Most people say that the comedy/horror/spoof Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the best way to be introduced to the original Universal Studio’s monster movies. But not me. I did my research to watch Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Never was a person more prepared than I. I have so often watched the spoof of something before actually watching the something and this time I was determined to be on the right side of the joke. And my preparation included: Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man and even The Invisible Man – all in their original, horrific glory.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is probably the most remembered movie Bud Abbott and Lou Costello made (though their routine “Who’s on First” might be more well known). It was apparently their most financially successful and definitely their most critically praised.
The story revolved around Chick (Abbott) and Wilber (Costello), two baggage clerks, who are warned not to deliver two large boxes to the McDougal House of Horrors. But they ignore the warning (which came from Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man), and the monsters are loose…though not in the McDougal House of Horrors. They have a nice, creepy castle they can repair to that is owned by a fugitive scientist from Europe, Dr. Sandra Mornay, who, as far as I can gather, specializes in brain implantations. She is also going to help Count Dracula to recharge Frankenstein’s monster, who apparently has depleted energy. It is not exactly clear why Dracula wants the monster, other than to have someone to do his dirty work, but his entire purpose seems to be wrapped up in getting the monster in working order.
However, he does not want the brain that is currently in the monster, the brain that was put in by Dr. Frankenstein in the original movie and was labeled abnormal. He wants a brain that is obedient, weak, easily led and not too bright. Dr. Mornay thinks Wilber’s brain will do nicely and is trying to vamp him, as is an insurance investigator for Mr. McDougal, Joan Raymond, who is trying to figure out where Mr. McDougal’s exhibits disappeared to. Meanwhile, Chick can’t figure out why all these pretty girls are chasing after Wilber.
Also in the mix is Lawrence Talbot, who is trying to convince Chick and Wilber that he is the Wolf Man and that he is on their side. The trouble is, they don’t believe him and he keeps turning into a wolf and trying to attack them.
Half the fun comes from Wilber, who keeps seeing these monsters, but Chick never believes him and always seems to just miss being where they are. Wilber’s reactions are priceless, his flabbergasted terror and inarticulate gasps and mumblings. Chick is trying to talk sense into him – when he is not trying to talk him into giving him one of his two dates for the costume ball that Sandra invited Wilber to…although Joan has also managed to come along.
The ending is definitely the highlight. Chick and Wilber are running around in comic terror from the bumbling Frankenstein monster while Dracula and the Wolf Man are engaged in an earnest, deathly combat that is entirely peripheral to Chick and Wilber.
One of the things that makes the movie so funny is how absolutely serious the monsters take their roles, especially Lugosi as Count Dracula. He said that he approached the movie with exactly the same attitude as he did his role in the original Broadway show and the original 1931 film. Lon Chaney Jr., also plays his role earnestly in his quest to stop Dracula and deal with his nightly transformation. There is a fun line when he tells Costello, with internal torment at his plight, that every night, when the moon rises, he turns into a wolf. “Yeah, you and every other guy.” Costello replies.
From all accounts, Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster, had a lot of fun with the role. He would walk around the studio in all his makeup with a big grin on his face and he would constantly break out laughing at the antics of Costello during shooting, so they had to keep shooting retakes.
Ironically, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein marks the final appearance of all three monsters; monsters who had each been in multiple sequels. Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney both originated the roles and it is poetic that they should make the monsters’ final appearance. Lon Chaney is actually the only person to play the Wolf Man in all the Wolf Man movies. Boris Karloff, however, declined to play his originated role of the monster, so instead they cast Glenn Strange.
As a bonus, there is a vocal cameo by Vincent Price as The Invisible Man. Although Claude Rains originated the role, Vincent Price did play the second Invisible Man in The Invisible Man Returns.
Of course, this wasn’t really the end of these monsters. They were remade many times, by many different studios, by many different actors. Hammer Film Productions began making horror films in the 1950s and 60s that were in color, with lots of blood (which was new, since horror had traditionally been associated with black and white movies because of how shadowy and atmospheric black and white movies can be). I want to see their 1958 Dracula, starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Count Dooku vs. Grand Moff Tarkin? What’s not to like?
But there’s not much to beat great monsters and great comedy, all in the same movie. And although Abbott and Costello would go on to meet many other monsters, like the Mummy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man (and Boris Karloff in Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff), this is considered their finest.