When baggage clerks Chick (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur (Lou Costello) deliver Dracula‘s (Bela Lugosi) coffin and Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) to a local wax museum, they are pulled into a world of monsters, which also includes Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) aka The Wolfman, who is trying to stop Dracula from making Frankenstein’s monster more subservient.
As the first pairing of the comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello with Universal’s monsters, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a comedy/horror mash-up film that is just as funny today as it ever was. While there aren’t any scares or chills to be found in this film, seeing Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. in a film with the comedic duo is pure gold. While I am on the fence whether this is a masterpiece of cinema, I can wholeheartedly claim that this is a fun movie that is as entertaining as it is charming; a film that anyone can watch with a smile on their face and yearn for the glory days of Universal monster movies. Young or old, this movie is for you.
Wilbur receives a call from from London telling him not to deliver two crates to a house of horrors for they contain Dracula’s coffin and Frankenstein’s monster. The call is from Larry Talbot, who has been searching all over Europe trying to stop Dracula from implanting a new brain into Frankenstein’s monster that would make the monster more controllable. Wilbur and Chick are forced to deliver the crates to the wax museum, where Dracula rises and reanimates the monster. Of course, the brain that they want to implant in the monster is Wilbur’s. Larry Talbot arrives and teams up with Chick and Wilbur, Chick not believing that there are monsters as Wilbur is the only one who has seen them, to try to stop the Count.
When I was younger I went through a Universal Monster phase. I watched Dracula, I watched Frankenstein, I watched The Wolfman. Then I saw this. I might have been 10, at the latest, probably younger. When I saw it was being released on Blu-Ray, I had to get it. It is amazing how much of the film I had forgotten. While I have never been much of a fan of the old comedies, I did find that this is pretty darned funny. Actually, I’m not usually a fan of comedies in general. Typically, I don’t find them particularly funny. I can see the humor in them but never find myself laughing out loud, with the exception of a very few comedy films. (The Other Guys, American Pie 2, and Ted are a few recent examples of the comedies that I found funny.) I couldn’t name an old film that I laughed out loud at prior to watching this.
Abbott and Costello had their schitck down pretty solid by the time this film was released. Short guy and tall guy. Skinny and fat. Smart and dumb. Comedy tropes that are still used today and have been in use since the Roman Empire. And there is a reason. They work. They will always be funny when you have a short, fat, dumb guy playing off the tall, skinny, smart guy.
The inclusion of the monsters in this film makes it funnier. While the monsters aren’t particularly threatening and the plot is really very simply, just moving from one gag to the other and leaving plot threads unresolved (the owner of the wax museum gets bitten by Talbot but the possibility of him becoming a werewolf is never mentioned or explored), that is not the point of the film. It is one gag after the other, typically with Costello having the best moments. It is a comedy in the ’40’s style. Not a modern gross out comedy. It is safe. There is never any threat, even though the monsters are supposed to be monsters.
Obviously, there is absolutely no gore or vulgar language in this film. It is in black and white. It is a safe kind of comedy that can appeal to all ages and inclinations. It is a great film from the ’40’s. It is a super-fun riff mixing comedy and monsters to great effect.
There area couple neat documentaries on the disc as well. One is about the film where it discusses Abbott and Costello and their origins and films. It is pretty interesting and certainly worth watching. They were good men who were married for years. They were dedicated to their craft. There is another documentary discussing the backlot of Universal Studios in Hollywood. When you see this documentary and how many different films were filmed on the same backlots, it is surprising and entertaining.
For a film released in 1948, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. The comedy tropes work and Abbott and Costello were masters of their particular brand of humor. If you have a chance to check this out, I would highly recommend it. If you have a child who is getting interested in monsters due to Halloween, give this a whirl. It is safe for children, and they may just come to love the classics.
*** out of ****
- Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (onceuponascreen.wordpress.com)