Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meet The Monsters!

I recently had the great pleasure to enjoy one of the most exquisite perks in the teaching field, a snow day. They come in the depths of winter, some much anticipated, a precious few unseen and even more pleasurable, but they are jewels of time given over by Mother Nature and so must be used to best effect. I used mine to watch Abbott and Costello movies, especially those in which the classic comedy team match up against some of Universal's mighty monsters. Here are my results as along with Bud and Lou, I too meet the monsters!

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is the first and best of these quasi-horror comedies. Bud and Lou play delivery men Chick and Wilbur (respectively) who end up getting on the wrong side of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and his schemes to revive the Frankenstein's Monster (Glenn Strange) as his slave. To help him he uses a beautiful criminal scientist named Mornay (Lenore Aubert). Looking to frustrate the scheme is Larry Talbot, the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr.) who tries to get Wilbur and Chick to help him. Also on hand is an insurance agent (Jane Randolph) who gets mixed up with Mornay's assistant (Charles Bradstreet). There is much highjinks  as the boys get dragged to a creepy island castle and run amok during a masquerade ball in which Dracula can walk around with little suspicion.

This is a romp of the grandest order, with delightful gags and truly amazing pacing. It's almost never a drag, even by modern standards and the spectacle of the sets is keen to the nth degree. For monster fans there are plenty of Wolfman moments with three four transformations, lots of Dracula allure with his changes into a bat handled with some slick animation, and scuds of Frankenstein action with Glenn Strange offering up another glimpse of the sympathetic monster. The Abbott and Costello gags are by and large pretty funny, so it scores high on that side as well. The Invisible Man puts in an appearance before this one is over and that's nifty since he's the focus of the next move.

Abbot and Costello Meet The Invisible Man is the least of the four movies in this collection. The boys are two recently graduated detectives who get asked by an escaped murder suspect and former boxing hero Tommy Nelson  (Arthur Franz) to help him prove his innocence. We also meet his girlfriend Helen (Nancy Guild) and scientist Dr. Gray (Gavin Muir) who are working to recreate the formula of John Griffin (shown in a photo to be Claude Rains) to become invisible.

Chased by police detective Roberts (William Frawley) Tommy uses the formula and then becomes increasingly erratic as the story unfolds. To prove his innocence he convinces the boys to go undercover as a boxer and his manager to draw out the hoodlum (Sheldon Leonard) who framed him. Along the way a dame named Boots (Adele Jergens) who tries to seduce Lou to get him to throw a fight. There is much double-crossing and gags, but overall very little aside from a few great special effects.

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stars not only Bud and Lou (named Slim and Tubby in this one) but Boris Karloff (as Dr. Jekyll though stuntman Eddie Parker played Hyde) as well. Karloff had done an earlier movie with Abbott and Costello but apparently had little regard for the work he'd done there. Nonetheless he's great as a scheming Jekyll who transforms himself into the murderous Hyde to get rid of rivals and critics. Slim and Tubby meet a reporter named Bruce Adams (Craig Stevens) and a suffragette named Vicky Edwards (Helen Westcott) who is also Jekyll's ward, a woman he has designs on. After many complications in Jekyll's lab assistant, them menacing Bately (John Dierkes) who chases the boys around for a bit.

There's a lot of a grand chase sequences in this one and really fun gags. But mostly it's the brisk pace, which after a somewhat sleepy beginning rarely lets up. It's the second best of these four flicks by a large margin, which in no small part because it attempts to mimic the first one. Karloff is typically great.

Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy is the last of these four movies and as it turns out, the final Abbot and Costello major movie ever. They turned their attention to television after this and broke up in 1957. This is a movie that's desperate to keep the viewer's attention with a story set in Egypt in which our heroes who use their own names in the movie though the end credits do list character names for them. They run afoul of a cult led by Semu (Richard Deacon) trying to retrieve the mummy Khalis which has been taken by Professor Zoomer (Kurt Hatch) who is swiftly murdered and our heroes get blamed for it.

Chased now by the Cairo police they also run afoul of Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) and her henchmen (Michael Ansara and Dan Seymour). There's a lot of running, and inexplicably lots of dancing as the movie often stops for simple stage acts to take off. We have a dance troup or two and a lounge singer (Peggy King) who entertain while the movie hovers in abeyance. It's a movie with moments but not a success. The Mummy is pretty good but the story gets out of control as its explosive ending indicates.

All in all, these are monsters exceedingly well met and a snow day exceedingly well spent.

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  1. I love Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. It took me around 12 or 13 years to see it after it was advertised in my local paper for broadcast on Saturday morning television back in 1973-ish. I had a Saturday job, and I almost played hookey to watch the movie, but went to work instead. Then, sometime in the mid-'80s (half my life later), I finally got to see it on TV. It's one flaw? Bela Lugosi's Dracula casts a reflection in a mirror. That apart, it's brilliant.

    1. What makes it work is simply not that it's a movie imitating the classic horror flicks, but is in fact one with a smear of delightful comedy woven into it. It feels totally legit.

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