Sunday, May 17, 2009

Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters!

My friend Steve told me his five-year-old son has discovered Abbott and Costello. His favorite is Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein. It reminded me that my dad introduced me to A&C during a re-release of that movie in the early 1950s.

The more things change the more they stay the same. That a five-year-old could still enjoy Abbott and Costello so many years after they were popular shows that they had staying power. The team parlayed their 1930's vaudeville schtick into movies, then television, and were some of the most popular and highest paid entertainers of their era. According to some accounts they were making a million dollars a year during World War II, an incredible figure for the time.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, from 1948, works both as a comedy and as a movie with the Universal Monsters, Dracula, Wolfman, and Frankenstein's Monster. There really isn't much difference in the treatment of the material from one of Universal's classic monster movies; there are just more laughs. You get the idea it's a comedy when you see the animated titles.

Bela Lugosi played Dracula for only the second time in his career; Lon Chaney Jr. was, as always, Larry Talbot the Wolfman, and 6'6" character actor Glenn Strange was on his second go-round as the Monster. The Abbott and Costello bits that had their origins in early movies (particularly Hold That Ghost from 1942), are the sliding candle gag, and Lou's breathy fear scenes. In Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein Lou's familiar yell, "Hey, Abbotttttttttttt," is replaced by, "Chick! Oh Chick!"

I watched the movie yesterday on DVD; it has great black and white cinematography. It evokes a noir atmosphere, which was all the thing in the late '40s.

It also has low budget effects. This sequence of Dracula appearing in crude animation takes about 2 seconds on screen, and you can see that it is animated over a still shot of the characters.

The castle where some of the action takes place is a painting with cut-outs for windows so the light can shine through.

The sets are backlot, from other movies, but used in a very creative way. I especially like the dock set, even if the burning of Frankenstein's Monster is obviously a dummy. In these days of CGI animation audiences expect more and they'd boo an effect like that, but I think it adds to the charm.

The movie ends with a joke about the Invisible Man, voiced by Vincent Price.

Watching the movie was both nostalgic and a lesson in how to make a comedy. In its time it was very popular. According to the documentary accompanying the movie, it was the second cheapest film Universal made that year, and the second highest grossing movie. It spawned a series of Abbott and Costello monster films, "...Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff," "...Meet the Invisible Man," "...Meet the Mummy," etc. that took to the end of their Universal contract in the 1950s.

There's a thin line between scares and laughs. For my friend, Steve I recommend he get his son The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, with Don Knotts, who takes Lou Costello's scared schtick to a new level. Can any actor nowadays even do the things that Abbott and Costello or Don Knotts could do in movies?

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is one of my all-time favorite movies, cheap sets, bad special effects notwithstanding, it's a classic.

1 comment:

Karswell said...

Zander was actually introduced to Mr Chicken years before he saw Abbott and Costello, my Ghost and Mr Chicken half sheet poster is framed and hangs on the wall in the basement at the entrance to Z's playroom :) Great film too, I used to scour the TV Guide as a kid hoping to find it airing that week, or anything spooky really