By 1948, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s film career was in the doldrums. It was revived inthis year by an inspired melding of genres: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Moreon the importance of this film a bit later on. For now, its premise sees Bud and Lou asdeliverymen who unknowingly help bring Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster(Glenn Strange) into the States. Hot on the heels of the monsters, determined to destroy Dracula,is Larry Talbot (Lon C…aney, Jr.), who of course has his own problems, since he turns into theWolf Man during the full moon. Dracula, meanwhile, plots to transplant Costello’s brain into thebody of the monster.
Once again box-office gold, the team next bowed in Mexican Hayride (also 1948).Here the scammed Lou pursues the con-artist Bud to Mexico, where he winds up embroiled inBud’s latest scheme. One of the signature comic pieces of this film is Lou’s inability to keepfrom dancing whenever the a samba plays.
Abbot and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949) is a slightly misleadingtitle, as Karloff’s phony swami is but one of a nest of likely killers. In this comic reworking ofthe Old Dark House motifs, Costello is a bell-hop suspected of murder, while Abbott is the hoteldetective trying to clear his name. Corpses multiply awkwardly for poor Lou, and the two palsmust stay one step ahead of both the police and the actual murderer, whoever that might be.
Abbot and Costello in the Foreign Legion (1950) sees the boys in territory previouslymined by Laurel and Hardy. Here they are shady wrestling promoters. They are after one of theirwrestlers, who refused to throw a fight, but in the course of trying to find him they arethemselves tricked into joining the Foreign Legion, with the results you might expect.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) has our two novice detectivestrying to clear the name of Tommy Jones, an innocent boxer accused of murder. Tommy is giventhe invisibility formula so he can be hidden during the investigation. The Invisible Man of thetitle is thus a long way from the silken-voiced menace of Claude Rains (or, for that matter,Vincent Price of the later Invisible Man films, who makes a memorable cameo at the conclusionto Meets Frankenstein).
Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951) sees Costello discovering he is the last of thereal McCoys. He and his agent (Abbott) hit Kentucky, looking for the family fortune, but withevery fortune, there is an accompanying feud.
Lost in Alaska (1952) has the boys save a gold prospector, only to come under firefrom all of his enemies. Finding gold is now the least of their problems.
Finally, the lavish Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) is a cheeky lie: when thetwo idiots accidentally launch themselves in an experimental spaceship, they land first in NewOrleans during Mardi Gras (and think they’re on Mars), then take off again and think they’reback on Earth, but are in fact on the matriarchal world of Venus (cue Miss Universe lovelies intogas and stiletto boots).
Bill Warren has argued, persuasively I think, that Abbott and Costello are an acquired taste,and one that must be acquired as a child. If you have any fondness for these clowns, this is a solidcollection of films, even if the quality of the movies is variable. What makes this packageessential, however, not just for A&C fans, but for those of you who snapped up the MonsterLegacy collections, is the presence of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This is themissing capstone from the big Legacy package. Not only did this turn the duo into a hot boxoffice commodity once again, it was also the Twilight of the Gods for the Universal Monsters.The film treats the Monster, Dracula and the Wolf Man with respect, the last two are played bythe actors who created the roles (and this was only the second time Lugosi played Dracula onfilm), and this was the last time the Universal incarnations of these characters would be seen,thus bringing to a close a cycle of classic horror that had begun with Dracula in1931.
All the soundtracks are, unsurprisingly, the original mono. By and large, the sound qualityis solid, with rich music and a minimum of distortion. The level of background hiss variesfrom film to film, with Go to Mars being particularly bad.
The prints to do not appear to be restored (but the package doesn’t claim that they are,either). There are some rough aspects, then, with minor speckling and some grain (whose severityvaries from shot to shot and film to film), but generally speaking the prints are in good shape.The black-and-white tones are good, and the image is sharp enough that one can see the wireson some of the special effects.
Not much here, but then again, eight movies is a pretty snazzy special in an of itself. Whatyou do get are production notes on each film, and the theatrical trailer for most of them. Themenu is basic.
One could perhaps imagine making this collection even more complete with the addtion ofthe other two monster cross-overs, where Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde and Meet the Mummy. Nonetheless, this is still a very strong selection. Onefinal note, however. If Meet Frankenstein is the only film you really care about here, asolo disc of that film, featuring commentary, was released in 2001.
Special Features List
- Production Notes