Sometimes all you need is a good laugh, complexity be damned. Sometimes all you want is a warm bath of familiarly, dually titillated by belly laughs of the most finely honed, classic slapstick, while shivering in reverence (maybe even in fright, if you're of the right disposition) at some of Universal's finest monster mayhem. Which is why, sometimes, you can't do any better than romp around with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and their meeting with Frankenstein (and friends) is arguably the most purely joyful escapist fun any of their monster mashes have to offer.
In terms of poduction-values, it's hard to knock three monsters for the price of one (Dracula, Frankenstein's Creature and the Wolf Man would never again reassemble until - shudder - 2004's Van Helsing), and the story actually does a decent job of weaving all three in without seeming too gratuitous, though an opening sequence in a wax museum house of horrors does poke fun at the constructed artificiality of monster scares. Additionally, Universal's classy treatment of their tentpole horror monsters, even in parody form, is always nice, as the mayhem is built around them, but never resorting to crass, embarrassing gags at their expense (few contemporary filmmakers do parody and pastiche so respectfully). Of course, the plot is ludicrously thin - it's never even explained why Dracula seeks to reinvigorate Frankenstein's Creature (naturally, with Costello's brain), the central point of conflict - and the dramatic irony of Costello being terrified, only for the spectre in question to vanish before a bemused Abbott can lay eyes on it is exploited to the point of pushing limits of patience. Meanwhile, monster nitpickers will grumble that the title is a misnomer, as Bud and Lou only meet Frankenstein's creation, not the mad scientist himself (though we do get a glimpse at his helpfully specific lab notes, apparently published in book form...). Ultimately, it's all in good fun, and such quibbles feel increasingly besides the point in the face of such a wall of laughs.
What is the point is howling at Bud and Lou's priceless chemistry, hysterical physical slapstick, facial expressions, and immaculate wordplay ("I saw what I saw when I saw it" being the takeaway quote of choice here), and lapping up the joy of their tried-and-true personas - Abbott the curmudgeonly straight man, Costello the adorably dimwitted crybaby-cum-lothlorio - typecasting be damned. The Universal vets are more than willing to dive into the fun, and their commitment to character helps the silliness fly. Bela Lugosi (amazingly, in his only time reprising Count Dracula!) is as good as they come, slinking around with eerie-eyed menace undercut by a hefty undercurrent of silky charm, Glenn Strange makes for a fantastically gruesome, shambling Frankenstein's monster, while Lon Chaney Jr.'s wooden melancholic delivery as the world-weary Lawrence Talbot wins almost as many laughs as the headliners, just as his snarling, contorting Wolf Man is as fearsome as ever. Lenore Aubert and Jane Randolph also get in on the fun, both maintaining class and credibility and stealing some of the best laughs despite being largely treated like set dressing by the customary playful misogyny of the time. Dracula's castle also makes for a sumptuously Gothic set piece, and its labyrinth of secret swivelling wall panels, cobblestones and stockades makes for the perfect playpen for Bud and Lou.
You pretty much get what it says on the tin with Abbott and Costello - and Meets Frankenstein, by privileging big recurring gags over zingers, isn't even their sharpest work in their oeuvre - so those aspiring for smarter or more substantial screwball frivolity would do best to bolt for the door (ideally screeching "CHIIIIIIIIIIICKKKKKK!!!" like Costello). But, for those willing to leave their brains at the door (and Dracula gratefully accepts your kind donation), Meet Frankenstein is their wildest, zaniest, and, arguably, flat-out funniest cinematic work. It's tightly paced, chock-full of all the gags and big reveal monster moments you can shake a vampire bat at, and the whole gang - spooks and funny men - are so cheerfully committed to entertaining, it's near impossible not to have a deliriously good time. Just remember not to go on a double-date with Costello, or you'll end up with nothing but a spookily fun story to tell.
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