Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
Over 25 years before Young Frankenstein hit cinemas, another classic comedy involving Mary Shelley’s creation made a memorable impression on audiences. That movie, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was ambitious for a number of reasons. One of these was that it brought together not one but three of Universal’s classic monsters (Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man) with the comedy duo, whom Universal was also making a fortune off of from the ’30s-’50s.
As World War II was ending, some wondered if either the Universal monsters or the comedy duo of Bud and Lou were going to last much longer. Hence, Universal’s idea to put both of them together in this film. Although Costello initially objected to the idea, the end result would be seen as the first in a long line of films featuring Bud and Lou sharing the screen with monsters.
This film begins in England, with Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) anxiously awaiting a phone call from a railway station in Florida. He finally gets in contact with one of its employees, Wilbur Grey (Costello), and instructs him to not deliver two crates addressed to the McDougal House of Horrors. At that moment, however, Talbot’s werewolf curse begins to kick in as Wilbur gives smart-ass remarks about how he sounds like a wolf and then hangs up.
Wilbur then sees McDougal himself (Frank Ferguson) at his desk demanding those two crates. Chick Young (Abbott), Wilbur’s pal/colleague, hurries a flabbergasted Wilbur off to fetch them just as Wilbur’s girlfriend Sandra Mornay (Lenore Aubert) shows up. McDougal happily informs her that the crates contain the bodies of Count Dracula and the Frankenstein Monster, and that he got them at a nice price. Unimpressed, Sandra goes and tells Wilbur she’ll see him tonight, to Chick’s annoyance.
After some mishaps involving getting the crates ready, McDougal tells Wilbur and Chick to take the crates to his house of horrors themselves, so his insurance agent can look at them.
That night, Wilbur and Chick arrive at the house of horrors. The darkness, brought on by a storm knocking out the power, makes Wilbur scared of the attractions here. Chick opens the first crate, noting it’s a coffin with the crest of Dracula on it. Wilbur asks him not to open it, but Chick says Dracula is just a story. While Chick gets the other crate, Wilbur reads the placard that describes Dracula. As he does so, he hears the creaking of the count (Bela Lugosi) opening his coffin, and a moment later, the count’s hand comes out of it. Both times, though, Chick sees nothing when he’s shown the coffin. Dracula even manages to get out of the coffin and hide as Wilbur cries out for Chick, who later shows Wilbur that it’s empty.
This calms Wilbur as they start on the second crate, while Chick dismisses Wilbur over the creaking he hears while Dracula returns to his coffin. Chick picks up and reads the placard that tells of Frankenstein’s Monster, which he also laughs at. They open the crate and Wilbur is spooked when he sees the Monster (Glenn Strange) inside. This results in him hitting a nearby guillotine, which decapitates the fake head inside it. So the blade was real? This place is authentic.
They hear McDougal’s irritating voice asking why they’re in here with the lights off. Chick runs out to deal with him, while Wilbur decides to put the fake head in the coffin. Of course, the Count is inside again, and with the cape-over-the-face motif that Ed Wood was so certain would be all that was needed to make any actor look like Lugosi, he hypnotizes Wilbur into a daze and then heads for the crate. Using his ring on the famous metal electrodes on the Monster’s neck, Dracula revives him and they hide together.
Chick returns with McDougal and his insurance agent. Smacking Wilbur awake, they find that both the crates are now empty. McDougal bitches about the insurance money he’s now owed, before deducing that Chick and Wilbur must have stolen what was in the crates (so why would they go to the house of horrors in the first place, then?). He takes them to the police, while Dracula and the Monster make off with the former’s coffin.
Later, Dracula is flying to a castle in his bat form. He arrives and is greeted by Sandra, whom the Count takes to the Monster, who’s resting nearby. She tells him that her unknowing assistant Professor Stevens (Charles Bradstreet) is asking a lot of questions, but the Count says that he’ll deal with those. Sandra, in turn, informs Dracula that she’s mastered Dr. Frankenstein’s methods and has the perfect brain to put into his monster: Wilbur’s.
The next day, Wilbur and Chick are at their apartment, with the latter complaining about the night they spent in jail. Wilbur keeps insisting that he saw Dracula and the Monster, just as Sandra comes in to remind him of a masquerade ball that evening. Chick thanks her for bailing them out of jail, but she says she didn’t, leaving everyone taken aback. As she leaves, Chick understandably asks what Wilbur has that he doesn’t.
“A brain!” is her reply.
“I’d like to know where it is,” is his reply to Wilbur’s smiling face. There’s another knock at the door, and Wilbur thinks it’s Sandra coming to kiss him goodbye. Instead, he ends up kissing the lips of Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph), who says she bailed them out, and tells Wilbur she finds him fascinating. This is all a ruse, of course, as she’s an insurance agent who got them out of jail hoping they’ll lead her to the missing exhibits. But her faux googly-eyes at Wilbur prompt him to ask her to the upcoming ball, leaving Chick in the cold, even when he points out that Wilbur already has a date.
Not long after Joan leaves, Talbot arrives and informs Chick and Wilbur that he’s the one who telephoned them earlier, and that Dracula brought the Monster from Europe and is hoping to revive him. Wilbur gives Chick an I-told-you-so look, although the latter is still unconvinced. But Talbot can’t explain further at this point because (of course) the moon is full. He begs Wilbur to lock him in his room, which is across from theirs.
After Wilbur does so, he sees Talbot left his bag and goes back in. Wilbur narrowly avoids the Wolf Man as he leaves the bag with a note. The next morning, Chick and Wilbur are astonished by how messy Talbot’s room is, but don’t pay much mind to his Wolf Man story.
That evening, Wilbur, Chick, and Joan go to pick up Sandra at what is, unbeknownst to them, Dracula’s castle. Wilbur is irritated by the eyes Stevens and Joan give each other, but she and Sandra get acquainted as they freshen up. During this time, Wilbur picks up the ringing phone, which turns out to be Talbot. He informs them that they’re in Dracula’s castle, and Dracula is using the alias Dr. Lejos, which prompts Wilbur to try to leave, but Chick is pissed enough to search the place with Wilbur to put all this nonsense to rest. Their search leads them to a basement staircase that itself leads to a boat and dock.
The duo are briefly separated by a revolving door, during which time Wilbur sees Dracula and the Monster approaching him. He’s reunited with Chick, but the latter, once again, doesn’t see anything when Wilbur shows him.
At the same time, Sandra discovers Joan’s ID card while the latter is going through Frankenstein’s notes (which I guess Sandra keeps in the same room where she freshens up).
Everyone meets downstairs and Chick stops Wilbur’s attempts to tell Sandra what happened by saying Wilbur fell. This prompts “Dr. Lejos” to make an appearance, saying that Wilbur must be careful. Sandra introduces everyone, and “Lejos”, upon meeting Wilbur, suggests that everyone else go on ahead and he’ll follow with Wilbur and Sandra. But the latter surprises him by insisting that she’s ill and must go to bed. As the others depart, Sandra informs Dracula that Joan is an insurance agent, Stevens keeps asking questions, and Wilbur must have found out something. She says that they must postpone their plans, but Dracula is insistent to the point where he bites her neck in order for her to do his bidding (which also leads to the famous blooper of Dracula appearing in the nearby mirror).
At the ball, Wilbur and Chick go off to change into their costumes and run into McDougal, who briefly argues with Chick and tosses Wilbur around, wanting to find his exhibits. Talbot shows up and asks Wilbur and Chick what they found at the castle, but Chick says there was nothing to find. Talbot is distressed, especially after Chick shows off his own wolf man mask.
Dracula arrives with Sandra, and is immediately confronted by Talbot. Joan’s ears perk up when Talbot says Lejos is really Dracula, but the Count invites her to dance, saying he’ll explain everything. Sandra takes Wilbur to a secluded area and attempts to bite him, but Talbot and Chick soon approach. As she runs off, the trio attempt to look for Joan. But Talbot gets his werewolf groove on again and attempts to attack Wilbur, although the latter thinks it’s really Chick in his costume and even manages to punch him in the nose.
At the ball, there’s a cry for help. It turns out it’s McDougal, who’s been injured but not fatally. Chick arrives and soon everyone starts to think he’s the culprit when they see his wolf man mask in his hand. Wilbur arrives, but McDougal says he’s in on it, too, prompting the duo to flee.
They head to the river, where Chick is convinced of all the supernatural things going on when he sees (and subsequently faints at the sight of) Dracula hypnotizing Wilbur into returning to the castle along with him, Joan, and Sandra.
The next morning, Chick meets up with Talbot and they head for the castle to mount a rescue.
As Dracula and Sandra prepare for the operation, Stevens is knocked out when he finds Joan and Frankenstein’s notes. Chick and Talbot arrive and free Stevens, but before they can reach Joan, Dracula hypnotizes Wilbur into going to the operating room. But he’s soon freed by Chick and Talbot, just as the latter becomes the Wolf Man again. The Monster, meanwhile, has become powerful enough to break his bonds, and he proceeds to toss Sandra out a window. As he goes after Chick and Wilbur, Dracula and the Wolf Man fight until the latter grabs the Count in his bat form and they both fall into the water below.
The Monster chases Wilbur and Chick to the pier where they ward off McDougal. Chick and Wilbur get into a boat and sail off, while Stevens and Joan set the pier on fire, which the Monster soon crashes through.
Wilbur goes into I-told-you-so mode again, but Chick says that since all three monsters are gone, there’s nothing to worry about now. But the film ends with the duo being scared off by the Invisible Man (Vincent Price), who says he’s sorry to have missed the fun.
Before this film, Universal had three official crossovers with its monsters: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, and House of Dracula. The monsters in all three of these are Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man. This is rather tame compared to the crossovers Marvel has done in recent years, but at the time, it was a big deal. But as entertaining as those films are, the Wolf Man has the most screen time compared to his colleagues. This is one reason why this film is great: all three monsters have a chance to shine, and even the Invisible Man’s brief appearance is memorable (all the more so as Price became a star just five years later with House of Wax).
The success of this film led to Universal teaming up Abbott and Costello with its other monsters. We’d later see Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, and Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The duo even crossed paths with the Creature from the Black Lagoon when the latter appeared on the Colgate Comedy Hour.
What makes this film fun, though, is that Abbott and Costello do their thing but never at the expense of the monsters, reminding us of why both these franchises have endured.