In their on-going centennial celebration, Universal has released to Blu-ray the second and arguably best Abbott and Costello feature with 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.' The film is an outstanding combination of the studio's two biggest franchises of the time as the comedy team crossed paths with the horror trinity: Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein's Monster.
Abbott and Costello play Florida baggage handlers Chick and Wilbur. Mr. McDougal (Frank Ferguson) of McDougal's House of Horrors shows up to collect two crates that allegedly have "the remains of the original Count Dracula and the body of the Frankenstein Monster." Chick and Wilbur have to deliver them at night, naturally, and Wilbur soon learns that Dracula (Bela Lugosi in the only other time he would play the character on screen) is alive. But he can't ever draw Chick's attention because he gets too frightened to make a sound. Costello was one of the best comedians at pretending to be scared. In lesser hands, this sequence likely wouldn't play out as long or as well as it does.
Dracula and the Monster (Glenn Strange) get away, leading McDougal to think Chick and Wilbur stole the merchandise, and so he has them arrested. The beautiful Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph), an insurance company investigator, bails the boys out hoping she can get them to reveal what they did with the monsters. She comes on to Wilbur, which drives Chick crazy, because Wilbur is already dating the equally attractive Sandra (Lenore Aubert). Both ladies hit Chick with some funny zingers, which is a change of pace because usually it's Bud's character that gives it to Lou in their films.
When Chick asks Sandra what Wilbur has that he hasn't, her response of a brain is taken as an insult, but she has an ulterior motive. She wants Wilbur's brain for the Monster because it's “so simple, so pliable,” making it easier for Dracula to control. Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) comes from London to stop the plans of Dracula and Sandra. He works with the fellas who take a while to discover Larry has his own issues when the moon is full.
What contributes to the film's success is that the horror aspects are treated as they would have been in a straight horror film rather than having everything played for laughs. It wouldn't have worked if the monsters were making jokes and yukking it up. Also impressive in setting the mood is Charles Van Enger's cinematography, Frank Skinner's score, the production design of the castle, and the bat animation by Walter Lantz.
Even though, '…Meet Frankenstein' doesn't fit the story continuity of the Universal Monster films, it earns credibility with audiences having Lugosi and Chaney returning to play the iconic characters they originated. Not to dismiss Strange who does a very fine job, but it's unfortunate Boris Karloff didn't play the Monster. However, he did help out with promotion, and since the film was such a success, Universal paired Bud and Lou with many of their other monster, he got to join them for 'Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff' and 'Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'.
'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, as Bud and Lou act as surrogates for all who ever dreamed of getting to play with the monsters, and it continues to hold up for me with each viewing. The many laughs and thrills allow me to overlook things that are unbelievable even for this film, such as no one being able to tell the difference between Chick's plastic wolf mask and the actual Wolfman.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein' comes as a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. The BD-50 disc is housed in a keepcase, along with the DVD and digital copy instructions, which are housed in the studio's 100th Anniversary cardboard slipcover packaging. After warnings and available streaming trailers, the film starts, skipping a menu.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 1.37:1 and looks a bit better than the previous A&C release, 'Buck Privates.'
Blacks are rich, augmenting the appearance of shadows and contrast, and there's a pleasing variety of grays. Whites are solid and not overblown. Details reveal the textures of the castle walls and the fine hairs, like those seen in the Wolfman's make-up. Natural film grain can be seen and the image looks free from artifacts.
There are some intentional soft focus shots during close-ups of the ladies. Then there are other moments like when Chick, Wilbur, and Joan get off the boat outside the castle where Wilbur stands between them and looks soft. Very minor nicks and blemishes can be seen throughout.
The audio is available in English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono 2.0 and is limited to the front center speaker. The dialogue sounds clear, including Wilbur's high-pitched calls for help. The music and to a lesser extent the effects reveal a decent dynamic range with high notes blasted by the brass instruments and the electrical whine of the lab equipment and an adequate low end from the bass violins and drums instruments as well as things that crash and smash. The source sounded clean and not marred by age or wear.
In their on-going centennial celebration, Universal has released what just may be the best Abbott and Costello feature with 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.' The Blu-ray arrives with very strong video, solid audio, and a few extras. This is highly recommended. Perfect for Halloween.