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Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein: Comedy Legends

Many, many decades after the fact, contemporary film fans will have to decide where they come down on the comedy antics of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, who seem to have the same sort of impact on later generations as The Three Stooges — either you think they're funny, or they're just too broad and silly to be humorous. But during their heyday in the '40s and '50s, Abbott and Costello were America's preeminent film comedians, translating their popular stage act to several motion pictures and becoming part of the 20th century's pop-culture landscape. And, as it happened, in the late '40s Universal realized they had two very marketable items under their roof, as Abbott and Costello were building a popular film career not too far away from a legion of movie monsters who were turning out more and more low-budget, implausible sequels year after year. What better way to breath new life into the monster genre than to put them in a film with the grumpy Bud and super-nervous Lou? The result, 1948's Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was the box-office smash of the year, and a precursor to later funny scare-fests like Ghostbusters and Men in Black. Did it matter that the title was somewhat of a misnomer? Not really, but it doesn't tell the whole story, as Bud and Lou meet up not only with Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange), but Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and The Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). As if the plot was important, the story centers around the undead Count Dracula, who has acquired Frankenstein's creature, but wants to improve it with a more suggestible, more docile brain — and apparently Lou Costello's gray matter fits the bill. A lot of the comedy in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein plays directly off the straight man/comedian dynamic of Bud and Lou, as Costello sees monsters everywhere, while Abbott yells at him and tells him he's being a nutcase, and if the sight-gags sometimes seem aimed at a third-grader's funnybone, a chief delight here is seeing the iconic Lugosi back in the black cape. It was the second (and last) time he would play the legendary vampire on film, memorably joined by original Wolf Man Chaney. Regrettably, Boris Karloff could not be convinced to reprise his role as Frankenstein's monster, but Strange does a credible job, making the film worthwhile for classic monster buffs — even if Abbott and Costello aren't their cup of tea. Universal has done a solid job with this DVD edition, part of their "Comedy Legends" series. Along with a good source print in the original full-frame (1.33:1) and audio in the original mono (DD 2.0), features include the 33-minute documentary "Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters," hosted by David J. Skal, an insightful commentary with film historian Gregory W. Mank, a nine-minute gallery of publicity materials and stills with the original score, the original trailer, and notes. Essential for those who want to have a complete Universal "Classic Monster Collection" on DVD.
—Mark Bourne

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