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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) review


Bud Abbott (Bud Alexander), Lou Costello (Lou Francis), Arthur Franz (Tommy Nelson), Nancy Guild (Helen Gray), Adele Jergens (Boots Marsden), Sheldon Leonard (Morgan), William Frawley (Det. Roberts), Gavin Muir (Dr. Philip Gray), John Day (Rocky Hanlon)

Directed by Charles Lamont

The Short Version: A&C's second monster meet and greet (not counting 1949s monster-less ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF) is more of a comedy gangster film than comedy horror. Likewise the tone of the invisibility sequences owes more to the lighter Invisible spin-offs like THE INVISIBLE WOMAN and INVISIBLE AGENT than to the blackly comical horror of James Whale's THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933). There's some minor horror moments early on including a nifty link to the original movie, some spook iconography and a mention of the previous A&C ghoul gathering, but that's about it. After MEET FRANKENSTEIN, this is a mild disappointment, if worthwhile viewing for A&C fans. One thing that's not unseen is a lot of laughs and a fast pace.

Bud and Lou have barely graduated from Dugan's Detective Academy when they quickly land their first case with professional boxer Tommy Nelson, whom they discover is wanted for allegedly murdering his manager. Reluctant to trust him, the green P.I.'s accompany Nelson to the residence of Dr. Philip Gray, a scientist working on a serum that renders its subject invisible. Created by Jack Griffin--a scientist who tested the drug on himself and promptly went insane--Dr. Gray refuses to inject Nelson for fear of the maniacal side-effects. With the cops hot on his tail, Nelson administers the drug on himself and, quite literally, vanishes. The two ham-fisted flatfoots join forces with the invisible Nelson to clear his name. Much camera mugging and invisible insanity ensue.

At the end of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), the Invisible Man makes his presence known--vocally, of course--via the signature tonality of iconic genre star Vincent Price. Eight years earlier Price made his horror movie debut in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), so it was the perfect way to end the already amazing A&C Frank flick with his brief return to the role. Unfortunately, Price went unseen on the production of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951). Relative newcomer, Arthur Franz (INVADERS FROM MARS [1953], MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS [1958], THE ATOMIC SUBMARINE [1959]), took the role. Since the story deals with boxing (reportedly a re-worked storyline for an unmade INVISIBLE MAN sequel), Franz was most likely a better fit than Price would have been. 

Even though it's a Priceless affair, Franz does fine as the framed boxer, who's rarely visible, as such; but there's no denying the unmistakable voice of Vincent is sorely missed after being teased with it in the previous picture. Like Boris Karloff, Price had a voice that made horror movies sing and MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN is off key without him. In much the same fashion, Claude Rains had an impressively demented delivery in the 1933 horror classic. Unlike Franz, 99% of THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) is carried without ever seeing Rains; and unlike Rains, Franz's character only flirts with going off the deep-end. He doesn't have that horror movie voice to identify with the likes of Rains or Price. 

Not only that, but the picture never really feels even the slightest bit like a horror movie; it's more in line with INVISIBLE sequels like THE INVISIBLE WOMAN (1940) and INVISIBLE AGENT (1942). There are elements from Price's own THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), only had Price's services been acquired, the picture would feel more genre friendly. If you're expecting this second A&C Uni-horror meet and greet to have that same lovably morbid atmosphere as MEET FRANKENSTEIN, you're in for a disappointment....

Regardless, Bud and Lou's adventure with this version of the Invisible Man is frequently funny, milking the "vanishing act" for all it's worth. In some ways, it's actually more amusing than its predecessor. These gags work especially well bouncing off of Costello's maladroit style of pratfall comedy while Bud Abbott essays his usual straight-man routine. In the previous outing, Abbott didn't catch on to the monstrous goings-on till later in the picture; in this one, Abbott's "seeing" is believing occurs much earlier. Meanwhile, Costello ramps up the mugging for the camera and looking directly into it for added comedic effect. Another area that MEETS THE INVISIBLE MAN gets it right is in the pacing--it never falters.

It might not be the monster bash of before, but the script (a slew of writers had their hands in this one) links itself with James Whale's classic 1933 original. A picture of Jack Griffin (Claude Rains's insane title monster in the '33 film) hangs on the wall in doctor Gray's office. Despite the doctor's reservations, Nelson desperately wants the serum to make him disappear. And this is where our goofball gumshoes come in....

The plan to clear Tommy Nelson's name involves Lou pretending to be bulbous boxer Louie the Looper, stepping into the ring with rough-houser, Rocky Hanlon. Unknown to the gangsters with a lot of dough riding on the bout, it's really a handicapped match with the invisible Nelson ensuring a victory for the Looper. About as subtle as Tyson biting your ear off in the third round, Lou hops, skips and jumps around the ring while Tommy rings Rocky's bell with a series of powerful, perfectly paralyzing, percussion-paced punches. Ironically enough, Costello had been an amateur boxer in his earlier years.

The invisibility FX are like a highlight reel of everything that came before. David S. Horsley did the special photographic effects for this picture and all the INVISIBLE MAN sequels. Those previous vanishing acts always had some new trick to show off. The invisibility sequences in Lamont's movie offer nothing new but are a lot of fun in how they're implemented into both the narrative and Abbott and Costello's shtick.

Out of all the gags (the dinner sequence is a particularly healthy entree of specials effects and comedy), one of the best belly-acher's involves no camera tricks at all, just Costello's uniquely timed clumsiness. Entering a gym to show what he's got, Louie the Looper takes a whack at the speed bag only for the speed bag to take a whack at him. Naturally it's Nelson machine-gunning the bag with Lou barely going through the motions while a congregate of boxers and trainers stand around with mouths agape.

After a rip-roaring confrontation with the gangsters, the last sequence ends the movie with a TKO. In it, chubs is helping out a critically injured Tommy with a blood transfusion. Lou somehow getting the invisibility serum into his own bloodstream resulting in some brief silliness in a hospital ward. A similar gag closes out the next film, the superior ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953).

Look out for William Frawley as Detective Roberts. A few of the gags are real knee-slappers because of his reactions to the shenanigans perpetrated by those oblivious to his presence; or his own cluelessness to what's right in front of him. Virtually everybody watching this will remember him as Fred Mertz on the I LOVE LUCY (1951-1957) show. You almost expect Vivian Vance to show up and call him a "fat old goat". He's a joy to watch in this, and the movie is made better with his participation.

Fans of Bud and Lou (who play characters using their first and middle names) will get the most out of this one. Uni-horror fans might be let down for the lesser accent on horror, but if you stick with it, you're likely to have a good time. ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951) is, despite the lack of any Gothic trappings, very funny. Based solely on its horror content, it barely makes it to the 5th round; on its comedic qualities, it goes the distance for the whole 12. Things are back to normal, so to speak, in the next entry of the Abbott and Costello comedy-horror quartet.

This review is representative of the ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MONSTERS 2 disc set. It shares a disc with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Specs and Extras for MEETS THE INVISIBLE MAN: 1.33:1; theatrical trailer. 


Dick said...

Hi Brian. These are really great write-ups. I remember as a kid when I first got into monster movies (in particular the Universal ones) I hated the Abbott and Costello films as it really irked me having my monsters in a comedic setting. As I grew older however, I really began to appreciate them.

venoms5 said...

Hi Dick. This one was a first time watch for me. The only one I'd seen before, or at least the only one I remembered was MEET FRANKENSTEIN. The mummy one had been on TV but I remember little about it. At first I didn't like this one at all, but when I watched it again while doing the caps I liked it better.

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