In 1948, the Universal Horror films were winding down while the Abbott and Costello franchise was seeing dwindling ticket sales. So, Universal Pictures chose a unique way to end the horror films gracefully while reinvigorating the Abbott and Costello adventures. With the release of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the horror films were temporarily laid to rest while a whole new cycle of flicks began for Bud and Lou. In the seven years that followed, Abbott and Costello met up with Boris Karloff, the Invisible Man, the Mummy Captain Kidd and the Keystone Kops. They would go into the Foreign Legion and travel to Mars. And in 1953, they would tangle with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
With Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Boris Karloff came back for his second Abbott and Costello movie in four years, this time taking on the lead role of Dr. Jekyll. He is guardian to the lovely Vicky Edwards (Helen Wescott), with whom he is madly in love. However, she has fallen in love with news reporter Bruce Adams (Craig Stevens). Bud Abbott is Slim and Lou Costello is Tubby, two American police officers studying in London before they are kicked off due to their involvement in women’s rights rally, which is where Vicky and Bruce first meet. Dr. Jekyll has already developed his serum and been turning into Mr. Hyde, leaving the usual trail of destruction. The usual madcap scenarios follow with Bud and Lou, including an anachronistic confrontation with Hyde in a wax museum that also featured the Frankenstein monster and Count Dracula (very closely resembling Bela Lugosi). Once Hyde emerges in front of Vicky after the announcement of her marriage to Bruce, a crazy chase across London ensues with Lou accidently getting shot in the rear with serum and turning into a Hyde-like monster as well.
Clearly, the core story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is twisted around a little to fit within the confines of an Abbott and Costello comedy. Karloff turns in his usual classic performance, despite having very little to do in the role. However, he does not portray the role of Mr. Hyde. Hyde was played by stuntman Eddie Parker, who was not credited for his performance. There is a transition sequence where Karloff appears to have some makeup on but then it changes to what is obviously a mask (and a poor one at that). Mr. Hyde here does resemble the Fredric March version but budgetary constraints clearly prevented anything more than what we get. By this time, the Abbott and Costello film series was beginning to wind down again. In fact, they only did three more movies together before parting ways in 1956. It wasn’t necessarily the best entry in the series but I have seen worse and it was a fun, lighthearted way to end up March Hyde Madness. It is currently available on DVD in The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume 4 as well as The Complete Universal Pictures Collection.
Before we officially end this month, here are some quick random thoughts on some various other versions I’ve seen but simply didn’t have enough time to cover here. And no, this is by no means a complete list.
The Nutty Professor (1960): Jerry Lewis at his zaniest best in the role of Professor Julius Kelp who turns into Buddy Love. Well worth checking out. The 1996 Eddie Murphy remake was funny. The 2000 sequel not so much.
Mad Monster Party (1968): Oh yes, this one is a classic. Jekyll and Hyde don’t have a big role but well worth seeing. Go in with some lower expectations and get ready for a nostalgic trip.
Dr. Jekyll vs. The Werewolf (1971): This was the movie that finally made me a Paul Naschy fan. No, it’s not a good adaptation of the classic story but a fun flick.
I, Monster (1971): This movie didn’t engage me the first time I saw it. I’m not sure why because it has Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It’s also an Amicus production so it has all the elements for success. I’m going to have to add this one to my collection and give it another try.
Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde (1976): Okay, I confess, I haven’t seen this one. But it’s definitely on my list to watch. Bernie Casey stars as Dr. Henry Pride who, after taking a formula to regenerate dying liver cells, turns into an albino vampire. Yeah, I’m not sure where the traditional story is either but count me in for some mid-70s blaxploitation horror.
Jekyll and Hyde…Together Again (1982): It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen this one. I remember it wasn’t really good but a fun mindless flick to have running in the background.
Jekyll and Hyde (1990): Michael Caine is always enjoyable to watch but he apparently never knows when to say no. Cheryl Ladd is a co-star here. ‘Nuff said.
There have been quite a few cheaper versions released in the last 15 years. None of which have very good reviews and they didn’t really catch my eye. It’s safe to say that this is one of the core horror stories. As long as there is an entertainment medium, be it stage or television or motion picture, we’ll continue to get adaptations, both good and bad.
It’s been a fun month but I’m on Hyde overload. Now it’s time to put Dr. Jekyll to rest. April is right around the corner and I hear a stomping sound off in the distance. Yes, I do believe there will be more Godzilla, as well as a bit more variety in the months ahead!