Thursday, October 15, 2015

Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953) review


Bud Abbott (Slim), Lou Costello (Tubby), Boris Karloff (Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde), Craig Stevens (Bruce Adams), Helen Westcott (Vicky Edwards), Reginald Denny (Inspector), John Dierkes (Batley)

Directed by Charles Lamont

The Short Version: The third of the A&C comedy horror monster-pieces gets the scare-tactics back on track with this entry--on par with the spook spoof classic, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Prat falls and visual gags are frequent, yet the film adds some unusually dark moments to the formula. Action comes as frequent and fast as the numerous time-lapse dissolve transformations of various actors into both mice and monsters. Karloff puts this one high atop the pestilent pedestal with a risibly evil interpretation as the diabolical Dr. Jekyll and his monstrous other half, Mr. Hyde. Recommended fusion of fun and frights.

Slim and Tubby, two American police officers training at London's Scotland Yard, get caught up in a mob brawl after a clutch of men scoff at a women's suffrage gathering. Bested by the fiery females, the two Keystone Cops lose their jobs and figure the best way to get them back is to catch the mysterious monster committing murders late-night on London's fog-enshrouded streets. Meanwhile, Dr. Jekyll conducts experiments--on himself--to curb man's dark side, but instead transforms into an ape-like creature who kills those who oppose him. Jekyll likewise intends to kill the ex-bumbling bobbies Slim and Tubby (now just bumbling), and a snooping reporter who has eyes on the lady the mad doctor obsesses over.

The third entry, and second best of the A&C horror-comedy combos increases its value by adding Boris Karloff among its cast. Basically a chase picture, MEET DR. JEKYLL has enough entertainment style high voltage to keep Dr. Frankenstein in business for days. Returning to the creepshow comedy routine of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), this third monster mash avoids the predominantly humorous tone of the previous movie, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951), opting to crank up the horror. Charles Lamont's movie is noticeably darker than the above-mentioned MEET FRANKENSTEIN from director Charles T. Barton--people die in this one. Much like the combined efforts of Chaney, Strange and Lugosi, Karloff brings a lot of prestige because of his genre affiliations.

Last seen around A&C Land in the monster-less ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949), the famed, and former Frankenstein Monster had retired from such roles. With no desire to spoof himself as the lumbering patchwork creation in the timeless classic ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, it would seem he had no real interest in playing Jekyll and Hyde, either. But he did, and he does a ghoulish job of being evil as the two-faced scientist.

Expectedly, Karloff makes a delightfully devilish Dr. Jekyll who is pure sadist right from the start--fully aware of his murderous tendencies (as in Stephenson's original novella). He claims a desire to quell the beast within man, but he seems more interested in releasing it while satisfying a desire of another sort. His lustful intentions towards the much younger Helen are made disturbing when he reveals, "You can't marry him, you belong to me. I've loved you ever since you were a child. Every plan I ever made I made for you!" After saying all this, when Jekyll transforms and tries to carry her off to the man-cave, the bestiality subtext is profound. Curiously, nearly all the scenes with Mr. Hyde are played for laughs while everything with Karloff is played serious. And Mr. Hyde is extremely spry, maneuvering in, around, and on top of various buildings when he's onscreen.

Naturally, it's not Karloff doing all the climbing and rooftop sprinting during the film's handful of chases; all that kinetic activity was handled by (uncredited) Uni-horror stuntman, Eddie Parker. Karloff does participate in all the scenes where he changes into his even more evil alter ego. Whatever his misgivings for doing A&C movies, Karloff's participation in two of these productions only enhances them, this one especially.

Another area of the script that takes things into a darker realm of subtext is the means by which Dr. Jekyll administers his formula; instead of drinking the serum he injects it into his bloodstream. Treating his all too frequent altered state of conscious as a drug addiction was possibly not intended, but it's not hard to draw that conclusion. Okay, now to lighten things up... 

Charles Lamont's film echoes the feel of Barton's MEET FRANKENSTEIN, revisiting some of that picture's set pieces. For instance, the scene in the wax museum is a more elaborate do-over of the same one in Barton's movie; there's even a waxen model of both Frank's Monster and Dracula! The former briefly "comes to life" after a frayed electric cable hits it. With no Bud Abbott around, Lou goes it alone, being spooked by a floating head and chased by Mr. Hyde right into an Iron Maiden. It's possibly the best sequence of an already impressive lot. 

Some of the jokes get repetitive, such as all the cartoon-style sneaking up behind the oblivious Lou Costello. He gets stalked multiple times by Mr. Hyde and Batley, played by John Dierkes (Dr. Chapman in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD [1951]). You won't find quite as much comedic wordplay as in the previous movies so it's up to the visual gags to keep the pace flowing. As a result, there's lots of action and the movie never lags. There's even a big, battle of the sexes brawl that kicks things off.

Additionally, the script includes a number of transformations; some of which involve Lou Costello turning into his own version of Mr. Hyde and even a mouse! During the last 20 minutes the hijinks kick into serious overdrive with many scenes of Jekyllian style mistaken identity. There are two Hyde's running around wrecking all sorts of hilarious havoc in broad daylight. By the end, there's a whole heap o' Hyde's to contend with. 

The Hyde masks recall the Fredric March film version from 1931, and the design looks forward to John Chambers work on PLANET OF THE APES (1968). Both the Hyde and mouse masks were sculpted by Chris Mueller. The Hyde disguise turned up again in Universal's TARANTULA (1955). 

Without Karloff, it's doubtful MEET DR. JEKYLL would be as entertaining as it is. His scenes are played even more serious than those of the multi-monster cast in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). A fairly thin, if seamless plot is padded with several cartoon's worth of elaborate chases. Just a small notch below that aforementioned 1948 classic, Boris and the Boys see right through 1951's Invisible Man entry; and now it's on to Egypt for the fourth and final film of the A&C monster match-ups....

This review is representative of the Universal's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MONSTERS 2 disc set paired with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY. Specs and Extras: 1.33:1; audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver and Richard Scrivani; theatrical trailer.

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