Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) – Well they’d thrown a bunch of the Universal Monsters into single movies. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man all wreaked havoc in the “monster mash” movies House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. What else could be done? Obviously, humor! The series had kind of descended into self-parody at this point anyway, why now throw in a beloved comedy duo? They got Lon Chaney, Jr. to play the Wolf Man yet again. Boris Karloff was not into the idea so he passed, but Glenn Strange was willing to reprise his role from the House of films. Most impressively Béla Lugosi turns in his only performance as Dracula besides the 1931 original. The stars of the film however are, of course, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. The celebrated vaudeville duo famous for their “Who’s on First?” routine were the ideal everyman to thrust into the middle of a convoluted horror plot typical of Universal’s monster movie sequels. There’s some question of whether or not it’s supposed to be a canonical continuation of the Monsters franchise (there’s a pretty strong argument for “no”) but my thoughts are “who cares? The only thing that matters is if it’s funny.”

Chick Young (Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Costello) work at a delivery company in Florida. Against all odds, Wilbur has himself a beautiful girlfriend named Sandra (Lénore Aubert). Chick and Wilbur receive a delivery of two giant boxes containing the corpse of the Frankenstein Monster and the coffin of Dracula destined for a house of horrors run by a the greedy Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson). Chick and Wilbur have to deliver them personally because McDougal is cautious about the contents not being damaged. Of course once at the museum Dracula (Lugosi) and the Monster (Strange) get up and walk away and Wilbur alone sees them. Chick, naturally does not believe him.  McDougal sends a beautiful insurance investigator (Jane Randolph) to find out if Chick and Wilbur ripped him off. Meanwhile everyone favorite reluctant lupine Larry Talbot (Chaney) has tracked the boxes down to stop Dracula’s evil plan, but he has this nasty habit of turning into the Wolf Man and the most inconvenient times… Dracula is enlisting the help of a mad scientist to make the Monster more subservient. The idea is that they will replace the Monster’s brain with a more simple-minded one, and Wilbur’s fits the bill perfectly…

That the plot itself or more-or-less indistinguishable from the “serious” Universal Monster movie sequels is a testament to how silly they were getting. The humor derives not as much from the premise as from Abbott and Costello’s shtick. Throwing a wisecracking duo into the midst of a silly horror movie is just a good idea. Horror and comedy are two genres that blend well and I wish they’d get blended more often. It’s great to see Lugosi step back into the role that made him a star and an enduring cultural icon, even if it is just in a spoof. Strange makes a decent Frankenstein, though he doesn’t bring the same depth that Karloff (or even Chaney) did… but he’s still better than Lugosi’s disastrous turn as the Monster in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Chaney does well as always, though Talbot isn’t played quite as tragic than in the more serious films (no mention is made of his death wish). There’s even a pleasant surprise cameo right at the end of the film (Vincent Price).This film was so successful that Abbott and Costello went on to meet the Mummy, the Invisible Man, and “the Killer, Boris Karloff” (guess he came around). I’ve never seen any of them but if they work as well as this one, they are on my to-see list. With House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, the Dracula/Frankenstein/Wolf Man franchises had ended with not a bang but a whimper. With this film, now they end with laughter. Well done.

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