JUNE 23, 2010
Apart from “Who’s On First?”, I’ve never seen a single Abbott and Costello film or routine. So I figured Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (spoiler: no they don’t) would be a good place to start, being that it’s considered one of the best horror-comedies of all time. Plus it has the bonus allure of being the only time Bela Lugosi played Dracula in a film after the original Dracula (hilarious trivia: he almost didn’t get the chance because the studio thought he was dead), and it’s also the last time Universal used any of the big three Monsters until that 2004 film that shall not be named.
As another mash-up a la House of Frankenstein or whatever, it’s a pretty good one. I liked the idea of replacing the Monster’s brain with someone else’s in order to make him a better servant for Dracula, and that Lawrence Talbot was putting aside his usual suicide attempts or “rid me of this curse!” shenanigans in order to be a genuine hero, seeking to destroy Dracula and the Monster before they harmed anyone. Sort of like Angel becoming a detective once he realized Buffy was never gonna let him in her pants again. I’m not sure how it fits into the other films’ continuity, since I tend to forget how these things end beyond “They all ‘die’ and the hero kisses the girl”, but it probably doesn’t really fit into them anyway. I mean Christ, Frankenstein is pretty much the only person they DON’T meet in the movie (a 4th monster pops up at the end), and even if you go with the usual “they mean the Monster” excuse, they spend more time with Dracula and Wolfman/Talbot than him anyway.
As a comedy though, I’m sort of on fence. I don’t argue that Abbott and Costello are a great comedy team, but I personally don’t find them incredibly funny. The one-liners and wordplay are fine (“I turn into a wolf at night.” “You and 20,000 other guys!”), and I never tire of failed “let’s barricade the door” gags (the door swings away from their barricade), but even as a kid I never had much interest in a guy falling down, which is something that Costello does every 10 minutes or so. Like early on, when he pulls a suitcase from a wagon, causing all of the others (and himself) to crash to the ground - I don’t find that funny at all. If anything, I’m just wondering how much of a pain in the ass it was to reset all of the cases after each rehearsal or take, or whether or not they were real cases with nothing in them, or Styrofoam replicas. And a guy stammering or making “uh oh” faces (another thing Costello does often) isn’t amusing to me either. I actually prefer Abbott, because he’s sort of like Moe - always pissed off for some reason, and yet, admirably loyal to a guy who seemingly just annoys him all day. Plus I felt sort of bad for Costello, because he thought two beautiful dames were into him, but they were both using the poor sod, so he ends up with no one except a guy who's always yelling at him. After a while, I sort of gave up looking at the film as a comedy and just watched it like it was a regular sequel, albeit with two silly guys running around, occasionally making me laugh (love the “OK, you can have Mary” bit).
And that I think is the movie’s biggest strength, the fact that it works as a regular movie even if you’re not finding it particularly funny. You take a horror comedy like Transylmania, and you can see the difference - there’s no way to enjoy that movie unless you’re actually amused by the jokes and sight gags, because that’s all there was to it. There was a plot, sure, but it was a fucking stupid one, and it was just there to service the “comedy”. A&CMF would work just as well as (possibly better than) the other Uni sequels even if Bud and Lou never even attempted to be funny. It’s like they wandered into an actual horror movie, instead of horror characters wandering into theirs.
And this makes Karloff’s refusal to appear in the film even stranger, as he was upset at the idea of “making fun” of his character. On the contrary, I think the movie is very respectful of the characters, and nothing they do would seem out of place in any of the “House/Son/Ghost of” movies. It’s not like they had the guy slipping on banana peels or whatever. Hell he even dies in a fire at the end, like always! I was afraid that the end would have some cheery ending where all of the monsters turned out to be good guys and they all had a good laugh with Bud and Lou, but no. Wolfman and Dracula go over a cliff, and the Monster gets immolated for the 5th or 6th time. Enjoy the cartoon after the movie, kids! But at least they had Chaney and Lugosi as the other two, and Glenn Strange was a more than acceptable replacement for Karloff all along, so that’s OK.
Another thing odd about the movie being called Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is that they don’t play Abbott and Costello. Abbott’s name is Chick Young and Costello plays a guy named Wilbur Grey. Is this always the case with them? I figured they would play “Bud” and “Lou” and just have different (or unmentioned) last names. If they always did that, then I think modern movies need to be named after their actors as well. Screw this “Resident Evil” stuff; that tells us nothing! Those movies should be called Milla Jovovich Meets Some Monsters (And Then Shoots Them)”. Clash Of The Titans? How about Sam Worthington VS CGI Part 3?
OR, the movie should be called Chick and Wilbur Meet Several Monsters. Consistency and honesty, people, that’s all I ask for.
What say you?