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The third of the popular series in which comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello "meet" a member of the Universal horror team, Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951) was as much a gangster and boxing film as a horror-comedy. Nevertheless, genre confusion becomes meaningless when up against the boxing scene in this movie, one of the funniest moments in Bud and Lou's career.
Originally, Abbott and Costello had no part in the script. In 1948, Hugh Wedlock and Howard Snyder wrote a fifth sequel to Universal's The Invisible Man (1933) called The Invisible Man Strikes Back. Meanwhile Robert Arthur, producer of the Abbott and Costello comedies at Universal since Buck Privates Come Home (1947), was looking for another profitable pairing of the comic duo with more of Universal's monster squad after Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff (1949). Having recently adapted Wedlock and Snyder's story "Easy Does It" for the latter movie, Arthur appropriated this script for A&C as well.
Before production could begin, another screenwriting team, Russell Rouse and Clarence Green wrote an original screenplay called Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man. Wedlock and Snyder's screenplay was out, and Rouse and Green's was in after a further re-write by Robert Lees and Fred Rinaldo who had penned The Invisible Woman (1940). What put this script over was its central gag: Costello in a boxing ring fighting a champ while getting assistance from an invisible boxer.
Lou Costello as a prizefighter was less of a stretch than fans would imagine. Before he joined the duo, Costello boxed as an amateur under the pseudonym Lou King. In twelve times in the ring he won eleven and had one draw. Unfortunately, instead of being discovered by a manager, he was discovered by his father who forbade him from returning to the ring. Boxing is not the only personal touch in the film. Bud and Lou's names in this movie are Bud Alexander and Lou Francis, their real first and middle names.
Production went smoothly with costs held down by careful script writing allowing the new material to match shots from previous Invisible Man adventures. For instance, the test of the invisibility serum on a guinea pig is taken straight from The Invisible Man Returns (1940). The best holdover, however, comes when a scientist describes how the scientist who originally developed the serum went mad after using it and points to a picture of Claude Rains on the wall. Rains was the almost completely unseen actor who played the original The Invisible Man.
Reports from cast and crew members about Abbott and Costello said they had difficulty "Meet"-ing anyone. According to co-star Arthur Franz (in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood by Bob Furmanek and Ron Palumbo), director Charles Lamont had a hard time getting them on the set: "...they would lock themselves in their trailer to play gin rummy, and they would not come out because one or the other was always in the hole. One of the funniest lines came out of those daily conflicts. Charlie would beat on the door to get them to come out, and Lou would scream back, 'Hey - you rehearse it too much it loses all spontanuity!' He was taking two words, spontaneity and continuity, and running them both together. It was a Costello legend." As for their unrelenting gin-rummy games, that either of them had money with which to gamble is a surprise. Before this movie, a departing crooked business manager had left the comedians with a whopping I.R.S. tax bill that the government was dead set on milking out of the duo, despite all the work they had done during World War II raising millions of dollars in war bonds. After the shooting ended, Bud and Lou held a wrap party where they presented their earnings to the taxman as that year's payment.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man opened March 19, 1951 at a benefit for Wounded Veterans of the Korean War and went on to be one of the team's biggest hits during the 1950's. Captain Kidd, Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde and The Mummy were waiting in the wings for their turn.
Director: Charles Lamont
Producer: Howard Christie
Writers: John Grant, Robert Lees, Frederic I. Rinaldo
Cinematographer: George Robinson
Editor: Virgil Vogel
Art directors: Bernard Herzbrun, Richard Riedel
Cast: Bud Abbott (Bud Alexander), Lou Costello (Lou Francis), Nancy Guild (Helen Gray), Arthur Franz (Tommy Nelson), Adele Jergens (Boots Marsden), Sheldon Leonard (Morgan).
BW-82 min. Closed Captioning.
by Brian Cady