Abbot and Costello are one of my favorite comic dynamos from the “pre-pervert” comedy era. (Some other favorites are the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and of course the ultimate, Lucile Ball.) They are best known for their unique and hilarious bit “Who’s On First” which was inspired by early burlesque shows.
I recently re-watched what is hailed as their best movie “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948) It turned out to be their first of several Monster Movies that Abbot and Costello did together. Monster movies were some of the big block busters in the late 40’s and early 50’s, much like our super hero movies today. What made this movie unique was that it was not only a “horror” (laughable compared to our horror movies of today, but back then, quite scary) but also a comedy film. It’s filled with great little gags and stunts, and Lou Costello’s facial expressions couldn’t be better. Of course, you probably saw most of these gag stunts if you watched “Loony Tunes” as a kid, however my personal favorites are all the nice little punchlines that sneak in.
My personal favorite;
Abbot: “Oh, this is all a load of bunk!”
Costello, pointing to Dracula’s coffin: “That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya– that’s. his. bunk!”
Another great line in the movie;
Werewolf: “You don’t understand! Tonight when the moon is full, I’ll turn into a wolf”
Costello: “You and 20 million other guys!”
What was also amazing about this film, it was one of the first times the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein all came together for once crazy movie. And in my personal opinion it all fit together much better that in the most recent movie with all three monsters, “Van Helsing” (2004) which even though it was not a comedy had me laughing on the floor with it’s ridiculous writing. The only way to make a good movie with so many monsters in one film is to make it a comedy.
Some interesting facts about the film? Lou and Costello were so used to acting for a live audience that they got bored acting for a camera, so Universal Studios hired their very own personal “set clown” to keep the comedy action alive. There were even pie fights off stage. The actors who played the three monsters were very well known for their parts too; Bela Lugosi (a Hungarian actor) played Dracula and other vampire characters many times in his career, Lon Chaney Jr. who was always called up to play the wolfman, and Glen Strange who played Frankenstein monster a few times after the previous Frankenstein retired. Audiences who came to see this film were in for a similar treat as when you went bouncing into the theater to see “The Avengers” a few summers ago.
This movie was certainly a block buster, but to be fair maybe ranks 3-4 stars in my book. If you love old movies, but haven’t yet seen Abbott and Costello, you’ll love it. If you are familiar with Abbott and Costello however, you already know that they tend to use the same physical comedy bits over and over with no remorse. Of course, in an era after the Great Depresion,World War I & II, and lots of uncertainty, the public loved seeing these jokes over and over again just like a little kid who knows they can depend on the punchline every time.