There's an obvious temptation to try to draw a line of continuity from House of Dracula to Bud Abbott [and] Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948), to give the film its full title, but is it necessary to try? My friend Wendigo says he used to wonder how Larry's cure from the previous film failed. For amusement purposes only, he speculates now that Dr. Edelmann's surgery simply lacked lasting effect. The pressure on Larry's brain may have reasserted itself, or his curse may have. While there is no compelling reason to identify Charles Barton's comedy as a sequel to Erle C. Kenton's monster rally, Wendigo, like many people, can't help thinking of it as one. When Larry talks of what he knows, then, he could just be referring to the events of House (which Dr. Edelmann would have to have filled him in on in the doctor's declining moments of sanity) or he could be dropping a hint of a to-date untold story that may link Talbot's pursuit of Dracula to the resurgence of his curse.
Lou Costello stoically faces Bela Lugosi's silent command (above) and Glenn Strange's silent scream (below).
Dr. Mornay (Lenore Aubert) spies while Joan Raymond (Jane Randolph) scans The Secrets of Life and Death at a costume party. Below, Mornay likes to dress up as an evil crypto-fascist nurse for professional occasions.
For many monster fans, the highlight of A&CMF is Bela Lugosi's return to the role that made his name, whose name he made. Wendigo thinks it's always great to see him back, especially since he looks in much better shape than he did in the (still good) Return of the Vampire. Compared to that film of five years earlier, it looks like at least five years have fallen away from him. But have the years changed his approach to Dracula? One change that occurred to me was that the character now has to deal with the legend of Dracula (by concealing his identity) in a way that Tod Browning's Dracula didn't. For his part, Wendigo sees some subtle differences in the two performances. There's a hint of doomed melancholy to the 1931 Bela, and a sense that Dracula is an unnatural force of nature. In 1948 Dracula is more evil, more of a schemer, more inclined to revel in villainy. But there are more differences between Lugosi and his imitators (Latos, Alucard) than between the '48 and '31 models. For starters, those so-called Draculas are hapless creatures with few survival instincts. More signifcant is Dracula's dominance of a briefly-defiant Mornay compared to Alucard's virtual victimization by the femme fatale of Son of Dracula. Bela makes it plain: "I am accustomed to obedience from women," and he gets it. Another difference: the pseudo (or crypto?) Draculas from the Forties get by with mesmerism, a learned skill almost, while Lugosi's Dracula dominates people by overwhelming force of pure will. He can command from a distance in ways his emulators can't dream of. However you may feel about the way the monsters are used here, Bela's Dracula is the real deal.
It wouldn't surprise us if fans don't feel the same way about Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man. As Larry, Lon is impeccable, as impressive and heroic as he's ever been despite his bouts of despair and guilt. But the Wolf Man is still under the constraints necessary for the film to treat Larry as a good guy. That means he has to be an ineffectual monster in two scenes in which he proves incapable of even pouncing on Wilbur, instead tripping and tangling himself in every possible impediment. It's fair to ask what's worse: the fact that the Wolf Man can't escape from a locked hotel room or the fact that Lou Costello bops him on the nose, mistaking him for a masked Abbott, and survives? It's also fair to remind ourselves that the film is meant as a comedy, and that, as Wendigo reminds, me, Chaney was a very good sport about taking his monster's pratfalls. None of this compromises Larry Talbot's role as a hero, if not the hero of the movie. Wendigo adds: if he can't consider The Munsters a travesty of the Universal monsters, he can't complain about this film.
Lou mugs like mad, and brilliantly, in the "young blood and brains" scene, but he has to to keep Bela from stealing the scene just by wearing that smoking jacket.
In any event, the Wolf Man redeems himself a bit by taking down Dracula after a rather absurd battle that sees the desperate vampire throw everything he can lay hands on at the persistent lycanthrope. Bela even resorts to hitting him with a chair, rasslin'-style. You can ask whether the Wolf Man attacks Dracula because he knows the vampire is the enemy, or just because Dracula is there? On the other hand, the vampire's enmity toward the werewolf seems to be a matter of panicky disgust, as if Dracula had seen a large rat. In any event, Larry gets the job done even if it means a dip in the rocky drink. Do they both die? Well, Dracula is clearly out of action because the plunge breaks his power over Joan Raymond, but on the evidence of Talbot's suicide attempt in HofD it's definitely debatable whether the drop would kill the Wolf Man. It may be best for us to wish Larry Talbot godspeed on his long, long journey home -- or back to Europe, or wherever.
"Grrrrrr!" Even Bud makes fun of the Wolf Man, but his playacting gets him in trouble later in the picture.
Abbott & Costello are Wendigo's favorite comedy team, and he has many fond memories of Sunday morning double-features on WPIX. I didn't like them as much as he did back then, but every time I see A&CMF I get an urge to see more of their films. Some time ago I put this film on my list of ten favorite comedies, and I'd say that Lou Costello gives one of my favorite comedy performances ever in it. With Bud and Lou in top form and the return of the monsters, I'm inspired to ask: does any other Hollywood studio have a film in its library that is as definitive an expression of its creative identity as this film is for Universal? Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is Universal's monument.
And here's the Realart trailer, uploaded to YouTube by horrormovieshows