(No, really–that’s what the poster says!)
What do you get when the legends of silver screen comedy run into the legends of silver screen horror (literally)? You get the 1948 classic, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Hailed as one of the greatest comic horror movies ever made, it showcases the comedy duo at the height of their powers and the classic Universal Studio monsters in all their campy terror.
Glenn Strange is the monster in question, the immortal Lon Chaney continues his role as the Wolfman, and, most memorably, Bela Lugosi assumed the role of Count Dracula for the second and final time. Vincent Price even features in an uncredited cameo as the Invisible Man–and gets enough time to laugh evilly.
Abbott and Costello are Chick and Wilbur, two hapless freight handlers who receive a remarkable shipment–Count Dracula in a coffin, Frankenstein’s monster in a crate. Nor did the shipment arrive by accident. Dracula has designed a sinister plot to empower the monster, and lacks one vital ingredient to bring terror to the world: Wilbur’s brain.
Fortunately for Wilbur, the Wolfman–in human aspect–has learned of Dracula’s plot and arrives on the scene to help save Wilbur’s life. Unfortunately for Wilbur, Dracula may have anticipated this–at any rate, it’s the full moon. So the Wolfman–in inhuman aspect–decides Wilbur looks about right for dinner.
The story continues to unfold at about this pace, with one impossible scenario leading hysterically to another. Frankenstein’s monster is, at least initially, terrified of Wilbur, and needs reassurance from Dracula that “He won’t hurt you.” Chick, in classic Abbott form, remains incredulous and skeptical for a good part of the film, missing seeing the monsters and other paranormal phenomenon by moments. Wilbur tries his luck at chatting up a nice blonde–who is, of course, Count Dracula’s assistant. The final showdown in Dracula’s castle is of the “Let’s destroy the set!” variety, monster rampage and vintage slapstick in one effortless sequence.
The physicality of both Abbott and Costello’s humor and the Universal monsters play delightfully against each other. The film stints nothing in either direction. Abbott and Costello keep up a running patter of argument throughout the film, bumbling into everything with the reckless buoyancy of the silent film era. This film is considered one of their best vehicles, with Abbott as the tough rationalistic and Costello as the hapless ne’er-do-well, who can never quite sputter out calls for help.
Strange, Chaney, and Lugosi deliver outstanding performances of their respective monsters. Indeed, one of the best features of this film is Lugosi’s reprisal of Dracula. He delivers a truly fiendish performance, playing the role seriously, and the director took care to give him adequate screen time. (“Look me in the eyes!”) He plays adroitly alongside the duo and the other monsters, creating a truly unforgettable vampire film.
This movie is unforgettable comic horror. It plays on the premise that humor and horror are really only a difference of vowel, that the hideous and the hilarious depend on each other for effect. If we put that premise on trial and presented Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstien as Exhibit A, the verdict would almost undoubtedly be in its favor.
I wasn’t able to find the movie online anywhere, so let me take this opportunity to encourage everyone to support their local library. You can watch the trailer below–it’ll send you running to the library, never fear.
Or–maybe you should fear. Be afraid. Be uproariously afraid.