Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man (1951)
"It's ALL NEW and a RIOT too!"
Boxer Tommy Nelson is accused of killing his manager and injects himself with an experimental invisibility serum in order to hide from the police and find out the real killer. He enlists the help of two bumbling private detectives, Bud and Lou, and with their help, he devises a plan to trap the real killer by having Lou pose as a boxer, aided by his invisible punches.
In the 1950s, Universal were coming to the end of their horror cycle and looking for fresh ways to energise their flagging franchises, opting to pair their classic monsters up with comedy duo Abbott and Costello, The first of such outings, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, was such a popular hit that the much-loved comedy duo were regularly paired off against the rest of Universal's gallery of monsters to diminishing returns over the next few years. The seeds for Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man had been sown at the end of their first horror outing, as the Invisible Man (voiced by none other than Vincent Price) introduces himself to the duo at the end of the film. Price sadly does not return in this one but maybe he saw what was coming. The result is a film which grossly fails to live up to the potential shenanigans that Abbott and Costello should have been getting up to with an Invisible Man, ironically working better as a standard The Invisible Man flick than an Abbott and Costello comedy.
I really don’t get the love for this one. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is nowhere near as funny as some of their other ‘Meet’ films yet it has received way more critical praise and was financially more successful than their other horror outings. This one is hardly played for the horror factor as the character of the Invisible Man was never really meant to be in the same league of 'monstrousness' as Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man. It’s perhaps this which doesn’t do the film any favours. The character of the Invisible Man, Tommy Nelson in this one, is played seriously and there are attempts to give him some sort of story with the warnings of becoming psychotic after being invisible for too long. But unlike the horror elements of their previous outings, the drama doesn’t really click here and the seriousness fails to click with the silliness. Abbott and Costello don’t really seem out of their element as they did when they were up against the supernatural and everything in the narrative happens as a matter of fact. The duo go along with Nelson’s plan from the beginning, taking on board the notion of an invisible man with little apprehension or disbelief and never once questioning what is going on.
Tonally, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man has more in common with The Invisible Man sequels, which were barely science fiction or horror. The highlight set piece of the film is the boxing bout at the end where Lou is to go up against tough boxer Rocky Hanlon, with Tommy providing invisible punches. I’m sure it all sounded a lot funnier on paper and what we get is an overlong sequence of Lou pratting around in the ring in his shorts and pretending to fall over, slip, trip and stumble like the buffoon his character is meant to be. The physical comedy just isn’t funny and I always preferred the verbal sparring that Abbott and Costello did with each other, most notably their variations on the “Who’s On First?” routine. They manage to hit a few decent home runs with a couple of scenes but there’s nowhere near enough material to keep the film consistently funny. Lou Costello was always the stooge and his clowning around can get pretty tiresome as he looks at the camera with that knowing look to break down the fourth wall with the audience. One of the highlights of the other ‘Meet’ films, even the worse ones, was that Costello spent the majority of the film trying to convince Abbott that there were monsters lurking around. This lead to all manner of mishaps with bodies appearing and disappearing, chases around corridors, castles and tombs and Costello trying to hold it all together before he thought he was going crazy. But here, Abbott learns of the existence of the Invisible Man quite early which strips away most of the comedy potential. Seeing the two work hand-in-hand with the monster of the movie isn’t as entertaining as watching Costello fall apart on screen as Abbott reprimands him.
The star of the show is the invisibility special effects. Truly excellent for 1951, we get to see scenes of Bud and Lou playing cards with the invisible man and taking him out to dinner where he eats spaghetti. The invisibility aspect plays host to a number of sight gags throughout the film as various characters don’t know where Tommy is. In the film’s best effect, the Invisible Man receives a blood transfusion and begins to visualise, with his veins materialising first as the blood is pumped in followed by the rest of his body. David S. Horsley worked on the effects for all of The Invisible Man sequels and so there's some nice continuity in what he brings to the table - almost like a 'best of' reel from his previous work. The effects were great for their era and still hold up extremely well today. It’s a pity that the comedy doesn’t.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is an undignified swansong to Universal’s Invisible Man series and a run of five films featuring H. G. Wells’ classic character was to come to an end, with Universal not touching the character again until 2020. Abbott and Costello would be back to face more Universal monsters but this is not one of their better efforts and doesn’t hold a candle to the classic Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. There's some fun to be had here but the buffoonery and gags get tiresome quickly this time.
Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man
Director(s): Charles Barton
Writer(s): Hugh Wedlock Jr. (story), Howard Snyder (story), Robert Lees (screenplay), Frederic I. Rinaldo (screenplay), John Grant (screenplay), H.G. Wells (story "The Invisible Man")
Actor(s): Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Nancy Guild, Arthur Franz, Adele Jergens, Sheldon Leonard, William Frawley
Duration: 82 mins