Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein: Commedy Legends (1948)
Studio Line: Universal Studios

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein continues the horror-comedy series and features "the boys" with their usual quota of familiar routines providing the backbone of the plot by becoming Count Dracula's victim for a brain transplant. Lon Chaney, Jr. appears as the Wolf Man along with Dracula played by Bela Lugosi and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein monster.

Abbott and Costello, as railroad baggage clerks, receive a strange shipment -- the last remains of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. But this deadly duo is still very much alive. So when the shipment arrives at the House of Horrors, the Monsters are not in their crates but have disappeared to a secret hideaway island. Blamed for the disappearance, Abbott and Costello follow their trail to the island where not only do they meet up with Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (Glenn Strange), but a Mad Scientist wants to switch Costello's brain with that of the Monster. With everyone chasing each other, the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) shows up to scare them all. In the end everything works out: Costello finds romance and the Monsters find their final resting places…or do they?

Director: Charles Barton
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Frank Ferguson, Jane Randolph, Glenn Strange, Lenore Aubert, Charles Bradstreet
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono; subtitles French; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 18 chapters; rated NR; 83 min.; $29.98; street date 8/29/00.
Supplements: Abbott & Costello Meet The Monsters: The Making of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein; Feature Commentary with Film Historian Gregory W. Mank; Production Photographs; Theatrical Trailer; Production Notes; Cast and Filmmakers.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C/C/B

If we combine classic horror icons with classic comedians, should not the result be a classic? Perhaps, but I can't bestow that accolade on 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. However, I can say that it's a very solid and consistently amusing little effort that stands the test of time nicely.

The entire project sounds like someone's boyhood fantasy. The "monster vs. monster" genre already started to develop a few years earlier with 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, but Meet Frankenstein takes that concept to an even more absurd degree. It's like some kids sat around and said, "You know what'd be cool? If they had a movie with Frankenstein and Dracula!"

"Yeah, that'd rock! And it should have the Wolf Man, too!"

"And Abbott and Costello! That'd be really great!"

That's not how the project evolved, but it maintains a spirit of goofy fun that's in keeping with my little scenario. Half horror film and half comedy, Meet Frankenstein boasts a nice balance between the two genres and becomes a very satisfying blend of both.

Actually, to modern sensibilities, I don't think much about Meet Frankenstein will prove very scary. I'll defer to the standards of the time, which - according to some of this disc's supplements - indicate that 1948 audiences found the movie to be quite spooky at times. To me, the comedic elements dominated the proceedings so greatly that I can't imagine how anyone would have been scared by this film, but one must also remember that I'm a manly man who isn't frightened of anything, so less burly sorts must adjust my opinions accordingly.

In any case, one positive aspect of Meet Frankenstein stems from the fact that the actors playing the monsters - Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man, and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein's Monster - all do so "straight"; other than one priceless scene involving Franky and Costello, there aren't any segments in which the creatures behave in goofy or silly ways. This adds to the effect of the rest of the comedy, since it makes the humor stand out as more distinct.

And the funny stuff certainly works extremely well, largely to the talents of Mr. Costello. Since I started to review DVDs in early 1999, I've received a serious education in film history. Prior to that time, I was more knowledgeable about movies than most folks, but I couldn't consider myself an "expert" by any stretch of the imagination. Nor would I now use that phrase to describe myself - I still have a loooong way to go and doubt I'll ever get there - but I certainly possess much more experience with a variety of film genres than I had two years ago.

One minor aspect of that has come from "classic" comics like Abbott and Costello. While I knew of their work, I had little direct exposure to it, and frankly, my knowledge base remains thin. However, I do feel much more positively about their material than I would have expected, and Meet Frankenstein seems to show their work in the most positive light possible.

Earlier this year I checked out a double-feature DVD of Abbott and Costello's Jack and the Beanstalk and Africa Screams. Neither bowled me over, but each film worked fairly well mainly due to the madcap presence of Lou Costello. The same goes for Meet Frankenstein. Without question, the movie provides a terrifically funny and enjoyable time because of Costello's silliness. He portrays the lovable moron to a "T" and shows impeccable comic timing. He also gives us unpredictable line readings and responses to events that make lackluster material very amusing.

Since he's not as broad and compelling a character, Bud Abbott's work may seem less important, but it shouldn't be regarded as such. Just as the movie functions better due to the "straight" portrayals of the monsters, we also need a more sedate and "normal" person off of whom a goof like Costello can play, and that's what Abbott does so well. He grounds Costello and makes his antics seem all the more funny due to his exasperated reactions. Prior to these fairly recent experiences, I'd always felt that A&C wouldn't be of interest to me; the overexposure of "Who's on first?" always left a bad taste in my mouth. I can't honestly say that this movie makes me want to run out and buy more A&C films, but it certainly leaves me open to the possibility; they seem to have been an absolutely first-rate comic team.

And Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein offers a top-notch mix of horror and comedy. I expected to dislike this film, as I thought the humor would dilute the monsters' presence to a great degree. Happily, that's not the case, and the movie qualifies as an example of a project that had its cake and ate it too. Both fans of classic monster pictures and of Abbott and Costello should find this film very satisfying, and the fact the movie will work for both audiences is nothing short of amazing.

The DVD:

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While the movie shows its age, I generally found the picture to look pretty satisfactory.

Although some minor softness interfered with a few wide shots, I thought that most of the film seemed adequately crisp and well-defined; I had few complaints about the sharpness of the image. Moiré effects and jagged edges did not seem to present any concerns.

Black levels appeared fairly deep and rich, with some fine contrast throughout the film. I also found the shadow detail to usually seem nicely clear and not too heavy. However, a few shots - particularly those in the wax museum early in the movie - seemed a little too dark. However, these were exceptions, and the film generally presented appropriately-opaque blacks in low-light situations.

As is typical of older movies, the biggest problems with Meet Frankenstein come from print flaws. The film seemed pretty grainy throughout the film, and a variety of other defects appeared as well; I saw speckles, scratches, small hairs and nicks. Although the faults could be moderately heavy, they actually weren't too bad for a movie of this vintage; I've seen better, but I've also viewed others that are a lot worse. Ultimately, I felt Meet Frankenstein merited a firmly average "C" for picture.

The same impression went for the film's monaural soundtrack: it appears very typical of the state of audio for the period. Dialogue was mildly thin but sounded relatively clear and distinct, with little edginess and no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects were similarly crisp and accurate and they showed little distortion. The music sounded smooth and appropriately bright; it lacked any dynamic range but I thought it seemed relatively strong. A light layer of background noise could be heard during most of the film. For 1948, it's a pretty solid but average soundtrack that earns a "C".

One area in which this DVD excels regards its supplemental features. Actually, although Meet Frankenstein isn't part of the "Classic Monster Collection" - it falls under the "Comedy Legends" banner - its extras strongly mirror the ones we've see in the horror titles, starting with a running audio commentary from Tom W. Mank. As with the companion pieces found on the other DVDs, it's a solid track that offers a clear overview of how the project was created and also relates useful tidbits about the performers and crew. Due to the brevity of the piece and all of the topics Mank tries to incorporate, the commentary lacks some depth, but the scope makes up for this nicely. I have yet to find a poor Universal Monsters audio commentary, and this one fits in well with the rest.

Next up is a fun documentary called "Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters". Hosted by David J. Skal, this 33-minute and five-second program gives us the usual mix of interviews with film historians and children of the participants like daughter Chris Costello and son Bela G. Lugosi. These snippets are interspersed with film clips, production stills and a few outtakes. The latter provided some of the piece's best parts, as we see some fun material that shows the loose atmosphere of the set; unfortunately, the bits are rather brief, but since we so rarely see this kind of stuff from old films, it's still a treat to find it.

As with the commentary, this documentary attempts to pack a wide variety of material into a restricted space, and it's generally successful, though it also doesn't go into a lot of detail on some issues. Some of the commentary 's topics are repeated as well, but the video program usually offers a somewhat different take on them, and the varying perspectives make the information fresh. The show added to my knowledge of the film and made it even more interesting and enjoyable for me, so ".Meet the Monsters" can be considered a successful program.

A few other staples found on the "Classic Monster" DVDs round out Meet Frankenstein. We get production photographs which are presented as a running video montage. In this section we see a slew of posters and lobby cards plus stills from the shoot and some fun candid and publicity shots. The program runs for nine minutes and 10 seconds and the pictures are accompanied by the film's score. I like this form of photographic presentation and think it nicely shows some interesting material.

In addition, we find a re-release trailer for the film plus some brief text production notes; since the latter offer virtually no information not already provided in the documentary and/or the commentary, they aren't of much value. "Cast and Filmmakers" includes fairly average biographies of Abbott, Costello, Lugosi, Chaney, and Strange plus director Charles Barton. Finally, "Recommendations" alerts us to the existence of the eight "Classic Monster Collection" DVDs. All in all, it's another solid set of supplements from Universal.

Even without those extras, I'd recommend Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein because it's a very entertaining little film. Frankly, I expected it to stink but the truth is that it's a consistently funny and delightful piece. The DVD presents fairly average picture and sound plus some solid supplements. Whether you like famous monsters or classic comedy, this film should be to your liking.

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