Director: Charles Lamont
Writers: Lee Loeb and John Grant
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Boris Karloff, Craig Stevens, Helen Westcott, Reginald Denny, and John Dierkes
Composer: Joseph Gershenson
Release Date: 8/1/1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
While studying police tactics in London, bumbling American detectives Slim (Bud Abbott) and Tubby (Lou Costello) encounter Dr. Henry Jekyll (Boris Karloff)—a mad scientist who, with the help of his assistant Batley (John Dierkes), succeeds in channeling his evil urges through a separate identity known as Mr. Edward Hyde. Hilarity ensues when Tubby, due to his remarkable incompetence, accidentally injects himself with Dr. Jekyll’s formula.
Offering a humorous update on the premise for Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic novella, this production will appeal to fans of the horror/comedy crossover genre. Certain cringe-worthy antics (e.g. Tubby’s transformation into a giant mouse) do, however, prevent Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from achieving the status of a true comedic masterpiece.
In addition to its effective use of slapstick, Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde should be commended for employing the Mr. Hyde character—here portrayed as a hirsute, primitive creature similar to that of the 1931 version directed by Rouben Mamoulian—in a creepy, atmospheric setting. During the opening sequence, for example, Mr. Hyde enters a London street caked in a thick layer of fog, wasting no time in stalking and preying upon a Dr. Stephen J. Poole—not to be confused with Dr. Jekyll’s butler of the same name. Additionally suspenseful are the wax museum sequences, wherein towering dummies of the Frankenstein monster (modeled after the likeness of Glenn Strange), Count Dracula (bearing the image of Bela Lugosi), and other figures of a ghoulish variety provide cover for Mr. Hyde—now waiting for the opportune moment to strike at Tubby and escape into the night.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde deserves criticism for introducing a suffragette subplot that, though responsible for initiating the romance of Bruce Adams (Craig Stevens) and Vicki Edwards (Helen Westcott), seems highly out of place in a gothic horror movie—tongue-in-cheek or otherwise.
Despite benefiting from the gravitas of Boris Karloff, the version of Dr. Jekyll presented in this film is marred by one serious flaw in characterization: instead of attempting to resist or moderate the evil within his nature, Dr. Jekyll appears to relish the fact that his alter ego, Mr. Hyde, affords him the opportunity to hurt and kill those who stand in the way of his own personal happiness—much in contrast to the Dr. Jekyll characters played by Fredric March, Spencer Tracy, and John Barrymore, all of whom convey tremendous guilt or inner conflict over the criminal actions of Edward Hyde.
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an amusing, if not outrageously funny, take on one of the most popular horror stories ever written. Therefore, this installment should be requisite viewing for Jekyll/Hyde enthusiasts, Universal Monster buffs, and diehard fans of the eponymous duo.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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