Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Overview: Two hapless deliverymen meet Frankenstein…and Dracula and the Wolf Man, and hijinks ensue.
Shared Universe: Long before the MCU, the Universal Monster movies were enjoying the fruits of a shared universe. Characters crossed from movie to movie, and movies like House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula would be The Avengers for viewers back in the day — a movie in which all their favourite monsters came together to fight or team up.
So what is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in this analogy? This movie would be like if Kevin Feige came out tomorrow and announced that they were making Key and Peele Meet Thor, a movie in which Key and Peele play bumbling, let’s say, accountants who are sent to Asgard to do an audit and they get embroiled to the derring-do of the Avengers. Now, some of you read that last, long sentence and thought that was the worst thing they had ever heard and others are already laughing. The idea of matching comedians with these monsters seems absurd and yet Abbott and Costello make it work.
Respect: The key is that while they spoof the tropes of these movies like castle laboratories, brain swaps, coffins, electricity giving life, secret doors, Larry Talbot’s fear of himself, and mad scientists, they do it with a reverent air. They, or at least their writers, clearly loved these movies. They bring back Bela Lugosi as Dracula, but he isn’t a spoof of his original performance; he gives it the full gravitas that the character warrants. Same with Lon Chaney’s Wolf Man. Chaney has a particular air to him when he’s cursed. His shoulders slump and his face sags and he is constantly on the edge of mania. They keep that here and he’s the same character as the serious horror films. They don’t put in cheesy jokes about him being more like a dog or something. They keep him as he was. It’s almost like they talk an original Universal Monster script and just plopped Abbott and Costello in the middle.
Comedy: This was my first exposure to Abbott and Costello. I know the Who’s on first joke but had never seen a movie of theirs. I didn’t know what to expect so it is pleasantly surprising that a movie made in 1948 is still laugh out loud funny. Costello is a consummate physical performer and Abbott is a perfect straight man, mining humour just from his deadpan reactions to Costello. The one liners are non-stop and the running gag of Costello seeing a monster and not being believed never stopped being funny.
Overall: After the bleak nothingness of Ghost of Frankenstein, a version of these stories with tons of humour, a little romance, and a cameo by Vincent Price is just what the doctor ordered.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures