Similarly, in thinking of Universal's monster moves, we tend only to remember a sequel or two out of any given series: The Bride of Frankenstein, Revenge of the Creature, The Invisible Man Returns... People unacquainted with the Universal series tend not to remember House of Frankenstein or Dracula's Daughter or The Mummy's Ghost. Given the lack of love for the serious sequels, it's surprising that out of all of them, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is one of the ones that people remember.
And that's because it succeeds in every important way: it's a comedy! It's creepy! It's suspenseful! It's clever and slapstick! The appeal of 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein crosses genres more than you'd think.
I hadn't been avoiding Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, exactly, but I had not gone out of my way to see it. Mixing film franchises rarely goes well, and it just didn't seem promising. Additionally, I recently read that Lou Costello reportedly hated the script, calling it "crap" and claiming that his five-year-old daughter was a better writer. This movie has been mentioned in a couple of places recently, though, so I suggested it for our regular Tuesday night movie group, and everybody seems to have liked it a lot.
Okay, so, rundown of the plot: Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) are baggage clerks at the train station, and they get a frantic phone call from London. It's Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) begging them to hold the shipment of two crates to McDougal's House of Horrors. McDougal shows up in person to claim the crates, and has Wilbur and Chick deliver them. At night. To the house of horrors.
The crates turn out to contain the bodies of one (1) Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and one (1) Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange). The two get loose before Talbot shows up to explain the situation: He's a werewolf, and was hoping to intercept the crates before the Count and the Monster could begin wreaking havoc, but it's too late.
This is the setup, and unlike a lot of screwball comedies, there's a good deal of plot to go with it. There's a love interest, a couple of mad scientists, a castle on an island, a plan to replace the monster's brain, a masquerade ball, hypnotism, boats, and more. What I'm getting at is that comedies tend to pad out a short story with filler material. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has as much plot as a serious movie, and the jokes -- which range from clever wordplay to pratfalls -- zoom in at a mile a minute. Both aspects of the film are good enough to support a feature.
Even better, the performances are great. Abbott and Costello -- who I should probably appreciate more than I do -- demonstrate here why comedy duos used to be so popular. I also love that the film unites the Big Three Universal Monsters, including two of the original actors. I don't know what Boris Karloff was doing that prevented him from being in it, but we do get a vocal cameo from (sorry, spoiler) pre-horror icon Vincent Price as the Invisible Man. This is better than any of the other multiple monster features that Universal made. Though, apparently, it isn't canon because nobody can figure out where it fits chronologically. Splitting hairs.
This is another film that I can recommend pretty much without reservations. There's something in it for everybody, and between the stars and the monsters, it rounds up a significant cast of characters and actors. The only caveat that springs to mind is that in spite of the presence of monsters, it really isn't a horror movie, but really, who cares? Costello was wrong; this is a great film.
Here's the trailer. The whole movie is available to stream on Netflix, and would be a glorious way for you to spend the next 83 minutes.