Wrapping up an era with mummified hijinks

Released 23 June 1955, A&C Meet the Mummy was the duo’s final Universal film, and penultimate film overall. By this point in their career, it’s obvious the films were more geared towards kids than their original adult fans. Newer, younger comedy teams were like Martin and Lewis had taken their place.

The boys were also getting on in years; Lou was in his late forties, and Bud was almost sixty. Not that there’s anything wrong with older comedians, but their age clearly shows. It kind of spoils the illusion of them as ageless clowns.

A big part of A&C’s act always was their less than lovey-dovey relationship, but here the backbiting seems a bit too real, like they’re getting out off-camera frustrations. Bud’s voice sounds really raspy and angry, beyond his usual screen persona.

Though Bud and Lou are respectively called Pete Patterson and Freddie Franklin in the closing credits and script, they call one another by their real names through the whole movie. Talk about phoning it in and not even trying!

Bud and Lou desperately need some cash splashed their way so they can leave Cairo and return to the U.S. Towards this end, they’re delighted to overhear Dr. Gustav Zoomer (Kurt Katch) talking about a sacred medallion on the mummy Klaris, a medallion pointing the way to Princess Ara’s treasure.

Also overhearing this conversation are Madame Rontru (Marie Windsor) and a band of Klaris followers led by Semu (Richard Deacon). They all want that medallion for different reasons.

With dollar signs swimming in their eyes (and Bud as always planning to take the lion’s share), they go to Dr. Zoomer’s house to ask if they can accompany Klaris back to the U.S. Shortly before they arrive, however, Dr. Zoomer is murdered by two of Semu’s stooges. These assailants then steal Klaris.

There are a lot of mysterious disappearances and reappearances during Bud and Lou’s investigation through the house, with the “I saw what I saw when I saw it!” schtick they did so often. Some people feel it was really tired and worn out by this point, but I personally don’t have a problem with it. It’s just one of their trademarks for Lou to find something creepy, scary, weird, or suspicious, hysterically report it to Bud, find nothing when they return together, be accused of lying or seeing things, and then find it in another place when he’s alone again. Rinse, lather, repeat.

During their investigation, they of course stumble into finding that missing medallion, and now Semu’s band and Madame Rontru are in hot pursuit of them. 

The boys think they’re being helpful by taking photographs of Dr. Zoomer’s body and giving them to the newspaper, but thanks to the wrong images being used and the discovery of a joke tough guy recording Lou made with Dr. Zoomer’s tape recorder, authorities believe Bud is the murderer.

While they’re trying to evade discovery, we see the first of a running gag with Lou and snakes. Every time he plays the flute, a snake comes out of a basket behind him. Predictably, he freaks out and changes location, only for the same thing to happen all over again.

Madame Rontru offers $100 for the medallion, but Bud ups the asking price to $5,000, suspecting it’s worth far more. The deal is accepted, and Bud excitedly starts making plans for what they’re going to do with their newfound riches. Once again, he plans to give the most to himself and leave poor Lou with peanuts.

While they’re waiting for Madame Rontru at the Cairo Café, they discover the medallion is cursed. Both frantically try to pawn it off on the other, hiding it in a hamburger and switching their plates back and forth constantly.

Lou thinks he’s finally hoodwinked Bud into accepting the cursed burger, but the tables are turned, and Lou ends up eating it. Though we hear a lot of crunching, the medallion shows up in one piece in his stomach when he’s put under a fluoroscope.

Madame Rontru can’t read the hieroglyphics until Semu shows up, pretending to be an archaeologist and offering to lead the way to the treasure-laden tomb. Unbeknownst to any of the other parties, Semu’s followers have reanimated Klaris.

Now the scene is set for a murderous, mummified confrontation, which includes downright stupid scenes of Lou being chased by a bat and giant iguana, more “I saw what I saw when I saw it!,” and the fun “Take your pick” routine, hearkening back to “Who’s on First?”

A hypnotic murder mystery

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) was so popular, a second Meet film was created for them. Originally, Meet the Killer was entitled Easy Does It and intended for Bob Hope, but Universal bought the rights and reworked it. A&C’s prior two films, Mexican Hayride and Africa Screams, weren’t exactly their strongest work, and they needed another hit.

Boris Karloff’s character was initially a woman named Madame Switzer, and the film was called Meet the Killers. Five days before shooting began, Karloff was hired, and the character became a swami.

In New Zealand and Australia, censors removed every scene with a corpse. Denmark banned the film because of a scene where corpses play cards.

Meet the Killer was filmed from 10 February–26 March 1949 and released on 22 August 1949. Sadly, Lou was stricken by a relapse of rheumatic fever after filming wrapped and bedridden for several months. That November, he had to have an operation on his gangrenous gallbladder. Because of his illness, the next A&C film didn’t begin production till 28 April 1950.

Freddie Phillips (Lou) and Casey Edwards (Bud), a bellboy and detective, respectively, at the Lost Caverns Resort Hotel, are swept up in a lot of trouble when famous, short-tempered criminal lawyer Amos Strickland checks in. Shortly after he has Freddie fired for his hilarious incompetence, Freddie goes to his hotel room to apologise.

Freddie doesn’t realise Strickland is a corpse, nor does he see a mysterious hand in a black glove reaching under the curtains. When it finally gets through to him, Freddie races to the lobby in terror.

Suspicion is cast on Freddie when guest Mike Relia reports someone broke into his room and stole his gun. Bellboys have keys to all the rooms, and he also yelled at Strickland and was fired shortly before the murder.

The missing gun turns up in Freddie’s room, which makes him look even worse. Casey believes his innocence, and goes with him to Relia’s room to return the gun. While in the room, they discover a damning telegram.

Freddie opens the door to check if the coast is clear while Casey plants the gun in a suit pocket, and up comes a swami who hynotises Freddie.

Inspector Wellman (James Flavin) and Sgt. Stone (Mikel Conrad) order Freddie kept in custody as a guest of the state in his hotel room until his name is cleared. This is hardly a punishment, as Freddie lives it up with room service and beautiful female employees giving him beauty treatments.

Freddie’s luck becomes even worse when his date Angela compels him to write and sign a confession, pretending the real killer will confess when he sees it.

Casey sends Relia’s fingerprints to HQ and reports he has a criminal history, with Strickland serving as his lawyer. The investigators don’t think this is damning evidence, since his criminal past is common knowledge and ancient history, and six of Strickland’s other past clients are also at the hotel and received the same telegram.

Angela falls under suspicion too when she’s accused of mixing a poisonous champagne cocktail.

The swami creeps into Freddie’s room that night and hypnotises him again. His orders entice Freddie into putting a noose around his neck, but Freddie is cowardly even under hypnosis, and falls backwards instead of jumping.

Not deterred, the swami asks Freddie to kill himself with a gun. This also fails, and the swami asks how he’d prefer to die. Freddie wisely answers “Old age.”

The swami asks him to jump out of a window next, but Freddie jumps backwards into the room. All these refusals make the swami angry, and he goes after Freddie with a knife, ordering him to plunge it into his heart.

Freddie still refuses to kill himself.

The swami thinks he’s finally found success when he asks Freddie if he’d plunge the knife into the heart of the man in the mirror, and Freddie says yes. Things don’t go as planned when Freddie tries to stab the swami, believing that was the man in the mirror.

Casey comes to the rescue after the swami scrams.

And then the bodies start turning up in Freddie’s closet. Even more damning, he comes into possession of a bloody handkerchief.

Several attempts are made on Freddie’s life, culminating in a mysterious voice ordering him to bring the handkerchief to the Lost Cavern.

“I saw what I saw when I saw it!”

Released 15 June 1948, A&C Meet Frankenstein was the first of the duo’s seven A&C Meet… pictures. It made over $3 million at the box office, and remains one of their best-known and most popular films.

In London, Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) places an urgent call to a Florida railway station’s baggage department, where Wilbur Gray (Lou) and Chick Young (Bud) work. He asks if there are two crates addressed to McDougal House of Horrors, and says under no circumstances are the crates to be delivered until he arrives.

During this phonecall, Talbot transforms into the Wolfman, and rips up his room. Wilbur thinks he’s put his dog on the line, and hangs up in disgust.

McDougal then arrives, demanding his crates. Wilbur doesn’t want to obey him, but McDougal insists. While Wilbur and Chick fetch the crates, he tells Wilbur’s girlfriend Sandra the crates contain Count Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. They’ve been insured for $20,000.

McDougal is furious at Wilbur’s mishandling of the crates, and orders him to take them to his House of Horrors so an insurance agent can inspect them. If Wilbur damages them, he intends to collect that $20,000.

While Wilbur opens the first crate, Chick answers a call from McDougal and assures him everything’s alright. Chick is quite bemused by Wilbur’s fear of the creatures in the House of Horrors, and even more so by Wilbur’s belief that the coffin inside the crate contains the real Dracula.

While Wilbur is reading a card about the legend of Dracula, he hears odd noises. The next time Chick is out, Wilbur sees the coffin opening. Chick thinks Wilbur is being ridiculous and wasting time, since these creepy goings-on only happen when Chick isn’t there.

Conveniently, Dracula (Béla Lugosi) has left his coffin and is lurking in the shadows by the time Chick investigates. Chick laughs while reading the card for the next crate, about Frankenstein’s monster, but Wilbur takes it very seriously.

While they’re opening this crate, Dracula gets back into his coffin. Wilbur is so freaked out to see Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange), he bumps into a guillotine and causes a dummy to get beheaded.

The next time Chick is out, Dracula puts Wilbur under his spell, and then brings Frankenstein’s monster to life. By the time McDougal arrives with the insurance man, both monsters are gone. McDougal has Wilbur and Chick arrested.

Dracula compels Frankenstein’s monster to his castle, where we learn Sandra is in cahoots with him. He insists she call him Dr. Lajos, to avoid suspicion.

Dracula doesn’t want to repeat Dr. Frankenstein’s mistake by giving the monster a bad brain. He wants the monster to have no intellect or will of his own, so he’ll bend to his master’s will. Sandra has just the brain in mind—Wilbur’s.

Talbot comes to see Wilbur and Chick, who’ve been bailed out of jail. He’s horrorstruck the crates were delivered before he arrived, and says he’s been tracking Dracula from Europe. Talbot believes Dracula wants to bring Frankenstein’s monster to life.

Talbot demands Wilbur lock him into his room, and not let him out no matter what, since the Moon will soon be full. Of course, Talbot has forgotten his suitcase, and Wilbur helpfully delivers it. He’s changed into the Wolfman by the time Wilbur gets there, but avoids detection the entire time.

In the morning, Wilbur and Chick meet undercover investigator Joan Raymond, who reveals she, not Sandra, paid their bail. Wilbur asks her to be his date to that night’s masquerade ball, to which he’s also taking Sandra.

When Wilbur and Chick unlock Talbot, they find him in a very disheveled state. They laugh off his story about being bitten by a werewolf, but he insists he’s completely serious, and that they have to find the missing monsters.

Sandra is upset Wilbur has come to Dracula’s castle with Chick and Joan, since she wanted him to come alone. While the ladies are changing into their costumes, Talbot calls and warns Wilbur he may be in the house of Dracula. Talbot also wants them to search the place.

Their search yields a lot of extremely creepy, unexpected things, among them the monsters. Yet again, only Wilbur encounters them, and Chick is convinced he’s making things up.

The plot thickens when Dracula meets Wilbur, and Sandra discovers Joan is from the insurance company.

WeWriWa—Happy 110th birthday, Lou!

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. In honor of what would’ve been Lou Costello’s 110th birthday, I present an abridged version of a scene from the first book in my series focused on Max Seward’s colorful blended family. Its original title was the beyond-generic New Beginnings, and I haven’t thought of a new and improved title yet in all these years. The manuscript is probably in third place in my overflowing queue, waiting on a radical rewrite and restructuring. It’s currently in its third draft, and in dire need of editing out all the embarrassing garbage and clutter that never should’ve stuck around past the first draft!

It’s late June 1941, and yesterday Max’s father remarried to his longtime secret mistress and left for a honeymoon. Max, his three siblings, and their cousin Elaine are now home alone with three new stepsisters who’ve acted like brats from day one. The day goes from bad to worse when Max and Elaine are forced to take the girls on their double date to the neighborhood’s most expensive movie palace. Max wants to see The Big Store with the Marx Brothers, but he’s overruled in favor of Abbott and Costello’s In the Navy. The stepsisters act up so obnoxiously Max’s group flees to an unoccupied balcony, but things are about to get worse yet again.

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My boy Shemp is the one on the far left!

The peace and quiet offered by the balcony was short-lived, as barely five minutes later, some girl stood up, pointed at the screen, and yelled, “That’s not nice!  He’s being mean to his best friend!” Max froze in his seat when he realized that girl was Adeladie.

Cora Ann began crying. “He’s being mean to the fat guy!”

Max stormed down from the balcony and elbowed his way back to their original seats, ignoring the resulting angry shouts. “Don’t you know the difference between real life and make-believe?”

“Laurel and Hardy are never this mean to each other, and it’s obvious they’re always friends!” Adeladie shouted. “I don’t think that tall handsome guy has any kind of brotherly love for the short fat guy when push comes to shove!”

“It’s part of their routine,” Max explained through clenched teeth.

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The tables are uncharacteristically turned!

From the barbershop to the big time

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Movies Silently and Sister Celluloid are hosting The Backstage Blogathon, which celebrates pre-1970 films all about making movies, Hollywood, and other types of performance arts. The character’s profession should be a major plot point, and there should be scenes of them working. For a full list of participants, click on either of the above hyperlinks.

Though my heart will always belong to Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges above all other comedians, I’m delighted to finally be able to discuss an Abbott and Costello film. As my personal list goes, I’d probably rank them about #9, but I’ve genuinely grown to like and respect them over the years. It’s the same way I didn’t immediately like the Marx Brothers (thanks to seeing the two worst possible films first), but because I was interested enough to give them more chances, it superbly paid off in the long run.

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Released 22 August 1945, A&C in Hollywood was the last of the three films the team made while on loan to MGM from Universal. During this time, they also made seven Universal films. It’s really sad how Universal used them as cash cows, even long after they’d saved the studio from bankruptcy. It really shows in how formulaic their pictures became as the series wore on, just like what happened to the Marx Brothers.

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Buzz (Bud) and Abercrombie (Lou) work at Hollywood Shop: Barber to the Stars, where Abercrombie is hoping to become a real barber thanks to the pretend barber college classes Buzz is giving him. One day, they’re given a very important client to whom to give a shoeshine and haircut, Mr. Norman Royce, a Hollywood agent. As they’re on their way there, they see their co-worker Claire in her car, on her way to have lunch with Ruthie, a co-worker whom Abercrombie has a crush on.

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Fading screen sheik Gregory LeMaise pulls up alongside Claire. They’re going to co-star in an upcoming musical, and Gregory invites her to come to his beach house and skip out on her lunch date. He’s very annoyed and angered when she refuses, but as Claire explains to Buzz and Abercrombie, her reputation is more important than her fame.

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While the boys are still in Mr. Royce’s office, a young hopeful named Jeff comes in to audition, and impresses Mr. Royce very much with his singing and piano-playing.  Mr. Royce initially agrees to replace LeMaise with Jeff, but when LeMaise himself arrives, he declares he can’t co-star with Claire, and gets Mr. Royce to take him back since he’s a much bigger star, with more staying power. The next time Jeff comes in, Mr. Royce will tell him he’s fired.

Buzz and Abercrombie think it’s a dirty trick to play on a nice guy like Jeff, and quit the barber shop to become agents. They’ll represent Jeff and get him some kind of acting job, though things don’t exactly start off on the right foot. When they arrive at the gates of Mammoth Studios, they crash the car of studio boss Mr. Kavanaugh, and are promptly kicked off the lot.

Determined to help Jeff, the boys find a way to sneak back onto the lot and put on costumes. No one can find Buzz, but Abercrombie is all over the lot, popping in and out of various sound stages. The best scene during this part of the film is when Abercrombie is mistaken for a dummy in a Western-themed movie being filmed. Another scene features a young Lucille Ball.

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The day doesn’t end so successfully, but they’re still determined to prove themselves as agents and get Jeff a job. They plan to be up bright and early to take Jeff to as many other studios as possible, but unfortunately, Abercrombie can’t sleep. His insomnia only increases when Buzz tries to help with a record that’s supposed to put the listener to sleep, and now no one can sleep.

They come up with an even better plan the next day, to get LeMaise in trouble and have him replaced by Jeff. Buzz plans to take a picture of him socking Abercrombie, who’s severely guilted into being the fall guy yet again. Once that picture hits the news, LeMaise will be arrested and can’t act in anything. The plan takes a complicated twist when LeMaise knocks Abercrombie clear overboard, and they can’t find him. LeMaise is now believed to be a murderer, and Abercrombie is presumed dead.

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LeMaise goes into hiding, and Jeff gets his part. However, LeMaise eventually discovers Abercrombie survived, and chases him onto the studio lot, right onto the sound stage for the movie Jeff and Claire are in. It’s set in an amusement park, with all the expected gags, like carnival booths and a freakshow. The funniest scene is when Abercrombie and LeMaise are on a roller-coaster filled with dummies and set to be blown up at the end of the scene.

On a side note, I cringed when the sign on the side of the seafood restaurant where Buzz discovers Abercrombie is still alive. “Seafood at it’s finest.” I just want to bang my head against the wall when I see such blatant grammatical errors in such high-profile places! It’s is a contraction of it is or it has, not the possessive form of it!

Another interesting detail was clip-on earrings. Real pierced ears were by and large seen as low-class and slutty in the U.S. during much of the early 20th century, while fancy clip-ons soared in popularity. I so far have a quintuple-pierced left ear and a quadruple-pierced right ear, and can’t imagine living in an era when even one set of lobe piercings was considered scandalous!

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This is such a fun, cute film, and right in the sweet spot for the perfect length of a classic comedy. All the MGM production values are on display, and the musical numbers and subplot don’t hog up too much screentime (as unfortunately was the case with certain of their later films, just as what happened to the Marx Brothers). Bud’s abuse of Lou also isn’t as severe as it is in certain of their other films.

Probably the biggest reason it took so long for me to really start liking A&C was this aspect of their partnership. When Laurel and Hardy or the Stooges are less than nice to one another, we still know they truly love one another beneath it all and will stand up for their own when an outsider abuses them. So many times, Bud is quite mean to Lou, and even sets him up to be exploited or abused, without any sense there’s a genuine love for his supposed best friend. But if you can get past that stumbling-block and love classic comedy, I really think you’ll enjoy most of their films.

And on a shallow note, I think Bud was rather handsome during his physical prime!