Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), a horror comedy that parodies a plethora of Universal monster films, was directed by Charles Burton, produced by Robert Arthur, and written by Robert Lees, Frederick I. Rinaldo and John Grant. The film delivers a comical adaptation of typical horror/monster films through the comedy duo of Lou Abbott and Bud Costello and their romp with three notorious monsters: Dracula (Bela Lugosi), The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) and Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange).
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein opens with an anxious man (Lon Chaney, Jr.) placing a call from London to a Florida freight-handling branch of a railway station. A freight-handling employee, Wilbur (Lou Costello), answers the call and is warned not to open the two crates addressed to “McDougal’s House of Horrors” until the London man makes his arrival at the station. This conversation abruptly ends when the London man turns into a werewolf as a full moon rises.
Back at the delivery company, Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) arrives to request the immediate delivery of the two crates for his “House of Horrors”. He reveals that the crates hold the bodies of two notorious monsters: Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. As Wilbur and his fellow employee, Chick (Bud Abbott), attempt to follow this request, Count Dracula (Béla Lugosi) sneakily escapes his coffin and revives Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange). Together, the monsters escape the railway station and the disappearance of their bodies lands Wilbur and Chick behind bars on suspicion of theft.
The pairing of Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, with the help of Wilbur’s love interest, Sandra (Lenore Aubert), allows the development of an elaborate scheme to lure Wilbur into Dracula’s castle. It is there that an operation is to be performed where Wilbur’s brain will be removed and inserted into the Frankenstein monster to create a more trainable and obedient creature.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein parodies Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and the series of Universal monster films by mocking the universal fear of monstrosity. By placing three monsters that an audience can collectively recognize alongside the equally famous comedy duo of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, the standard concept of creating a monster film for the purpose of terrifying an audience changes into something significantly lighter.
The film is very aware of the common stereotypes associated with each monster because of their amplification throughout various adaptations. The movie examines these expectations and plays on them by adding a layer of comedy. This element can be seen through the parodying of the Wolf Man and Dracula.
Because of stories constantly being circulated and adaptations being made, society is familiar with certain characteristics associated with a werewolf. In the film, Talbot reveals to Wilbur, “I know you'll think I'm crazy, but in a half an hour the moon will rise and I'll turn into a wolf” (Abbott). This quote plays on the well-known belief that the rise of a full moon will force a werewolf to change into its true form. This stereotype is crucial to the concept of werewolves and Wilbur’s response pokes fun at this expectation that has been embraced by Universal as he answers, “You and twenty million other guys” (Abbott). Wilbur’s witty response adds an element of humor that is completely absent from the standard monster films. This line also gives the Wolf Man a humanizing quality that changes him from a monster to fear into an identifiable character.Through a simple and quick response, the audience changes from fearing this widely known characteristic associated with werewolves to being able to relate to one by seeing him as just another typical male with raging hormones.
The idea of parodying monsters can also be seen through the depiction of Dracula. The film plays on the wide-spread belief that a vampire has the ability to change from human form to bat form. Poking fun at this completely irrational idea, Dracula turns into a cartoon bat when he makes this transformation. This shift from reality--with Dracula sneaking out of his coffin and reviving the Frankenstein monster, to cartoon-- where an animated bat is seen flying to the castle parodies the concept that is always associated with vampires and their ability to transform. This parody addresses society’s obsession with associating monsters with certain characteristics by taking concepts familiar to an audience and making them unlike anything they have ever seen.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein epitomizes the human fascination with monstrosity by bringing three notorious monsters together on one screen. The film redefines typical stereotypes and expectations of monsters by forcing the audience to question which character is the real “monster”.
This question can be seen through Sandra’s role in Count Dracula’s scheme. Though Sandra lacks the typical physical expectation of a monster, her role in the plot allows the audience to see her as one. Sandra’s manipulation of Wilbur through her alluring beauty allows Count Dracula’s plan to play out until she refuses to continue with the experiment. The character of Sandra redefines monstrosity as a flaw that cannot always be as easily identified as it is in most monsters. With this shift, monstrosity becomes something that is not always tangible, only observed through a character's actions.
By the end of the film, the audience can see that Count Dracula proves to be the most monster-like character of them all. Dracula orchestrates the entire scheme of Sandra's pursuing of Wilbur in order to get Frankenstein’s monster a better brain. Dracula is the character that revives the body of Frankenstein’s monster, and in doing so, takes on the role of becoming the monster’s new master. Being a vampire, he is also given the powers to control those around him. This can be seen in the beginning of the movie as he escapes from the railway station after he hypnotizes Wilbur and as he bites Sandra as a way to force her to continue her work with their scheme.
Dracula takes on a mad scientist role, like the one given to Frankenstein in the Hammer Studios Series. Both Frankenstein and Dracula show no remorse for their actions and thrive on the concept of using others to get to their own personal destinations. This can be seen through Frankenstein’s shameless manipulation and killing of the professor in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) to obtain a brain needed for his monster. Like Frankenstein, Count Dracula's vampire powers allow him to manipulate the characters around him as pawns through his endeavor of completing his experiment.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was chosen by the United States Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film registry in 2001. The film was given this honor by being recognized as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein also received a warm reception from Readers Digest as it was named one of the top 100 funniest films of all time (Wikipedia).
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has become culturally significant because of what it accomplishes. Universal Studios parodies itself by poking fun at the long list of monster movies it has distributed: Frankenstein (1913), The Wolf Man (1941), Dracula (1931) to name a few. The original horror films produced by Universal gathered a following based on a love for the combination of monstrosity and fear. This film takes these two concepts and offers a completely new perspective.
By casting Frankenstein’s Monster, Count Dracula and The Wolf Man alongside Abbott and Costello, the film simplifies fears of the unknown into irrational thoughts. The comedy causes the audience to rethink the collective fear of monstrosity and asks for a different response: laughter.
This laughter can be found in the actor casting itself as each monster is played by the same actor as the original Universal films. With this decision, Universal is playing with the understanding that the audience has most likely already seen these actors in their plethora of monster films, and it asks the audience to see the cast like never before, in a lighter, comically entertaining format accompanying the famous comedy duo: Abbott and Costello.
The casting of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello is another reason for laughs as their interactions with one another lighten the typical fear in movies of being in the presence of three notorious monsters. The duo’s quick one-liners and hysterical ways of interacting with one another through verbal and physical cues challenges the stereotypical dark and devious moods of a standard monster movie.The constant comedic mood created by Abbott and Costello as well as the basic concept of the film to parody monster movies led to a development of films following the same lead, like Young Frankenstein (1974). Together, these films embrace the comedy in absurdity and monstrosity.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein left behind a legacy by forcing audiences to come face to face with their fears to laugh at them. The film requires the audience to question the rationale behind the fear of monstrosity, as it is put alongside Abbott and Costello and manipulated in ways that make it more hysterically entertaining than it ever was scary.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Dir. Charles Burton. Perf. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Universal, 1948. DVD.
"Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
"Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein." IMDb. IMDb.com, Web. 10 Mar. 2015.
Curse of Frankenstein. Dir. Terence Fisher. Perf. Peter Cushing. Hammer Films, 1957. DVD.
Nolan, Joe. "Second Saturday Outdoor Cinema: Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein." Nashville Scene. Foundation, 8 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.