'Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein'
- Bud Abbott and Lou Costello: Meet Frankenstein / Meet the Mummy review by NP
By 1948, Universal’s monsters had come to the end of their tether. A mixture of production-line film series, diminishing returns and lack of imagination had done for the classic monsters three years before. A script called ‘Brain of Frankenstein’ had originally been suggested as a serious entry into The Monster’s film series, before being rehashed into this vehicle for Abbott and Costello, a hugely popular comic duo whose star was also beginning to wane.
‘Abbott and Costello’ was a huge hit, but while the two comics found a temporary new lease of life, it was the last gasp for their three classic spooky co-stars.
It’s charming the way that Lon Chaney’s Larry Talbot, being the wolf-man, constantly has knowledge of the activities of the other two titular monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster), who are currently exhibits in a horror museum (Talbot’s role here is the sensible, level-headed custodian over the hair-brained pursuits of the other monsters and their unlikely plans for villainy). Chaney once said that featuring alongside A&C was career suicide, but the fact is, their goofy routines are genuinely brilliant. Perfect comic timing, a fine balance of wise-cracking and humility that rarely dates, and some terrific lines that never, ever laugh at the horror co-stars, but with them. Of course, by this stage, the monsters have become so familiar they rarely truly frighten, but this is a respectful comedy show, and all the better for it. Also, it appears to have a generous budget – there are model shots, animation effects, spacious sets and some elaborate set-pieces for the time.
As for the monsters – Larry’s looking a little more haggard than usual, but remains otherwise unchanged. Glenn Strange gets more screen-time here than in both of his previous Monster excursions put together and acquits himself well with his few lines (I love the fact that the Monster is frightened by Wilbur’s (Lou Costello) appearance). Bela Lugosi, whose career had floundered somewhat by this time due to the unprincipled nature of film producers unable to see beyond his seminal vampire performance, finds the perfect balance between the solemnity of Dracula’s reputation and interplay (often very physical) with his co-stars. In fact, that accolade can be shared amongst all three, and for the Universal horror ‘style’ that is faithfully recreated here.
There is a real sadness knowing that The Wolfman and Dracula toppling into the sea, and The Frankenstein Monster’s fiery pier-side demise, truly spell the end for three horror characters that had been so effective and carefully written for early on in their careers. Their reputations would endure however, often after the actors had passed away, to this day. Lugosi, in particular, is still held in fascination for horror fans, and it was Glenn Strange’s Monster (as opposed to Karloff’s) that adorned most of the Frankenstein merchandise released subsequently. The classic monsters never truly die.
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