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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Director Charles Barton’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the first of that famous comedy duo’s encounters with monsters, was released on the 15th of June, 1948.

The film has tended to divide classic horror fans over the years, with some loving and some loathing it, but whatever one’s individual viewpoint may be, there is no doubting it was the final undoing of the traditional Universal monsters. Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster and the Wolf Man had all had their last outing together in 1945’s House of Dracula, but Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein brought something even more impressive to the coffin; it was the return of Bela Lugosi to the role which had propelled him to fame seventeen years earlier, and yet only his second portrayal of that vampire. Glenn Strange reprised the Monster, barring a few scenes where Lon Chaney stepped in after the former broke his foot on set, and Chaney himself took the role of Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man. Even Vincent Price gets a look-in in the final scene, when his uncredited voice reprises his role as the Invisible Man from 1940’s The Invisible Man Returns.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Sleeping beauty: Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) are suitably shocked when they discover their cargo includes the Monster (Glenn Strange) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

It is an open secret that the junior Chaney hated the comedy monster mashes: “Abbott and Costello ruined the horror field,” he would later say. “They made buffoons out of the monsters. Then the cheap producers came along and made worse buffoons of them, because they killed for the sake of killing, there was blood for the sake of blood. There was no thought, no true expression of acting, no true expression of feeling. We used to make up our minds before we started that this is a little fantastic, but let’s take it seriously. And they were sold seriously. But all this foolishness today, it isn’t sold seriously. It’s made as a joke, a laugh, for the kids to go in and have a ball.” The only reason Chaney became involved was because no-one else was allowed to play his ‘baby’.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Unholy trinity: Dracula (Bela Lugosi), with the assistance of Dr Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) plan to put Wilbur’s brain into the Monster (Glenn Strange) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Not as devout about his involvement with the old monsters, Strange just took the work; Lugosi just took the money.

While some ardent fans have never forgiven Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’s entry into the annals of Universal horror history, other, less fastidious ones have warmed to its gentler charms over the years. There are those, too, whose love of the film is so great that they will hear not one word against it.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Monster mayhem: Confusion takes hold with Wilbur (Lou Costello), Chick (Bud Abbott) the Monster (Glenn Strange) and Dracula (Bela Lugosi), leading to some spooky hi jinx in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Taken as a vehicle in its own right, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is actually quite a good film. That purists denounce it so is a little harsh; its mere existence does nothing to diminish the glorious series that went before it and, well if you don’t like the idea, I guess the answer is just don’t watch it. The notion, as quoted by Chaney, that the two comic masters ‘ruined the horror field’ is surely like saying that French fries ruined the potato; anyone who dislikes French fries can still enjoy potatoes in whatever other form they choose.

The ‘straight’ performances by Lugosi, Chaney and Strange are a delight, and it is a wonderful opportunity to see the former finally reprise the role for which he is most famous. Chaney, for all his misgivings, makes an excellent foil for Lou Costello, and Strange probably has more screen time as the Monster here than in either of his previous two movies portraying him. And what an excellent Monster he made; it only seems a pity that he was not given a more meaty role in House of Frankenstein (1944) or House of Dracula (1945), allowing the actor the chance to prove he was always the best contender to follow Karloff.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Brainbox: Dracula (Bela Lugosi) schemes to bring about a spot of brain surgery on Wilbur (Lou Costello) and the Monster (Glenn Strange) in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Most importantly, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is still a genuinely funny film; the comic timing is exquisite and the dialogue fresh and lively. All the classic monsters look great, and the whole adds up to a spooky, haunted house movie that, as a set piece, is thoroughly enjoyable. One worries that the haters do so simply on principle, thus missing out on a thundering good lark.

In 2001, the US Library of Congress saw fit to describe the film as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important”, selecting it for preservation in the National Film Registry, and thus adding testimony to the argument that, saint or sinner, the film was undoubtedly important as an event in the changing fortunes of the classic horror film.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

Monster fun: Original theatrical release poster for Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (Universal 1948)

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Got something to say? Leave us your thoughts.

 
    Ken
    August 7, 2016

    How anyone could be so uptight about this picture, I’ll never understand. What a delight it always has been! What damage did it to the Universal minsters that Universal hadn’t already subjected the monsters to? The Monster became essentially the henchman of a series of mad doctors and characters starting with Ernest Thesiger in Bride of Frankenstein but most notably with Bela Lugosi as Ygor in Son of Frankenstein. Next came Bela again in Ghost of Frankenstein in his reprised role of Ygor. Then Patrick Knowles came along in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, totally spinning his character from the moral center and romantic lead into a complete 180 and a power crazed mad scientist! Then is was Boris Karloff himself in House of Frankenstein taking the reigns and making the monster his own personal hit man. Then Onslow Stevens in House of Dracula who has the honor of attracting both the Wolf Man and Dracula, and then the Frankenstein Monster in 24 hours to his castle on the ocean. And both the Wolf Man and Dracula come to him because they don’t like being monsters and they heard he could cure them? This is the pristine legacy that those who poo poo Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein wish to protect? Really? One can argue that the laughs were on the monsters in those pictures without them being intentionally comedies. Universal never really had much respect for Dracula as a character. In Dracula, Dracula is in the presence of his nemesis, Van Helsing and can’t hypnotize him into submission or just reach over and bite his neck off? Really? and then his coffin in Carfax Abbey is so “hidden” that Van Helsing just walks a little ways through a door and finds all of the coffins ready to be opened and Dracula and his brides ready to be destroyed. In Dracula’s Daughter, the evil daughter is also itching to be cured and never does the obvious thing of just biting the doctor hero and whisking hi off to her lair. In Son Of Dracula, Long Chaney actually takes his coffin from a watery hiding place where no one would have found him and leaves it in a mine shaft where a half crazed jilted lover finds it and sets it on fire. And then there is Chaney crying and begging for the guy to out the fire out! Earlier, instead of grabbing his enemy, J. Edward Bromberg by the neck, he goes for the dumbfounded local saw bones instead…this after trusting a weird occult buff enough to marry him, then betray him with her plan of eternal power and romance with her mortal boy friend. Finally, John Carradine’s Dracula cannot even swipe the arm of Boris Karloff in House of Frankenstein while holding a stake near his heart. And then he enters into indentured servitude to the guy who promised to hide his coffin and keep it safe but then literally threw it out the back door of his roving wagon so Dracula can bake in the sun trying to get to it in time! In his next turn as the count, Carradine instead of merely putting the bite on his intended victim he goes though the charade of wanting too be cured. And he trusts someone else again to keep his coffin safe, of all places right inside the door of the basement where he comes to his second scorching by the sun’s rays. So to belittle Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein as if it sullied some grand cinematic tradition is ridiculous! What this film did was bring them back in glorious revitalized grandeur! The movie begins with the Wolf Man tearing g up his furniture. Glen strange has some great moments as the master, and he speak in this one. But it is the presence of Bela Lugosi who makes it all worth while. Having played vampires since his original Dracula, he returns as the count and delivers! All in all, a worth final entry for the monsters and funniest thing Abbott and Costello ever did.

    Doug
    January 31, 2017

    Well said, Ken! As a kid in the 1960s, when I first saw the film, and even today, I appreciated the presentation of the traditional Universal monsters even if “Bud and Lou” were the main protagonists. Shown on the “Nightmare Theater” of my local Indianapolis, Indiana channel 4, the movie was also appreciated by the ghost host, Sammy Terry, who showed it frequently with many other Universal Studio monster films. Such was the serendipity of being a pre-adolescent and seeing these black and white movies for the first time. My love of that discovery continues today and it’s great to know so many other fans of the genre have had that same experience.