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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) review


Bud Abbott (Himself), Lou Costello (Himself), Marie Windsor (Madam Rontru), Michael Ansara (Charlie), Dan Seymour (Josef), Richard Deacon (Semu), Kurt Katch (Dr. Gustav Zoomer), Richard Karlan (Hetsut), Mel Welles (Iben), Eddie Parker (Klaris, the Mummy)

Directed by Charles Lamont

The Short Version: Egypt trembles... with laughter in this, the last of the A&C monster gatherings and the last film the duo did for Universal Studios. There's less horror and more physical comedy, with the last 20 minutes being a Pharaoh's treasure full of silliness and not a single Tana Leaf in sight. The gags are frequent and occasionally familiar--the latter of which are, at this point, tired and moldy like the mummy in the movie; and yet many of the best comic moments are those that don't involve the beat of cloth wrapped feet. Cursed with terrible mummy effects, the inexplicable cameo by a giant lizard would make Bert I. Gordon proud. Compared with the previous monster mashes, this is the weakest of the lot.

Dr. Zoomer has discovered the tomb of Klaris the Mummy, an evil Prince and the eternal guardian of the Princess Ara. The doctor is interested in the Mummy's sarcophagus, said to contain a sacred medallion that leads to a vast treasure. Zoomer is looking for two good men to escort the mummy back to the United States. But before he can do that, he's murdered by two henchmen of the High Priest Semu. Stranded in Egypt, Abbott and Costello hear about the job but arrive too late; not only do they end up framed for the doctor's murder, but they unwittingly gain possession of the cursed medallion. Meantime, other interested parties want to get their hands on it while the mummy Klaris wants to get his hands on Bud and Lou.

The fourth and final of A&C's horror adventures has several genuinely hysterical moments, even if the film as a whole is barely average, cursed with a doomed script rife with plot holes. Many of the gags are recycled from the previous movies and seem lazy at their inclusion this late in the series. Ironically, the best comic moments are those that don't involve the Egyptian shambler at all. Some of these include Lou, curious to hear his Tough Guy tonality, imitating a gangster voice into a tape recorder. Another is a variation of the duo's famous 'Who's On First?' routine, but substituting baseball with digging tools. Naturally there's lots of physical comedy, too--many of these scenes come complete with the requisite camera mugging.

Abbott gets a bit more to do this go round as opposed to just being the joke to Lou's punchline. Lou might have the floor for most of the show, but Bud gets to cramp his style a few times. Towards the end, there's a multitude of mummies--one of Madam Rontru's henchmen (Michael Ansara) puts on a makeshift mummy suit and Abbott decides to take a stab at ancient Egyptian fashion sense by wrapping himself in cloth. Bud gets one of the better gags of the picture; saved for the last sequence, Bud has an idea on how to keep the memory of Klaris alive forever--his plan, to bring Capitalism to Cairo via the Kafe Klaris, a nightclub replete with live entertainment and a five-man bandaged band that plays all your Egyptian favorites. Speaking of bandages....

If all the shenanigans in the middle weren't as entertaining as they are, you might be wondering just where in the hell the mummy is during all this. John Grant's script is arguably the poorest of the four films in how the monster is utilized. Lamont's movie is actually much funnier without him. Aside from a brief appearance near the beginning, the mummy doesn't rise again till the last 20 minutes. Curiously, the gauze-wrapped garroter seen here (instead of Kharis, this one's Klaris) is revived via an unexplained serum. He can take bullets like any of his withered brethren, but for whatever reason, he's easily knocked unconscious by a wack on the noggin! 

The special effects are the least of the four films, with the mummy being the worse for wear. Stuntman Eddie Parker isn't tightly wrapped, instead wearing a suit that creases and bends when he walks. You can see what looks like shoes on his feet! It's a far cry from the intricate Jack Pierce makeup of the 30s and 40s. Parker had a thing for bandages having doubled the moldy neck-wringers in Universal's previous mummy movies. Had ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) had anything less than the quality of its inspirational antecedents, it likely wouldn't be the sincere classic it remains today.

To bolster what little atmosphere of horror there is, John Grant's script finds room for moldy corpses, dangling skeletons, animated bats and a brief, hair-brained scene where a giant lizard, seemingly wandering in off the set of a Bert I. Gordon movie, gives Lou a scare in the tunnels around the mummy's crypt! Aside from that, there's a bit of murderous mayhem near the beginning that matches the mixture of chills and laughs of the best this quartet has to offer; in it, Lou keeps trying to alert Abbott that he's seen a dead body, but it takes a lot of running around before Bud ever finally sees the corpse, and even then, he's sabotaged by his own partner when he asks him to take a picture so the authorities will believe them. Instead, the way Lou takes the pic, it is assumed they have in fact, committed the murder! Unfortunately, the disappearance of this plot element later in the film is yet another curse placed on this fourth, and last Uni-monster match-up with Abbott and Costello.

But prior to that, the movie opens with an eye-catching stunt display as Bud and Lou enjoy a stage show with men and women performing an acrobatic brawl with flips, rolls and falls through balsa wood props. The whole film feels like a variety show, actually. There's a few scenes that feature singing and dancing intermixed with the comedy. If only the sequences with the mummy rose to the occasion with the same level of precision. 

Going back to the cast, despite listing Bud Abbott as Pete Patterson and Lou Costello as Freddie Franklin in the end credits, they are playing themselves. This is the one time in the Uni-comedy-horror quartet where you hear Lou yell out his famous catch-phrase, the 'Bat Signal' of the A&C comedy routine, "Heeeyyyy, Abboooott!"

Richard Deacon was far more believable as Lumpy's dad on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER (1957-1963) than he was as an Egyptian High Priest, but it goes with the goofy territory the plot hole-punched script traverses. He'd done a smattering of background roles in a handful of SciFi pictures around this time with titles like THEM! (1954) and THIS ISLAND EARTH (1955).

Elsewhere there's everybody's favorite Klingon, Michael Ansara (above pic in middle) as one of the Egyptian toughs after the medallion. Ansara has an incredible resume of character roles. One of the most famous being the role of Kang, the merciless Klingon adversary from the season three episode of STAR TREK (1966-1969), 'Day of the Dove'. He's acted in lots of genre-specific roles including two for the late William Girdler, DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977) and THE MANITOU (1978). One of the man's most mesmerizing portrayals was as a futuristic killing machine in the season two episode of THE OUTER LIMITS (1963-1965) titled 'Soldier'.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (1955) doesn't seem to aspire to much more than entertaining its audience, no matter how average or conventional the set-ups are. It's only slightly more entertaining than the least horror-infused entry, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951); nor is it anywhere close to the dark, serio-comic level of ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953). For what it's worth, Bud and Lou's mummy meeting may desecrate the tomb of all the dessicated shamblers before it, it still remains a fun way to close out the string of mad monster parties starring the famous comedy duo.

This review is representative of the ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MONSTERS Universal 2 disc set, sharing a disc with ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Specs and Extras: 1.33:1; theatrical trailer.

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