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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a 1948 horror/comedy about two bumbling baggage porters at a train station who become entangled in a plot by Dracula (yes, the vampire Count himself) and a scientist to revive the Frankenstein monster. Chick and Wilbur (the characters played by Abbott and Costello) are aided in their efforts to thwart the evil vampire and the scientist by an insurance investigator, the scientist's assistant, and the Wolf Man. So yeah, this is one of those movies that sounds ridiculous and nonsensical if you just hear or read the premise. But the actual movie itself makes this hodgepodge of monster movie tropes all seem to make sense, and provides some laughs along the way.

Abbott and Costello had already been working together for more than a decade when they made this movie. They had done vaudeville and radio, and had already made a few movies. This was also at the tail end of Universal's monster movie run. Although Frankenstein is the only monster name checked in the title, as I mentioned above, both the Wolf Man and Dracula also appear in the movie. In fact, they both have bigger roles. Also, Lon Chaney Jr appears as the Wolf Man, and Bela Lugosi plays the Count 17 years after playing the character in the first movie.
Glenn Strange plays the monster, which has somehow come into the possession of Dracula and his cohort Dr. Sandra Mornay, played by Lenore Aubert. Dr. Mornay and Dracula have decided they need a new brain for the monster, and have decided they want Wilbur's. Dracula arranges for himself and the monster to be shipped to a wax museum as exhibits. Larry Talbot (aka the Wolf Man) has been tracking the two monsters to try to stop them. He warns Wilbur and Chick, but of course he is not taken seriously. After Dracula and the monster go missing, the wax museum owner calls in an insurance investigator, Joan, played by Jane Randolph. Joan pretends to have fallen for Wilbur, while really falling for Stevens, who is the increasingly suspicious assistant to Dr. Mornay.

Talbot shows up to help Wilbur and Chick, but has to deal with his transformations into a bloodthirsty werewolf. At a costume ball, he attacks the wax museum owner, but Chick gets accused due to his wolf mask. Of course, everyone ends up back at the castle (yes, for some reason there is a castle for Dracula and the scientist to take up residence in) and hijinks and mayhem ensue. Since the movie was made in the 40s I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that the good guys get away and the evildoers get their due.
Considering what a goofy movie this is, it's actually surprising how well it holds up. Most of the jokes don't seem too dated. There's a little bit of slapstick, but most of the humor is from the verbal interplay of Abbott and Costello (not surprisingly from the team who brought us the classic Who's On First routine, one of the funniest bits of comedy ever). There was also some comedy to be had from playing off Costello's silly whimsy against the intensity of Lon Chaney Jr's performance. If you are a horror purist, this may not be a movie you will much enjoy. Surprisingly though, the monsters are not played much for laughs and are taken pretty seriously for a comedy.

This is one of the later movies of Bela Lugosi, and was his last major studio film. It was also the only time he played Dracula in a movie after originating the role in the 1931 movie of the name. This movie almost feels like a fond farewell to him, and to the Universal monster movies in general. Abbott and Costello would make a few more horror/comedies, even getting Boris Karloff to join in, but the run of straight horror monster movies was done. The cherry on top of the monster movie sundae is an uncredited voice cameo by scary movie stalwart Vincent Price. Look (or I guess listen) for it at the end of the movie. If you love monsters and are looking for a few good laughs, or you want to find a way to hook your kids into horror movie tropes, this is a fun way kill an hour and a half. No pun intended.


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