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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 August 2000

Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein

Universal Home Video
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney (Jr.), Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, Charles Bradstreet
release year: 1948
film rating: Five stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

Although this is officially in Universal's "Comedy Legends" series of DVDs, this attractive, welcome package was put together by David J. Skal, who produced the excellent "Classic Horror Collection" series of DVDs. Like that must-have group, this DVD includes a documentary, a commentary track, a trailer, production notes and an extensive collection of stills. It all adds up to a boundary-crossing winner, presenting the best horror comedy ever made in a handsome setting.

There were horror comedies before "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" -- Bud and Lou themselves made "Hold That Ghost" in 1941 -- and plenty afterward, from "Young Frankenstein" to 2000's "Scary Movie." "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" was followed by other comedy-thrillers in which the duo met the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, the Mummy and "The Killer, Boris Karloff." But this, their first "meet" movie, remains not only their best movie, but the undefeated comedy-horror classic of all time. It's funny, it's scary, it's handsomely produced, the score is terrific, and it wraps everything up neatly.

Sometimes, it seems as though everyone in the world has seen -- and loved -- "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." It never wears out its welcome, and can be watched over and over again, with very little reduction in its timeless appeal. Even far better movies, even far better comedies, wear themselves out well before "Meet Frankenstein" does.

It was the second biggest hit released in 1948 by Universal studios and re-established the appeal of Abbott and Costello. They had been major boxoffice champions in the early 1940s because of their hard-to-duplicate (though some tried) combination of personalities and fast-paced vaudeville-style routines. Lou Costello was a big little kid, but never bratty; children adored him. Bud Abbott was a manipulative sharpie who, however much he victimized his little buddy, would always, finally come through in a pinch. But by the late 1940s, their appeal waned; they even stooped to a sequel ("Buck Privates Come Home") to one of their biggest hits.

Universal was also in trouble; the studio had again been sold, and this time changed its name to Universal-International. They tried to make a success of "prestige" films, but eventually turned to "Ma and Pa Kettle" and the Francis the Talking Mule movies -- after "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" had gone through the roof.

Bud and Lou are Chick Young and Wilbur Gray, deliverymen who take crates containing what they think are wax statues of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) to a House of Horrors. Only Wilbur knows that the monsters are the real thing -- only Lou and Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney), the Wolf Man himself, who turns up to try to stop Dracula's scheme of transplanting the pliable brain of Wilbur into the cranium of the Monster.

The movie is fast-paced and funny, with quick jokes, well-timed sight gags, and a well-structured plot (screenplay by John Grant and Robert Lees). Director Charles Barton, who worked with Bud and Lou several times, makes making good use of (surprisingly) elaborate sets, and never lets the tempo falter.

The consensus as to why the movie works so well is that the Monsters are treated seriously, while Abbott and Costello handle the jokes on their own. More importantly, the jokes arise directly out of the scary stuff without lampooning the scary stuff (except for the Monster's shock on seeing Lou for the first time). The comedy works because of the tension: these are real, not bogus, menaces, and (as kids) we worry about Lou even while laughing at his varied, inventive responses to being scared by the Monsters. Other horror comedies often make the menaces themselves comic, which wipes out any sense of threat or suspense; in "Meet Frankenstein," the tension between the comedy and the horror always remains taut and real. You can laugh and shudder, a novelty in 1948, and pretty much a novelty today.

Bela Lugosi was here playing Dracula for only the second (and last) time on screen, investing the Count with wit, intelligence and cold-hearted menace. Lon Chaney is a troubled but courageous partner (while human) for Chick and Wilbur, and a menace when the moon rises. The makeup isn't as good as in his four earlier outings as the Wolf Man, but he still plays the role with his usual animalistic energy. Glenn Strange had played the Monster in two previous movies, but only in this one is he really allowed to do very much (and he talks).

The commentary track is by Gregory W. Mank, an expert on the Universal horror classics, and it's rich with information. So is the excellent documentary, which includes interviews with Chris Costello (daughter of Lou), Bela G. Lugosi, (who visited the set when he was 10), Bob Madison, Bob Burns and Ron Palumbo, co-author of an excellent Abbott & Costello book. David J. Skal himself is the genial host for the documentary.

If you fear that your own fond childhood memories of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" will be tarnished by seeing it again, forget it. More than half a century after it was made, it's still a classic, and other than on the silver screen itself, has never looked better than in this outstanding DVD.

more details
sound format:
Dolby digital mono
aspect ratio(s):
standard frame
special features: documentary, commentary track, stills, etc.
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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