Rixflix A to Z: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Director: Charles T. Barton
Universal, 1:23, b/w 
Crew Notables: Bud Westmore (makeup), Walter Lantz (animation), Eddie Parker (stunts) 
Cast Notables: Abbott and Costello, Lon Chaney Jr. (Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man), Bela Lugosi (Count Dracula), Lenore Aubert (Dr. Sandra Mornay), Jane Randolph (Joan Raymond), Glenn Strange (The Monster), Frank Ferguson (Mr. McDougal), Vincent Price (the voice of the Invisible Man), Charles Bradstreet (Prof. Stevens) 
TC4P Rating: 7

Abbott: I know there's no such person as Dracula! You know there's no such person as Dracula!
Costello: But does Dracula know it?

As it was with me, this is the film that the youthful monster enthusiast should perhaps first see before progressing on to the older, darker fantasies that preceded it in the Universal canon. Not that I had any choice in the matter; it was by sheer providence that this was my cinematic introduction to Universal's versions of Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, and the Wolf Man (and to a far lesser degree, the Invisible Man). I certainly knew of the creatures; it's hard for someone in our culture not to know those names, whether interested in the genre of horror or not. But this film provided a major catalyst for me, and it was not long before I was scouring the Eagle River Public Library and the library at my elementary school for more information on these and similar creatures and films.

Two elements of this film with whom I was already fairly well acquainted at the time were Abbott and Costello, having first seen them in a television double feature of Hold That Ghost and Abbott and Costello Go to Mars one Christmas morning the winter before I saw this film. But my first introduction to the pair was on an Old Time Radio cassette which held on one side the complete radio show in which they performed their famous "Who's on First?" routine (a Danny Kaye broadcast was on the other side), and to say that I played the hell out of that tape would be backed up by the fact that I eventually wore the thing out to the point where I purchased another copy of the same cassette tape a couple of years later. My baseball fanaticism of those years had also unwittingly bought me a ticket into the slapstick-and-wordplay world of Abbott and Costello; it was my increasing interest in horror movies that would seal the pact forever. My worlds came together.

That the film is excellent entertainment, even outside of being a fun monster mash, is seemingly a happy accident. This is Bud and Lou at their sharpest, and even the flintiest throwaway gag bounces back, if not with laughter, then an amused smile from the viewer. The opening credits reveal the creatures to us in charming animation produced by Walter Lantz, and even makes sure to include the fourth monster at large in the film: Lenore Aubert, a femme fatale scientist who pretends to be enamored of Costello so that she may steal his brain later in the film. This is not out of respect for his grey matter, but rather for his lack of it. Aubert's employer, Count Dracula, wants to place it in the Frankenstein monster so that he will become more "pliable," to use the Count's term. Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, played with earnest charm by Lon Chaney, Jr., shows up to convince Bud and Lou to help him stop Dracula. Only Costello believes him, as usual, and mistaken identity monster chaos becomes the order of the day.

Everyone in this film, even Bela Lugosi, seems to be having a great time, and maybe that is why it still plays so well today, much more so than the later Abbott and Costello monster films where the elements sank back into the formula they were meant to subvert. While the monsters don't really get to be themselves fully in this family comedy – only one person dies at the Monster's hands and Wolfie only gets to scratch someone, though Drac does get to make a conversion for two points (those points being on the ends of his fangs, that is...) – the film itself, while a comedy, always takes the situation of their mounting threat to humanity seriously. Surprisingly, the monsters are not belittled in any way, but paid the respect due to the truly terrifying amongst the creatures of the night. It seems more like someone just planted Bud and Lou into the middle of the monsters' normal machinations, instead of taking a formula Abbott and Costello comedy and just adding monsters to it. However they did it, the results are still marvelously entertaining and the film is a must for perennial Halloween viewing. It is in my household anyway.

Most importantly, after this film, I knew for certain that Dracula was a real person, if even Dracula himself might not acknowledge it. But, to my joyous surprise, there was so much more to learn about the Universal Monsters. It would just take a little while for me to "collect 'em all" on my viewing list.

RTJ

[This review was edited and updated with new photos on 11/14/2016.]

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