Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) is an example of that minor genre – sub genre – miniscule or microscopic genre generally known as horror/comedy. I don’t know if any film critic or historian has ever compiled a list of them, or waxed philosophic on this kind of movie. But we know it when we see it, and Abbott and Costello fans seem to consider this movie one of the duo’s best.
This is our entry in the Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by the Metzinger sisters at Silver Scenes.
I confess to not being a diehard Abbott and Costello fan myself – I’ve always found them less witty than other knockabout duos like Laurel and Hardy, and though I probably saw this film as a child (Universal monster movies were a favorite then) my most recent reintroduction to this film was this candid publicity photo taken on the Universal lot at the time the movie was in production. We posted it here a couple years ago as a preview to the Year of Ann Blyth series.
Here we see Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster transporting Ann as her mermaid character in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) covered here, which was also filming at the same time. This photo is really a kind of tribute to the work of Bud Westmore, head of the studio’s makeup department, who was responsible for these, and so many other imaginative creations.
Universal, as pretty much any old movie buff can tell you, cornered the market on monster movies. It gave us Dracula, Frankenstein, a slew of wolfmen and their victims, sequels, and progeny. It is interesting to have Universal turn their cash cow on its ear by putting their most famous monsters in a comedy feature to play second fiddle to Abbott and Costello.
To be sure, Bud and Lou were huge stars in the 1940s, top box office draws, and perhaps the studio felt it could give the monsters a little more exposure, a new life, by hooking them up with the new kids on the block.
Some monster movie purists feel this destroyed the genre when all the bullets, burning windmills, and stakes to the heart could not.
Then again, with the atomic age and a host of new “sci-fi” creatures coming to a theater near you, perhaps the days of patiently waiting for the mummy to lumber close enough to get to the horrified archaeologist was as good as – you’ll pardon the expression – dead.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is an homage to the genre, even if it exploits it. Bud and Lou are freight delivery guys who attempt to deliver the crated monsters to a wax museum, and when the monsters get out, and Bud spends most of the movie trying to get someone to believe him that he saw them. There are some mildly amusing gags, but it is the monsters and their actors – Bella Lugosi’s Dracula, and Lon Chaney Jr as the Wolfman that bring an unusual panache and dignity to the proceedings. Lon Chaney Jr, bearing the burden and angst of morphing into a werewolf treats this less as a curse and more as an affliction. It strikes me as a very modern perspective.
Glenn Strange is the newbie as the Frankenstein monster. Taking over from Boris Karloff, he has big shoes to fill.
Sometimes I just crack myself up.
He has the most arduous makeup and the least amount of lines and acting to do. Most of Mr. Strange’s roles throughout his career were uncredited. He had a bit part in All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953), covered here, also with Ann Blyth – the only time they worked in the same film, despite taking a stroll around the Universal sound stages with the mermaid in his arms.
One delight of the film, for me anyway, is seeing dependable Frank Ferguson as the wax museum gallery owner, perpetually in a state of having a nervous breakdown because Bud and Lou haven’t delivered his monsters.
My other favorite part was the animated cartoon opening title and credits.
And a special treat (run screaming in the night from the Spoiler) is the voice of Vincent Price as the invisible man behind Bud in the rowboat as the boys row frantically away from the burning dock on which the Frankenstein monster is meeting his demise. Again.
Bud and Lou were not done with monsters. They would run into more of them from time to time including Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff in the following year 1949, but by then nobody took a curse seriously anymore. Not with flying saucers, ray guns, and giant radiation-infused insects on the horrible horizon.
Universal has done its own magical morphing through the decades – the theme park, of course – and the vault – or crypt – where so many movies, from Universal and Paramount studios, are held back from us. Truly horrific.
Please check out the other great posts participating in the Universal Pictures Blogathon at Silver Scenes.
***********************"Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings
"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey
"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films
"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings
"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood
Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.
by Jacqueline T. Lynch
The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.
The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer. You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.
If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://go60.us/advice-and-more/item/2047-everybody-comes-to-rick-s, or check with your local paper.