Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#1,548. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Directed By: Charles Lamont

Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild

Tag line: "It's all NEW and a RIOT too!"

Trivia: The last names of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's characters, Bud Alexander and Lou Francis, are actually their real middle names

Despite its title, 1951’s Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man isn’t the first time Bud and Lou encountered this particular “monster” from the Universal canon; they have a brief run-in with the Invisible Man (voiced by Vincent Price, no less) at the end of 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But unlike that earlier film, where he only makes a cameo “appearance”, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man sees everyone’s favorite transparent dude team up with our two bumbling heroes to solve a murder he’s been accused of, but didn't commit.

Bud Alexander (Abbott) and his partner, Lou Francis (Costelllo), have just graduated from a school for private investigators. While searching for a case to solve, a mysterious man walks into their office and asks them to accompany him to the house of his fiancée, Helen (Nancy Guild). Before long, Bud and Lou realize this stranger is actually the escaped convict Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), a former boxer who’s been sent up for supposedly killing his trainer. Determined to prove his innocence, Tommy asks Helen’s uncle, Dr. Philip Gray (Gavin Muir), to give him a serum that will make him invisible (that way, Tommy can investigate his trainer’s death without drawing the attention of every cop in town). Fearing the side effects (in previous cases, the serum turned sane men into raving lunatics), Dr. Gray refuses to help, only to have a desperate Tommy inject himself with the elixir, making him totally invisible. Believing he’s innocent, Bud and Lou agree to help Tommy, but can they find the actual killer in time, or will the serum drive him to the brink of insanity first?

Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man marked a change of sorts for Bud and Lou, focusing more on physical humor and less on the duo’s patented verbal exchanges (a la Who’s on First?). And even though some of the pratfalls miss their mark, the movie features one or two inspired routines, the best of which has Lou pretending to hit a punching bag while an invisible Tommy practices on it. I also liked how the two managed to continually pull the wool over the eyes of Det. Roberts (William Frawley, aka Fred in I Love Lucy), who’s been tasked with recapturing the fugitive Tommy Nelson and returning him to jail.

Much like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the portions of this movie that center on Tommy and his attempt to learn the truth are handled with total sincerity; never once do any of the film’s minor cast members take part in the comedy (at least not directly). As for the special effects, they work for the most part (one scene, in which a transparent Tommy eats a forkful of spaghetti, looked pretty darn impressive) but I was surprised how much better some of the more routine effects (footprints appearing out of nowhere, cigarettes floating down the hallway) looked in James Whale’s 1932 masterpiece The Invisible Man (which was made almost 20-years earlier). And unlike some of the other films in this series (including the duo’s encounters with Frankenstein and The Mummy), Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is more of a mystery / thriller than it is a horror spoof (Tommy’s quest to find the true killer takes up the majority of movie’s running time).

While not nearly as good as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the duo’s encounter with The Invisible Man still ranks as one of their better “late” efforts

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