This is a review about the new release of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, now on Blu-ray. But I remember the first time I saw it: in 1959 my brother Norman brought home a ten minute, 8mm Castle film in black and white of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It was a silent, subtitled, greatly abridged version. We took out our Bell and Howell Projector that my father bought in 1946 and watched the movie a zillion times. I now know that it was mostly taken from the last ten minutes of the film.
This movie is a comedy and therefore not really a continuation of the famous Universal Horror films, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, and The Invisible Man among many others. The monsters were probably used because Universal knew it had reached the end of the line. Lon Chaney, Jr., the Wolfman, would later say he hated this movie, it ended their run. People now saw the monsters as funny, not menacing. I doubt that, the run had about ended.
These days a high point for me is that Universal here does not bother with explaining the continuity of the horror characters. They get right into the story, no origins and no explanations. You jump in feet first. This makes the movie universal, it is not dependent on other films and those other films are depended on it. This movie exists solely in a world of its own creation. Abbott and Costello play luggage handlers in Florida and they have to handle the cartons that deliver Frankenstein and Dracula to the state. Now, who shipped them and why they are intact is never explained. But the best part is never explaining where a full functional Gothic Horror Castle is in Florida. It is that lack of reality that adds to the picture.
The movie was originally entitled, The Brain of Frankenstein, but Frankenstein really plays a bit part, Lon Chaney as the Wolfman and Bela Lugosi as Dracula have bigger roles. Glenn Strange plays the monster for the third time. He had played Butch Cavendish in The Lone Ranger and a bartender on Gunsmoke.
In the guest commentary, by Gregory Beck, we learn that this was the second cheapest film of the year for Universal, costing about $780,000, with most of the salary going to Abbott and Costello. It was also the year’s second biggest money maker. While it was end of the line for the Universal horror movies, it was the start for me. It was the first time I saw Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein.
Abbott and Costello knew what worked and often repeated their comedy bits. In Hold That Ghost, there is a funny scene with a frightened Lou and a moving candle. That scene is duplicated here. And there is a funny scene where Lou does not see Dracula getting out of his coffin although he is in the same room. Well that is repeated in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.
Of course, at the beginning of all these movies, as everything happen to Costello and Abbott is oblivious to it. Watch Abbott, here and even during the famous “Who’s on First” routine. He eyes are always fixed on Costello, not anything else and he is oblivious to the world.
It was always the Wolfman who got me and in later years as these movies continued to be re-run on TV, I noticed that only Lon Chaney stayed as the Wolfman.
Some parts of the story don’t make sense. And at times it is actually scary. Dracula and Frankenstein had come to America to search for a new brain for the old monster and they have selected Costello’s. Lawrence Talbot, is supposed to turn into a Wolfman during a full moon, but he changes nightly and, on one occasion, several times in one night. It’s great fun to see the Wolfman and Frankenstein do slapstick.
I have gotten several black and white Blu-ray movies, Citizen Kane, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Casablanca, and The Maltese Falcon on Blu-ray. You can really see the difference between them and the regular DVDs. The details, the sound (although monaural) were much improved. Well, not so much here. This isn’t a major improvement over the regular DVD, so you may not want to upgrade.
There are three bonus videos on the DVD, and depending on which version of ACMF you might have on DVD, there might be nothing new here.
The best is Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters. This is a half hour documentary that had experts and Lou Costello’s daughter talking about the making of the movie, the Universal monsters and it also has a few, short and funny outtakes. The funniest one is Costello sitting on the lap of Glenn Strange as Frankenstein, but he is not able to keep a straight face as Lou always makes him laugh.
Sadly, the other two bonus videos are a waste of time and a commercial for upcoming Universal projects on DVDs and have nothing to do with the movie. One is 9 minute feature about the movies made on the Universal lot, the other is a feature about the Universal characters, not eh horror one. The commentary is interesting though. For example, I enjoyed the animated beginning and we learn that Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker, provided the animation for the beginning and Dracula’s transformations. When Glenn Strange broke his foot on the set, Lon Chaney, who had previously played the Monster, took over that role. He is in the scene where Frankenstein throwing barrels and crates at Wilbur and Chick.