The Monster Mash: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

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“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.”

“You and 20 million other guys.”

It’s funny that the best monster rally picture Universal produced was, in fact, funny. Almost 70 years later, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) has aged but it’s still mostly a hilarious good time.

Okay, so the story is really simple today. Florida railway baggage clerks Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) are given the job of transporting a couple of large boxes to the McDougal House Of Horrors. Supposedly, the boxes contain Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Chick doesn’t believe it, but the jumpy, superstitious Wilbur isn’t so sure.

Wilbur turns out to be right as Dracula rises from his coffin to transfer Wilbur’s brain to the Frankenstein Monster’s body. Dracula wants a subservient Creature with no-brain or thoughts of his own, hence Wilbur. Hi-jinks ensue as Dracula does whatever he can to get Wilbur’s brain. Meanwhile, Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.), aka the Wolf Man, has traveled to Florida to warn Chick and Wilbur about Dracula and to do away with the evil count.

Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, 1948.

It’s been said before but it bares repeating: comedic send-ups like this and later films like Young Frankenstein (1974) are always better when they’re treated somewhat seriously. There are obviously still clever one-liners and outrageous physical comedy, but the backdrop needs to be straight.

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Lugosi is good in the film, but he’s a bit of a self parody.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is as wonderful as it is because A. it looks like an old Universal horror film from the cinematography to the makeup and B. it has Lugosi, Chaney, and Strange  dramatically playing their respective monsters. That being said, I was disappointed to see some winking at the camera in the cases of Lugosi and Chaney. Lugosi particularly is hamming it up a bit. He’s almost playing a caricature of himself. Chaney is meanwhile being the clumsiest he’s ever been as a werewolf, barely able to navigate the woods without falling over or getting caught in tree.

There are times when the “serious” characters may being doing something that would be totally out of character in a film like The Wolf Man (1941) but are appropriate for Abbott and Costello.

One of my favorite moments, for example, comes near the end of the movie when Larry, as the Wolf Man, is fighting Dracula throughout his castle. Chick and Wilbur are running to get away from the carnage when the Wolf Man and Dracula burst through glass doors. Dracula is trying to fend the Wolf Man away. The count desperately throws a flower vase at the Wolf Man to no avail. This image alone was worth the price of admission.

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The boys are at their most hilarious in their sharp dialogue scenes.

But what I really love about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is Abbott and Costello. Abbott usually plays the straight man to Costello antics, but their as solid a comedy team now as they were then. Some of their bits, admittedly, go on too long, some gags are rather sexist, and there are only so many times in one film I want to hear Costello yell out the name of of Abbott’s character. But when they’re hot, they’re hot.

The duo are at their best when they spitting out quick, tight wordplay laced interplay. Possibly my favorite part of the whole film is when Chick is trying to get Wilbur to share on of his two dates to a costume party.

Chick: “Now look, you’ve got Joan and Sandra. You got two girls.”
Wilbur: “How about the two girls we had last week?”
C: “Let’s not talk about…”
W: “You got the kick on them.”
C: “I’m not kicking!”
W: “You had the best looking one.”
C: “So what?”
W: “Yours had teeth.”
C: “Look Wilbur. Yours had teeth too!”
W: “Did you see that tooth?”
C: “Yes, I happened to see it.”
W: “Mine had so much bridge work, every time I kissed her, I had to pay toll.”

A whole film of this is glorious fun. It’s great for adults and children alike. This was the last time Lugosi, Chaney, or Strange would portray their monsters, and this is, oddly enough, an appropriate swan song for them and the monsters. It’s simply a perfect, laugh-filled way to spend an October evening.

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