Starting with 1948’s Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, it’s a fair statement to claim that doing a movie with the two notorious jokesters was the equivalent of the elephant’s graveyard for the denizens of the Universal Monsters stable. Inbetween Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster being sent to the cinematic glue factory and The Mummy suffering the same fate in 1955 (even the Gillman had to square off with them in a tv special), it was the turn of the Invisible Man – but unlike his noticably visible contemporaries, the see-through son of a bitch had an advantage up his sleeve. While the more monstrous creatures arguably had their dignity stripped from them after numerous prat-falls, the Invisible Man movies had been switching genres from day one and had even tried comedy before with The Invisible Woman. If anyone could stand up to the merciless joke assault – it’s an invisible boxer.
Lou Francis and Bud Alexander have graduated from private detective school (?) with the help of hard work and a well placed bribe, but within minutes of setting up shop, fate throws them together with boxer Tommy Nelson. Tommy, it seems, has gotten himself in hot water with the Mob for not throwing a fight and subsequently found himself framed for the murder of his manager and slung in jail. However, after managing to escape, his next step is to hire Lou And Bud to help him (why, god only knows) and to meet up with his fianceé’s scientist uncle in order to facilitate staying under the cop’s radar. However, instead of organising a trip to a non-extradition country or knock up a new fake identity, the uncle’s plan is to use an invisibility serum to render Tommy undetectable and it’s Bud and Lou’s job to babysit him while he struggles to clear his name – obviously.
As these two detective dumbasses try to keep the insubstantial sportsman under wraps, Tommy slowly begins to succumb to the serum’s side effects of going utterly loco while not in Acapulco and conceived of an audacious (read: stupid) plan to get evidence on the men who framed him by passing the notoriously timid Lou off as a boxing prodigy while it’s actually the invisible Tommy who’s doing the punching.
Can this plan to smoke out an experienced mob boss that’s been cooked up by two half-wits and an ever-more deranged lab rat with a neat left hook ever have the chance to succeed and even if it does, can Tommy ever regain his normal opaque-ness endive a normal life?
I’ve given the Abbott And Costello Meets section of the Universal Movies some stick somewhat, but the truth of the matter is that, for the most part, their addition was surprisingly positive. Universal had all but essentially given up on the individual franchises at that had grown progressively more tired as time and the relentless sequel output were on and so despite the cynical, money making potential, it actually gave the beasties one final chance to shine before retirement. However, while Meets Frankenstein felt like gentle victory lap (with a returning Bela Lugosi for good measure) Meets The Mummy was sluggish and rather bland with all the cat and mouse, Scooby-Doo stuff wearing on the nerves – Meets The Invisible Man manages to deftly side step all this by simply being a crime caper with a minimal sci-fi twist. Removing lumbering monsters all together and focusing on farcical double crosses and mistaken identity, the movie remains as light on it’s feet as one of the boxers themselves and delivers swift jabs of genuinely humorous moments to keep things rollicking along.
Shorn of having to keep up the pretence of Bela Lugosi in a shiny cape being even remotely scary, Bud & Lou are free to indulge in numerous, vaudeville inspired set pieces without have to fall back on endless “it’s behind you” schtick while busting out some cracking one liners. “How did he get out?” demands an angry copper after an invisible Tommy has shed his garments one at a time in front of a typically hyperventilating Lou – “In installments!” is his stammering reply.
We also get to see prime examples of their physical comedy too as the pair bicker over $500 with the amount literally stealthily switching hands as one tries to subtly con the other in plain sight. However, the crown jewel is the climactic boxing match which sees Lou trying to survive a professional bout against notorious slugger Rocky Hanlon while Tommy drifts in and out of the match as he serches for clues. Containing running jokes (people repeatedly tripping over the body of a knocked unconscious Tommy), nifty physical comedy and some killer reactions from the people witnessing this farce, it may not be up to the standard of, say, Laurel And Hardy, but it’s still a genuine gas to watch.
Weirdly, it’s also one of the warmer Abbott And Costello movies I’ve ever seen thanks to Lou’s genuinely touching announcing of Tommy’s name everytime the transparent lug steps in to help him out. Usually the movie rightly heaps stacks of comedy cruelty of the long suffering Lou, so it’s nice to actually see him bond with one of the heroic leads – even if he consistently leaves him at the worst possible times.
Any grumbles with the movie pretty much come with the territory of being an Abbott and Costello film with virtually every other cast member a foil to either the two leads or necessary exposition. Also the bizarrely disturbing ending unintentionally prat-falls into the realm of body horror when Lou, temporary recipient of the serum after a blood transfusion, decides to use his new ability to make out with a terrified nurse (while nude, remember) only to find that his legs are somehow on backwards when he once and regains the ability to be seen.
The sight of an obviously terrified Lou trying to run one way only for his inverted legs to carry him straight through a wall is definitely memorable, if not for all the right reasons…
While missing the classic star power of their previous delve into the Universal Monsters back catalogue, Abbott And Costello Meets The Invisible Man manages to be a much smoother movie thanks to the freedom an invisible dude actually allows the plot to have, which in turn helps us to “see” the funny side of invisibility.