Due to our ‘Creature Week’, we held off on UMU Rob’s latest ‘Sunday’s with…’ installment. But now here we are at the start of a new week and here is the latest (and final) ‘Sunday’s with…’ for August!
This month we have been taking a look back at great movies that deal with transformation. To finish the month off let’s take a look at a classic tale about the duality of man and the two sides we all have, with some comedy thrown in! This is my… Sunday with Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde!
Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Release Date: August 1st, 1953
Run Time: 76 minutes
Starring: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello
Director: Charles Lamont
Robs Score: 7/10
“Hey Slim, Slim, I gotta go home I forgot something…I forgot to stay there!”-Tubby
Our film opens up with an eerie view of London. A lone man is walking down the street and out of the darkness we see a shadowy figure stalk him. The figure eventually catches up with the man and clubs him with his cane before strangling him to death. The scene changes to show the headlines announcing that Dr. Poole has been killed. The next day young reporter Bruce Adams is sitting in a park during a suffragette rally when he meets Vicky Edwards and is immediately smitten. A few of the local townspeople start heckling the suffragettes and a huge brawl erupts. Enter Slim and Tubby (Abbott and Costello), two American policeman working in London, who get arrested with Bruce, Vicky and the rest of the suffragettes. Dr. Jekyll (Karloff) bails both Vicky and Bruce out of jail. Jekyll has been Vicky’s legal guardian since she was a child. However, while everyone else is released Tubby and Slim are kicked off the police force. After sharing a ride back Jekyll notices the attraction between Bruce and Vicky and becomes overwhelmed with anger and jealousy. He retreats to his secret lab and explains that while he is a good upstanding man, Mr. Hyde can do the devious things Jekyll can only dream of. He then injects himself with his potion and the transformation begins. Mr. Hyde now sets out to stalk the streets of London and kill Bruce. At the same time Slim and Tubby decide that the only way to get back on the force is to catch the monster that has been murdering people. As they are walking along Tubby notices Hyde, whom he mistakes for a burglar, trying to break into a music hall window. The two then enter the music hall in an effort to head off the burglar. Vicky is a performer at the music hall and Bruce was in the dressing room with her, which is why Hyde was trying to break in. A slapstick chase ensues which leads to Tubby tricking and locking Hyde in a wax museum prison. As Tubby runs off to get Slim and the Inspector, Hyde transforms back into Dr. Jekyll. Arriving at the cell to see Jekyll and no monster Tubby is once again scolded. Jekyll asks Slim and Tubby to escort him back to his house and embarrassed, due to the mix up, they agree. Once at the house Jekyll invites the two to stay the evening. Unable to sleep and pretty terrified Tubby decides to search the house looking for clues to give him answers to what happened earlier. However, Tubby isn’t the only one stalking the house late at night. How will Tubby and Slim escape this one, and how will Bruce and Vicky deal with the horrific news that Jekyll is also Hyde? Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is loosely based on the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name.
The films of Abbott and Costello hold a very special place in my heart, I won’t dig too deep into that now (I am saving that for a later time), but needless to say I still find these films hilarious today. The combination of slapstick comedy with the classic nightmare inducing monsters was an absolutely brilliant idea that really paid off for everyone. With that being said these films, unlike many others that I revisit, have to be viewed at face value. There is no real deeper message or meaning here except to entertain the audience, and in that regard this film is a success. If you are going into this one, as well as any of the other Abbott and Costello Meets… films expecting an existential experience that unlocks deep secrets inside yourself, this may not be for you. These films were intended to allow audiences a small amount of time in their day where they do not have to worry or bring their baggage with them, to just enjoy and laugh at the hijinks on screen. To me, that is the charm of old school Hollywood films. For the most part these films were selfless in the idea that they were made to entertain audiences and get a laugh. That simple fact alone is why I think the Abbott and Costello movies are still beloved today not only by older generations, but really by anyone who is willing to give a black and white film a chance.
When we think of Abbott and Costello we don’t necessarily think of controversy, however this film had its fair share. For starters the Suffragette rally at the beginning of the scene caused quite the stir with the, how can I put this, “old school-minded” views of many of the male audiences as well as the censors. Personally I felt it was a bold move on the part of Charles Lamont to include the scene. Not only did it provide a little risqué to the film, but it also helped establish the ideals of the female lead in a way other than the fact that she’s a dancer. Providing a strong political backstory for the character of Vicky was a forward thinking idea, and even though the scene ended out in physical comedy it was a nice switch up. Another source of controversy was the method as to which Dr. Jekyll and eventually Tubby transformed. Instead of drinking a potion, as in all other versions, they inject themselves with a syringe. The censors were very uneasy about this and regulated the film makers by changing the scope from the actual injection to the facial expressions and movements the actors could convey while taking the injection. This, along with the scenes of Mr. Hyde, actually landed the film an X rating in Britain!
The biggest source of conflict probably came from one of the most revered actors of the time. It was no secret that Boris Karloff was not a fan of these kinds of films. He felt as if it was insulting to the characters and genre he had given so much too. The first example of this was when he turned down the role of Frankenstein in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. However, having to fulfill his obligations to the studio he signed on to be in not one, but two A and C films. (Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, and this film). Upon completion of the film he stated that he would do press for the film “As long as he didn’t have to see it”. Abbott and Costello were known for their use of pranks and pie fights in between filming to keep the tempo up, something that Karloff did not much appreciate. Aside from this, due to Karloff’s age, he only did the Dr. Jekyll scenes. Stuntman Eddie Parker actually performed all of the Mr. Hyde scenes; however he was not even credited in the film. The last part of controversy from this film was the when Karloff wrapped filming; this was his last performance in a Universal studios film. Karloff played a big part in bringing the studio to prominence, and I feel it wasn’t a fitting send-off for the man who had done so much for the studio, but hey that’s show biz I guess.
As I stated before, this film should be taken at face value for a good time, however there were some nice takes on the legendary character involved. First off, the manner of how Jekyll transforms is different from every other version of the character. The character of Dr. Jekyll himself is also different. In prior films he was trying to cure mankind’s evil, however in this film he embraces the violence and freedom that Hyde provides him. This version is actually closer to the original novel.
The cast, of course, is led by Abbott and Costello, although this film is somewhat unique due to the change in style of their acting. Their past movies were very heavy with dialogue that would lead to a gag. This film featured much less of this and much more physical comedy. It is a change of pace, however the film definitely suffers from a lack of dialogue because of this and it doesn’t have the same Abbott and Costello charm. Boris Karloff is, as usual, terrific and haunting. Craig Stevens and Helen Westcott are a nice pairing as their chemistry could be felt coming off the screen. The film featured solid makeup and effects in regards to the transformation scenes. Jack Kevan, Milicent Patrick, and Bud Westmore were tasked with the makeup and creating the Hyde mask as well as the Tubby rat mask. David Horley did the transformation effects in the film using fading, stop motion shots, which was a direct tribute to the transformation scene in the original Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde film. Joseph Gershenson created the music for the film which he actually created by using recycled and reused music from other Universal films including Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and one of the Invisible Man films.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was another success for the studio upon its release, and has since seen three home video releases. The films and comedy of Abbott and Costello continue to entertain and succeed. Although not being as good as some of the other Abbott and Costello Meet… films, this is still funny and a good time, and I would highly recommend it.
Dr. Jekyll will be seen again in Universal’s upcoming “Monsters Universe” and will be brought to life by Academy Award winner, Russell Crowe. For more on Crowe and his turn as the iconic Robert Louis Stevenson character in “The Mummy”, you could find out what he had to say in our previous Russell Crowe Talks ‘The Mummy‘ here on UMU.
(W. Rob Texter)
(E. Chris Arroyo)