In the horror genre, the subgenre of comedy does pop quite often, and here at The Horror Times I recently released an archive review of Hold that Ghost (1941), however as many stated correctly so, the best of theirs was Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) [from here referred to as ACMF], this dynamic comedic duo. Nonetheless, it’s time to celebrate another anniversary 70-years ago the film Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Killer, not one of their best, and falls more along the lines a whodunit than horror. The movie likely to appeal to dedicated fans of comedy and Karloff, although let’s clear up a few issues concerning the movie. First, this started as production for Bob Hope, another great comedian of this era, but with the roaring success of their previous movie the project changed suddenly to a murder-mystery storyline. Second, concerns Karloff’s involvement while it’s true that his role was for a murderer named Madame Switzer, it’s not that and Universal Studios forced him into the role of spooky character and attach a ‘big star name’, Abbott and Costello more easily took care of that aspect. Note, it was that Karloff had originally turned down the role of The Monster in the ACMF, but did do publicity work for the studio, upon seeing the box-office windfall, he prompted the studio to get him in the next movie by A&C. While the role for him, seems as an add-on, it’s just that, but he later got a larger role opposite them, in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). A bit of spoiler to some, but used as a red-herring the reference to “the Killer” is not Boris Karloff, so sorry, nevertheless the movie did find some resistance in its release, Denmark banned it for the usage of having corpses mistreated, although by 1959, the social norms had changed significantly and the film acquired a proper release. Lastly a bit of trivia, it’s the only film in Hollywood to this day to have the certification for having three stars names in the title.
The movie featured longtime collaborator and director Charles Barton, which marked his seventh and final time in heading a project for Abbott and Costello [A&C], however, recalling this project started for someone else, the screenwriters involved took on some length, the story concept founded by both Hugh Wedlock Jr. and Howard Snyder who also worked on the screenplay and future project for A&C called Bud Abbott Lou Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1952) while bringing into the fold the talents of John Grant who would on several of A&C’s projects. An uncredited writer, named Oscar Brodney (Ghost Fever ), worked on penning the vaudeville routines the comedic duo made famous. One interesting aspect of the writing that translated onto the screen is that humor, often perceived as black and ghoulish, rather than the standard light or blue that snuck its way past the censor boards of the 1940s.
Freddie Phillips (Lou Costello), a workaday bellboy for an upscale hotel Lost Caverns Resort Hotel when a wealthy attorney Amos Strickland (Nicholas Joy) who has called his eccentric devious clients there for some important business, thereby ensuing with hilarious accidents occurring (quite amusing). Freddie is fired, he swears revenge on the man arrives later to Strickland’s room to apologize and discovers he’s dead, in fact murdered. As Freddie hurries to the front desk to report, he’s informed by the hotel manager Melton (Alan Mowbray), “We don’t permit murders.” Only Casey Edwards (Bud Abbott), the hotel investigator, works with Freddie to find the real culprit, while the clients begin planting evidence, including a gun and a blood-stained handkerchief, to make sure poor Freddie is caught and blamed. Meanwhile, Inspector Wellman (James Flavin (King Kong )) and Sgt. Stone (Mikel Conrad (Godzilla, King of the Monsters! )) keep Freddie in custody at the hotel, the police learn about possible blackmail. A series of some great comedy bits here that Lou Costello dominates the film with, including a gag involving forcing him to drink various antidotes when police suspect he’s been poisoned by the black widow Angela Gordon (Lenore Aubert (The Catman of Paris )) and an attempted assassination of him in a sauna, a very funny segment, his reaction by sucking the water out of a water cooler a wonderful sight gag. Although the best scene involves Swami Talpur (Boris Karloff (Frankenstein )) who tries to hypnotize Freddie into committing suicide, but through a series of odd attempts, and then uses a crafty setup of angles and a mirror to show an exciting conclusion to the scene.
Barton’s film takes some cues from Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) and Bob Hope’s The Ghost Breakers (1940), while spoofing a routine from Hold That Ghost (1941) known as The Changing Room in which a dead body keeps switching rooms and when Freddie keeps trying to show to Casey, it’s no longer in that location. One aspect of the film, that gets some criticism today, is Freddie in a lame version of crossdressing, and alter voice to trick others while freeing himself of problems, that involved playing cards with two dead individuals (the scene that offended Denmark’s censors). This technique of using corpses as live people used ion at least two movies such as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955) and then Weekend at Bernie’s (1989), which shows how the A&C comedy is still entertaining years later.
One admits, the film isn’t their best, and some of the actions can feel a little forced, but then again if you’re fan of slapstick and comedic routines from a duo then you’ll enjoy Abbott and Costello, while seeing Karloff giving a bit of a sinister shtick, in a borderline horror flick. Needless to say, it’s refreshing to see A&C perform actual character roles, than their regular norm of calling each other by their first names. Oh, if your curious about the blackmail issue, sorry that merely a McGuffin tactic.
- Yipes! Those Killer-Dillers are out to get the King of the Killers !
- The maddest spree of Ghoulish Glee since they met . . . Frankenstein !
- MORE GHOULISH GLEE THAN WHEN THEY MET FRANKENSTEIN! (original poster- all caps)
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 6.5/10