Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Bud and Lou Met Frankie

If Equinox is the definite example of an old-fashioned horror movie that just did not age well, then the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is an example of the exact opposite. Indeed, I watched it just the other night and found myself laughing as much with the movie that night as I did when I first saw it as a little kid. Of course, one might argue that A&CMF is not really a horror movie but rather a horror comedy. Then again I can think of some horror comedies that have not aged well either and the chances are you can too.

Anyway, the secret to A&CMF's success lies in the fact that its makers were smart enough to play to their cast's strengths and not their weaknesses. The horror actors did not try to tell jokes or do pratfalls and the comedians did not try to look menacing or act scary. Of course, that approach seems obvious to most modern-day movie-goers but then the history of Hollywood is littered with cinematic failures whose flaws seem equally obvious in retrospect.

In any event, A&CMF was the first of the several films in which Bud Abbott and Lou Costello met monsters from the Universal movie lot and it is still the best -- and I'm not just saying that because this was the first Abbott and Costello movie I ever saw. I would like to say the same thing about a lot of Abbott and Costello movies I have seen but I just can't.

The movie begins with an eerie animated sequence which shows the Frankenstein Monster knocking on a tomb which contains the skeletons of Abbott and Costello -- who, of course, run away at the sight of him. From then on, it proceeds to introduce the various supernatural entities that will be appearing in the film. Even when the movie changes over to live-action sequences, it does not hesitate to set a mood and it keeps returning to that mood over and over again. Along the way, an easily scared deliveryman named Wilbur (played by Lou Costello) keeps running into Count Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster -- AKA Frankie -- and the Wolfman -- AKA Lawrence Talbot -- while driving his fellow deliveryman Chick (played by Bud Abbott, natch) crazy with the way he keeps acquiring the attention of two women -- a mysterious European brunette named Sandra Mornay and a blonde American woman named Joan Raymond. (I'm not sure why Wilbur and Chick never get last names in this movie but I suspect the writers thought the younger audience members would already be confused enough by the fact that Abbott and Costello were not playing characters named Bud and Lou. At least, I remember experiencing such confusion the first time I saw this film -- but maybe that was just me. And as I noted above, this was the first Abbott and Costello movie I had ever seen.)

Of course, this being a horror comedy, both women turn out to have ulterior motives for courting Wilbur. Ms. Raymond wants to use Wilbur to help solve an insurance case involving missing exhibits from a local wax museum while Ms. Mornay wants to use Wilbur for more nefarious purposes. Everything comes together on a dark but not so stormy night when Chick discovers the hard way that Wilbur was not fibbing about seeing monsters and then -- Well, you can probably appreciate what happens next much better if you see the actual movie.

For what it is worth, author Jeff Rovin once wrote a literary sequel to this movie called Return of the Wolf Man but unfortunately, it is out of print right now and almost impossible to find unless you're one of those people who can afford to spend a king's random on a paperback book. It would be nice to to say that I saw this book in my local library, but alas, I am not yet that lucky.

But, hey, in the meantime, we'll always have Bud and Lou. Not to mention a classic movie cameo at the film's finale -- if, indeed, "cameo" is the right word to use for a role in which a famous actor never actually appears on film yet utters a memorable line of dialogue. Confused? Well, that just means you haven't seen the movie yet. Shame on you!

But if you have already seen the movie, please feel free to consider that scene a classic example of cinematic torch passing -- a scene in which the torch passes from old school horror actors like Bela Lugosi to newer school horror actors like a certain gentleman from Missouri who "appears" in the above-mentioned "cameo." And if you still have no idea whom I'm talking about, that's okay. I do not remember knowing much about the actor in question the first time I saw this movie and yet I still enjoyed it.

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