Amos Strickland arrives at the secluded Crandall’s Lost Cavern Hotel on a dark, rainy night. He is greeted by hotel detective, Casey Edwards (Bud Abbott) who wonders what the most important criminal attorney in the country is doing at Crandall’s. Strickland is in a foul mood, a mood worsened by the hotel’s bumbling bell boy, Freddie Phillips (Lou Costello) who hits the lawyer with an umbrella and breaks his glasses before he ever picks up a bag. Strickland makes a fuss, complains to the hotel manager and Freddie is fired.
Fast forward to a few hours later and we see Freddie entering Strickland’s room. Hoping to get his job back the former bell boy is delivering a half-hearted apology when he notices the old man has been murdered. Murdered, I tell ya! And so the mystery begins.
Now, we know from the get-go Freddie hasn’t murdered anyone, but he ends up being the prime suspect for several reasons – first, witnesses heard him threaten Strickland upon getting fired – second, as the bell boy he would have had access to all rooms in the hotel – third, the murder weapon is in his room. Although we know the last fact and the police don’t. Luckily for Freddie he’s released to Casey’s custody. Casey’s not only a friend. but Freddie’s cousin and he’s determined to prove his innocence.
There are a couple of things you should know about Casey before we move forward – he’s not one to follow the letter of the law nor care about ethics. What he’s very good at is planting guns and moving dead bodies, talents that prove helpful to Freddie in the long run.
Anyway – while Freddie and Casey scramble to find the real murderer the real murderer scrambles to incriminate Freddie as another few bodies find their way into Freddie’s closets. And because Freddie comes in possession of a valuable piece of evidence he soon becomes the target of the killer himself. With the prime suspect dead there’s no reason to continue delving further into the happenings at Crandall’s Lost Cavern Hotel. Or so I believe is the motivation that drives the actions of the real killer. I must note that as simply as I’m trying to recount the plot of Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff, in truth it’s rather a mess. And, if you haven’t figured it out this post is about that movie.
In any case, for the reasons noted Freddie almost buys it several times – once by poison, a few times while under the hypnotic influence of one of the suspects and another time when he is almost steamed to death while in one of those old steam bath machines where only one’s head is exposed. The last results in one of the movie’s laugh-out-loud moments as we see Freddie drink an entire tank of water in a hurry after they save him from the grips of steam.
OK – so who is the real murderer? The culprit!
Spoilers lie ahead! Sort of.
Crandall’s Lost Cavern Hotel is filled will suspicious characters who lurk in the shadows of its rooms and corridors and behind potted plants and in every nook and cranny. Among the suspicious is Swami, an odd character whose only role here is to add to the mystery and perhaps a bit of fright, being that it’s Karloff and all.
Directed by Charles Barton, who’d helmed several other Abbott and Costello films to this point including Meet Frankenstein, Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff does not come close in quality to the best of the “Meet” movies by a long shot. The familiar Abbott and Costello banter and hijinks and the scenes that work like individual skits within the movie are what make this one worth watching. One of my favorite things in the movie, in fact, are the exchanges between the veteran partners, particularly the scenes during which one (clearly) ad-libs causing the other to do a double-take for a brief moment. Lou Costello’s daughter Chris confirms that her dad (especially) was a notorious ad-libber believing it kept the comedy fresh. The few cases during which I noticed Bud Abbott’s slight look of surprise when I could tell Lou was making up the lines are among my favorite moments in the movie. Priceless.
Meet the Killer followed Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in the sequence of “Meet” films. The movie was originally titled Abbott and Costello Meet the Killers but the “s” was dropped to avoid confusion with Robert Siodmak’s popular noir, The Killers released by Universal three years earlier. (Production notes) And then there’s the addition of “Boris Karloff” to the film’s title, which deserves a sleuthathon all its own. It’s a head scratcher! Karloff’s role in this movie was originally a female part but was changed at the last minute when Karloff agreed to join the movie. While it’s easy to see why all of that was done, given the popularity of Meet Frankenstein, Karloff’s presence in the movie and the addition of his name in the title actually feel like afterthoughts. He’s relegated to little more than one of the suspects who in the end, despite the movie’s suggestive title, turns out not to be the killer! In fact, that’s one of the few things I’m sure of in the slapstick-prone plot presented here. So much for my own sleuthing skills.
However! As a fan of Abbott and Costello-brand comedy the addition of Karloff proves a gift – gratuitous or not. The scenes that show Swami hypnotizing Freddie to try to get him to commit suicide are great. And yes, I realize how sick that sounds.
Swami: “Perhaps you should choose the manner of your death. How would you like to die?”
Freddie: “Old age.”
and a bit later…
“You’ll kill yourself if it’s the last thing you do!”
Since this entry is part of a Sleuthathon I feel obliged to mention that Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff is not recommended fare for anyone who is a serious sleuth wanna-be. In fact, the sleuthing as it is practiced in this movie takes a back seat to the laughs, which are numerous and clear despite the overall confusion that ensues. While the real police are trying to get to the bottom of the murders, we are distracted by the goings on with Freddie. The more Casey and Freddie work toward clearing Freddie’s name, the more confusing it all gets. But, Meet the Killer is an effective whodunnit (one could argue) in that the identity of the real murderer is not known until the end of the movie, surfacing in a familiar sleuth-y movie scene where all the suspects are put into one room while the detectives walk through the details of the case until the murderer is forced to show his hand.
“Someone in this room knows a lot more than he or she is admitting, and I intend to find out who it is.”
Who’s the culprit? The murderer!
That doesn’t mean, however, that Meet the Killer is of no value to students of sleuths or purveyors of sleuthing practices. It has great value as a cautionary tale. It’s a great example of what not to do as amateur sleuths and if you’re so inclined, what to hope for if you want to commit murder – detectives who are easily distracted by Abbott and Costello. Finally, the film offers words of wisdom key to all interested in pursuing a sleuthing career…
“The culprit and the murderer are the same!”
Abbott and Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff cast:
- Bud Abbott as Casey Edwards
- Lou Costello as Freddie Phillips
- Lenore Aubert as Angela Gordon
- Gar Moore as Jeff Wilson
- Donna Martell as Betty Crandall
- Alan Mowbray as Melton
- James Flavin as Inspector Wellman
- Roland Winters as T. Hanley Brooks
- Nicholas Joy as Amos Strickland
- Mikel Conrad as Sgt. Stone
- Morgan Farley as Gregory Milford
- Victoria Horne as Mrs. Hargreave
- Percy Helton as Abernathy
- Claire Du Brey as Mrs. Grimsby
- Boris Karloff as Swami Talpur
Be sure to visit the grand Movies, Silently where host, Fritzi has gathered an impressive array of sleuths – from professional private eyes to amateur, interested parties. You name it and this Sleuthathon is sure to feature it. In fact, I think I’m going to ask Fritzi to lend me a sleuth to help me decipher the plot of Meet the Killer.
If you’re an Abbott and Costello fan, be sure to “like” their official Facebook page, Who’s on First? Abbott and Costello and sign up to receive the Abbott and Costello free, monthly e-newsletter. To request the e-newsletter simply send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org – Both are curated by Chris Costello, Lou’s daughter.