With the US release of Blumhouse’s THE INVISIBLE MAN this week, we’re going to take a look at films with characters that are hard to see. For this is…
By the early ’50s, comedy team Bud Abbott and Lou Costello had been making movies for ten years, but after spending much of the mid-40’s as the biggest stars in Universal Studios’ stable of contract players their shine began to wane a bit. Their formula of a wisp of a plot stretched around several of their old vaudeville routines had gotten a bit stale. Then, in 1948, their fame rose again when they went high concept and starred in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN which pitted them against the titular monster as well as Count Dracula and the Wolfman.
This film did boffo box office, so the studio looked for lightning to strike again by putting the boys up against more scary folk every second or third picture, like 1949’s ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER (in this case, the killer being Boris Karloff). More big time box office ensued, and that led to ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE in 1953, and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY in 1955. But in between Killer Karloff and Jekyll/Hyde (…er…also played by Karloff), the comedy duo of burlesque, radio, TV, and film had to cross paths with an Invisible Man in 1951.
In ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (also known as BUD ABBOTT LOU COSTELLO MEET INVISIBLE MAN—evidently there was a rationing of conjunctions in the early ’50s), the boys play their usual characters, here named Bud Alexander and Lou Francis, which happen to be the actors’ middle names, which I guess kind of makes up for their later work when they stopped even coming up with character names and just called each other Abbott and Costello (the proto-Tony Danza move, if you will).
After graduating detective school (thanks to Bud’s bribe on Lou’s behalf), the duo immediately find a case when they get mixed up with Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), a prizefighter wanted for the murder of his manager. Tommy asserts his innocence, but A&C don’t believe it.
Tommy forces the duo to take him to his girlfriend’s house, where they conveniently continue to hang around long enough for events to take a turn for the contrived when it just so happens that Tommy’s girlfriend (Nancy Guild) has a scientist uncle who just happens to have been bequeathed The Invisible Man’s formula by the Unseen One himself – and there’s a framed photo of Claude Rains on the wall, making this a direct sequel to the first movie!
Tommy wants to use the formula to turn invisible and seek out the real murderers but Uncle Philip nixes this, explaining about the formula’s degenerative effect on its user’s mental stability. But then the police, led by William Frawley, show up, and while they are making their way inside, Tommy grabs a needle full of no see juice and plunges it into his arm.
From there ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN delivers invisible slapstick aplenty, as the boys go undercover as a boxer (Lou) and his manager (Bud) and the Invisible Man goes naked to get the goods on gangster Morgan (Sheldon Leonard) who really sent Tommy’s manager to the Great Beyond. Morgan retaliates by sending his va-va-voom confederate Boots (Adele Jergens) to spy on the boys.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN all comes down to a wild finale involving a boxing match between Lou and Tommy’s archenemy, who doesn’t realize there are two opponents in the ring with him. The final gag doesn’t make a lick of sense, but I’ll bet you remember it if you saw the movie long ago or you will remember it if you watch it now.
All in all, this shapes up as one of the better latter day Abbott and Costello films. Directed by Charles Lamont, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN is not really one of the A&C monster movies, since the Invisible Man here is on their side. There is a subplot about the invisibility formula’s effect on Tommy’s psyche, but little is made of it and he never threatens the boys. The special effects are very good, as was typical of Universal Studios. A lot of people who review this film, however, really go out of their way to praise the effects.
I wonder, do these people realize how little of the film’s scenes actually feature an “erased” Arthur Franz? I almost think they believe he’s actually there and erased in every shot the Invisible Man is in, but that is not the case. I’d say the shots where Franz was actually “on camera” but rendered invisible is probably around eight or ten or so.
The rest of the movie uses a lot of other tricks, like props on wires, empty shots with voiceovers, doors opened by off camera stagehands, and even a really cool shot when the now unseen Tommy shucks his pants – using a physical wireframe model wearing pants with remote controlled unbuttoning.
Still, regardless of how the effects were achieved, they combine very well to give Abbott and Costello their most transparent co-star ever and make ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN a solid recommendation for the comedy team’s fans or anyone who enjoys a little old fashioned hijinks now and again.
Tags: 1951, abbott and costello, Adele Jergens, Arthur Franz, boris karloff, Budd Abbott, Charles Lamont, Claude Rains, Gavin Muir, Horror Comedy, horror film, Invisibility, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild, Sheldon Leonard, The 1950s, The Invisible Man, Universal Horror, Universal Studios, William Frawley