Thursday, August 19, 2010

Now You Don't See Him, Now You Still Don't!

Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man  (Universal, 1951)


Before the camera:

Bud Abbott (worked with Lou Costello a lot)
Lou Costello (worked with Bud Abbott a lot)
Nancy Guild (Francis Covers the Big Town)
Arthur Franz (Invaders from Mars '53)
Adele Jergens (Beware of Blondie)
William Frawley (Fred Mertz himself!)
Sheldon Leonard (Another Thin Man - and our first digression - Sheldon Leonard is a pretty danged cool guy -  he went from playing gangsters in almost every acting role he got - from a movie in 1934 to an episode of Dream On in 1992 - the IMDB lists over a hundred acting credits - to being an incredibly successful television producer and director - some of his producing credits include The Danny Thomas Show, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle USMC and I Spy. I'm guessing he must have had a hand in the early days of currently prolific writer producer Chuck Lorre's career since the lead characters on The Big Bang Theory are named Sheldon and Leonard in his honor.)

Big Bang Shmig Bang, but I'd make time with that blonde they got!

Behind the camera:

Directed by Charles Lamont

Produced by Howard Christie

Written by Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo, and John Grant (story by Hugh Wedlock Jr. and Howard Snyder)

    By the early 50's, Abbott and Costello had been making movies for ten years, but after spending several years in the mid-40's as the biggest stars in Universal Studios' stable of contract players their stars 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 stars 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, Boris Karloff. More big time box office ensued, and that led to this picture in 1951, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in 1953, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy in 1955.
     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 boys graduate detective school (thanks to Bud's bribe on Lou's behalf) and they immediately find a case when they get mixed up with Tommy Nelson (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 (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 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 we get 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 (Leonard) who really sent Tommy's manager to the Great Beyond. (Lesson #1: if you're a gangster guilty of murder, and you insist on talking about your crimes with your henchmen in auditoriums and such, pay attention to the next row of seats - if one often folds out like someone is sitting in it, listening in, assume someone is!) Morgan retaliates by sending his confederate Boots (Jergens) to spy on the boys.

Boy, are we glad this isn't Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Woman!
    It 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. It's 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 a dozen 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 which actually uses 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 this movie a solid recommendation for the comedy team's fans or anyone who enjoys a little old fashioned comedy now and again.

Let's Get Out of Here ?
Oh my, The Line gets a real workout here, occurring at approximately 10:00 as Lou reminds Bud they're with an accused murderer; again at about 23:30 when Tommy sees the police arriving; again at 54:00, right after a bar patron takes a punch he didn't see coming; and finally once more at 1:13:00 when Bud takes the prize by saying it twice in quick succession to get Lou moving.

Eye Candy ?
Sadly, though both Nancy Guild and Adele Jergens are kind of cute, neither qualify for the coveted title to these jaded eyes. Guild has a jawline only Jay Leno could love, and Jergens is a bit over the top in her blonde glory, getting dangerously close to "possible drag queen" territory. Better luck next time, ladies!

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Re: Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, my advice to you: always bet on Bud and Lou."

Thank you sir, and until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. I loved this movie as a kid. It was one of my favorite Bud & Lou films--and I liked a lot of them!

    I introduced my son to the guys with Africa Screams, and we've worked our way through a DVD set.

    But we haven't watched this one. Thanks for the reminder!

    1. You are certainly welcome! As this reply was a bit late in coming - did you ever watch it?

  2. I loved this movie, and when it was on, I had to stop and watch. It's remarkable how many scenes I remember from this film, having not seen it in 20-plus years.

    I do recall the final gag. And nope, it made no sense. Actually, when I was younger, I think I found it a little disturbing. But then, I thought The Letter People were a bit off, too.

    I love the inside info you offer here--from Claude Rains to the Big Bang Theory namesakes. You've given me good stuff to bring to the floor when I watch this one with my kids. Thanks!

    1. I have always stopped for A&C when they appeared during channel surfing - sadly, about the only place they appear now is This TV - but at least they're still showing up someplace!

      You know, that final gag kind of disturbed me too, as a young man. Interesting reaction!

      I hope they enjoy it as much as we did!