Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – A Review
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are Chick and Wilbur, two freight handlers who get a very strange shipment headed their way. Two large crates destined to a wax horror museum supposedly contain the bodies of Count Dracula (Béla Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange).
The more sensible Chick doesn’t buy any of it and just wants to get the delivery done. Wilbur however is a bit nervous over the actual contents of these creepy packages.
Warnings from Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to the pair get interrupted as the full moon begins to rise and he transforms into the Wolf Man. Soon the comedy duo are surrounded by the three most famous movie monsters ever and a heck of a lot of double-takes, running for their lives and screaming for help commences.
By 1948 Universal, who were known as the monster studio, looked like their famous monster cast were ready to be put rest. Then someone got the inspired idea of teaming them with Bud and Lou. The result is one of the most famous and popular horror comedies of all time.
I have to say, it’s an awfully silly movie, but that’s one of the things that make it so much fun. Bud and Lou play their respective parts and characters much the same as they had for their entire careers. Bud is the straight man to Lou’s comedic bumbler. Setting aside the monsters they’re as fast and funny as ever in their exchanges, trading their quips and hurling jokes at each other.
Then the monsters! Even for casual fans of monster movies I don’t see how one can’t be intrigued with seeing all three of these classic monsters appearing in one movie together. Just that would make my ears perk up.
On top of that to have Lugosi and Chaney, Jr. reprise their most famous roles (sadly Boris Karloff sat this Bud and Lou movie out – supposedly he regretted that decision after seeing the movie) and to have fun with their horror icons is a kick. Chaney, Jr. really gets the most mileage out of the three as he gets to play scenes with Bud and Lou as the worried Talbot and the frightening Wolf Man.
A scene between Chaney, Jr and Lou has one of my favorite one-liners in the movie. As Talbot is pleading with Chick and Wilbur to believe him, that they are truly in danger and asking them to lock him in his room he says, “I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but in a half an hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.” Which Wilbur replies, “You and twenty million other guys.”
Still hearing that line makes me laugh.
It might come as an unexpected surprise to someone unfamiliar with the movie to see the monsters aren’t made out to be jokes and they’re respected throughout this horror/comedy. There’s no cheap shots for a laugh at their expense, which they could have easily done. They don’t trip over their cape, stick their fingers in electrical outlets or pause when seeing a fire hydrant. The actors never embarrass themselves or their monster characters.
Lugosi, Strange and Chaney, Jr. play their parts completely straight. Based on their performances they could have easily been playing in a regular old horror film. Most of the laughs come from the counterpoint of Bud and Lou. The movie plays more like Bud and Lou being dropped into a horror movie rather than the monsters being in a Bud and Lou wacky comedy.
Most of the gags revolve around Wilbur trying to convince Chick to believe what he’s seeing is real (“What do you mean the candle moved??? Candles don’t move!), the pair thinking Talbot is crazy and finally the climax of Wilbur trying to save his brain from going into the Frankenstein monster while being locked inside Dracula’s castle surrounded by monsters and trying to make it out of there.
It’s a fun movie. There’s supporting characters, notably beauties Lenore Aubert and Jane Randolph who take an incredibly strange liking to Wilbur. Of course they each have their own hidden agendas behind that.
The centerpiece of attraction are of course Abbott and Costello meeting Frankenstein. The title is kind of deceiving actually, since they not only meet Frankie, but Drac and Wolfie too. I suppose the title ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman’ would have been too long to have on a movie poster and they wanted to keep it simple.
There’s a lot of funny lines, usually from Lou and it moves along at a nice pace. Out of all the Bud and Lou films I’ve seen this one is definitely one of their most memorable and really gets a lot of mileage and laughs out of it’s monster premise.
It’s funny to watch it now knowing that Costello really didn’t want to do the movie and it ended up becoming one of the comedy teams most popular films. And it still holds up.