Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)

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In case you were wondering, Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide calls this “one of [Abbott & Costello’s] best vehicles.”

 Time to stop hiring that cheap immigrant labor to write your books for you, Lennie.

Now, please don’t think I’ve got some sort of vendetta against Bud and Lou. I love those boys. I had the “Who’s on first?” routine memorized by the time I was eight. They were very funny men. And they were even funny in this movie (order the best movies review, essays and research papers from Mcessay service). But… Well, let’s take a look at it.

 Bud and Lou play two recent detective school graduates named, oddly enough, Bud and Lou. Working the night shift at the detective agency, they meet an odd prospective client, a man that Lou recognizes as fitting the description of Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), prizefighter on the run for a murder charge. (Bud, naturally, dismisses his suspicions; ha! Comedy!) They end up giving Tommy a ride to his girlfriend Helen's place (Nancy Guild). Helen lives with her scientist uncle, Dr. Philip Gray, who just happens to be -- wait for it -- the nephew of the original Dr. Griffin (you know, Claude Rains), and he inherited the invisiblity formula! (How, exactly, does that work? "And to my nephew, Phil, I bequeath H2C4SiO2, contingent, of course, on my reign of terror! coming to an abrupt end.") So naturally, Tommy wants to use some of it to elude the cops while he searches for his trainer's real killer, even if he has to search every golf course in America. Meanwhile, what are Bud and Lou doing? Oh, you know, drifting around, seeing Tommy's picture on the TV, that kind of stuff. (Why did Tommy get a couple of private eyes involved in this? Good question, and even Helen asks it. Tommy's only excuse was that they were the only way he could get a ride to Helen's place. Yeah, hiring a couple of PI's and counting on them being dimwitted is a much better idea than snagging a cab, isn't it?) Once Bud finally realizes that Tommy is indeed Tommy, he calls the police to get in on the advertised reward, and thus when the cops arrive, Tommy's got no choice but to grab the syringe and pump up.

Lou is lucky enough to see Tommy vanish away and strip out of his clothes in classic Invisible Man style, so I’m sure you can imagine the histrionics he goes through. And naturally, when the police enter the room, Lou’s obvious incoherence lends even more comic gaffes. In fact, this leads us into one of the better straight-comedy scenes, in which Lou and the police psychiatrist banter and exchange one-liners, ending with everyone except Lou being hypnotized by the shrink’s watch.

 Eventually, Bud and Lou meet up with Tommy in a secluded spot, Tommy having decided to retain the two to try and help him prove his innocence. Why, even after Bud tried to turn him in for the cash? Because... uh... it's in the script?

Since Tommy was a fighter and it was his trainer that got killed, the fellas start their investigation in the gym, with the invisible Tommy in tow. Predictably, Tommy manages to overhear the local gangland types explaining to each other in great detail their plan for having fights thrown, and how Tommy’s own manager’s murder was a result of some disobeyed instructions in that regard. Just as predictably, Lou manages to get into it with some of the local toughs, and it’s only Tommy’s intervention that saves his bacon, making it look like Lou’s a deceptively good fighter. Why, gosh, with Lou seen as a contender, this gives them a chance to flush out the bad guys! All they have to is wait for an offer to be made to them to throw a fight, then not do it, then wait for the bad guys to come and try to kill them, and then invisible Tommy can knock them out and catch them red-handed! Apparently, only Lou can see that this is one of the most reckless, hare-brained schemes ever concocted, and nobody listens to him anyway.

 Seems like a pretty quick plot, doesn't it? They do manage to round it out to full feature length, though, with the application of plenty of schtick. Lou gets approached to throw the fight by a blonde bombshell (Adele Jergens), and so we have the artificial romancing going on. And then there's Tommy, who's being beset by the gradual madness attendant to the invisibility formula, and takes to speaking in megalomanic superlatives, with no justification whatsoever. I mean, Claude Rains was a hoighty scientist to begin with, and when he spoke of a reign of terror!, he got right down to it. Tommy, on the other hand, is a dumb jock, and he suddenly starts spouting "king of the world" pronouncements when he's done nothing more fearsome than stealing Lou's spaghetti.

Which reminds me – if you were babysitting an invisible man, especially an increasingly erratic one, would you make a point of repeatedly taking him out to eat at the same restaurant, where the waiter can do doubletakes at the reversed orders and self-moving veggie platter? Sure, it gives them plenty of instances of contrived gags, but jeez, haven’t these people ever heard of room service?

 In fact, "contrived" covers pretty much everything here, because when you come right down to it, Bud and Lou have no real reason to be involved in the story in the first place, they have no real reason to help Tommy, they have no reason to do most of the comedic stuff they do, and they have no reason to go along with Tommy's obviously-punchy plan to catch the heavies. We're just supposed to accept it, I suppose.

 But I can't. We've got a movie here that starts out as extra-awkward, simply because of too much grafting. In the other Abbott & Costello Meet a Franchise on Its Last Legs series entries, it's pretty simple: Bud'n'Lou grafted on to the premise of the movie. But in this case, the Invisible Man franchise had never had the kind of unity that the other series had; the titular character had never been the same character twice, and there was very little common mythology between them. So not only did they have to graft Abbott and Costello onto the franchise, but they had to come up with a whole new storyline, and apparently this "wrongly accused prizefighter" one was the best they could come up with. So you had the partial premise of the original Invisible Man, crossed with a sports story (ungainly enough right there), with Abbott and Costello added on. A very ungainly amalgam.

As usual, Abbott and Costello showed up only for the last gasp of the series. But whereas their other franchise-ending appearances had managed to play the now-familiar tropes for laughs and let the monsters fade away on an enjoyable note, this one simply proves that the Invisible Man franchise never had the juice that the others had to begin with, and should have been put to rest long before they hired Bud and Lou to finally put it down.

Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
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