Two Americans cops visiting London to study police tactics find themselves drawn into the hunt for the murderer of a prominent physician. Their search leads them to Dr Jekyll, who can transform himself into the murderous Mr Hyde after injecting himself with a serum he has invented.
When Universal had exhausted the rehashing of their classic monsters after pitting them against one another in a series of ever-diminishing horror films, the studio only had the comedy spoof option left and they allowed their popular duo of Abbott and Costello the chance to goof around with them instead. Starting with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in 1948, the bumbling pair also crossed paths with the Mummy and the Invisible Man. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is arguably the least of their antics with the Universal monsters but features plenty of their trademark humour.
Like the other Abbott and Costello films, the plot is simply a flimsy excuse for the comedy duo to go through their usual slapstick motions. So if your tolerance for old school shenanigans isn’t high, then maybe it’s best to skip this one. But I’m a sucker for old school and some of the silly, juvenile comedy hits the right notes from a time when you didn’t have to rely on crude humour or gross-out gags to entertain an audience. The duo opt for the more physical slapstick comedy route in this one as opposed to the witty verbal exchanges of the previous films and it’s this lack of sophisticated comedy which hurts the film in the long run. There’s only so many times you can see people tripping up, falling over, bundling themselves around and running around like silly devils before it gets tiresome.
The highlight scene of the film involves ‘Tubby’ (Costello) accidentally injecting himself with the serum which then leads to all manner of mayhem as the main characters get the real Mr Hyde and the fake one mixed up. This leads to a sometimes-funny, sometimes-groan worthy chase through the streets and across the rooftops of London.
There’s also plenty of annoying burlesque dancing which Abbott and Costello films are unfortunately full of. It’s a bit out of place in turn-of-the-century London but when the streets are stereotypically fog-drenched and there are fish and chips shops on every corner, you could be forgiven for a few historical inaccuracies. To be fair, the Gothic sets do a good job of portraying Victorian London and there are moments when the film does strike a chord into the hearts of traditional Universal horror fans. But then the silliness starts up again and the good atmosphere and Gothic vibe is blown away with a series of childishly funny gags and routines.
Horror legend Boris Karloff stars as the sinister Dr Jekyll. Unlike other versions, Jekyll is just as dangerous as Mr Hyde. He’s a schemer who is madly in love with his young ward and is overcome with jealousy when she attracts the attentions of a dashing journalist. Jekyll actually likes turning into Hyde here – it’s not so much of a dangerous side effect to the drugs he’s experimenting with, it’s as if he turns into Hyde simply to get away with his lusts for murder. Karloff is completely wasted in the role and seems very restrained. Thankfully the character doesn’t degenerate into camp but it’s a pity Karloff’s considerable acting talents weren’t put to better use.
The transformation scenes do the convincing job that they need to do on the budget that the film has to offer and Mr Hyde looks more than a little monstrous when he’s decked out in his make-up. But this film is played strictly for laughs and any true horror elements are watered down to insignificant proportions. He might as well have been dressed as a clown for all the good it would do in the long run.
You’ll either love Abbott and Costello or hate them so Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is going to be a weird one for most. I’d suggest watching the far superior Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein if you want to see the duo in their crossover prime. This one is strictly for fans.