Abbott and Costello are two names that have cemented themselves in comedy and movie history forever. They stopped making movies decades before I was born and I’m pretty sure that before today, I’d never even seen one. When I was a kid, I remember an old, cheap and nasty cartoon based on them was on weekday morning telly for a while, which was about the extent of my experience with the legendary duo. But despite that lack of experience, I’ve always known who they are, how their dynamic worked and what their general schtick was all about. But it was still great to see it in action in Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.
It’s a movie made in the 50s and it has the word ‘mummy’ in the title, so obviously it’s set in Egypt, obviously it’s about a mummy recently excavated from a tomb, and obviously there’s a curse that brings the mummy back to life to wreak havoc. There’s also a sacred medallion somehow connected to the mummy that will lead to a great, hidden treasure.
Pete (Abbott) and Freddie (Costello) are two explorers stranded in Cairo with no money, trying to get a job escorting a recently unearthed mummy to America. The only problem is, some locals aren’t real keen on letting the mummy leave their country, so they kill Pete and Freddie’s prospective employer and steel back the bandaged one. Now, Pete and Freddie (that’s their character names in the credits, but they still to refer to each as Lou, Bud, Abbott and Costello constantly) are mixed up in curses, murder, exotic women who aren’t quote what they seem, mistaken identity, and general word play and slapstick based hilarity.
I’m going to go out on a limb right now and say something that may not have ever been said before. Lou Costello is funny. Really, really funny. He’s one of those guys who nails the big, broad, physical comedy and who nails the quick fire dialogue jokes that made him and Bud Abbott so famous. But he also made me laugh a lot from his little actions. Things like daintily tip toeing across a room when there’s absolutely no reason to, except that it’s funny. Little looks to the camera that can sometimes feel easy and lazy, come off here as necessary and hilarious. Costello is amazing at all of it.
There’s something kind of charming about how corny and basic movies of this age can be. It seems like it was required by law to have a song and dance number or two if you were making a broad comedy in the 50s. It also seems like the go to trick of every screenwriter was to shoehorn it in by making the love interest a show girl. Not only is it an excuse for a song or dance number, or two, it’s also also a great way to introduce a beguiling woman in a way that will convincingly beguile the main male character.
Also like so many movies from this period and earlier, the only let down is when they feel obligated to put the gags aside to tell their story and wrap up the plot. I don’t really care about the fate of the mummy, the medallion or the treasure. I just want them to pile on the jokes until they run out of celluloid.