Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy

US (1955) Dir. Charles Lamont

After being among the biggest drawing stars at the US box office in the mid-1940’s, the lustre of the career of Abbott and Costello had eroded a decade later. Even after a late boost from pairing them off with the Universal horror monsters, this effort from 1955 was the penultimate film they made as a duo and their last for Universal.

Two American travellers Freddie Franklin (Lou Costello) and Pete Patterson (Bud Abbott) are stranded in Egypt where they overhear archaeologist Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch) discussing the need for two men to accompany the mummy Klaris back to the US. Freddie and Pete go to offer their services to Zoomer but find he has been murdered and the mummy missing.

Klaris is the guardian of the Tomb of Princess Ara and wears a medallion to show where Ara’s treasure is. The mummy was taken by members of The Followers of Klaris, a cult after the medallion, unaware that rich businesswoman Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) is also interested in it. When the medallion ends up in Freddie and Pete’s hands they learn it is cursed so they try to sell it to the highest bidder.

The above plot summary accounts for the first forty minutes of this 76 minute film, padded out by some comical (and not so comical) routines from Bud and Lou, and a few incidental occurrences that have little bearing on the story development or are forgotten rather quickly. A recurring gag based around the snake charmer gimmick is introduced but we have to wait until the closing twenty minutes for the real fun to begin.

It is rather a shame that despite the lasting legacy of Abbott and Costello, at one point the heirs apparent to Laurel and Hardy, their success petered out as quickly as it came. This was due to overexposure of their routines, which barely deviated from their set formula, as seen on their radio show, TV show, live shows and films and with another comedy duo, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on the rise, Bud and Lou were old hat.

Meet The Mummy is prime Abbott and Costello but without the laughs or creativity; in other words, as alluded to above, they did their exact same schtick with only a few moments that reminded us of their glory days – one was a wordplay gag involving the choice of digging implements  and the other was a sight gag as they tried to swap dinner plates, played out with a cheeky wink to the camera. Otherwise, Bud was the usual bully and Lou his punching bag.

Interestingly despite being cast as Pete and Freddie, they called each other by their real names, which if it happened once would have been a Freudian slip the producers may have prayed no-one noticed. Instead they do this the entire film which questions Universal’s quality control at the time, or perhaps more a symbol of their lack of interest in this project since the duo’s departure was imminent shortly afterwards.

The film could have been good but it let down a flimsy script and bare bones plot and clichéd characters. And perhaps another sign that universal had given up on the duo can be found in the lame mummy costume, an all in one body suit with a separate mask, and no effort to cover actor Eddie Parker with loose stands of bandage. When you consider what Boris Karloff went through for his costume in 1932 this is blasphemy.

Or maybe the budget had been blown on the set which admittedly is impressive, especially the underground lair of the Followers of Klaris, at least until the obvious polystyrene walls and rocks come into play. Visually, the general idea we are in Egypt is convincing, if we ignore the actors with made-up dark skin and false beards or white men wearing fezzes, speaking impeccable English.

If the material wasn’t the strongest no-on told Abbott and Costello as they at least put in an admirable effort, with Costello not missing a beat with his usual act of the bumbling goof. As ever, he is the one that Madame Rontru flirts with to get her hands on the medallion to the chagrin of Abbott (who gets the last laugh in the final scene), but it is a gimmick we’ve seen him play in every film of theirs.

Marie Windsor tries to smoulder as the femme fatale antagonist but lacks the incendiary charisma required, yet scores points for a display of proto feminism in being the only one with the guts to fight off the rampaging Klaris in the finale. Conversely Richard Deacon who plays Semu, the leader of the Followers, makes no effort to exude any signs of life at all, as if he knew this was a lame duck role.

Perhaps the biggest misdemeanour is the lack of scares in this film, not that this was to be expected, but in previous outings – such as the encounter with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man – this was implemented into the comedy. In their defence however the Mummy isn’t the scariest of the creatures so the scope is limited, hence the emphasis on the comedy over any spooky shenanigans.

Running at just 76 minutes this film doesn’t last long enough to cause any real offence except to disappoint fans by not living up to the legend of its star duo. The odd flash of their prior greatness (“How stupid can you get?” “How stupid do you want me to be”?) only suffices to expose the weakness of the rest of the film but doesn’t address the whole problem of how stale their routine had become.

Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy is indicative of the Hollywood mentality of the era where repetitive comedy vehicles were easy to churn out and considered an easy return on their investment. Briefly diverting but not fully indicative of what this legendary duo were capable of.


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