Saturday, October 24, 2020

Stubs - Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein aka Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) Starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange Director: Charles Barton Screenplay by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, John Grant Produced by Robert Arthur Run time: 83 minutes. USA Black and White Horror, Comedy

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had been together since working in Vaudeville. They first worked together in 1935 at the Eltinge Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City after Costello's partner fell ill. They formally teamed up in 1936. They are perhaps best known for their routine “Who’s On First?”  The pair came to Hollywood in 1940 and appeared in 36 films before breaking up in 1957. One of their best-known films is Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Originally called The Brain of Frankenstein, the film went into production on February 5, 1948 and lasted until March 26th. The film was originally budgeted at $759,524 but went $32,746 over. Abbott and Costello were paid $105,000. The film was released on June 15, 1948 and made about $3.2 million at the box office.

Late one night in London, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) has the operator put him through to the baggage claim office at a Florida railway station.

Meanwhile, Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello), a bumbling baggage clerk, is bossed around by his co-worker Chick Young (Bud Abbott), who makes him wait on a woman at the counter (Helen Spring) and answer the phone at the same time. He hangs up on the call and goes to retrieve the woman’s bag. However, when he pulls her bag out, the others topple down on top of him. Chick isn’t sympathetic, but Wilbur’s girlfriend, Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert), is worried. Chick can’t understand what Sandra sees in Wilbur. She tells him that Wilbur has brains.

When the London call goes through, Wilbur answers. Lawrence, pretending to be the intended recipient, tries to convince Wilbur not to delivery two crates to McDougal's House of Horrors wax museum until he arrives. But before the call is over, with a full moon, Lawrence turns into the Wolfman and Wilbur hangs up.

Chick Young (Bud Abbott) bosses around co-worker Wilbur Grey
(Lou Costello) while customers wait at the counter for help.

As soon as gets off the call, Wilbur is accosted by Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson), who demands that the crates be delivered immediately. Mr. McDougal tells Sandra, who has come back to baggage claim, that the crates contain the bodies of Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster, which will be great attractions at his House of Horrors. Concerned that Wilbur and Chick have damaged the crates, McDougal informs them that the Insurance Adjuster will also be there.

Wilbur and Chick deliver the crates to the House of Horrors.

When Wilbur and Chick bring the crates to the creepy McDougal house, a lightning bolt causes the electricity to go out, and although Wilbur witnesses the vampire (Bela Lugosi) begin to rise, Chick does not believe his story, telling him that Count Dracula is only a myth; just like Frankenstein’s Monster (Glenn Strange).

Dracula (Bela Lugosi) hypnotizes Wilbur.

Wilbur then opens the Monster's case and is terrified by the scarred face, at which point Dracula hypnotizes him long enough to escape with the Monster. Just then, McDougal arrives, sees the empty crates and accuses Wilbur and Chick of robbing him.

Dracula's island castle.

As the men argue, Dracula spirits the Monster away to his island castle, where he meets up with Sandra, who is in cahoots to fully revive the Monster. They discuss their plans to implant Wilbur's malleable brain into the weakened Monster, whom they can then use to carry out their evil deeds.

Chick and Wilbur have spent the night in jail. They were bailed out by a woman, whom they assume was Sandra.

Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role as The Wolfman
in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.

Later, Lawrence, who has been looking for them, comes to their apartment. He tries to tell him his story but Chick doesn’t want to hear or believe him. He manages to convince them to lock him up in his rented room, which conveniently is across the hall. Wilbur agrees and locks him in the room. There, he turns into the Wolfman again and wrecks the room.

The next day, McDougal is complaining to his insurance agent about Wilbur and Chick losing his merchandise and wants to be reimbursed for his loss. He is then introduced to Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph), the beautiful insurance investigator who bailed them out of jail. She tells McDougal that she thinks she can get Wilbur to tell her where the bodies are.

She goes to visits Wilbur and flirts with him. She convinces him to take her out that night, although he already has a date to take Sandra to a costume ball.

Wilbur brings Chick and Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph), an insurance
investigator, to meet his girlfriend, Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert), 
before they all attend a costume party.

That night, when Wilbur brings Chick and Joan to meet Sandra at the castle, the laboratory assistant, Dr. Stevens (Charles Bradstreet), openly flirts with Joan. While they wait for Sandra to put on her costume, Lawrence calls the castle and talks to Wilbur. He warns him that Dracula and the Monster are in the building.

Wilbur tells Chick, who insists that they search the basement to prove that nothing is there, and although Wilbur finds the ghouls, each time the ghouls chase him, Chick is out of the room and does not see them.

Upstairs, Sandra discovers from Joan's identification card that she is an investigator who might uncover their plan and so runs downstairs to dissuade Dracula, now disguised as Dr. Lejos, from stealing Wilbur's brain that night. After everyone else leaves, Dracula, who does not want to postpone his scheme, bites Sandra and she becomes a vampire under his spell.

Later, at the ball, Sandra tries to lure Wilbur back to the castle while Dracula hypnotizes Joan. At the same time, Lawrence transforms into the Wolfman and attacks McDougal, who assumes that Chick, who is wearing a wolf costume, is the culprit.

Chick and Wilbur run from the police into the woods and when Joan follows, Dracula abducts Wilbur and Joan as Chick faints from fear. When he wakes, Chick finds the now-human Lawrence and the two return to the castle to rescue Wilbur.

They arrive, after dark, just as Sandra prepares the operation to transplant Wilbur's brain into the Monster. Chick and Lawrence burst in just in time to save Wilbur, but soon the moon rises, turning Lawrence back into the Wolfman again. The Monster, meanwhile, frees himself from his bonds, grabs Sandra and throws her out the window.

Chick and Wilbur flee the Monster (Glenn Strange).

Chick and Wilbur run from the Monster while the Wolfman pursues Dracula. When he transforms into a bat, the Wolfman manages to catch him and the two fall into the ocean, where they both drown. With Dracula dead, Joan wakes from her hypnosis and helps Dr. Stevens set the Monster on fire, allowing Chick and Wilbur to escape by boat. They set sail, not realizing until they hear a disembodied voice that the Invisible Man (Vincent Price) is riding with them.

Scared, the two jump from the boat and try to swim away.

While I’m very familiar with the “Who’s on First?” routine, I had never seen an Abbott and Costello film. For me theirs were not films I had sought out but when the opportunity presented itself on TCM, I decided to see what I was supposedly missing.

I’ve read more than once that Groucho Marx thought that Bud Abbott was the greatest straight man to ever live. And while that may have been true in vaudeville and on radio, in this film he comes across as crueler to his partner, bossing him around, putting him down and never believing him. He threatens Lou the same way that Moe did with Larry and Curly, though he doesn’t get into actually harming him.

Lou comes across more as a funny man with puppy dog eyes. Wilbur is funny in the beginning and he gets spooked, with good reason, and is always calling for Chick to save him. However, there are times he comes across as a co-dependent to Chick’s abusive nature. That sort of wears thin after a while.

I’m not saying that there is not humor and there is, especially in the beginning when Lou is allowed to be Lou. However, as the plot thickens and more characters are added to the story, the humor sometimes seems to get lost. When the monsters take over it starts to feel like the movie is treading water until the film comes to the expected end and our heroes prevail.

The only comparison I would have for them would be another comedic duo, Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello are not acclaimed in the same way that say Laurel and Hardy are and if this is supposed to be their best or one of their best films, I can see why. Laurel and Hardy provide both a slapstick and urbane approach, by that I mean their humor is both physical and verbal. There are elements of that in Abbott and Costello’s humor but it doesn’t go as far, at least not with me, as Laurel and Hardy’s does. I always got the feeling that Laurel and Hardy were always trying to come up with new routines but I get the sense that Abbott and Costello were not. Watching the film, you get the sense that they are reusing gags that worked before. I’ve read that by the 1950s Abbott and Costello were afraid to do new material, you wonder if maybe that was going on before then.

I am not an expert on the Universal Monsters but I get the feeling their representations in this film have little to do with them in their heyday. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula seems more intent on gaining power than anything else and he is only helping Frankenstein’s monster to help him. He wants the brawn of the monster but not the brains. To what end, I have no idea and just because you call yourself Doctor doesn’t mean you know anything about medicine, let alone brain surgery. The film might have been better called Abbott and Costello Meet Dracula, since he has more of a role than the film’s namesake, even though it is Frankenstein’s monster they meet and not the now dead doctor who invented him.

The monster is very one-dimensional in this film. While I’ve read Boris Karloff was offered the part, there is so little for the monster to do that I’m not surprised he didn’t do it. It would have been a waste of his time frankly. The role went, instead, to Glenn Strange, who had also played the part in three Universal films, even opposite Karloff in House of Frankenstein (1944).

The Wolfman is once again played by Lon Chaney Jr., who in between transforming into the werewolf tries to stop Dracula from his plans. There is no background provided as to how he knows of the plans nor how he tracks their whereabouts down, but that wouldn’t really help much if we did know.

A new character is added to the list of villains, Dr. Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert), who is given equal billing to the monsters in the animated credits before the start of the film. Again, there is no background provided as to why not only is she helping Dracula but has been planning to do so for some time. She is not under his spell until later in the film when she is turned into a vampire by Dracula, so their relationship is sort of mushy to say the least, and, of course, never explained. A model turned actress, Aubert is fine in the role, which turns out to be her best-known role in a career that lasted about 14 years. She would reunite with Abbott and Costello in their film, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949), but in a different role, Angela Gordon.

I have to say that seeing this film did not turn me into a fan of the comedians’ films. In fact, if this was supposed to be one of their best then I don’t know why I would seek out others of their films. If you’re a big fan of theirs or of the Universal monsters and feel you have to see any and everything related, then you should see this film. For the rest of us, the film isn’t really ever scary and after a while it stops being funny. I would say you’d be better off skipping this one altogether.

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