The annual Halloween double-feature tradition this year was a showing of The Invisible Man and this movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Universal sort of played this up with their recent attempts to revive their classic franchises, but their Frankenstein, Dracula, The Invisible Man and The Wolf Man were the basis of the first “cinematic universe”. Which is to say, after they’d mined all the gold out of the originals and their sequels, they started doing crossovers. Frankenstein met the Wolf Man, and Dracula met Frankenstein, and they all lived in their various houses (i.e., House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula—though we never got a Doghouse of Wolf Man).
This film features the original Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.), and the second Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange) after Boris Karloff hung up his platform boots and neck bolts in 1939 after Son of Frankenstein. Sort of amusingly, Lugosi played The Monster and Ygor at various times, while Chaney had a turn at being the Monster, Dracula and The Mummy.
Point is, after about 15 years, the universe was played out, and here, it’s played for laughs—sorta, which is why this movie holds up pretty well after 70 years.
In this—the final outing for all three (except for a few TV shows) in their iconic roles, and the end of Universal’s dominance before the era of Hammer—Lyle Talbot phones a hotel from London to warn the baggage office not to deliver two crates to the nearby House of Horrors. And who should be managing the baggage office? Ya bois, Chick and Wilbur (Abbot and Costello, respectively).
Bullied by the horror house owner and besotted by Wilbur’s suspiciously hot and smart girlfriend, Sandra, the two end up making the delivery anyway where Wilbur (and only Wilbur, natch) witnesses the contents of the two crates (Dracula and Frankenstein) as they escape. The insurance company sends an investigator along in the form of Joan Raymond (the lovely Jane Randolph, last seen in the previous year’s double-feature as the foil in Cat People) who figures Chick and Wilbur for the culprits. Her plan? Seduce the pudgy Wilbur into telling her where the boxes went.
Meanwhile, Sandra (Austro-Hungarian actress Lenore Aubert, who would return for the semi-sequel Abbot and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff) is actually in league with Dracula, who wants to revive The Monster using a more tractable brain, thus explaining her attraction to Wilbur.
Abbot and Costello are good here, funny and fun to watch, but they’re respectful to the various monsters and give them their due and the atmosphere is still there for the spookier parts. This approach makes sense, really: If the monsters are clowning around, you don’t have a chance to sympathize with the plight of our heroes. But Chaney, Lugosi and Strange are doing their traditional bits (except for one funny moment where The Monster sees Chick for the first time and recoils in horror) and that works well with A&C’s bits.
The whole thing would give way to the more science-fiction-y horror of the ’50s, and the slow moving (Lugosi is 66 by this time!) creatures seem less menacing than you would hope. Overall, this is still a good watch. The Flower, expecting something more akin to The Stooges, was pleasantly surprised by the (relative) subtlety. The Boy was also very entertained.
That’s almost as remarkable for a 70 year old comedy as it is to be won over by a 70 year old horror.