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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review - Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) ****

Imagine sitting down in a theater today and watching members of the Frat Pack battle against such modern day monsters as Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers. And then imagine if that idea actually worked and you were successfully scared and amused at the same time. Well that's the experience audiences had back in 1948 when Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was released.

So how do you combine a comedy team from the world of burlesque with three of the most famous monsters to ever grace the silver screen? That's the question writers Robert Lees, Frederic Rinaldo and John Grant were trying to answer after Universal producer, Robert Arthur, approached them with the idea of pitting the studio's famous comedy team against their most popular ghouls. The filmmaker's answers were simple. First, you leave the comedy to the comedians and the horror to the monsters. Second, you hire the actors who made the monsters famous in their original films to play the beasts. Thus Lon Chaney Jr. was secured to play Lawrence Talbot, aka The Wolf Man, Bela Lugosi got to play Dracula again and since Boris Karloff had long since retired from the role, Glenn Strange was asked to portray the Frankenstein Monster for the third time after having done it previously in House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula. Third, Charles Barton, Abbott and Costello's best director, is given the film to direct. And fourth, you eliminate some of the burlesque routines that Abbott and Costello relied on for laughs in their films and instead write original comedy set pieces that were fresh and didn't date the film.

With these answers in place, A&C Meet Frankenstein was made and released to very accepting audiences and was one of the biggest hits of 1948. Abbott and Costello are more energetic in this film than in some of the movies that proceeded it, and though Lou Costello actually hated the script, he gave one of his funniest performances. His scare takes in the movie are second to none, and he and Bud's timing is as amazing as always. Highlights include the team's moving candle routine (one of the few burlesque routines that made it into the film), a hilarious bit where Lou sits on the Monster's lap and a wild chase finale in Dracula's castle. Barton directs with a sure hand and though the film was Universal's second cheapest production of the year, it has the look of an A feature due to Arthur's expertise as a producer. Also worth mentioning is Frank Skinner's wonderfully atmospheric score.

Today the film is still loved by monster and comedy fans alike. Many adults who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s watching old Abbott and Costello movies on television will tell you that the film was their introduction to horror films. Quentin Tarantino sites the film as one of the first movies he remembers loving as a child, and it taught him that horror and comedy can overlap, and when done right, with great results. Ranked number 56 on American Film Institutes's 100 greatest comedies of all time, A&C Meet Frankenstein remains a timeless classic and is only rivaled by Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein as the greatest horror comedy of all time.