Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – Directed by Charles Barton – Starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Jane Randolph, and the voice of Vincent Price.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is a completely delightful movie that sees our comedic duo embroiled in a monster story that goes very, very, very light on the horror and very, very heavy on the comedy. In truth, there are no scary moments in ACMF, though the film derives a good deal of humor from Costello being afraid of the monsters that he keeps happening to see and Abbott keeps happening not to see.
Chick Young (Abbott) and Wilbur Smith (Costello) are working as baggage clerks and they get a frantic phone call from London; Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) calls to tell them that two packages are due to arrive for “McDougal’s House of Horrors” and that they are not to deliver those packages; before he can properly make his case, however, the full moon comes out and he turns into the Wolfman. McDougal shows up and Chick and Wilbur sign the two massive packages over to him and then deliver them to his House of Horrors.
What’s impressive about ACMF is that there’s a real story here, and Abbott and Costello use the situations presented by the story to do their comedy bits. There’s a lot of “falling package” jokes here at the beginning, as Wilbur’s romantic interest Sandra (Lenore Aubert) has a bunch of packages that tumble down on him, and then Wilbur gets on top of one of McDougal’s crates and nearly tumbles down, but the bits enhance rather than detract from the narrative.
Chick and Wilbur bring the two crates to McDougal’s House of Horrors and there’s an extended bit with Wilbur seeing Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) and Chick not seeing them that’s really effectively done. The scene is humorous more than laugh-out loud funny, but it works because the chemistry between Abbott and Costello is so good that they take simple bits and get the best out of them.
The real joy in ACMF is all of the interaction between Abbott, Costello, Lugosi, and Chaney, Jr. (Glenn Strange plays Frankenstein’s Monster because Boris Karloff didn’t want in on the shenanigans.) All four of the men are total professionals, and Lugosi and Chaney Jr. blend their talents seamlessly with the two comedians.
Lugosi’s Dracula is the film’s bad guy; he’s partnered with Sandra, who’s been seducing Wilbur in order to cut out his brain and stick it in the Monster’s head. Dracula wants a Monster who’s easier to control, so they’ve selected Wilbur because, well, he’s easier to control. Dracula puts him under a couple times with his mesmerizing eyes superpower. There’s a running gag where Chick can’t believe that beautiful women like Sandra first, and Joan (Jane Randolph) second prefer Wilbur’s company to his own. Chick is insulted because he thinks the women find Wilbur more appealing, but really it’s because the two women think they can manipulate him into getting what they want easier than they could with Chick.
Lugosi is a total pro, giving everything in every scene; his charisma is so strong that he almost doesn’t need his powers to hypnotize people into doing what he wants.
Chaney gets to be the voice of concern in the film, and he displays a real somber earnestness as Larry Talbot, whose constantly trying to stop Dracula from using the Monster. Wilbur semi-believes him and Chick doesn’t believe him at all, but when Chick’s eyes are opened at a costume ball, he’s all in. Wilbur and Joan are hypnotized and captured, and Chick and Talbot work together to get them back.
The final act sees all of our players embroiled in the big climax. It’s a really wonderfully conceived and executed sequence by director Charles Barton. There’s plenty of deaths: Sandra is killed by the Monster, and when Dracula turns into a bat, the Wolf Man snares him and they both tumble to their deaths in the rocky water below. Chick and Wilbur flee in a boat, while Stevens (a scientist working for Sandra) and Joan set the pier on fire, engulfing and then apparently killing the Monster.
As Chick and Wilbur flee across the water, they hear the voice of the Invisible Man (Vincent Price), sending the two friends into the water and leaving us with the menacing sound of Vincent Price laughing.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN offers a whole lot of story in its 83 minutes and it never disappoints. I suppose if you want your Universal horror monsters to be scary, ACMF isn’t the film for you, but as a final act for these characters, this film is a gentle, but appropriate farewell.