TFTMM 2020 & WOIANRA 2019 on… Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff (1949)

Starting off this week’s Abbott and Costello double-feature is their 1949 movie Abbott And Costello Meet The Killer, Boris Karloff.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Hook And Ladder (1932)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 3 (1932-1933) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 18 minutes, 13 seconds)

When the newspaper asks the local citizens to help out the fire department (due to a shortage of firefighters), the Gang decide to do their bit to help. In the process, they help put out a fire that the fire department itself doesn’t know about. This one was entertaining, with Dickie Moore making his series debut, as he has to deal with Spanky. As usual, the kids have various devices to help them do everything. There’s good fun here, with the kids all being told to sleep (and snore) like the real firemen, and Stymie (Matthew Beard) throwing some dynamite out a window. A very enjoyable short, and certainly worth seeing again and again!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Upon arrival at the Lost Caverns hotel, big criminal lawyer Amos Strickland (Nicholas Joy) ends up getting clumsy bellboy Freddie Phillips (Lou Costello) fired. Freddie threatens to get him (and, of course, everyone overhears him say it). Later on, Freddie decides to go up to Amos’ room to apologize, but discovers that he is too late, as Amos is dead. (Murdered!) Freddie tries to tell his former boss Melton (Alan Mowbray) and his buddy, house detective Casey Edwards (Bud Abbott), about the murder. Obviously, Freddie is a suspect, although Casey believes that he is innocent (even after finding planted evidence against Freddie). When the police arrive, led by Inspector Wellman (James Flavin), all the guests are ordered to stay for the time being (including Freddie, who, as a result, is now staying at the hotel on the state’s dollar). Unfortunately for Freddie, though, two more bodies show up in his room, so he and Casey try to get rid of them, while some of the other guests try to trap Freddie into a confession, without success. The inspector decides to give Freddie some room to clear himself by offering to sell a piece of evidence to all the other suspects. But can Freddie clear himself and avoid being murdered, too?

At one point, this movie was being planned under the title Abbott And Costello Meet The Killers, although they had to drop the “S” from “Killers” to avoid being connected to the recent 1946 Universal film The Killers. Boris Karloff, in spite of his prominence in the title/billing, was actually a late addition to the cast! His part as Swami Talpur was apparently written for a woman, but he was cast right before filming started. While they were filming this movie, Bud and Lou struggled to raise funds for the Lou Costello Jr. Youth Foundation, a problem that resulted in Lou having more health issues, including suffering from rheumatic fever again.

Honestly, my feelings about this movie are mixed. On the one hand, we do get Boris Karloff joining the boys, and he gets a few memorable scenes with Lou, particularly when he hypnotizes Lou and tries (and fails) to make him commit suicide. But, that’s the problem. In spite of his prominence in the title/billing, Boris’s part is not that large (nor are the parts for many of the others). The other guests, who are supposed to be the “suspects,” are very underwritten. We’re told that they are there because of some memoirs being written by the lawyer Amos Strickland that would ruin their reputations, but, outside of Lenore Aubert’s Angela Gordon, we don’t really learn anything about them. They’re just all there to look menacing, all while conspiring to have Lou’s character make a confession and/or die, and not much beyond that. Obviously, Bud and Lou are still fun here, even if the murder mystery angle makes their humor darker than usual. I mean, we’ve got Bud openly hoping somebody will try to take a shot at Lou so that he can catch the murderer (and he doesn’t seem to care whether the murderer succeeds or fails in the attempt), and then there’s all the stuff going on with the corpses being moved around, including a variation on their “Changing Rooms” comedy routine. I do recommend this movie, if only because of Bud and Lou. But, if you’re looking for a well-written murder mystery, then maybe I would suggest looking elsewhere.

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory as part of the 28 film The Complete Abbott And Costello Universal Pictures Collection.

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