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Monday, January 08, 2018

Their Final Monster Meet ...

Abbott and Costello Say Farewell To Universal

Is it silly to apply the word grandeur to an Abbott and Costello feature? Not when they meet the Mummy and it's Widescreen 1.85 plus High-Definition. This was the team's last for Universal, the employer they "saved from bankruptcy," so say history and anecdotage. Seems sheriffs were held at bay by A&C, or Mae West, Deanna Durbin, others, while a single hit like King Kong could maintain lights otherwise dimmed, whether at U, RKO, Paramount, pick your sinking ship. Abbott and Costello didn't rescue Universal, except maybe from lower end venues and terms set by showmen inclined to take advantage of the company's lack of stars. A&C, along with Durbin, helped get Universal into first-run theatres, and on lucrative percentage basis. The fad for this team knew no precedent in talking pictures so far, for popular as the Marx Bros. had been in a previous decade, they wouldn't last into a next as consistent cash makers. Abbott and Costello kept Universal fat from before the war all the way to the mid-fifties, and I can't think of another team offhand that achieved that.

Did children respond to A&C in ways they had not with the Marx Bros.? You could argue that Abbott and Costello peaked in the 50's, less for their movies than tried-true and many routines on network Colgate hours. I've seen several Colgates. They are sloppy and off-cuff in likeable ways. Lou sweats under lights and routinely breaks up himself and trying-to-keep order Bud. It's like Costello knew the viewers would take whatever he chose to give, be it a little, a lot, or virtually nothing at all. These old kinescopes remind me of blooper reels from the features that turned up some years back, minus profanity Costello peppered those with. The late Universal features are models of decorum beside mad houses that are the Colgate shows. Did Abbott and Costello observe loose-as-a-goose Martin and Lewis and decide to emulate them? Certainly M&L was a duo that came closest to galactic popularity A&C knew, though they wouldn't last half so long, at least as a team. Question: Was Martin and Lewis the last team to go huge, in features anyway? (otherwise we might have to address Rowan and Martin)

Top Of The Bill In Chicago ...

... Playing Support in Sacramento
Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy would be final tango between the team and monsters. They, and Universal, had simply run out. I'm a little sorry there was no fourth Creature feature where the Gill-Man met A&C, latter perhaps as inept deck stewards on a yacht bound for the Amazon, or carnival barkers for a now-outfitted-with-lungs Creature. As it is, there was rendezvous in a Colgate skit which was rather like throwing away opportunity for a feature we could all have liked, and enabling a clean sweep for Abbott and Costello vis a vis Universal monsters. Meet The Mummy was also last stand for A&C doing comedy in time-honored way. There would be one more feature, Dance With Me, Henry, which was depart from formula but in ill-advised direction. Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy, whatever the complaints (picayune if you like the team), can be celebrated even as curtain was lowering for both A&C and Universal's cabal of creepers (a last for the Creature would come the following year, and then ... castle lights out).

Looks Like U-I Cheesecake Art of Mara Corday Was Consulted For This Belgian Poster

Having It At Home: Castle's Super 8 "Complete" Edition
Television had made A&C comfy as carpet slippers, their routines spun like oldest burlesque wheels. For Mummy backdrop, "specialties" to widen net for the feature, there was performance by dance troupes that plied trade in 50's clubs, or variety TV, then went ways of memory and vanished cathode (I could wonder if any Mazzone-Abbott Dancers survive, or members of Chandra Kaly's group). Peggy King sang, was "perky" for George Gobel vid viewers, and got boosted in the A&C/Mummy trailer for that association. It took marketing muscle to keep Abbott and Costello relevant. Other than King and the dancers in/out, the boys are happily the whole show. C.B DeMille had gone to Egypt to fortify his Ten Commandments, but Universal did all its locationing on site. There's not even stock footage to set a mood, phoniness having been part of fun since Bud/Lou did Foreign Legion service or went Alaska ways. Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy was strictly trix for kids, and must have lit up many a matinee crowd. As for virtually all movies by the late 50/60's, it was television where A&C/Mummy got well and truly seen, a standby familiar as test patterns. Those were square-box decades, so imagine delight when the recent Blu-Ray put back a wide screen to Bud/Lou/Mummy cavort and made us realize what heft this picture had when new.

Somehow Lou swallows a necklace, pendent and all. Actually, we see it happen, for the sought-after relic is hidden in a hamburger, which Bud and Lou switch back and forth. When Lou bites into the sandwich, there is loud crunching. I wonder if much of that wasn't drowned out by laughter in first-run theatres. Knowing Abbott and Costello just from television is not knowing them at all, and TV was the only place I ever saw them, so you could argue that through all paragraphs of this post, plus everything Greenbriar has past-written on the team, I don't know what in heck I'm talking about. There's a Variety review from 1941 that said laughter from Buck Privates' extended drill routine was "continuous" for five minutes, "dialog drowned in the audience uproar." The necklace gag goes at least that long --- was uproar as continuous in 1955? Someone who was there could enlighten the rest who can only imagine, or speculate in probable error. To me, the burger bit looked familiar, as in maybe I saw it once on a Colgate kine at You Tube. A&C were still their best in verbal rat-tat. I'd have liked more of that and less of slapstick in their 50's features. Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy has a pick and shovel exchange that's a highlight for both stood still and handing props back-forth as they machine gun dialogue. How could anyone argue this team wasn't great in the face of tempo like that?

I know Marie Windsor got chased around in final years by noir nuts and "bad girl" obsessives, but did anyone sit her down to find out what it was like to bedevil Abbott and Costello? She is good enough here to be a virtual third member of the team, and surely got satisfaction in doing comedy for once instead of making Elisha Cook's life miserable. Monster mags taught me that Eddie Parker essayed the Mummy here, factoid I clung to rather than sums or history data they tried to teach at school. The Mummy was something Parker merely stepped into and zipped up ... no bandages to wrap ... and pretty much what Hammer winnowed down to as sequels came later from them. Again, rife phoniness was part of the joke. Many are ways that Universal has exploited asset that was/is The Mummy. Mere four years after A&C met him, there was full-blown revive for the character when U sub-contracted Hammer to do a color remake, then decades later came serio-comic re-vamp, plus a sequel. Another Mummy was out last year with Tom Cruise and a sort of zombie-fied Egyptian princess. Behind-scenes footage had fifty-four year old Cruise hurling himself off embankments rather than letting stunt men take the spill. Will this be a final variation on the Mummy to unwrap? 


Blogger lmshah said...

John, your memory is correct, Bud and Lou had done the hamburger routine on a live Colgate show several years earlier, and the laughter there is very big indeed, so big that Bud and Lou keep joining in and trying very hard not to keep cracking up while pretending to much the over-crunchy (due to a stolen necklace being hidden inside of it)burger. It's a good clip to show just how funny A and C were on the Colgate shows.

Interestingly, Lou Costello also did the routine on one of his solo appearances on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW after he split with Bud, those appearances are rather ironic to see, because Costello basically does one of the standard Abbott and Costello routines with either Louis Nye, Tom Poston, Gabe Dell, or Don Knotts filling in for Bud Abbott, and it does nothing but make you realize just how great a straight man Bud Abbott was, and how important he was to that team.

We ran BUCK PRIVATES many years ago at a packed college screening, and it was amazing how big the laughs were, I think it opened my eyes to how well they do work with an audience. Even AFRICA SCREAMS went over well at it's Slapsticon showing some years ago.


3:40 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I was there for AFRICA SCREAMS at Slapsticon, Richard, and it was a joy.

4:01 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...


7:09 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

The thing about all those stars that saved all those studios is how uniformly badly they were treated by the people they helped. Told someone was speaking very badly about him Confucius is said to have replied, "That's strange. I never helped that person."

I believe MEET THE MUMMY was the first A&C I consciously saw in the theater as a kid. I had seen A&C MEET FRANKENSTEIN when I was six. The scene with Lou trying to sit in the chair with the Frankenstein monster scared the Hell out of me. It was not until years later when I ran that film that I realized it was the only movie I saw as a kid that did that.

Great post to wake up to.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

Don't overlook the role that radio had in Bud and Lou's career. They had a show pretty much throughout the 40s, and the Colgate TV show is basically an extension of that. The episodes typically open with some patter between Bud and Lou -- some wordplay misunderstanding, derivative of Who's on First ("Herd of cows? Sure I've heard of cows!" etc.). Then there's a loose plot, which typically involved Bud helping Lou to achieve some goal -- find a turkey for Thanksgiving, find a new apartment during the housing shortage, get a date with Lucille Ball, etc. Rehearsals were presumably kept to a minimum due to their screen obligations, because Lou nearly always loses his place in the script at least once. I've heard that in vaudeville double acts, the straight man was usually paid more, because it was his job to keep the zanier guy on track and within their allotted time. And yes, it's always Lou who ad libs and gets lost (perhaps raising his eyes from the page to make eye contact with the audience, which must have been an irresistible lure).

I've not seen much of their film work. Without an audience, and that laughter, it has less appeal for me. The radio shows, though sloppy, are always fun.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

Also: I always presumed that Wallace Ford's character in the first couple Kharis mummy films was based on Costello. Yet I've never seen anyone comment on that. Is it just me?

12:55 PM  
Blogger MDG14450 said...

I'll sit through this when it pops up, but in my personal history it's most important for being the movie that introduced me to Marie Windsor.

That said, when they're firing on all cylinders, Bud & Lou were as good as anybody. (or almost, anyway)

1:03 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

Richard Deacon seems very subdued in this.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Phil Smoot said...

Great photos here. You mention Mara Corday, and I think she turned 88 last week.
It is cool to see A&C Meet the Mummy in Widescreen. Restored Universal Blu-rays are great.
I wish Abbott & Costello Meet the Keystone Cops would also get a Widescreen Blu-ray for us to see.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Never knew Marie Windsor was in this until now. If it turns up on TMC, I might give it a shot.

While I admire A&C's doubletalk skill, I always found them low rent and grubby. Perhaps that was from their sitcom, which my brothers and I caught in syndication in the early 60s. Costello in particular irritated me, and it always seemed like Abbott was always out to hurt him in some way or another. It seemed like teasing a mentally handicapped child. But I did like " " The Time of Their Lives" because it was totally different from their usual formula.

10:10 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

My fantasy lost films include "Abbott and Costello Meet Sherlock Holmes". If it happened close on the heels of Universal series ending, Rathbone might well have been game for comically pushing Holmes over the falls. The closing gag would have Bud and Lou on the boat home, determined to stay away from mysteries. Enter Sidney Toler in a white suit ...

3:38 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

"Low rent and grubby" does fairly describe their sitcom, Kevin K, which I never much cared for. We sure had it in syndication down here, right up into the 80's.

Donald, the A&C Meets Holmes idea sounds like a natural. I wonder if U's deal with the Doyle estate would allowed for it. Rathbone I could see going along --- he did after all do the funny Holmes cameo for CRAZY HOUSE.

5:31 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

That's a poignant picture of Bud. Both really got the screws put to them. So did many other artists.,, I believe I read somewhere they were hit for taxes on money they had raised for the military (they had raised a lot of money).

5:46 AM  
Blogger Randy said...

I've wondered if Bud and Lou weren't hurt by overexposure in the 1950s. They had a couple of pictures a year coming out through Universal. Realart was reissuing their older stuff. They were on TV regularly, both on the Colgate Hour and on their own film series. Extracts from their features were available on 8mm and 16mm via Castle. I believe there was even an Abbott and Costello comic book. I can't help but think there had to be a point at which all but the most devoted reached their limit with Abbott and Costello, and I say that as someone who enjoys their work.

9:16 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I agree with that observation, Randy. There was an awful lot of A&C for a public to absorb during the 50's, and i wonder where a saturation point would have been reached, if it had not already been by the time ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY came along.

6:26 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Looking at that Castle "Complete Edition" of MEET THE MUMMY took me back to the first Castle 8mm film I ordered from FAMOUS MONSTERS. Until it arrived I thought complete edition meant the whole movie. Today we buy complete movies of DVD for what we paid for just one of those. They were fun, though. I wonder if anyone watching a DVD gets the thrill we got unspooling one of those. That over exposure from past work was one of the reasons Bela Lugosi could not get work in the 1950s. We were lucky we got him in MEET FRANKENSTEIN.

7:22 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Joe from Virginia Beach supplies some intriguing data about a possible A&C Meets The Creature feature. If only it had happened!:


I loved the article on Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy, but this is the first time I’ve been able to get on my email since reading it. You stated “…I'm a little sorry there was no fourth Creature feature where the Gill-Man met A&C, latter perhaps as inept deck stewards on a yacht bound for the Amazon, or carnival barkers for a now-outfitted-with-lungs Creature. As it is, there was rendezvous in a Colgate skit which was rather like throwing away opportunity for a feature we could all have liked, and enabling a clean sweep for Abbott and Costello vis a vis all of Universal monsters…”

I think that feature may have come closer than any of us realize. according to an article that I stumbled across at ... NEVER-Made

“…Late in their careers, the studio was planning to have them meet Universal's newest popular monster, the Creature from the black Lagoon. There were publicity posters filmed for the project, but sadly, Bud and Lou lost their contract with Universal Studios and project was never made….”

I know the film was never made, and I have never even heard it mentioned. What intrigues me is the suggestion that a mock-up poster may have been made. That may mean a script was done.

Joe From Virginia Beach

5:54 AM  

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