Friday, October 14, 2016

Film Review: Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy

"Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy"
** (out of ****)

"Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" (1955) breaks the cardinal rule of comedy / horror, it doesn't take its horror half serious and as such the movie ultimately fails.

In order for any comedy / horror movie to work you must understand you basically have two movies in one. The horror portion of the movie must be dealth with as you would any horror movie. Create atmosphere and give audiences the usual cliches one expects watching any horror movie. You then have your comedy, which serves as a direct result of the horror. The jokes should come naturally from the situations created and not be forced  comedy sequences.

The comedy team of Abbott & Costello, thanks to working at Universal Pictures, appeared in several comedies where they "meet" the classic monsters of the Universal vault. The best example would be "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), where the boys meet Dracula, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein's Monster. That movie took its time setting up the story involving the monsters, especially the Wolf Man. Of course the one monster missing from that movie was the Mummy. Instead the Mummy gets his own movie, in this, the second to last comedy Abbott & Costello appeared in together as a team.

Not so much a spoof of the Boris Karloff 1932 version, "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" instead feels like a comedy version of Universal's reboot of the Mummy franchise, "The Mummy's Hand" (1940), which itself had too much comedy, which hurt it as a horror movie.

For those that think Abbott & Costello were the originators of comedy / horror, you'll be surprised to know this comedy concept of finding humor in a mummy story, had already been done, nearly twenty years prior, in the Wheeler & Woolsey comedy "Mummy's Boys" (1936), which is also a second-rate comedy. I suppose if you like to watch bad comedies, both of these movies would make a nice double-bill.

In a sign of just how far off the track "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" goes, the screenwriters actually incorporate the Mummy (Eddie Parker) into comedy routines. You don't do that! You want to keep the Mummy as a frightening figure, scaring Abbott & Costello. The laughs come from the boys being scared to death. Once you make the Mummy part of the comedy act, what's the point? Where do you take the character from there? Astonishingly the movie's screenwriter was John Grant, who wrote all of the team's Universal monster comedies, including "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein".

"Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" is essentially an Abbott & Costello comedy first, horror spoof last. The movie does have some good comedy routines for the team to engage in. So good that we've seen them perform the same routine in other movies. One has both men trying to pass a cursed medallion secretly to each other into their hamburgers. As each tries to distract the other long enough to make the switch, the sound of their plates hitting the table, alerts the other to what has happened. Another routine deals with Bud explaining to Lou what a "mummy" is. It gives the boys a chance to have some fun with word play, that they are best known for. Lou thinks Bud is talking about a "mommy". When Bud plays "some mummies are men and some are women", well, you can imagine Lou's response.

But ultimately the movie doesn't have the big laughs we expect from the team. As I mentioned, this was the second to last movie the team made together, could their hearts just not have been in this? Was it time to close shop? Did the boys simply lose some of the magic that made them so special in the 1940s, when they appeared in multiple movies in the same year. Maybe.

Abbott & Costello have always had a hit or miss track record with me, moreso than any of their contemporaries whose work has lived on, You can always find something funny in any of their pictures but some work better than others. "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" is on the lower end of their scale. It is not recommended anyone see this movie as their introduction into the work of this comedy team, who really were quite the sensation a decade earlier.

This time around Bud & Lou play two Americans stuck in Egypt, looking for a way back home. They learn of an opportunity to assist a scientist in bringing the mummy Klaris back to the states. Unfortunately, the scientist is murdered when members of a cult, headed by Semu (Richard Deacon, best known for his role on the television show, "The Dick Van Dyke Show") want to protect the mummy and keep it in Egypt. Soon however, the boys are suspected of the death of the scientist, while Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) is after the treasure of Princess Ara, whom legend has it, Klaris protects.

The movie does nothing to create suspense of the mummy storyline and instead spends a lot of time on Abbott & Costello. In another movie that would be fine, however, as already explained, that's not how you make a proper comedy / horror movie. The viewer gets no sense of danger from the mummy or see the cult seen as sinister. The movie is brightly shot, killing any chance of creating an eerie mood.

The movie was directed by Charles Lamont, who had directed a few Abbott & Costello comedies ranging in quality from "Abbott & Costello Meet the Invisible Man" (1951) and "Hit the Ice" (1943) to "Abbott & Costello Go To Mars" (1953). Mr. Lamont also directed Ma & Pa Kettle comedies.

You may be able to do worst than "Abbott & Costello Meet the Mummy" but why try? Comedy / horror is very difficult to pull off correctly. Luckily you have better options than this Abbott & Costello comedy. In fact, some of the better comedy / horror movies star the team, such as "Hold That Ghost" (1941) and "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein".