Friday, October 31, 2008

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

"Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (Charles Barton, 1948) The full title is "Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein" (as they all had the same production studio, Universal Pictures). But even that mouthful leaves out two major characters in the film: Bela Lugosi re-stakes his claim as Count Dracula, and Lon Chaney, Jr. plays poor S.O.B. Larry Talbot, aka "The Wolfman,"* who turns lycanthropic whenever the moon is full (sort of an eternal frat-boy)** The unholy trio of Universal met long-time companions Bud and Lou for some hi-jinks and low horror. The boys are warehouse workers who have the bad fortune to be dealing with two crates of European antiquities bound for the local museum--Dracula's coffin (with an "occupado" sign on it) and the inanimate Frankenstein Monster (victim of a dead battery). Talbot's in the neighborhood, as he's tracking the shipments for some reason.

The plot revolves around Dracula's ambition to re-animate the Monster, but replace its criminal brain with a more compliant, simpler brain, and Lou's character, Wilbur Grey, is the perfect candidate. This film was a favorite of the kids in my neighborhood, and when it aired (around Hallowe'en, after "The Brakeman Bill Show"), it was the sole topic of conversation for two weeks, and endlessly recreated on the streets and playgrounds. All the Great monsters--in one movie!! Of course, it'd be great!

And it was: giddy fun with enough strangeness, horrible deeds, and the slapstick and repartee that Bud and Lou were good for. Maybe it's "Mom's Apple Pie Syndrome,"*** where the tastes of childhood circumvent our better instincts later in life, but a re-appraisal of "A + B = F" in adulthood found me admiring its competence, humor and basic story-telling construction (circuitous, though it is). It's good stuff--strictly "B" material, but when did that ever get in the way of Big "E" Entertainment?

And it had Monsters. The Bestest Monsters. The ones that represented our Id's and haunted our dreams. Given the content of my previously sex-obsessed reviews of "Frankenstein" and "Dracula," what, then, can we glean from "A + B = F?" well, despite my "longtime companion" crack, Bud and Lou were room-mates who were 'into" dames. In fact, as if to counteract the threats of homosexuality (Frankenstein) and rapacious heterosexuality (Dracula) the Monsters represent, they are SO hetero, that Lou's Wilbur has two women vying for his attentions, though "bad girl" scientist Dr. Sandra Mornay only wants him for his mind. Bud and Lou are "safe" examples of "normal" sexuality--ya know, dancing and going to parties and dressing up and nothing further than "First Base."


Now, don't get me started....

Wait a minute....Bud Abbott's character's name is "Chick." Hmmm.

* Chaney, son and heir-apparent to the make-up master of the Silent Era, claimed that he also stood in for Glenn Strange as The titular Monster, when the latter actor suffered an ankle injury.

** Vincent Price also makes a cameo non-appearance as "The Invisible Man!"

*** "Mom's Apple Pie" Syndrome usually rears its ugly head when dealing with "fanboy favorites," like the Star Wars films, or the Indiana Jones series, (ie. "You think the serial-mugging/teddy-bear warfare of "Return of the Jedi" was better than the recent Trilogy?" or "You seriously think the thuggish, racist and puppetoon "Temple of Doom" and slap-dash "Last Crusade" were "classics" compared to "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull?")

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