On November 1, TCM screened Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) as part of a limited series called “Dennis Miller and Friends.” Miller and comedian Martin Short introduced the film, but rather than pay tribute to Bud and Lou or even the film, they relished in exchanging tired show business gossip about the boys.
Things started off promisingly when Short revealed that he “loooves” Abbott and Costello and was obsessed with this particular film. He first saw it at age 7 and was inspired to write an eight-page play that borrowed heavily from its plot.
Miller then stated that he doesn’t buy into the longstanding show business wisdom that the straight man is the critical member of a comedy team. While Short allowed that Lou is “working harder” in the film than Bud, he didn’t think that either would have had the same success alone. Miller agreed.
Opinions are fine, but Miller’s knowledge and interest in show business history is apparently limited to snarky repetitions of gossip rather than offering insights or accurate facts. He repeatedly misstated that Abbott and Costello were vaudevillians, apparently unaware that they were the quintessential burlesque comedy team, and how that unique environment molded them and other great comedians.
Instead of assessing Bud and Lou’s chemistry or multi-generational appeal, Miller focused on an early 60-40 salary split, in Abbott’s favor, that irked Lou, and stated that he “read somewhere” that when the team made Buck Privates, Lou, in retribution, wanted the billing changed to Costello and Abbott. (This did not happen until they had made five hit films in a single year and, of course, was never realized.)
Short piled on by saying that when Bud and Lou split up in the 1950s, “they were not fond of each other” and it was a case of “get me away from this guy, as opposed to Laurel and Hardy, who loved each other until the very end.” This overlooks how devastated Bud was when Lou died in 1959, and that Laurel and Hardy had their tensions, too.
After screening the film, we fully expected Miller and Short to exchange a few more opinions or, at the very least, more gossip. But Miller’s only comment in relation to the film was, “They got a cat [yes, he actually said “cat”] named Glenn Strange to play the Monster,” as if Strange was snatched off the street. In fact, Strange played the Monster as many times as Boris Karloff. Then, for the bulk of the conversation, Miller and Short publicized Short’s relationship and tour with Steve Martin, which, apparently, was the real purpose of Short’s appearance.
Miller has introduced other films on TCM in the past, reading faithfully off a teleprompter and sticking to facts and fair appraisals. But paired with other comedians, he quickly descends to snarky one-liners, which are out of place on TCM and do not serve the film, or the stars.