ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (Universal-International, 1951), directed by Charles Lamont, continues the tradition with the comedy team of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello meeting up with someone and taking it from there in regards to story, situations and comedy. Following their enormous success where Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein (1948), along with Dracula and the Wolf Man from that same movie, it seemed natural that they should eventually get to meet up with past Universal monsters. While meeting "The Mummy" came later, much later, 1955 to be exact, the team followed their Frankenstein encounter with a worthy follow-up meeting with an Invisible Man three years later. Not actually a monster nor a mad scientist, and with no actors from previous efforts reprising their roles, it involves a prizefighter accused of murder using a remedy that makes him invisible in order to clear his name.
As for the plot, the scenario opens quite amusingly as Bud Alexander (Bud Abbott) and Lou Francis (Lou Costello) are introduced as 1951 class graduates from the Dugan Detective Training School (Lou: "This is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. How did I ever graduate?" Bud: "I slipped the instructor twenty bucks"). No sooner after setting up their own detective agency, Bud and Lou (the latter sporting Sherlock Holmes hat and smoking pipe) acquire their first client, Tommy Nelson (Arthur Franz), a middleweight champion boxer wanted for the murder of his manager, O'Hara. Having just escaped jail, he wants to clear himself of the murder charge. Instead of getting Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, Tommy gets the next best thing in regards to amateur detectives. However, it is Lou who believes Tommy innocent while Bud makes every effort to collect $5,000 reward for his capture. Tommy has Bud and Lou drive him to 823 Maple Street, the residence of Helen Gray (Nancy Guild), his fiancée, and Dr. Philip Gray (Gavin Muir), her scientist uncle working on a serum for invisibility which was passed over to him by the original invisible man, John Griffin (Claude Rains, whose photo is seen hanging on the wall). When Detective Roberts (William Frawley) and the police arrive with a search warrant, Tommy injects himself with the serum, whose disappearance into thin air being witnessed by none other than Lou himself. When asked how Tommy got away, Lou replies, "In installments." Because his story is so unbelievable, Lou is taken to Dr. James C. Turner (Paul Maxey), a psychiatrist, to be analyzed. As Bud and Lou team up to assist the invisible man, Tommy has Lou posing as champion boxer "Louie the Looper" while Bud acts as his manager, in order to learn whether or not mobster Morgan (Sheldon Leonard) and Boots Marsden (Adele Jergens) had anything to do O'Hara's murder.
Released at the time during their declining years at Universal's top comics, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET INVISIBLE MAN is not only a pleasant surprise, but one of the team's finer efforts of the 1950s. What's even more surprising is seeing how Costello, still playing a dopey guy, at one point stepping out of character by seriously punching out one of the bad guys for throwing a knife on Tommy. Aside from the team's well written verbal byplay and some in-jokes (Lou looking through his magnifying glass and getting a close-up on Tommy Nelson's face, telling Bud he saw Frankenstein), the gags involving invisibility work quite well with the story, thanks to David Horsley in the special effects department. Great comical moments find Lou in the Bubble Room restaurant attempting to eat his spaghetti dinner while strings of it end up over the direction of his transparent client; Boots convincing Lou to "take a dive" through her love making; and the highlight set in the boxing ring where Lou's punches never hitting his opponent, Rocky Hanlon (John Day), but by an invisible fist of Tommy Nelson. This scene is well staged and quite amusing. The only debit in general is where Lou finds himself walking the wrong way because his feet are on backwards. Don't ask.
Unlike the last installment, THE INVISIBLE MAN'S REVENGE (1944), this edition is actually consistent with both THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) and THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), in fact, a partial remake to the 1940 sequel involving an innocent man (Vincent Price) becoming invisible to clear his name with the help of a scientist but minus the assistance of a couple goofy detectives.
Distributed on video cassette by MCA Home Video in the 1990s, and later on DVD a decade later, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET INVISIBLE MAN had its share of cable TV revivals, notably on the Comedy Channel (1990s), American Movie Classics (2001-2002) and Turner Classic Movies (2004-2005). Though a worthy conclusion to "The Invisible Man" series, this is not the finish of Abbott and Costello meeting somebody, something or just simply anybody. Their next horror spoof was them meeting "Jekyll and Hyde" (1954) featuring Boris Karloff. While Abbott and Costello were recently failing to recapture their success from the early 1940s due to weak and tired material, their encounter with The Invisible Man is certainly no disappointment by any means. (***)