Still funny 64 years after its 1948 release, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is a mash-up of two of Universal’s most enduring franchises. Comedic duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello’s popularity had peaked after a series of more than 20 films beginning in 1940. Universal’s classic monster movies (begun in 1931 with Dracula and Frankenstein) had already run their course as well. House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945) were last gasps before the studio moved past its venerable early monsters.
The unlikely combination of Abbott and Costello meeting the classic monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man—was a stroke of genius that audiences couldn’t resist. Universal was so pleased with the box office results, the teamed Abbott and Costello with an increasingly outrageous variety of similar mash-ups that carried on well until the mid-50s. But never again would the magic displayed in Meet Frankenstein be captured again. Now on Blu-ray, the film that has been called one of the greatest horror-comedies of all time looks better than ever and will hopefully reach a new generation of fans.
The best thing about Meet Frankenstein was Universal’s decision to cast their original Dracula, Bela Lugosi as Dracula (his first and only reprisal of the role he became famous for in 1931), their original Wolf Man, Lon Chaney Jr. (who first portrayed Larry Talbot in 1941’s The Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster. Too bad Universal couldn’t get Boris Karloff to play the monster, but at least Strange had portrayed him in the aforementioned House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. Rather than hamming it up, these actors play their roles completely straight, as if this were just another horror film. In large part, that is why Meet Frankenstein works so well.
The plot is more of a framework upon which director Charles Barton hangs a series of sight gags. Chick (Abbott) and Wilbur (Costello) are working as baggage handlers when a shipment arrives for a wax museum, McDougal’s House of Horrors. Larry Talbot calls to warn Chick and Wilbur that the two crates contain the actual bodies of Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. Not heeding the warning, they deliver the crates to the museum, unload them, and unwittingly allow the monsters to begin wreaking havoc.