You know, I am genuinely not sure why I own a copy of this movie. Sure I’ve watched some of the classic Universal monster movies but I wouldn’t say that I have any particular affinity for them and I am certainly not a huge fan of classic black and white comedies. I also know little to nothing about the characters of Abbott and Costello. So outside of “it was real cheap” I don’t know what possessed me to pick this one up.
After actually sitting down and watching the movie, I don’t at all have a clearer answer for that question.
If you aren’t familiar with the titular (there’s that word again) characters, I am not really going to be much help bringing you up to speed. Obviously they are the creators of the classic “Who’s on First” bit which is still fantastic even today. Outside of that, I don’t really know what to tell you. They did radio, television and of course movies, many of them featuring some of the classic monsters. Outside of Who’s on First this is my first real exposure to the characters and yeah….yeah I don’t think these guys are really for me.
Abbott and Costello mostly play themselves as two baggage clerks who are asked to handle boxes that supposedly contain both Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. The entire first half of the movie is primarily Costello (who I gather must be the silly one) constantly encountering the monsters, freaking out about it and then unsuccessfully trying to convince Abbott that these monsters are in fact real and walking around. The latter half has them hit up Dracula’s castle and more hijinks ensue…kinda.
For what I thought was likely to be a silly, over the top, screwball comedy it is often surprisingly low key with the majority of the run time made up of only a handful of large scenes. The aforementioned (another word I seem to bust out in almost every piece I ever write) scene where the monsters first appear and only Costello sees them goes on for a very long stretch of time, far too long considering how the entirety of this section amounts to a single joke repeated ad nausea. The first couple of encounters are fine but by the time Abbott is frustrated with Costello for the fifth or sixth time you can’t help but wonder why this scene is still going.
I think my biggest issue with the whole thing is that much of the acting, particularly with Costello, is very exaggerated. If he’s going to run out of a scene frightened, he is going to do so as if he is a cartoon character. If he sees a dog, he will pet it and let out a bark. Also he often just makes random noises and rapid hand gestures. Maybe I wasn’t in the proper mood but none of that was doing anything for me. Obviously it’s a different era and I hate to sound like the person who can’t fully appreciate classic comedy…but there’s a chance I’m the person who can’t appreciate classic comedy.
I did definitely get some laughs out of the movie though. I don’t want to give the impression I hated it or anything. I actually enjoyed the latter half more than the somewhat slow first chunk. A bit involving a revolving door is particularly well staged and I also quite enjoyed a gag where a man in a knight costume continuously misses witnessing key events as his helmet visor repeatedly falls down. On top of that there is a lot of clever wordplay between Abbott and Costello that while I never found hilarious, is certainly well written and we’ll say smiley worthy.
I can’t help but wish that the monsters themselves had bigger roles to play. Dracula is definitely the star and it’s always great to see Bela Lugosi in the role but he doesn’t get many opportunities to actually be funny and at the same is never really presented as a legitimate threat. The Frankenstein monster mostly just lumbers around, which is to be expected. Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man is easily the highlight, outside of a quick cameo right at the very end of the movie.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was enjoyable but did very little to make me want to seek out of more of the comedy duo’s work. It may have fallen victim to unfair levels of hype as well, since over the years I have consistently heard it mentioned amongst some of the greatest comedy films of all time. I certainly can’t call it that. This might cause my rep some damage but I guess I just couldn’t fully appreciate this one. Sorry everybody!