Abbot and Costello, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, bud abbott, dr jekyll, dr jekyll and mr hyde, Frankenstein, frankenstein's monster, glenn strange, invisible man, Lon Chaney Jr, lou costello, mr. hyde, The Mummy, Universal Horror
Despite some reluctance from the stars, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s light was starting to wane in the public eye, and along with their contract through Universal were tied to another outing; one that would preserve their initial encounter with the Production house’ monsters into the National Film Registry for its historical significance. That film would be…
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Here would mark a turning point for Universal, who had made a great deal of success through the 1930s for their Gothic line of Universal films. This notable change would occur at a time when the inkwell was running dry, and the Production house would be looking for alternate ways to capitalise on their winning formula by subverting the genre from horror to comedy. This transposition would not be treated in kind, especially from Lon Chaney Jr, who would proclaim “Abbott and Costello ruined the horror films: they made buffoons out of the monsters…”
His words would hold deeper meaning for the future of Universal’s horror genre, which by the end of the 50s would be all but non-existent. Despite this and during the time of its release, the film would go on to be one of the most successful of the Frankenstein franchise.
In Meet Frankenstein, the comedy duo would be pitted against The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr), Dracula (Bela Lugosi – who would actually speak favourably of the depiction of his most known character), and The Monster (Glenn Strange) to keep alive the buzz generated from their monster universe. It even boasts a cameo from The Invisible Man in the film’s climax, voiced by Vincent Price.
A lot of the movie revolves around pantomime tricks and scares but brought to life by the comic timing of Costello who falls prey to the “cry wolf” syndrome, despite his cries being genuine, combined with Abbott’s straight man routine. Despite my ambivalence towards the movie, as in heart I echoed Chaney Jr’s sentiments, the film would still holds a strong position. The looks to camera breaking the fourth wall was a joy to watch, and the formula would generate s further four movies for Abbott and Costello in the Universal Monsters universe. The first of these would be…
Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)
Rounding out the 40s, Boris Karloff was the only notable star absent from the previous movie, although he was paid to promote it, and was also reluctant to watch it. Karloff was hired only five days before shooting began, the role originally a female called Madame Switzer, and would play that of a swami with mysterious intent.
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, a whodunnit where Costello’s bellboy Freddie becomes the prime suspect in a murder. And when the body count starts to pile up, he can’t seem to get rid of the corpses to clear his name. This would lead to a hilarious scene where Costello and Abbott (supporting him to prove his innocence as detective Casey) play a game of cards with some of the cadavers.
Lenore Aubert is also brought in to support, as the femme fatale Angela Gordon. This continues a theme from Meet Frankenstein where the female costar attempts to seduce Costello, much to Abbott’s chagrin.
Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)
Having dangled the imperceptible carrot in Meet Frankenstein it was inevitable that Abbott and Costello would come face to face with the Invisible Man. This time our anti-hero is played by Athur Franz as Tommy Nelson, a boxer who is framed for the murder of his manager after refusing to throw a fight. Out to prove his innocence, Tommy steals the invisible formula from scientist Dr. Gray (Gavin Muir) who warns him of the dangers of the serum and the effects that brought about the ruin of Jack Griffin.
Abbott and Costello enter the scene as private detectives by Tommy during the investigation and become embroiled in the mystery leading Costello’s Lou Francis to go undercover as an underdog in the boxing scene aided by the invisible Tommy to help him win the fights.
Sandwiched between this feature and the next Universal confrontation would be Abbott and Costello Go To Mars, another indication of Universal’s departure from the horror scene and into the world of science fiction, which would be in tune with the popular zeitgeist of the time.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953)
Abbott and Costello’s fourth outing in the Universal Monster scene drawing inspiration from the Robert Louis Stevenson novel and are cast as American detectives in Edwardian London following the pursuit of some murders that have taken place, allegedly by Dr. Jekyll, played by Boris Karloff. The Hyde counterpart would be portrayed by stuntman Eddie Parker.
Interestingly, there would be no transformation scenes, instead depicting both Jekyll and Hyde individually, and fuelling the idea that there is no good at all in Dr. Jekyll, who yearns for the misdeeds performed by his alter-ego.
The film itself would also show the cracks beginning to form in Universal’s marriage with the comic duo, with signs that the humour was running dry, resorting to slapstick performances. There would however, be one more feature before Abbott and Costello would bow out of the comedy / horror scene…
Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)
28 movies into their working partnership for Universal-International, Abbott and Costello would play against the last of the production house monster’s, the mummified Klaris (Eddie Parker). The comedy duo find themselves in the midst of an archaeological feud between Semu (Richard Deacon) and Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) for the treasures of Princess Ara and control over Klaris.
Abbott and Costello would continue their usual comedy schtick but here it sits well as they bumble around Cairo. It is somewhat fitting that they could lay their comedy horror routine to rest amongst the Egyptian tombs. Their routine by this time is becoming stale and trying. They would eventually part ways in 1957 albeit amicably.
- Saul Muerte