Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein
The thirties and forties Hollywood was in what has been historically noted as its Golden age. Some of the greatest films of all time were produced during this period as well as the rise of the legendary stars that became global sensations and household names. Many cinematic academics have gone on record with staunch criticism of the era because it was also the height of what was called the ‘Studio system’. Today most movie stars were basically independent contractors able to negotiate extremely lucrative salaries representing a considerable portion of the film’s budget. Back in the heyday of movies even the biggest stars were under tightly binding contracts with the studios. They practically owned the stars defining their public persona and selecting what films they were to appear in. Of course there were a few positive aspects to this system. Promising young stars were carefully prepared with cross training in all aspects of performing. The Studio system also allowed the producers to pack a number of big stars in one film, far more than the current system would find fiscally infeasible. In the case of the movie reviewed here, ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ the biggest comedy stars were juxtaposed with the most famous movie monsters of all time.
Currently the hybrid genre of the horror comedy is common place. Movies parodies like the ‘Scary Movie’ franchise continue to generate profits if not in box office certain with DVD and cable revenues. Some might think the trend started in 1981 with ‘Student Bodies’ but this movie pushes the origins of this type of flick way back to 1948. Universal owned the distribution rights to horror films that started the entire creature feature genre encompassing Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. In addition Universal held the contracts to the stars that made these horror films classics that hold together today. Universal was also the studio with the most popular comedy team teams in history including Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Like peanut butter and chocolate the stars from these two vastly different genres would blend together to create something brilliant. This film has been honored by its inclusion in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. It is also a film that holds up through the decades able to provide laughter for another generation. As part of Universal’s centennial celebration one hundred of their classic movies are being re-released on Blu-ray. This film is included in this treatment and all of us fans are exceptionally grateful. I remember seeing this movie many times as a kid but this is perhaps the first time I have seen it uncut and certainly the first time with such remarkable video clarity and robust audio.
Chick (Bud Abbott) and his best friend Wilbur (Lou Costello) are just a couple of blue collar working men who just want to get through the work day and collect their wage. Currently they are employed as baggage handlers for a shipping company. Their current assignment is to deliver two large boxes to McDougal House of Horrors, a local wax museum. Little do they realize the contents of the crates are the actual remains of the infamous vampire, Count Dracula (Béla Lugosi) and the heinous Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) attempts to call Chick and Wilbur to warn them of the mortal danger they are in but Wilbur dismisses the call as a prank. Before Talbot can convince the simple minded work the full moon rises transforming him into his alter ego, the Wolf Man. Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) arrives to claim the cargo and insists they personally deliver the boxes. With an exceptional cast like this a sliver of a premise is all that is required but unlike the modern day equivalent there is an actual story used as a foundation of the humor. Chaney and Lugosi can generate the requisite horror practically by just appearing and the team of Abbott and Costello remain one of the funniest pair of men every to share a stage. There is one bit I remember clearly from my childhood that was a true treat to see again. It is brilliant by virtue of its simplicity. Costello is sitting in front of a table. Atop it sits a lit candle. As the bewildered worker looks on the candle slides back and forth on the table without any visible hand moving it his terror rapidly increases. He tries his best to call out to Chick but the cry sticks in his throat as he stammers his name. This is just one comic bit that is expertly performed in this film and is indicative of their mastery of the sight gag and physical comedy.
The story that binds the comedy to the horror involves Talbot trying his best to prevent the resurfacing of two deadly monsters. By enlisting the assistance of a con man, Chick, and his goofy pal, Wilbur, success may be unattainable. Typical of a film of the time a couple of young actresses are included in the cast in order to generate a romantic interest. By having a beautiful woman interested in a short, dumpy guy like Wilbur gives hope to every man watching. In comedy of this type it is vital for the characters to create an emotional bond with the audience. This is just one of the numerous techniques this duo helped to perfect. Their working class persona immediately connected them to the audience so that you can readily place yourself in their unlikely predicament. One of the crucial scenes occurs at a costume party. This provides fertile ground for some of the funniest moments ever filmed.
The 1080p black and white video is fantastic. Previously the copies I’ve watched have been chopped apart for commercial by local television stations, the print of the film had been one well worn through the years and not properly cared for at all. With this release the video is pristine. Not a sign of scratches, tears or lines that marred the print passed around from one low budget venue to the next. Accompanying the better video is a DTS high definition sound track albeit two channel. The ticks and skips common to the old prints have also been removed. If you are young enough that this film is not part of fond recollections watch it and see how comedy and horror should be blended by people that created their mutual genres