The 13th Floor

5 Times ABBOTT and COSTELLO Faced The Universal Monsters!

Sure ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is a great monster mash but have you seen the others? For many that film was the ultimate gateway flick to discovering the classic creature features. After all, it had everything in it – the comedians were in top from and Bela Lugosi officially played Dracula for the first time since 1931, Lon Chaney Jr. reprised his role as the doomed Larry Talbot aka The Wolfman seeing the previous Universal monster movies and Glenn Strange’s portrayal of The Frankenstein Monster firmly embedded itself in pop culture as arguably the most recognizable stitched-together monster.

Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, 1948.

The 1948 production was equally funny as it was thrilling with a slam bang finales as Dracula battled the Wolfman to the death as Bud and Lou attempted to outwit the dim-witted Frankenstein. It all ends in a fiery inferno as Bud Lou row away from horror island only to discover an unwelcome stowaway – the Invisible Man voiced by the inimitable Vincent Price. The film resurrected not only the careers of the comedians but reinvigorated the monster brand which had run its course during the 2nd horror cycle before petering out with two lackluster monster rallies THE HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and THE HOUSE OF DRACULA. Buoyed by the movie’s financial success, the studio promptly reteamed A&C with other monsters in their stable in an attempt to replicate the success. Spoiler alert: they didn’t. The funny men, on the last vestiges of their long film career, reduced terror titans to pliable play-dough in a series of half-hearted films that weren’t scary nor particularly funny.

Before getting back to the nuances of comedic horror, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MET CAPTAIN KIDD played by THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME himself, Charles Laughton. They would have been better off getting keel –hauled by another infamous Laughton portrayal MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY’s Captain Bligh. Sadly the rights to Bligh belonged to another studio so A&C met the pirate king. Other than Laughton’s scenery chewing, the less said about this flick, the better.

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Universal quickly realized that A&C teamed with historical figures was about as exciting as reading about it, so the exec think tank regrouped and decided “how about more monsters or at the very least Boris Karloff?”  The original horror comedy was intended for Bob Hope but he remained committed to paramount so the writers retooled the murder mystery to an anonymous female killer to boosting the star quality to Karloff. It’s the only film that boasted all there members of the cast in the title ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF.  Hotel bellhop Lou is suspected of murder but Swami Boris tries to hypnotize him to confess but Lou naturally is too stupid to catch the killer. And in a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, Boris isn’t the killer either! Despite being reunited with their FRANKENSTEIN director Charles Barton, the story and the stars appear to be going through the motions in a plot worthy of The Bowery Boys’ lesser efforts at Monogram.

 

ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN was originally intended to be a straight entry in the Invisible Man series who was last unseen in THE INVISIBLE MAN’s REVENGE, the script was retooled as a horror comedy vehicle for Bud & Lou. After stumbling on Claude Rains’ original formula two bumbling private eyes help a disgraced boxer by turning him invisible to clear him of a murder rap. Best is when Costello kayos the champ with an assist from the Invisible Man. In its review, Variety enthused, “Team’s stock double-takes and bewhiskered gags are still fulsome, but the hackneyed quips achieve a new gloss in this entry.” But for those expecting the Grand Guignol thrills of a meet-up with an invisible Vincent Price in the role were sorely disappointed as vet B-actor Arthur Franz played the phantom pugilist.

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But there laughs and chills aplenty in their next genre offer. Reteamed with Karloff (the killer), the bumbling buffoons travel across the pond to London and a showdown with Karloff’s mad doctor in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR HYDE. Karloff is always a treat, all lisping menace and glowering eyes, and he soon gives Lou a shot of his elixir – giving him the head of a mouse. The highlight is when a good score of the Metropolitan Police force get jabbed by Boris’ needle and jolly old England is soon overrun with a plethora of Hydes! Not a horror flick by any stretch of the imagination, the film played kiddie matinees for decades.

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As the aging comedians began to wane on the big screen, by the time they eviscerated THE MUMMY it was over for both the 2nd horror cycle and the fabled funsters. Less a sequel to the previous Mummy movies, ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY is a slapdash treasure hunt with faux mummies, harem girls, zealous priests and a back lot desert. Kharis had a name change to Klaris but the slow-moving abomination was up to his old tricks – not being scary and the punchline for switcheroo “mummy – who’s got the mummy” gags.

After conquering all the known mediums of the time, vaudeville, radio and motion pictures, Bud & Lou turned to their attention to their syndicated TV show THE ABBOTT & COSTELLO SHOW which centered around the lackadaisical losers trying to find work, their obnoxious landlord and blonde bombshell neighbor.

But they had one more encounter with the Universal monsters. Promoting their TV show, they co-hosted on a NBC variety TV show THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR doing many of their old bits like “Who’s On First?” In 1953, they recreated many of their old monster routines in a lengthy sketch with a very surprise guest star.

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Sent to the Universal storage room to get props, one can see many of the the boys’ former costars, Mr. Hyde, The Invisible Man, a gorilla, but after Lou awakens the Frankenstein monster, the last of the great Universal monsters – THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, bursts from a wooden crate as the curtain on their horror career comes down with a screaming thud!

Here’s a rare kinescope of the live broadcast. Frankenstein’s monster appears at the 10:50 mark. Enter the Creature – stage right! (13:22 mark). Or you can suffer through the entire skit – don’t say we didn’t warn you!

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