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How Abbott and Costello Brought My Family Closer Together

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Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Glenn Strange, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Bela Lugosi in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, 1948.

What kid wants to watch a black and white comedy with effects so cheap they could trump them with a smartphone app?

I put on “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” for my sons to watch recently all the same.

My Dad and I watched the comedy classic every time it aired growing up in those pre-streaming, pre-TiVo days. It was my introduction to Universal’s classic creatures – The Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein’s Monster.

More importantly, the film made me a movie lover, not just a person who takes in a feature or two each month.

My father and I bonded over the film’s sight gags, the crude transformation of Lon Chaney, Jr. into the Wolfman and lines that are as funny today as they were in 1948.

Larry Talbot: I know you’ll think I’m crazy, but in a half an hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.

Wilbur: You and twenty million other guys.

Watching movies together sounds like an isolating experience. You sit in the dark and let the film wash over you. My father and I made it a communal event. We’d recite lines before they were spoken, connect subplots to other Abbott and Costello comedies and provide the kind of running commentary seen on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

And, of course, we’d remind each other that Boris Karloff’s take on Frankenstein’s Monster remained the gold standard. As a boy, I took that declaration very seriously.

When my family stumbled upon the first neighborhood video rental store in the 1980s “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” was the first movie we rented.

There was no plan B.

So my children had to watch the film, if only to keep a family tradition alive now that my Father is no longer with us. The thought of them hating it, though, scared me more than Bela Lugosi’s bite. It’s hard to predict what cartoons they’ll connect with, let alone a cinematic fossil told in the leisurely pace of its time.

My fears were unfounded. They laughed, recoiled when Frankenstein’s Monster made his first appearance and started imitating Lugosi’s hypnotism shtick moments after the end credits rolled.

My five-year-old crept closer to me on the couch when he got scared. My three-year-old’s face lit up as Wilbur (Lou Costello) juggled the G-rated advances of two stunning women.

Of course, I kept up a running commentary while we watched the film. I told them the comic duo would later meet The Invisible Man and how the filmmakers used animation to make Lugosi transform into a bat.

Most importantly, I reminded them how “Pop Pop” and I watched it over and again, eager to make the connection between their late grandfather and their own, watery-eyed Dad.

Watching “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” with my sons felt like having Dad back on the couch with me for 90 glorious minutes. With a little luck a new family tradition may have been born.

Photo credit: Universal Studios

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