One might think that Hollywood has reached its cynical nadir with the recent speculative fervor over “universe building”, wherein studios cram pre-existing, vaguely related properties together in the hopes of creating a cohesive cinematic macrocosm (read: cash cow), regardless of whether said properties actually warrant such an expansive treatment. Rest assured, however, the corporate impulse to amalgamate franchises for maximum profit is hardly new, as 1948’s wonderfully off-the-wall mash-up Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein conclusively proves.
Coming off of World War II, Universal found that two of its top-billed assets from the first half of the decade–namely burlesque comedians Abbot & Costello and the classic monster franchises– were seeing diminished returns at the box office. As a last ditch effort to turn things around, studio big wigs decided to simply combine the two into a horror-comedy romp that would gamely split the difference between yuks and chills. The resulting film probably should have been a complete mess, but through either providence or the incredible talent of everyone involved, it ended up being a timeless classic, which revitalized the waning careers of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello while also ending the Universal Monster lineage on a graceful high note.
The film follows Chick Young and Wilbur Grey (Abbott and Costello, respectively), two hapless oafs working as baggage clerks tasked with delivering a series of strange packages to a creepy local Wax Museum. Of course, before long, the chuckleheads find out that they are, in fact, hauling the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange). What follows is precisely the combination of gut-busting pratfalls and campy gothic scares that the picture’s title suggests. Eventually, Lawrence Talbot, A.K.A. The Wolfman (Lon Chaney, Jr.), appears to save the day, leading to a monster-iffic showdown for the ages as Dracula attempts to implant Wilbur’s brain into the willfully defiant monster.
The reason this madcap mash-up works is because, despite callously cobbled together out of two unrelated properties, director Charles Barton allows both elements to play to their own individual strength, rather than forcing them into one unified tone (*cough* Marvel Cinematic Universe). That is to say, Abbot and Costello are allowed to be just as manic and madcap as ever, while the monsters are treated with real, threatening gravitas. As such, I’d recommend a viewing of this classic on DVD and Blu-Ray not only to the layman, but also to any big-shot exec out there planning the next “cinematic universe”, so they can see how it ought to be done. Special features include a feature commentary with historian Gregory Mank, trailers, and a making-of documentary.