This is the first of two entries on Abbott and Costello that I’ll be doing for this weekend’s “Dynamic Duos in Classic Film” Blogathon which is being co-hosted by Once Upon a Screen and the Classic Movie Hub Blog. Come back tomorrow for part two, which will focus on the comedy-mystery movies that Abbott and Costello did together. And in the meantime, be sure to click the links above and check out some of the other great duos that folks are writing about.
Let’s face it, it really was a “can’t miss” concept. At the time, Universal had the number one most popular comedy duo in Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. They also had the most popular line-up of movie monsters with Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolfman. So why not throw them all together into one movie and see what would happen?
Well, the result is obvious. I’d hazard a guess that Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein has to be the most watched movie the duo ever made, and even today it probably remains the gateway for many people to discover not only the antics of Bud and Lou, but the fun of the Universal monsters.
One of the reasons the movie works so well, of course, is that while Abbott and Costello are hilarious in the film, and it is full of their usual schtick, the monsters themselves are taken, well, perhaps not completely seriously, but they are certainly never played for outright laughs and are allowed to retain their air of menace throughout the film. Unfortunately, despite the popularity of the flick, it was pretty much the last go-round for the monsters. On the other hand, the boys would go on to make many more movies, and along the way would have many more “meetings” with popular literary and film characters.
You may have noticed, if you watched the trailer for “…Meet Frankenstein” that Boris Karloff does not appear in that film as Frankenstein’s monster. Instead the role was filled by Glenn Strange, who had already portrayed the monster once before in another of Universal’s monster mash-ups, House of Frankenstein. Reportedly when he looked at the script, Karloff felt that the combination of the monsters with the broad hijinx of the boys was not respectful enough to the creature he had first embodied. This did not, however, keep him from appearing in another movie with Bud and Lou just the next year, and he even had the title “villain” role in Abbott and Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff. In the film, Karloff plays a menacing swami, who, despite the title, may or may not be the actual killer. (What, you think I’m going to give it away here?)
Unfortunately, I was unable to find a real trailer online for this one, but the clip below i think hews to the spirit of what things here, as it features the horror host Svengoolie singing a parody song that features clips and images from the movie
There’s a very short “tag” scene at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein where the boys are making their final escape in a rowboat. Thinking they’re finally alone and safe, they begin to relax, only to find themselves confronted by The Invisible Man, voiced at the time by Vincent Price. It would, however, take three years for that actual confrontation to take place in 1951’s Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man.
As you can see from the trailer, this is not Vincent Price in the title role, nor does this invisible man really have much connection to previous Universal incarnations, except through a couple of lines of dialogue concerning the invisibility serum’s inventor, and a photograph which shows Claude Raines, the star of the original Universal film. Instead, in this one, the invisible man is a boxer who is trying to hide from mobsters who want him to throw a fight, and the boys are detectives whose first case involves trying to track him down.
The next meeting of the duo with a famous film character was actually not a Universal film. One interesting aspect of their contract at the time was that the boys were allowed to make one independent film per year, and in 1952, that film was Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd. Interestingly, since the boys were financing the film themselves, they opted to shoot it in color, an expense that the studio would never have undertaken. They were also able to get Charles Laughton, who had portrayed the famous captain in 1945’s Captain Kidd to reprise the role.
Again, I was unable to find a real trailer for this one, but here’s the first few minutes to give you a feel for it:
Up next? Well, apparently, Boris Karloff had a good enough time appearing with the boys as “The Killer” that he agreed to star again with them again as Dr. Jeckyll in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.Unfortunately, this particular take on the character met with mixed reviews because Karloff actually portrays the “good” doctor as rather evil even when he’s not Hyde.
The Keystone Kops were a slapstick troupe who, by 1955 had already lost most of their box office appeal, and are probably largely unknown now. However, Bud and Lou apparently respected them enough that they not only wanted to “meet” them, but they fought with the studio to get their names in the title, so that the movie the studio originally wanted to call Abbott and Costello in The Stunt Men finally became Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops.
Again, no trailer for this one, but instead, the whole movie is available on YouTube, and here it is:
1955 also saw the last of the duo’s feature film “meetings” with Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. Not only was this Bud and Lou’s last meetup movie, it was also their last feature for Universal. The unofficial series did come to a close with a bang, however, as in a way it circled back to the beginning, with them confronting one of the classic Universal monsters in a movie that is personally another one of my favorites, as it again plays the monster straight and with respect despite the funny goings-on around him.
As I mentioned, …Meet the Mummy was the last feature film meeting the duo had with the Universal monsters, but there was one more time that they met up with Universal’s famous horror icons. In 1953, along with the movies they were making, the boys were also appearing on the Colgate Comedy Hour, and one of the segments of that show has, unofficially at least, become known as Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature From the Black Lagoon.
So, as you can easily see, whether Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the only film of the boys that you have seen, or one of many, or especially if you’ve never seen any of their films, there’s quite a variety of films that feature not only the great comedy duo, but also some great guest stars, and while they may not all have the iconic stature of the first, they all do what any good comedy film is supposed to, they bring the laughs.
And really, what more can you ask for?