1950s, 3/4, Charles Lamont, Comedy, Review, Universal Monsters

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy

#10 in my ranking of the Classic Universal Monster movies.

How weird is it that Abbott and Costello star in not only the best monster team up movie of the classic era but also the best Mummy movie of the 30s, 40s, and 50s? It’s weird, but it’s true. Their effort with the Invisible Man was a bit of a dud, but they come back in the same zany form as their first movie in the Universal Monster franchise, finding a way to inject their brand of comedy into a Mummy story with a light touch including a couple of standout moments that highlight the more familiar antics of the pair in concentrated form.

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello (they technically have character names, but no one uses them except the credits) are in Egypt trying to find a way home (shades of The Mummy’s Hand here), and they overhear a professor in the local nightclub, Dr. Zoomer (Kurt Katch) about needing two men to help him transport a mummy back to America. This is Klaris (Eddie Parker), notably not Kharis but pretty much exactly the same, and there are two groups out to claim him. The first is led by Semu (Richard Deacon), a Klaris cultist leader who wishes to return Klaris to where he belongs and help protect the secret treasure he guards. The second is led by Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) who wants it because of the treasure, I think. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about why she wants it.

When Semu’s men kill Zoomer, leading to a wonderfully entertaining scene as Lou keeps seeing the increasingly disrobed body of the dead professor at different spots around the large office and apartment the comedic pair are searching while Bud never sees it, they take Klaris but cannot find a sacred medallion. After some back and forth that ends with Bud being blamed for the murder of Zoomer because of pictures that Lou took, all three groups ends up back at Zoomer’s office where Bud and Lou (of course) accidentally find the medallion. Getting away from both of the other groups as well as the police, Bud and Lou decide to try and sell the medallion to get them money to go back home, and so begins the masquerade.

People start taking on the identities of others, starting with Madam Rontru making out like she’s just a collector of antiquities in order to buy the medallion off of them, while increasingly complex comedic numbers play out, like arms reaching out of every nook and cranny of a private dining room looking for the medallion in Lou’s clothes. The problem is that he accidentally ate it. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but comedy. This is the reasoning for taking Bud and Lou to the remote desert location of the Tomb of Klaris (which is also where the cult is based), leading to antics in and around a tomb. There’s a great, classic Abbott and Costello moment where Bud and Lou argue about how Bud’s pick for a tool is a shovel instead of a pick.

It all ends up escalating until two men decide to dress up like Klaris to fool the rest, leading to moments where three Klaris’ are running around in the same shot, and it’s the exact kind of delirious comic energy that Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein had so easily while Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man struggled to manufacture in a story that didn’t need it.

Is it actually a Mummy movie? I mean, there is a mummy, but he’s pushed to the side for the middle section of the film completely. It’s mostly about the comic antics of Abbott and Costello trapped between two menacing groups who want them for their own ends. It allows for them to run around sets that look like Egypt and do comedic things in an Egyptian context, a basic element of Mummy movies that the past few films simply had given up on trying to replicate, moving the action to America which helped to rob those films of one of the meager appeals of the franchise it was supposed to have.

I still prefer their monster mash up against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man, but this is a much better vehicle for the comic duo’s comedy stylings than their team up with the Invisible Man. It’s funny, light, and madcap. It’s hard to imagine what else you could want from something like this.

Rating: 3/4

9 thoughts on “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy”

  1. Ok, this was a seriously fun time. I had to check to make sure Warner Brothers didn’t make this movie, because this was basically a live action looney tunes cartoon. A good one, too. The plot didn’t get in the way of humor, in fact the mummy barely shows up until the last quarter of the movie. (I did find the ‘living mummy’ to be a little disturbing, actually. Opening that sarcophagus and seeing someone movie….ugh)

    Oddly, Abbot is on the receiving end of most of the abuse, at first. Costello mugs to the camera JUST enough, but not too much.

    What I didn’t expect was just how much dancing is in this movie, and good dancing too. From the French quartet flinging each other around the stage, to the ‘Egyptian’ dancers (who looked and acted more like Hindu Indians dancing)…somebody invested some time and money in what are basically backgrounds.

    The flat American accents coming out of fairly well costumed and made up Egyptians made me laugh more than it should have but..this was a really good time.

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    1. My preconceived notions were based on the IMDB ratings. Frankenstein is obviously the highest, but Invisible Man actually is above the Mummy.

      I was expected a steady little decline, but Mummy is just so much better than The Invisible Man. Humor and art being subjective and all, I just don’t get why Invisible Man would seemingly have a better reputation than Mummy.

      Mummy is really funny. Invisible Man just isn’t at that level.

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  2. “Meet the Mummy” was the last movie that A&C made for Universal, and they definitely went out on a higher-than-average-for-them note. Besides the comedy bits you picked out, I’d also highlight the routine that led to Costello eating the medallion. It’s the kind of thing that can be tedious and fussy when done even by the best of comedians, but A&C not only do it well, they make it look easy.

    I think the movie also benefits from the supporting cast, not only Marie Windsor but Michael Ansara and Dan Seymour. All three bring exactly the kind of gruff menace that B movies needed to thrive, but here they also imbue that menace with an energy that connects with the antic style of A&C. (In contrast to “The Mummy’s Hand”, and a lot of other scare-comedies, where it feels like the heavies and the comics are acting in different movies because the former are too subdued.) I agree that there’s some humor in Richard Deacon’s very flat rendition of Semu, but it feels like inadvertent humor, and I wish he had given Semu just a tiny bit of the pepper-pot personality he brought to “The Dick van Dyke Show.”

    I also think it was wise to brush the mummy into the background, saving him mostly for the final act. He really is only a MacGuffin so he’s not needed before then, and by saving him for the climax the movie husbands what energy he does bring, and helps light a real fire under the farce of disguises and secret doors.

    Thanks for reviewing it!

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    1. The Mummy was always the weakest of the major Universal monsters, especially from the second one (Hand) on. He was just a slow walking, one armed zombie. A single zombie is not scary.

      The movies relied entirely on the rest of the cast, and the rest of the cast was always dull and terrible. The Mummy was easily the best combination with a comedy duo conceptually, just giving them room to be funny.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

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