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May 22, 2013

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein

by Franz Patrick


Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
★★★ / ★★★★

Baggage clerks Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) receive from a phone call from a man (Lon Chaney Jr.) who warns them of two crates that ought not be delivered to their owner. Ignoring the mysterious man’s advice, Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) comes by to collect the crates which contain new attractions for his House of Horrors. One of them houses the remains of the original Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the other has the body of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange). During a late-night delivery, Wilbur accidentally wakens the infamous vampire.

“Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein” could have been just another movie about monsters wrecking havoc and scaring people silly on screen, but the screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, and John Grant makes an active attempt to tell an amusing story packed with colorful characters surrounding the wild events. Almost every scene is vibrant with energy, whether it be through physical stunts or firecracker wisecracks, so we are with the characters’ misadventures almost every step of the way.

The picture has a lot of fun playing upon the unexpected. A classy lady named Sandra (Lenore Aubert) is shown to be intensely attracted to Wilbur who happens to be short and somewhat stout. It would make some sort of sense if he were more intelligent but sadly this is not the case. Chick, the straight man who serves as the our voice of reason to an extent, cannot help but express his… surprise, to put it lightly. He wonders what Wilbur has that he does not. Later on, another beautiful woman named Joan (Jane Randolph) throws herself at Wilbur. Now that’s just digging the knife deeper and twisting it. By taking advantage of what we do not expect to happen, the film creates an air of intrigue and lightheartedness.

The quips are lightning fast. When Abbott and Costello start to send verbal jabs to one another, their characters take the insults and spring right back. At one point, Chick, jealous that Sandra is giving his partner so much attention, tells Wilbur to look in the mirror. Wilbur tells him there is no point in doing so because it would be a waste to insult himself. An insult is only as good as how its target reacts to it. But the funny moments are not limited to one attempting to insult another. Others rely on ignorance, a surprising insight, or a certain look of knowing an actor gives directly to camera.

Much of its look can be appreciated from a horror standpoint. The trip to McDougal’s House of Horrors is most entertaining due to the eerie wax figures, the poorly-lit rooms, and menacing shadows coupled with our knowledge regarding the contents of the crates. Notice that the closer it gets to Dracula’s awakening, the more Charles Barton, the director, employs classic horror angling of the camera to induce a sense of playful dread–keeping in mind that it is still very much a comedy. Later, similar techniques are used as Chick and Wilbur run around a castle located on a island.

Portions of the last third should have been trimmed. Many places are visited but it seems as though that the more people there are on screen, the less fun and more plodding it becomes. Eventually, a third classic monster graces the screen and he is shown too much. Unlike Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, the makeup looks silly and unconvincing. It might have been better if the the new addition remained more in the shadows and kept us wondering what he looks like.

“Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” has a lot of fun with itself without getting mired in one type of comedy. I enjoyed looking at Frankenstein’s monster most. For the majority of the film, I wondered why he is given so little to do. But when, finally, he gets a chance to move, we are reminded why he is fearsome, not just in the way he looks but also through his capacity for destruction. I likened him to a tank that just keeps on lurching.

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