The Scene: The universal back lot in Hollywood, California. The Time: 1948
Two studio gofers rush towards each other on a date with destiny. One is carrying the canisters that hold the latest Abbott and Costello comedy. The other carries canisters that hold an archive copy of House of Dracula, a Universal horror movie from a few years before. Their attentions wander for only a moment (Joan Fontaine walked by), but they collide and scatter the film canisters, some of which pop open, twisting and mixing the contents beyond recognition.
The first gofer: "Hey! You got your Universal horror movie in my Abbott and Costello film!"
The second gofer: "Hey! You got your Abbott and Costello film in my Universal horror movie!"
The two great shticks that shtick great together.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a strange film, as it marks the final decline of the Universal horror films (Such as Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1934), films which forever defined how we think of these characters) and it marks the high point of the comedy duo Abbott and Costello's film career.
The plot is as follows: The owner of a house of horrors in Florida buys the actual corpses of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster (despite the title, Dr. Frankenstein is nowhere to be found in this film) from a 'European collector.' Naturally, this was a ruse by Dracula to get to the States cheaply. The delivery of the two crates to the museum is handled by Chick and Wilbur (Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, respectively) who are alone at the museum. Naturally, the monsters only come out when Wilbur is alone, and he has no luck trying to convince Chick that anything is going on. However, by the time the owner of the museum arrives, the crates he ordered are empty, and Chick and Wilbur are thrown in jail for theft.
At this point a beautiful insurance investigator (Joan Raymond) decides to try to get close to Wilbur to find out what part he has in the disappearance of the contents of the crates. This complicates Wilbur's situation with his girlfriend, Sandra. Chick, meanwhile, can't understand how Wilbur is getting so lucky. Little do either of them know about Sandra, who is actually a scientist working from Dr. Frankenstein's original notes at the bidding of Dracula, to help make the Monster more controllable. She thinks the Wilbur may be the key to doing that.
Then Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) shows up. You may remember that Larry is the original Wolf Man. He has spent his last couple of film appearances trying to destroy Dracula and the Monster, and now he thinks he has his chance. He meets up with Chick and Wilbur and begs them two favors. First, that they should help him find the monsters, and second, that they should lock him in his room at night. Of course, he does not tell them why. And later, when he does tell them why, they don't believe him. "You don't understand. Every night when the moon is full, I turn into a wolf," he says. Wilbur fires back, "You and twenty million other guys!"
The rest of the plot revolves around Sandra's plan, the obligatory masquerade ball, and Sandra's gothic castle (in Florida!?). By the end, we have seen all the monsters fight each other and chase our heroes all over the place.
One of the most striking things about this film is that the monsters are played fairly straight. Bela Lugosi, in particular, does his best to be serious despite the goings on. He also handles the few funny lines the script gives him pretty well. This is Bela's last appearance in any role that would allow him any dignity (unless you count Ed Wood, Jr. films -- we don't). Lon Chaney is not very good, but he had been doing the frantic-loner bit in so many films that it was probably wearing thin. And there's not much you can say about Glenn Strange as the Monster. He's tall. And that's enough.
Abbott and Costello do what they do best. Bud Abbott yells a lot and disbelieves everything his partner says about monsters. Lou Costello does all of the physical slapstick and screams like a girl at appropriate times. The duo has never been funnier.
To see why they are so funny, we offer the following chart:
Comparative Humor Level of Specific People Walking Into Walls
Not funny (Never funny)
Now granted, this may be a little simplistic. But no one is funnier walking into a wall than Lou Costello.
The most hilarious sequence in the movie occurs towards the end as our pair run from the Monster. Similar sequences have been done since, but none are as funny as this one. We particularly like the parts where Lou mugs at the camera after he does something right.
Unfortunately, this would be the last really funny Abbott and Costello movie. From this point on they would continue with 'gimmick' films, such as Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) and the awful Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953). It was all downhill from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. However, if you are going to see one Abbott and Costello film, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is probably the one to see.