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Lon Chaney Jr.,
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Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY (Universal-International, 1955), directed by Charles T. Lamont, is true to its title for a change, considering the comedy team of Abbott and Costello actually using their own names instead of what's listed in the closing credits, Bud Abbott as Pete Patterson and Lou Costello as Freddie Franklin. Although they do encounter the 4,000 year old mummy, he's hardly in the story until the final 20 minutes or so. Following the tradition of "Abbott and Costello Meet" titles and the cycle of fright comedies that all began when they met "Frankenstein" (1948), with Dracula and the Wolf Man as added bonuses, followed by them meeting "The Invisible Man" (1951), all of which they enact character names, their venture with the Mummy was, in fact, long overdue, coming very late in the cycle, yet released at a time when the team was in need of something better than the weak comedies they've been turning out in recent years. With Universal finding great success with its "Francis the Talking Mule" and the "Ma and Pa Kettle" series in the 1950s, it appears that Universal kept Abbott and Costello on payroll longer than anticipated. As it appears, "Meet the Mummy," demonstrated, too late in fact, that they were still capable of making a good comedy, even when appearing opposite a Universal monster to do it.
The monster in question is a mummy named Kharis, now renamed Klaris. Unlike the film series of the 1940s, there's no Tana leaves, no flashbacks recalling how Kharis was condemned to death, buried alive and cursed for all eternity, nor is there a high priest assigning or swearing in another to guide the mummy to murder anyone who gets in his way. In this venture, the story begins with this narration, "It has been said that a man's best friend is his mummy. In Egypt today, this theory is to be in great dispute for two bold adventurers are about to discover a new kind of mummy." The two bold adventurers in question turn out to be Abbott and Costello, a couple of stranded Americans in Egypt (there's no explanation as to how they got there and why). In the opening segment set at the Cafe Bagdad where an Apache Dance is being performed, archaeologist Dr. Gustav Zuma (Kurt Katch) is interviewed by the press for his discovery of the tomb of Klaris, the sacred medallion leading to the valuable treasure, and his anticipation in hiring a couple of trustees to act as chaperons for Klaris's venture back to the United States. His interview is overheard by a Bud and Lou, who learn that the only way for them to return home is to take the job. When they come to meet with Dr. Zoomer for the job in his hotel room, they find he's been murdered (killed by a poisoned dart in his ear) and the mummy in his possession gone. More troubles arise when Abbott is accused of the murder, thanks to Costello's blunder in picture taking that has found its way in the newspapers. Costello unwittingly holds the medallion, believed to be cursed, leading to the dual's encounter with rival villains: Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor), her henchmen, Charlie (Michael Ansara) and Josef (Dan Seymour); and "Professor" Semu (Richard Deacon), leader of the Followers of Klaris, and his associates, Iben (Mel Welles) and Habid (George Khoury), who will stop at nothing to obtain the medallion. Taking Abbott and Costello with them to the ancient pyramid where the treasure is buried, they come across numerous surprises, including the mummy (Eddie Parker), who's alive and well.
Typical Abbott and Costello comedy with the team coming off best with their familiar comedy routines, whether they'd be old, new or indifferent. Costello continues to be the master of comic timing with his frightful expressions (yelling "Hey, Abbott!") while encountering a bat, skeleton in the closet, a giant lizard, a run-on gag involving an asp, and, of course, the Mummy. Abbott and Costello offer some fine comic exchanges ("The shovel and the pick" coming off best), with fine support by comic villains, especially femme fatale Marie Windsor. The big climax occurs with Abbott and Charlie going under wraps as the mummy, leading to a merry chase around the temple. Aside from all that, the script takes time for entertainer Peggy King to sing "You Came a Long Way from St. Louis," and some Egyptian dance numbers performed by The Mazzone-Abbott Dancers. With some gags ranging from good to silly, with portions of the story not making any sense at all, this Abbott and Costello venture is sure to guarantee laughter for children and devotees of the comedy team. who, with this comedy, have ended their 15 year association with Universal Pictures. They starred in one more film together in 1956 before parting company.
One final note: Eddie Parker's Klaris is no way related or parallel to Lon Chaney Jr.'s Kharis of the 1940s. Kharis was mute with one eye exposed while Klaris roared like a lion with his face nearly exposed with limited bandages around his body, looking like something purchased from a bargain basement store. Overall, a one piece rubber suit or rejected Halloween costume. Aside from these flaws, the movie gets by, with Abbott and Costello, older but not wiser, doing what they do best.
Formerly presented on Comedy Channel (1990s); American Movie Classics (2001-02) and later Turner Classic Movies (2004-05), "Meet the Mummy" can be found in either VHS or DVD formats, compliments of Universal Home Video. Happy Mummy's Day. (**)
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