Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Halloween 2013: Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (October 27th at the Capitol Theatre)

[ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN screens Sunday October 27th at 10:00 am at the Capitol Theatre.]

Review by Bob Ignizio

A pair of baggage clerks at a Florida train station – brash Chick Young (Bud Abbot) and his bumbling partner Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello) – get more than they bargained for when they receive a pair of crates intended for the local “House of Horrors” museum that contains the actual bodies of Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange) in ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney) knows what's in the boxes, but he's in London and can't get to America in time to stop the shipments himself. He tries to warn our hapless heroes with a phone call which Wilbur answers, but a full moon soon makes conversation impossible as Talbot once again transforms into the Wolfman. Wilbur attributes the growls and snarls on the other end of the line to the caller's dog and hangs up, and he and Chick set off to deliver their monstrous cargo to Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson), owner of the macabre museum. This they do, but the contents of the crates have other ideas than to wait around to be put on exhibit. Wilbur sees the monsters, but of course no one believes him.

Aside from monster trouble, Wilbur also has woman trouble as he tries to juggle two lovely girlfriends, much to the chagrin of Chick. As it turns out, though, neither woman is really interested in Wilbur for love: Sandra (LĂ©nore Aubert) is actually a mad scientist working with Dracula to put Wilbur's brain into the Frankenstein monster, while Joan (Jane Randolph) is an insurance investigator looking into the disappearance of McDougal's crates under the assumption that Wilbur and Chick have stolen them. Talbot arrives in Florida, too, and with the help of Professor Stevens (Charles Bradstreet), a scientist of the non-mad variety, everyone eventually comes together in a spooky old castle for the obligatory monster-rally finish.

The plot is essentially recycled from the previous two Universal multi-monster mash-ups, HOUSE OF DRACULA and HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. Not surprisingly, it shares the same weaknesses of those two films, in particular a ridiculous plot in which the monsters tend to take a back seat to the human players. It also shares the key strength of those films, Lon Chaney as the tragic hero, and adds two big strengths of its own. The first is the comedic star power of Abbot and Costello. The comedy duo were at the top of their form here, and they deliver plenty of laughs without ever making the monsters the butt of the jokes. The second strength, and it's a major one, is Lugosi returning to play Dracula for the first time since he originally brought the character to life on screen in 1931's DRACULA. He simply owns this role, and while he carries himself with power and majesty, he shows considerable comic timing as well. As in the preceding two films, no one seems to really know what to do with the Frankenstein monster other than to have him lumber around and smash the lab for a couple of minutes near the end.

Despite the various issues with the film, ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN felt surprisingly fresh as I watched it again for this review. The fast-paced banter of Abbot and Costello and their supporting cast ensures that the film moves briskly enough for modern audiences, and most of the jokes still worked for me, too. I wish a little more effort had been put into crafting the plot those jokes get hung on, but what there is is certainly serviceable. And given the mild nature of the scares, this still remains one of the best films to introduce your own little monsters to the wonderful world of horror films with. 3 out of 4 stars.

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