“How stupid can you get?” Demands the long suffering Bud Abbott to his even longer suffering partner Lou Costello at one point during this last gasp of Universal’s classic Mummy series. The predictably quick fire retort, “How stupid do you want me to be?”, is a pretty succinct summary of the career of the comedy duo as a whole which saw the couple of cut-ups either run screaming from countless comedic near-death encounters or passive aggressively destroy each others confidence when it came to picking up women.
But the winds of change where stirring the sands of the established order and not only was this The Mummy’s swansong, but this proved to be the final Abbott And Costello flick Universal-International made too, a dual end of era for two separate icons who’s schtick had grown progressively stale.
Pete Patterson and Freddie Franklin are two guys ricocheting around Egypt in a random search for employment and decide to petition a professor to hire them to escort the body of Klaris, a recently discovered Egyptian Mummy, back to the States. However, a secret sect who want to get their hands on a necklace to protect the treasure laden lost tomb of Princess Ara, while the shifty businesswomen Madame Rontru wants to plunder the tomb for herself.
Within mere minutes after entering the Professor’s home and (eventually) finding that he’s been murdered, Pete and Freddie find themselves not only chased by acolytes, heavies and the resurrected Klaris himself, but they also manage to accidently make themselves the number one suspects for the Professor’s death – easily done, apparently…
However, after somehow emerging from the chaos with the necklace in their possession, the two goofs try to sell it due to them having absolutely no clue to the real value of what they’re holding and before you know it, Madame Rontru has swept in and trying to swipe it off the gullible team. Of course there’s no measurable limit to the stupidity of our heroes and eventually end up at a place where Freddie has managed to eat the necklace after it gets stashed in a hamburger – looking for logic in an Abbott And Costello movie is like trying to find a prophylactic in a monastery – and eventually get dragged into a clumsy three way showdown in the crypt of Princess Ara. As our luckless heroes involve themselves in random japes and bits that see not one, but two people disguising themselves as a Mummy, countless “he’s behind you” moments and Lou Costello hyperventilating up a storm, is there any chance for the curse of the Mummy having the lid shut on his sarcophagus for good?
The classic Mummy series, despite the iconic initial appearance of Boris Karloff’s Imhotep, couldn’t exactly class itself as Universal’s premiere monster when compared to its peers. With every subsequent sequel, the films grew ever more derivative (some of them are downright identical) and the shambling figurehead of the series didn’t even get a chance to participate in the monster mashes that Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s Monster got to play around in in an effort to prolong his popularity. With this in mind, a team up with the legendary comedy pair seemed all but inevitable in an attempt to wring a few more bucks out of the bandaged baddie, but once again the Mummy was destined to get the short end of the stick.
Compared to 1948’s Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein, it’s obvious that America’s favorite comedy act (after Laurel And Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Three Stooges, of course) have long since run out of “A” material and even poach a few jokes over for good measure. Watching Costello splutter and convulse with fear as he witnesses Klaris’ sarcophagus creak open only to have Abbott gaslight the shit out of him when it later turns out to be empty is a virtual photocopy of Dracula doing the exact same thing seven years earlier – only less funny. Even their usual wordplay seems hackneyed and laboured with a back and forth about picks and shovels opting to avoid tickling your funny bone and instead takes some sandpaper to your patience.
It’s a shame because plot wise, Abbott And Costello Meet The Mummy scores a few smart decisions, the main one of which being that it’s a Mummy movie that’s finally moves the action back to Egypt. Now, while this is admittedly an excuse for a bunch of running gags involving accidental snake charming (Just stop playing the flute, Lou!), it’s nice to see the big, limping lug back with a home field advantage after spending a couple of films aimlessly wandering around Massachusetts like a resurrected hobo. However, even this is cruelly taken away from him as Klaris proves to be a no-show for a lot of the movie and instead the leads flee various sinister foreigner types instead and the actor lurking under the bandages isn’t a patch on Lon Chaney Jr’s previous overqualified performance.
Despite all this, the movie contains some random moments that remain memorable such as a truly outlandish dance routine at the start of the film which involves three women and one dude athletically enacting a stylised fight that involves them bodily hurled across the stage and stands as possibly the most violent choreography for a restaurant I’ve ever seen. Also, after everything is all wrapped up, the leads make the genuinely amusing choice to take the tomb and turn it into a freaking night club complete with a house band dressed in bandages in order to preserve the memory of Ara presumably because overpriced drinks and annoying singers is what she would have wanted…
Essentially the full stop in steady decline of Universal’s Mummy series, it was painfully apparent that the time had come for everyone involved to hang up their tattered rags fir good and as if to prove my point, Hammer tagged in with their technicolor version a mere four years later.
Its past time to put this not so yummy Mummy to rest…