Abbott and Costello are still considered one of the greatest comedic teams to ever grace the stage, street corner and silver screen with the finest timing, pratfalls and physical comedy equally measured with their verbal humor, a sometimes a tinge of blue collar jokes to skirt the censors of then, needless to say their legendary routine never match of “Who’s on First”. Their work often referenced and noted by Jerry Seinfeld and recently honored by Jimmy Fallon with the routine called The Sequel, so now after 70-years (at the time of this publication) of this horror-comedy with gangster elements dawns upon fans young and old with great reverence for the styles. While the movie does not hold a torch or even a ghost to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), it definitely brings a solid storyline and returns the film to the legendary Universal Studios which would later have this team meeting Dr. Jekyll, Boris Karloff and the Mummy. Originally, when director James Whale and screenwriter R.C. Sheriff crafted the Invisible Man to the screen in 1933, it was noted several times over of the humor of the role. In Hollow Man (2000), much of that suggested humor made its way into the horror film in various mannerisms and colorfully from Kevin Bacon. Director Charles Lamont worked efficiently well on seven Abbott and Costello films, three horror-comedies and allow their comedic success to volley his status higher, including this box office smash. Although this vehicle brings much humor and comedic physical performances, it makes sure never to cross the boundary and destroy the magnificent work of H.G. Lewis.
Those familiar with the exploits of Abbott and Costello are aware that they met the Invisible Man in voice only, supplied by Vincent Price, at the end of the Meet Frankenstein film, this movie doesn’t pick up from there nor does Price star in the movie, rather the team just graduated from a detective school. In fact, Bud Abbott (portraying the role of Bud Alexander) bribes the schoolmaster $20 (worth $181 in today’s market) to allow Lou Costello (in the role of Lou Francis) – both using their real first and middle names. Soon enough the first case bursts in a prize fighter Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz (Back From the Dead )) needing to clear his name after his failure to take a dive, and the mob killing his manager and framing him, all leading them to his fiancé Helen’s (Nancy Guild) home. The significance of this venture, actually shows the starting point of the movie, as she is the niece of scientist Dr. Philip Gray (Gavin Muir (Night Tide )) friends of Dr. Jack Griffin (the Invisible Man – portrayed by the incredible actor Claude Rains) foregoing all the warnings Tommy consumes the potion. Those warnings, lack of cure and causing manic episodes and insanity overall sounds familiar to other tales in horror, and all proving very true in the film, with great special effects and comedic enjoyment. Aside of the these great moments other worthy performance come from William Frawley as the Detective Roberts, most known for his character Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy and Sheldon Leonard as mobster Morgan, and a man with a equally powerful comedic resume as producer of such television classics of The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. It all shows the love and passion in the actors and actresses of the film performing in the ‘straight man’ role meaning (not sexual – get your mind out of the gutter) rather a reference to the individual who plays the role in a not comedic direct position, basically no laughing and not giving away the role or scene. Normally in an Abbott and Costello film, Bud is a disbeliever and Lou struggles for sympathy and redemption, but that cast away early in the movie and leaving them both believing in the Invisible Man. Some of the great gags to watch for come in various visual gags involve the Invisible Tommy, such as spaghetti dinner and punching speed bag and along with a boxing match though Lou had previous experience and likely also helped this gag success marvelously.
Even though at times the logic seems completely out of control it never matters, the comedy keeps everything in check and working perfectly. The film garnished them great box office returns and brought them the ability to incorporate fellow vaudevillian performers to other films and giving them the much needed opportunities to gain the own footing. Much is made of the scenes involving the team, however the special effects, trick shots, improvisations made the movie entertaining on its own, and later those elements shown in none other than Hollow Man, especially in regard to Nelson becoming slowly visible again with blood transfusion from Lou, as the veins materialize and pump the blood into his body. Recall that this is 1951, and no CGI exists, and it is in black and white, a rule for filmmakers to note the old school ways still can work, just reference films such as Hands of the Ripper (1971) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) where the original manner excels the film to a classic level of achievement. This does not mean that no flaws occur in the film, the one notable scene that pushes it all just a tad too far, Lou’s legs on backwards at the close-out of the film.
This movie is definitely for any cinema fan, especially that like fun comedies and those interested in clean horror-comedies, and developing them to fit today’s society, for example filmmaker, director, writer and actor Dave Campfield bases his Caesar and Otto team off of Abbott and Costello, and used that pairing for several productions each time with more success such as Deadly Xmas (2012). The film has seen itself released several times over, and likely will keep that trend continue regardless of the newest forms of media, most recently included in the 21-Disc Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30- Film Collection from 2014. Needless to say, as fan of this comedy team and their work on horror films, one cannot recommend more than enjoying these classics for endless laughs.
This review was originally published in March 2016 on the now defunct Rogue Cinema website and accumulated a view count of 2,308.
- AS PRIVATE EYES…they’re getting an Eyeful!
- You’ll shiver… You’ll shudder… You’ll shout with laughter!
- Hair raising… Howl raising… HILARITY!
- It’s all NEW and a RIOT too!
IMDb Rating: 6.8/10