Tag Archives: the mummy

Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy: 31 Days of Horror

#5. Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)

abbott and costello meet the mummyNature of Shame:
It’s been a loooooong time since I last revisited the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies. I’ll try to remove my nostalgia goggles.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein proved to be a hit with my daughters so we carried on. Abbott and Costello Meet The Invisible Man became an even bigger hit. (They *loved* the disappearing effects.) Because Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde isn’t on Blu-ray and I didn’t feel like fishing for the DVD in the Complete Abbott and Costello steamer trunk, we next hit up Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man, available on The Mummy Complete Legacy Blu-ray from Universal.

Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy Elevator Pitch

A famous archaeologist is murdered. Abbott and Costello become the custodians of a valuable medallion. When the try to sell the thing for some quick cash, everybody in Egypt, plus the Mummy starts coming for them. Maybe. It’s hard to tell if its a Mummy because he’s in a jumper that only looks like bandages and doesn’t show up for a long, long time.

abbott and costello meet the mummy

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Maybe

Out of all the Universal monsters, I consider the Mummy the most consistently entertaining. The series quickly devolves after the brilliant first entry — Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932), but even the worst of the sequels (I’m looking at you The Mummy’s Tomb from 1942) maintain a reasonable sense of the original’s mystical paranoia and creeping dread. There’s comfort in predictability.

The catch here is that the mummy has to actually appear in your movie and, you know, occasionally attack people. In Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, you see some Fez hats, Casablanca-looking bars, bazaars, snake charming, and grandfathers of the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. None of which really do any attacking. What you rarely see are mummies. At least not until the last fifteen minutes when you get three of them, including Bud Abbott dressed up as one of two bumbling decoy mummies.

In both Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Meet the Invisible Man, the films maintained the basic tenants of their respective horror cycles. Meet the Mummy meanwhile feels like a standard mistaken identity caper. It could have been called Abbott and Costello in North Africa with a Chance of Mummy.

abbott and costello meet the mummy

Are You My Mummy?

The lack of an effective horror backdrop for Abbott and Costello means that they’re comedy has to be the centerpiece, but they’re just not given scenarios that seem to benefit the characters. Or their established personalities (except rigid Abbott as a mummy). Or whomever they’re actually playing. In this entry, they play Pete Patterson and Freddie Franklin, but intermittently refer to each other as Bud and Lou and Abbott and Costello.

abbott and costello meet the mummy

The strongest example of this failure takes place during the madcap finale — which becomes so complicated and labyrinthine that it lost me. That’s right. The narrative machinations of an Abbott and Costello movie left be confounded. The last time I would have watched this film I’d have let it wash over me because Abbott and Costello. On this occasion, I became preoccupied with my inability to follow how or why this person was going after this person and why the mummy cared and holy hell that’s exhausting because why did I really care in the first place?

I don’t know. THIRD BASE.

The routine drags on and on as the movie introduces two dummy mummies to create a kind of Jack Benny in a pyramid scheme. (Pyramid scheme! I crack myself the &%#$ up.) So of course, Lou’s going to commandeer the real mummy that he thinks is Bud. That’s all I need out of this gag. Alas, we get that and a shroud of diminishing returns.

Final Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Thoughts

I recommend Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy not because it’s essential comedy horror but because it’s a career touchstone for the duo Abbott and Costello. It’s the last of their horror comedies, their last film with Universal (the compilation film The World of Abbott and Costello, excepted) and their second to last film overall. They made one final movie, Dance With Me, Henry, for United Artists in 1956.

Abbott and Costello Meets the Mummy also represents the final stop for the Universal Mummy monster until Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy (1999). The undead Egyptian has always been relegated to the second tier of Universal monsters. Some of that has to do with the limited scope of the mythology. Most every Mummy movie derives from the narrative created for The Mummy in 1932. Hammer Films expanded the monster slightly with their series of films between 1959 and 1971 based on the 1930’s-era Universals.

Despite the limitations, movies featuring the monster prove to be effective chillers, relying heavily upon mood and atmosphere rather than narrative. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy offers neither in equal measure — but it does offer Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and a bittersweet send off to their series of horror comedies.

abbott and costello meet the mummy

Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy Rating:

Availability:

abbott and costello meet the mummyUniversal has given you plenty of Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man options. There’s the standalone release. It’s also included on The Mummy Complete Legacy Collection. 

If you’d like a complete collection of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies, that’s more difficult. There’s the brilliant (but OOP) 28-film Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection steamer trunk. The Meet the Monsters DVD set contains Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which is currently not available on Blu-ray), but is missing Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff because… I have no idea. In order to get that one, you’d need to purchase The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 3 DVD. Got that? 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

The History of the Mummy Movie Monster

the mummy 2017 poster

During recent Stanley Cup Final broadcasts, NBC broadcaster Doc Emrick plugged The Mummy (2017) with the assertion that the Mummy has (and I’m paraphrasing here because I wasn’t taking movie notes about this Mummy article during a hockey game) “terrified and fascinated humanity throughout the millennia.” He’s of course making a glib, studio-prescribed sales pitch that highlights the fact that mummies are really old.

I love deflating these prosaic platitudes with darts of reality.

The History of the Mummy Movie Monster

To be more specific, the ad men are saying that the Egyptian mummification process first appeared on the historical record circa 3400 BCE – and “true mummification” using evisceration techniques (removal of the vital organs) began circa 2600 BCE. This means that these shrouded monsters officially began terrorizing fragile moviegoer constitutions starting around 2600 BCE! Clever!

The Mummy as a fictional monster didn’t appear, however, until 1932 during the first Universal horror cycle under studio founder Carl Laemmle and that of his wide-eyed and eccentric son and head of production Carl Laemmle, Jr. Even though Mummies time somewhere between the Blob and Zombies on their rates of attack, the cinematic Mummies in question didn’t literally take 4000 years to reach multiplexes near you – not even with Tom Cruise and his baggage in tow.

Instead of merely offering hokey studio taglines some side-eye, let’s look at the actual genesis for the Mummy monster. Even though the Mummy seems like such a natural villain, the journey from sarcophagus to movie immortality was hardly predestined. Three primary events came together at just the right time to inspire Universal’s wildly successful The Mummy in 1932.

 

dracula 1931

The success of Dracula (1931).

German expressionism ushered in a new era of visual storytelling. Dramatic, high contrast cinematography, gothic surrealism and the ultimate import of these filmmakers, like Paul Leni, shifted the visual landscape of American film in the early 1930’s.

Few pundits believed American audiences were ready for a deadly serious, full-length supernatural horror film. At the time of its release Dracula was considered an enormous risk, despite the cultural acceptance of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel into the public conscience. And although America had reacted positively to silent thrillers like The Cat and the Canary (1927, directed for Universal by the aforementioned import Paul Leni), Dracula would not pull back the curtain to reveal a trick ending or comic relief. Until now the “Scooby-Doo ending” had been a common tool to delegitimize the supernatural elements and release the viewer from the on-screen terror.

 

karloff the mummy makeup

William Henry Pratt, aka Boris Karloff.

One story suggests that James Whale’s domestic partner, David Lewis, saw the actor in the stage production of The Criminal Code and recommended him to Whale for the role of the monster in Frankenstein. At this point, Karloff had been toiling in Hollywood anonymity for about 15 years. Even at 5’11”, Karloff projected the physicality and provided a countenance that had been lacking in other actors testing for the part. Karloff plus John P. Pierce’s makeup equaled movie magic.

Variety called Karloff’s performance “a fascinating acting bit of mesmerism,” and the film went on to become the highest grossing film of 1932. Universal immediately wanted to find a new vehicle for the buzzy actor, billed then as “Karloff the Uncanny.” The studio went forward with a story by Nina Wilcox Putnam and Universal’s story editor Richard Schayer called “Cagliostro” about an immortal man who’d lived through many millennia. With rewrites by John L. Balderson (who’d written a stageplay called Berkeley Square that concerned a romance across the ages) based on recent events, the immortal European wanderer became an undead high priest of Ancient Egypt.

 

king tut 1922

The 1922 discovery of Pharoah Tutankhamun.

Archaeologist Howard Carter and financier Lord Carnarvon explored the Valley of the Kings in Egypt for more than a decade before finding the burial chamber of King Tutankhamun. The discovery ignited a very public obsession with Ancient Egypt. The King Tut craze inspired songs, movies, and the name of President Herbert Hoover’s Belgian Shepherd. The mysterious deaths of some of those involved in the tomb’s excavation resulted in the legend that has become known as the “curse of the pharaohs” – the perfect real-life fuel for cinematic nightmares.

 

The Rise of the Mummy

In the hierarchy of classic monsters, the Mummy often takes a backseat to Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man. Vampires are sexy. Frankenstein features the re-animation of parts from dead people using lightning. Lycanthropy even sounds snazzy and legitimately science-y.

the mummy 1932 poster

The terror of the Mummy, meanwhile, took the form of a shrouded monster in raggedy bandages that wandered around (slowly) picking off those that dared interrupt his beauty sleep. (In many ways, the Mummy became a proto-zombie figure.) Someone inevitably doubts the legend and reads a forbidden scroll and so on and so forth. It’s all very formulaic and predictable – when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It’s not a stretch to consider the Mummy Universal’s least loved monster.

Now that I’ve sufficiently lowered expectations, let’s circle back so I can explain all the reasons why the Mummy became my personal favorite of the classic Universal horror franchises.

The makeup effects in The Mummy (1932) stand as one of Jack Pierce’s greatest achievements.

The Universal Mummy franchise lacked the dramatic highs of the Frankenstein series or the legendary countenance of Bela Lugosi, but consistently churned out a capable mixture of chills, romance, and eventually humor through six Universal-produced films between 1932 and 1944. Highlights include the elaborate and exotic set design, Jack P. Pierce’s painstaking makeup effects, and innovative variations on a narrow thematic bandwidth.

Like the other Universal horror films, The Mummy (originally titled Im-Ho-Tep) relied on mood and setting. There’s nothing face value terrifying about these films, but they burrow under your skin for reasons other than their fright-factor. As a kid the Mummy ignited my imagination in ways that the other movie monsters couldn’t. I’d dream of exploring ancient tombs or discovering spiritual artifacts that could resurrect the pharaohs. Meanwhile, I recoiled at the thought of dissecting a frog so no part of me wanted to deal with cadaver bits. And what kind of fresh nonsense was a man that turned into a wolf during a full moon? What about heavy cloud cover? And what would a lunar eclipse do to his disposition? For whatever reason, I’ve always found the Wolf Man a more problematic transformation than Gremlins.

The Mummy had magic, mystique and romance. Within the tattered bandages and decomposing flesh lived the beating heart of a romantic. The resurrected walking corpse almost always had love on his mind – the kind of timeless love that spans multiple regenerations. He’s really just a Romeo with an unfortunate hobby of homicide. Like the other monsters, he was just a little misunderstood.

Read my Countdown of the 10 Essential Mummy Movies to watch in preparation for the latest Mummy resurrection at Action-A-Go-Go.

 


To read more about the Universal Horror Monsters, I recommend the following books:

And in case you missed it, Universal just released the Mummy Legacy Collection on Blu-ray.