Thursday, January 12, 2012

Abbott & Costello Meet The Mummy (1955)

1955’s "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" finds Bud and Lou tackling the immortal Wrapped One in the same irreverent manner they encountered all of the legendary Universal monsters, starting with "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" in 1948 (still the champ) and ending with this 1955 entry. Universal Home Video’s new DVD of this comedy classic now gives fans a virtual protection master of the film, boasting one of the best black and white transfers I have ever seen. Bud and Lou play Pete and Freddie, two hapless goofs adrift in the Middle East. (Never mind their character names, they refer to each other as "Abbott" and "Lou" intermittently throughout the story.) Desperate for work, they try to become escorts for the recently discovered mummified remains of Klaris, en route to the states for scientific study. Needless to say, the shenanigans commence when the archaeologist who unearthed Klaris winds up dead. Of course, Pete and Freddie wind up as the prime suspects. Enter the "sultry" (per the trailer) Marie Windsor as a raven-haired femme fatale, a pre "Dick Van Dyke Show" Richard Deacon as the mysterious cultist Professor Semu, not to mention the unstoppable Klaris himself, and comedic opportunities abound. How can anyone be objective about these films? What the "Scary Movie" films are to current moviegoers, the Abbott and Costello "horror spoofs" were to a generation weaned on Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein and Chaney’s Wolf Man. Transforming these symbols of terror into slapstick props demystified them, robbing them of their power over our nightmares. Matching the classic Universal movie monsters with Abbott and Costello’s amiable schtick proved a tonic for atomic weary 1950’s audiences. Interestingly, the monsters, Bud and Lou got a much-needed second wind to their respective careers when their old films began running and re-running on a then newfangled contraption called… television. The script (the credits say John Grant, but like the Hope/Crosby "Road" films, Bud and Lou’s ad-libbing on the set must have been fierce) grabs hold of the mummy genre clichés and skewers them with the dialectic duo’s patented patter. When faced with solving a murder, "Hercule" Costello shares the following axiom with Abbott: "If you find the fellow who killed Dr. Zoomer, you got the murderer." Excavation gets the same dizzying word play that baseball got with their maddening "Who’s on First" routine, this time involving picks and shovels. At one point, there’s even three Mummies running around the subterranean tomb. (That’s one more than the current incarnation in theaters, the one with The Rock and a lot of zeroes and ones substituting for plot and character.) Sight gags like "unknowingly taking the monster’s hand" when walking through the catacombs and Lou calling "Hey Abbott!" whenever the mummy appears, only to disappear when Bud arrives, makes for a nostalgic and slightly spooky laugh fest. The full screen transfer is simply stunning. Balanced contrast and good gray scale contribute to a crisp, razor-sharp picture. Details abound in every shot. I noticed the stucco relief on the walls and I could even demarcate where the set ends and the thoroughly hokey desert landscape backdrop begins. The source elements are exceedingly clean and, despite the crystal clarity of the image, no edge enhancement mars the presentation. Without any digital or compression artifacts, the video here is absolutely first-rate. The Dolby Digital mono audio performs well under the circumstances. A slight but audible hiss runs throughout the soundtrack, but hey, it’s an old film and I shouldn’t complain. Dialogue is clear and never distorts, allowing for complete enjoyment of such scripted jewels as "The wrath of Semu will be upon us, but we must face him" or "Two more mice come to nibble at the golden cheese." A theatrical trailer is included, but I only recommend watching it for comparison purposes. Against the sparkling feature presentation, the trailer exhibits scratches, splices and contrast so low it practically blots out the picture. Audio doesn’t fare better, sounding tinny and overmodulated. Informative production and filmmaker notes on Abbott, Costello, Marie Windsor and director Charles Lamont round out the package nicely, if not dramatically. I loved the Abbott and Costello horror comedies as a kid, and revisiting them as an adult has afforded a few sorely needed trips down Memory Lane. Wanna relive a time when you could spend Saturdays just watching cheesy flicks? Wrap yourself in the hieroglyphic hijinks of "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" on DVD and forget your troubles. "Hey Abbott!!!" Click here to find out more!

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