In 1947, Universal-International came up with the
brilliant idea of matching their ace comedy team of
Abbott & Costello with the most famous monsters
from their stable of horror characters.
The result was a screenplay entitled THE BRAIN OF
FRANKENSTEIN. In addition to the oversized creature,
also in the mix would be the dreaded vampire
Count Dracula and the tragically cursed
Lawrence Talbot - The Wolf Man.
Lou Costello had complained about the script and, to be fair,
while the monsters and ancillary characters followed what was
on the page to the letter, Bud and Lou - with their finest
director Charles Barton - worked and refined all of their
scenes and dialogue, resulting in a superb horror comedy.
With the film edited to a neat and tight 83 minutes, Frank
Skinner composed a superb musical score. Like the monsters,
he took a serious and menacing approach to the music,
leaving the comedy to Abbott and Costello.
The film was a huge hit, made a ton of money for Universal,
and has gone on to become one of the most beloved films
of all time. Here is a very brief history of its creation.
For those who haven't seen ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN,
here is the original studio synopsis. A few things changed by the
time the cameras had stopped rolling.
While the script was being finalized, one casting decision was creating
some controversy at the studio. Character actor Ian Keith, who had
recently appeared as a phony mind reader in NIGHMARE ALLEY, was
producer Robert Arthur's first choice to play Dracula. Keith
was also one of the actors in the running to play Dracula
in the 1930 film classic.
But eventually, Universal realized that Bela Lugosi, who created the role
on stage and on film, and was largely responsible for the original film's
financial success, should play the blood-thirsty count.
Boris Karloff was approached to once again play Frankenstein's monster
but he declined. As it happened, Karloff had recently spent time being
made up as the monster by Universal's veteran makeup chief Jack Pierce
for a fantasy sequence in Samuel Goldwyn's Technicolor comedy
THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY. Perhaps Karloff wasn't too
anxious to endure that seemingly endless process yet again
and the role in the Abbott & Costello picture went to Glenn Strange,
who had stalked the backlot as the Monster in HOUSE OF
FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACUA, the last two chapters
in Universal's horror saga.
Glenn Strange as The Monster
As for The Wolf Man, that was
Lon Chaney's "Baby"
and there was no question
that he would play the
role once again.
Lenore Aubert was cast in the pivotal role of Sandra Mornay. Aubert had recently made several films on poverty row but had struck a chord with Robert Arthur who remembered her villainous role in the Bob Hope comedy THEY GOT ME COVERED. Lenore never looked lovelier or more captivating than in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
Undercover insurance investigator Joan Raymond was played by
Jane Randolph, a fetching but intelligent heroine of film noir
and Val Lewton chillers. As it turned out, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO
MEET FRANKENSTEIN would be Jane's last film. In 1949 she married
Jaime del Amo and retired to Spain.
Mornay's assistant, Professor Stevens, was played by Charles Bradstreet, who
backed into acting and had played several minor roles at MGM. While his
performance in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is earnest and competent under Charles
Barton's direction, after two more films,
Bradstreet decided acting wasn't for him
and went into real estate.
Finally, Frank Ferguson played the excitable Mr. MacDougal.
Ferguson was a fine actor and a busy one, whose big and
little screen career spanned 35 years, culminating
in a role on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE.
Bobby Barber had a walk-on as a bus boy.
But he was much busier OFF-screen than on!
and Lou Costello's brother-in-law,
Joe Kirk, played an earnest
partygoer at the masked ball.
Studio veteran Charles Van Enger was assigned the job as Director of Photography.
Van Enger had been one of the cinematographers on PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in 1925 and
his career endured for 50 years. Van Enger's work on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET
FRANKENSTEIN was truly outstanding, being only one of the elements that gave
creepy gravitas, anchoring the film in the reality of horror.
Costume Designer Grace Houston began her screen career at Universal-International
with THE NAKED CITY earlier in 1948. The studio's longtime costume chief, Vera West, had died
a mysterious and controversial death in her swimming pool in 1947. Houston made
a handful of films at Universal and then returned to New York to design costumes
for the Broadway stage. As one of those handful, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
is one of the finest costumed pictures of the era.
The Art and Set Direction, under studio heads Bernard Herzbrun and Russell A. Gausman,
were top notch, with their gothic grandeur enhanced by Van Enger's lighting. Studio special effects chief David "Stan" Horsley, in addition to supervising Lon Chaney's transformation into the Wolf Man, also created some wonderful matte effects, including the exterior scenes of the castle.
Filming began the first week of February, 1948.
Abbott and Costello were in a good place. Their ridiculous feud over
Bud hiring Lou's fired maid was in the rear view mirror. And after
several box office disappointments, the team was back in the studio's good
graces following the successes of BUCK PRIVATES COME HOME and THE WISTFUL
WIDOW OF WAGON GAP.
The script was written by Robert Lees and Frederic I. Rinaldo, a long-paired team
who had also penned the screenplay for Bud and Lou's 1941 spooker HOLD THAT GHOST.
Then, as now, Abbott and Costello's comedy writer John Grant was assigned to fit
routines into the scenario and do so in a way that made them occur naturally during
Comparing the final shooting script with what wound up on film gives us insight
into how dialogue - especially Bud and Lou's - was refined on the set. Here is one
example of scripted dialogue compared to the filmed sequence:
Dialogue Director on the film was Bud's nephew Norman Abbott,
a sometimes bit player who later directed many television
shows including THE MUNSTERS.
The set featured the typical amount of Abbott & Costello chaos. Mascot
Bobby Barber played endless pranks and also was assigned to provide pies
for backstage antics.
A hint of the esprit de corps during shooting can be gleaned from this
reel of surviving outtakes from the film. Included is one sequence at
the masked ball that was not included in the final film.
At one point during shooting, Glenn Strange broke his ankle and, to avoid
costly delays, Lon Chaney stepped in to play the monster (a role he had
played in 1942's THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN). In the scene where the Monster
pushes aside the operating table and storms after Bud and Lou, it is Chaney
as a suddenly animated (as opposed to Strange's pronounced lumbering) creature.
Of course, a great comedy has to have a great "blackout" gag and ABBOTT AND
COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN is no exception. With Chic and Wilbur finally
safe and the monsters having met their doom, they have one more surprise
introduction. Thus, the silky voice of Vincent Price introduces himself as
The Invisible Man and our heroes swim for the hills. Price had actually
played The Invisible Man in the first sequel, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS,
so his casting was entirely authentic, not to mention hilarious.
The execution of the film's main title sequence was possibly supervised by
Dave Fleischer. Many sources credit Walter Lantz studios, but Lantz was
in the middle of a major contract dispute with Universal and was releasing
all his product through United Artists between 1947 and 1950. Of course, it
is possible that Lantz animators moonlighted on the project but there is no
paper trail to certify who was actually responsible for the main titles and
for the animated effects of Dracula going in and out of bathood. Regardless of who
was responsible, the opening titles certainly got the film off to a spirited start.
Once the film was edited Frank Skinner began the job of
creating a musical score for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO
Skinner, who had been at Universal since 1936, was a fine composer with a Steineresque gift for melody. Skinner had composed a brilliant, imposing score for SON OF FRANKENSTEIN back in 1939.
For the 1948 horror comedy Skinner created motifs (themes) for each of the monsters and his overall approach to the music was serious, using an imposing gothic palette. Only one sequence - where Dracula commands Lou back into the castle via hypnosis - featured comic musical colorings.
Here is William T. Stromberg conducting a suite comprised of
the Main Title, Finale and End Cast to Frank Skinner's score for
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN:
Frank Skinner's music for ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN found its way into several subsequent Abbott & Costello films, including ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER BORIS KARLOFF, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION, COMIN' ROUND THE MOUNTAIN, and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.
Universal cunningly scheduled the picture for release at the beginning of the
summer school break. Youngsters and their parents alike had their appetites
whetted with a tempting trailer (reconstructed to original release length):
The studio's publicity department went into overdrive with an extensive pressbook and thrilling poster art.
These publicity photos of Jane Randolph were issued with stills from ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
Perhaps implying "Joan Raymond" as one of Dracula's or The Wolf Man's victims?
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN was released in June of 1948 and while the
New York Times was unimpressed, most of the critics were delighted with what was
sure to be a major boost to Bud and Lou's dipping popularity. With a budget of less
than $800,000,the film grossed over $2 Million in 1948.
As for the New York Times - their favorite curmudgeon,
Bosley Crowther, had this to say in the June 29, 1948 edition:
Most of the comic invention in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"
is embraced in the idea and the title. The notion of having these two
clowns run afoul of the famous screen monster is a good laugh in itself.
But take this gentle warning: get the most out of that one laugh while
you can, because the picture, at Loew's Criterion, does not contain many more.
That is to say, the situations which the wags at Universal have contrived for
their two untiring comedians in this assembly-line comedy are the obvious
complications that would occur in a house of horrors. Costello, the roly-poly
and completely susceptible one, shudders and shakes in standard terror to
behold the assembly of ghouls - which includes not only the monster but Count
Dracula and the Wolfman. Abbott, prevented from seeing the creatures until
near the end, scoffs and snorts at his partner from behaving so curiously.
After a thorough exhaustion of this play on frustration and fright, the
story is brought to a climax with the intended transference of a brain.
Whose brain is tagged for what monster we leave you to surmise.
Boris Karloff did, after all, get on the film's bandwagon and posed for a publicity
shot which Universal's press department took great delight in exploiting.
Apparently Universal doubted Great Britain's response to the name "Frankenstein" and released
the film there as ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE GHOSTS.
The film's success spawned a series of subsequent "Abbott and Costello Meet" films.
The first of these, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER BORIS KARLOFF was an obvious
cash-in with the King of Monsters (whose makeup consisted of dark makeup and a turban) finally sharing the screen with Bud and Lou. The film's trailer said it all:
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN has had a very successful afterlife. First, the
film was given a national reissue in 1956 with all-new advertising art.
In 1959, the film premiered on television via 16mm prints
(first from Screen Gems and later from MCA) and was a perennial in syndication for thirty years.
Also in 1959, Universal's home movie division, United World Films aka Castle Films,
released headline (3 minutes) and complete (8 1/2 minutes) editions in 8mm and 16mm format.
The complete editions were released in both sound and silent prints.
Here is Castle Films'silent headline edition of
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN:
Here is Castle Films' Complete Sound edition of
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN:
While ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN was received as no-great-shakes
in 1948, it's arrival and continued exposure on television has grown its
reputation to truly Monster status. The baby-boomer generation has elevated
"A&C" as it is often nicknamed to one of the warmest and most fondly regarded
films from Hollywood's golden age. From Jerry Garcia to John Landis to Quentin
Tarantino, the film's fans cover the globe with unbending enthusiasm.
This writer's favorite memories of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN begin
in 1961 when I got a Castle Films 8mm Complete Edition for Christmas. It's
still an important part of my film collection (in addition to a beautiful 16mm
print of the feature). Of course, television was the thing back in the day.
While I was too young to see the film's New York debut on WCBS, I can
remember seeing the film on WNEW (it began in the House of Horrors), then
on WABC (with most of the hotel footage cut); then WOR who left in at least
part of the baggage center scene; and then WPIX, who cut the entire Dracula's
coffin portion of the House of Horrors scene AND Lou's near-miss with the Wolf
Man in his hotel room! When I was a film editor at WCIX in Miami, I
lobbied the station manager for a primetime, uncut airing of ABBOTT
AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. He agreed and we got a ton of thankful
Of course, the film's fandom goes way beyond screenings and film collecting.
Many hobbyists have created their own models based on the film. Here are a few:
One enterprising theater group produced a full-length stage show based on the
film. Did they get rights? Who knows.
Recently, a talented musician recreated the entire score to ABBOTT
AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN in "midi" format:
So far, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN has not been colorized.
But one YouTuber has redone the opening titles in
wide-screen and color:
Since our primary focus at Chelsea Rialto Studios is music, we thought we'd offer this composite poster celebrating Frank Skinner's score to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
And from the "Oh how we wish!" Department, here is our vote for the best missed opportunity!!
To date we haven't heard of any 75th Birthday events for the film from Universal. To learn more about the history of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN
But you can be sure fans worldwide will be celebrating the Diamond Anniversary
of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN.
we recommend the writings and commentaries of Bob Furmanek & Ron Palumbo and Gregory Mank.
To learn more about the history of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN