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Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Study in Classic Horror- ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF (1949)



I’m going to cut to the chase with a SPOILER ALERT. The title is a red herring. Of course, you don’t have much of a mystery if you reveal the killer in the opening credits, but then Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff isn’t much of a mystery to begin with. Oh, it’s fun, but I can’t help but think there was so much more that could have been done with it.
According to what I’ve read, it was originally conceived as a vehicle for Bob Hope, but following the success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which I’ll get to in a future entry) Universal was eager to team the duo up with another horror legend.
With Boris Karloff’s talents and a tighter script, it could have been great; instead it’s merely good. A whodunit, set in a hotel with a gaggle of suspects, all of whom hope to pin the crime on Lou Costello, but the script doesn’t feel the need for any logical connections, and it introduces plot devices, like a procured confession signed by Costello, that are quickly abandoned. Finally, when the killer is revealed (SPOILER) it’s someone with no discernible motive whatsoever. I realize this film is primarily a comedy, but I think tightening up the mystery elements could have made the film work better as a whole.
Worst of all, Karloff is woefully underused. His best scene comes somewhere around the middle of film, when he tries to hypnotize Costello into committing suicide, so the aforementioned confession can be left with the body. A lot of laughs come from failed suicide attempts, but perhaps more mileage could have been gained had they let the motif run through the rest of the film.

More laughs result as the body count increases, and Bud and Lou find themselves hiding body after body. I think my favorite gag is where they hide a pair of corpses in plain sight by engaging them in a game of bridge. (It’s interesting to note, that the presence of onscreen corpses made the movie somewhat controversial overseas. Many such scenes were cut, which would have deprived the film of some of its funniest moments.)

So overall, funny, but not as funny as it could have been. I hope to find improvements were made when the three reteamed for Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This week’s supporting features:

Daffy Duck and Conrad Cat in Conrad the Sailor (1942)

The Our Gang short Love Business (1931)

Next week’s film:
Man Made Monster (1941) starring Lon Chaney Jr., Lionel Atwill and Samuel S. Hinds

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