Thursday, October 25, 2007

"I SAW WHAT I SAW WHEN I SAW IT!" And what I saw was today's Halloween movie: "ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN". Many many people call this the greatest horror-comedy of all time; and there's something to be said for that opinion (although I might have something to say about that). However, it is undoubtedly one of the best. In retrospect, it seems like a perfect match (which is probably why the studio went for it). Universal's top money makers were both Abbott & Costello comedies and monster movies; so what better way to get fannies in the theatre seats than to combine the two into one film. After all, Universal had already discovered the cash-making possibilities of combining more than one monster in a movie; starting with FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN and the monster rallies that followed.
Here we've got a movie which works EQUALLY WELL as a comedy or a monster movie. The funny parts are actually funny and the monster parts are actually scary. As an Abbott and Costello movie, it's one of the best. And as a Universal monster movie, it actually works as well. There's a real storyline which could've been used unchanged for a straight monster movie (in fact, the original working title of the film was "The Brain of Frankenstein"). The monsters (Bela Lugosi as Dracula for only the second time on film, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man and Glenn Strange returning from the monster rally films "House of Frankenstein" and House of Dracula" as the Frankenstein monster for one final time) all play it completely straight and leave the comedy to "the boys". The opening credits set the tone; they're both spooky and whimsical.
Bud and Lou are working at McDougal's House of Horrors where they expect a shipment to come in. The shipment is actual Dracula (in his coffin) and Frankenstein's monster (in his crate). Lawrence Talbot (Chaney) calls to warn them not to open the boxes and rushes to America. Of course, Lou sees Dracula opening his coffin while Bud never sees a thing. The two monsters take off leaving Bud and Lou to spend the night in jail for stealing them. The boys are bailed out of jail by "a woman". It turns out that Lou has a beautiful, cultured girlfriend Sandra (Lenore Aubert) and Bud can't figure out why. The "why" is that Sandra is working with Dracula to find a more docile, controllable brain so when they revive the Frankenstein monster it won't be a brute on the rampage. Sandra has chosen Lou's brain since he will be as malleable as a puppy dog. Talbot arrives and has Lou lock him in his hotel room because the moon is rising -- and you know what THAT does to him!
The movie almost perfectly divides screen time between the funny comedy schtick of Abbott and Costello and the efforts of Dracula to purloin Lou's brain and stick it in the monster's cranium. The movie looks beautiful as it benefits from superb Universal monster sets and frequent A&C director Charles Barton keeps things moving. And hey, there's even a brief cameo by Vincent Price as The Invisible Man. A lot of people have wondered why, with all these famous Universal monsters in the film, The Mummy was not included. Well, shows you what THEY know. The Mummy IS in this movie. Or rather A mummy. Watch the scene near the beginning of the film when Bud & Lou are alone in the darkened warehouse after Dracula & Frankenstein's monster have arrived in their crates. You know, it's the famous scene where Lou reads the "Dracula sleeps in his coffin..." speech and yells "OH CHICK!!!!". Well, when Bud returns to the room, take a look behind him. You'll see a mummy standing up against the wall under a vaguely Egyptian panorama; obviously another part of McDougal's House of Horrors inventory.
Watching this movie really got me in the Halloween mood with a last fond look at our beloved Universal monsters and the spooky fun embodied in the Halloween season.

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