Saturday, October 11, 2008

An Atmospheric Moment, and Abbot and Costello

Of all the odd things to flit through my head today, images of Dracula, and Abbot and Costello. Even more odd, it happened while watching Cowboy Movie Day on AMC. They posed the question "The western didn't die with John Wayne, who will replace him?" I'm thinking, he's the type of guy you don't replace. And just like that, started parading through a bunch of people you don't replace, like Humphrey Bogart after Casablanca, Cary Grant after North by Northwest, and Martin Landau after he played Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.
Bela Lugosi, now there was a character. In his 1930's movie, Dracula, he defined creepy terror, and that movie set the bar high for atmospheric backdrop. That moment when he announces himself on the huge, decrepit staircase in Castle Dracula, and proceeds to walk unruffled through a lattice of cobwebs that later snags the doomed Renfield--buddy, that there pinned your focus. Sadly, Bela was possibly the first actor to be branded with typecast, and never dug his way out. Landau's performance was the best kind of tribute, and in my opinion anointed Landau with that unreplaceableness.
Now comes the odd reach--Bela appeared in one picture with Abbot and Costello, they of the near-Einsteinian "Who's on First" routine. An A and C picture, ultimately a B-movie standard, was perhaps a telling and poignant commentary on Bela's career. Universal Studios didn't know what else to do with Bela. Being in that film, one of the string of "Abbot and Costello Meet..." movies, offered him another chance to be Dracula, and he ate it like a twelve course dinner. Also in the film, the Wolfman (played by a man who nailed the haunted, tragic victim role, Lon Chaney Jr.) and the Frankenstein monster (played by Glenn Strange, who later played the barkeep in Miss Kitty's saloon in Gunsmoke). Yup, there's a full moon and in the final showdown, Dracula is fighting off a raging Wolfman while A & C run from the monster, who, in this movie at least, works for the Big Sucker. The terrified duo is trapped in a room, but quick thinking(!?) Lou Costello grabs a blanket and whips it around his shoulders like a cape. Holding it in front of his face in the classic Dracula style, he commands the monster "Back, back..." Amazingly, the monster backs up and mutters "yes, master..."
SOB, it's working!!!
Suddenly, Costello drops his arm, looks back at Abbot, chuckles and says "He thinks I'm Dracula." Of course, the spell is broken and the chase is back on.
In that one single moment, Lou Costello, B actor and comedian, portrays courage, smugness, stupidity, and innocence. I defy you to give me an example of that by any other actor.
A and C tanked in their TV series, limited production budgets and more mundane settings than those in the movies made it unfunny and unwatchable. I sure miss them, but I still enjoy their movies.


belleshpgrl said...

Did you know Harry Shearer was in an Abbott and Costello movie? I don't know which one but he must've been a wee babe.

mvorpal said...

I did not know! I dub thee the new Abbot and Costello Trivia Queen.