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Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
At the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, voiced by none other than Vincent Price, introduces himself to the bumbling duo. Vincent Price would not meet Abbott and Costello in their next monster film, but the Invisible Man would. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is one of the comedy duo’s greatest films, surpassed only by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The movie is also one of the greatest films in Universal’s “Invisible Man” series that began with The Invisible Man in 1933 and continued with The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge. This 1951 film was the last “Invisible Man” film that Universal made.
The plot is very similar to the film The Invisible Man Returns, a film that did feature Vincent Price as the title character. Bud and Lou are two private detectives that are hired by boxer Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz) to clear his name for a murder he didn’t commit. His fiancée Helen (Nancy Guild) is the niece of a scientist (Gavin Muir) that was friends with Jack Griffin; the original Invisible Man. Helen’s uncle had preserved the Invisibility serum. Tommy injects himself, ignoring the warnings that the serum can bring about insanity. Bud, Lou, and the Invisible Man are on the track of the mobsters that framed Tommy while trying to stay clear of the police that are on Nelson’s track. Television legends Sheldon Leonard (producer of "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show") and William Frawley (Fred Mertz from "I Love Lucy") play the mob leader and a police detective.
Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is only slightly better that this one. The only reasons I consider the earlier one better is that 1) it has Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and Glenn Strange in it playing their greatest horror characters and 2) the actual “horrifying” scenes in it are quite good. In the humor department Meet the Invisible Man surpasses Meet Frankenstein. The gags are much better in the second film than in the previous film. Much of the gags stem not from Abbott and Costello’s trademark verbal humor, but from ingenious sight gags involving the Invisible protagonist. The punching bag bit, the spaghetti dinner gag, and the climatic fight scene are all priceless pieces of comedy. This is more of a comedy; it hardly has any horror elements. The only factor that keeps the film in the realm of “horror-comedy” and not pure comedy is Tommy Nelson’s invisibility and his growing insanity, but these are played for gags more than horror.
The special effects are among some of the best effects of its time. In The Invisible Man we were told that the Invisible Man could be seen in fog or smoke. Here we are allowed to see the transparent pugilist through steam leaking out of a radiator. The effect is very impressive. When Nelson becomes visible again through a blood transfusion with Lou, we see his veins slowly becoming visible as they pump in the new blood. Gradually his whole body becomes visible again. This effect is one of the most impressive shots in all of Universal’s monster films.
Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are at their best in this film, but sadly it would be the last of their monster comedies worth watching. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy rank among the worst comedies and monster films that Universal ever made. Even if the final two films stunk to high heaven, Bud and Lou’s place in horror history is safe because of their first two monster films.
Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is a film for anyone interested in classic monsters or classic comedy. If you liked their encounter with Frankenstein, then by all means check out this one. When director James Whale and screenwriter R.C. Sheriff made The Invisible Man in 1933, they understood that the concept had room for plenty of humor. Abbott and Costello bring even more comedy to the concept without totally destroying the concept created by H.G. Wells. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man is one of the true gems of the Universal monster library. It is a true classic that is sometimes overshadowed by the greatness of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Check this out and see one of the most underrated and entertaining of Universal’s monster films.
There's a portrait of Claude Rains in the background when the characters discuss the origins of the invisibility formula.