke) winds up putting Ygor’s brain into the monster. Ygor was played by Bela Lugosi. At the end of the film, the monster (somewhat improbably) speaks in Ygor’s voice because he has Ygor’s brain. We also discover that something in Ygor’s brain doesn’t match the Monster’s optic nerves or some shit (Don’t ask.) so the monster is now blind. When the studio followed up Ghost of Frankenstein with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, they figured it would be easier to just give Lugosi the part of the Monster, instead of dubbing in Lugosi’s Ygor voice. Preview audiences laughed at the Monster talking like Lugosi, so all of the Monster’s lines were cut in the editing room ALONG WITH EVERY REFERENCE TO THE MONSTER BEING BLIND. This is the first film that features a stiff, stumbling Monster, holding his hands out in front of him because he can’t see... and somehow that’s the image that stuck with the public.
Do I get the job?
III The pacing is brisk and it never wears out its welcome.
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein is 93 minutes long, which, if you think about it, is just about the perfect length for anything funny. Also, someone in the editing room was obviously channeling the spirit of little boys who like to see Wolf Man transformations because Lon Chaney Jr.’s four transformations here (Four!) are perfectly spaced out throughout the film. We get a full-face/lap dissolve transformation only five minutes into the film, then another at the 30-minute mark, another at the 60-minute mark, and a fourth at the very end of the film. You can almost set your watch using Chaney getting hairy. On a side note containing massive spoilers: Is there anything better than Chaney dispatching Lugosi’s Dracula by waiting for him to transform into a bat, grabbing the bat, and flinging himself and the bat down, down, down to the rocks below, killing them both? How strange and interesting that this “Dracula Meets the Wolf Man” sequence in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein would outdo the last ten minutes of “straight” horror film Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.
AN ANNOYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL PAUSE: When I was but a lad, Castle Films used to sell 50-foot reels and 200-foot reels of Super 8mm film featuring highlights from famous Universal films. I would buy these (I could afford the dinky little 50-foot ones that were sold in the camera department at K-Mart.) or check them out of the library and watch them in my basement on my prized possession, a Super 8mm projector. I owned the 50-foot version of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, which condensed the film into a tidy three minutes. A few boutique disc labels have started to include these Castle Films digests on their Special Edition Blu-ray discs. They are nostalgic fun.
Here's the three-minute version of the film, courtesy of Castle Films and whoever the hell posted this to the YouTube machine:
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein was the first movie I watched for Scary Movie Month this year (It usually is, though this time I used the Peacock streaming service) and I suspect I might just be paying it another visit before Halloween. If you have never seen it... Gosh... I don’t know what to say...
How fortuitous that I just watched this! I think I saw it once as a small child because my dad was a big fan of all things Laurel & Hardy as well as Abbott and Costello.ReplyDelete
I didn't remember too much so I count this as my first viewing, and it was so rewarding. Your write-up makes me appreciate it even more! I think it's going to become an annual tradition for me.
As you know, Peacock has several other A&C meet _________ films streaming. Any other worthy candidates? I love The Mummy so I am interested in that one especially.
After Meet Frankenstein, my favorite is Meet Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, maybe because Karloff is in that one. Meet the Mummy isn’t nearly as funny, but because you love film noir, you might be interested to know that Marie Windsor is in it!ReplyDelete
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after meet Frankenstein, my second favorite is Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff. This one has a shocking amount of gross abuse of a corpse, the scene where they set the dead guys up to play cards was completely out of left field. It's a level of black humor that none of their other films come close to. After that it's Time of their Lives because it abandons their A&C format and tries something different...by killing off Lou in the 1st reel and giving Bud no opportunity to verbally abuse him throughout the film.Delete
Where Marie goes, I go! Thanks for the tip!ReplyDelete
A long time ago in a column I suggested, only half facetiously, that for a film to truly be “film noir,” it had to feature Windsor.Delete
I ALWAYS included A&CMF in my October viewing and I usually included it in my Universal marathon... If I am watching Bride of Frankenstein and Young Frankenstein then I'm watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.ReplyDelete