Vaudeville comedy has a certain kind of charm. An allure that brings in audiences for a quick laugh. An appeal developed by legendary talents, such as The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd, to name a few of the pillars that made up the vaudeville slap-stick house. For Abbot & Costello, their era of fame started in 1940, with One Night in the Tropics, and ended with Dance with Me, Henry, in 1956. Lou Costello, the bumbling “dim-wit” of the duo, would eventually pass away in 1959, leaving Bud Abbot, the “straight man” of the pair, searching for a new partner in Candy Candido, but eventually calling it quits because, “No one could ever live up to Lou.” Bud passed away in 1974. For me, I think the 1940s is really when the duo shinned the brightest. It was an era of heighten stress due to the war in the Pacific and in Europe. War time audiences were looking for distractions from the woes of loved ones deployed and of uncertain outcomes in the development of world powers. Our featured film for this review is Lou and Buds second to last Universal Monster flick, released in 1951, and you can begin to see the struggle of defining their roles in a new era. The movie itself plays out as part mad science, part detective/noir, part boxing, and part loony tunes. As our honor guest reviewer has pointed out in his review below, there moments of genuine entertainment, but for the most part, the film was dragged out and ultimately boring. Well, I shall not delay any longer, lets see what our guest writer has to say.
Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man
By: Lewis Duncan
I have to admit, the Abbot and Costello films were never something I went out of my way to watch or indeed find copies of in recent years. They linger in my memory, part of my childhood, part of growing up and watching whatever the grown-ups were watching. In our house, it was either Westerns or War films, both which I hated until I discovered Clint Eastwood. Black and white films were to be snubbed as old and boring. It wasn’t until I discovered the genius of the Marx Brothers that I gave black and white a chance. I think it was my Granny’s fault. She used to eat them up. I remember her doing the ironing in the living room with the television blaring on a wet Saturday afternoon. I would be on the sofa reading a Beano or playing with Star Wars figure and these great brays of laughter would echo around the room. It was the television. Something on there had got her going. I was intrigued.
The Marx brothers made me laugh out loud and although it wasn’t until my teens that I appreciated the genius timing of Groucho’s gags and the on-screen chemistry between the brothers, I still needed to see everything they had done. Thankfully my uncle had just purchased a VHS video recorder and would rent various video tapes at the weekend. One of those tapes was ‘Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein’. I can remember enjoying it without knowing what I know now and how it featured some of the greatest names in cinematic history. Looking back, I really enjoyed watching it but don’t ask me to tell you the plot. Kids don’t do plot. They do slapstick and action and Bud Abbot and Lou Costello did it perfectly.
Having been asked to write a review of a film I was given a list of possibles. I chose ‘Abbot and Costello Meet the Invisible Man’ for one reason and one reason only. I had never seen the film. I had heard of it but I had never actually watched the thing. Also, I’ve never reviewed a damn thing in my life apart from a few lines here and there on Amazon about books I’ve read so bare with me.
The title itself suggests horror but we know it’s not going to be an all-out horror flick is it? No, of course not and to be honest there isn’t any horror in the film whatsoever. It’s a comedy, it’s a vehicle for Lou Costello and Bud Abbot to showcase their vaudeville skills and put them on the big screen and they do it perfectly. Don’t they always?
Since agreeing to review this, I’ve sat down with the laptop, loaded up the film and ate some crisps and drank some soft drinks, clear head required and I must say each time I’ve watched the movie it has been as enjoyable as the first. Even that Universal music during the opening credits gets me going. Big old Earth spinning around is a definite cue to go grab some nibbles because you know you’re in for a treat, you’re in for a quality hour and a half’s entertainment. They just do it right.
So here we go, Lou Costello, or Lou Francis as he is called in the movie, is skipping, tripping and dancing up to graduate from Detective School, misses the chair and falls on his arse. The start of it. Lou is informed by his partner, the very brilliant straight guy of the duo, Bud Abbot, that he slipped them twenty bucks to let him graduate. I think this is the first time of many that Lou looks directly at the camera. I have my doubts about that though. It’s a fun thing to do in a film and an fourth wall effect I love but I sometimes wonder if Lou actually relies on prompts from off-screen. I guess we’ll never really know.
Anyway, the unlikely detective duo are in their office when the boxer, Tommy Nelson walks in, all cagey like and makes a phone call. It’s Lou that recognizes who he is. Bud is still in the dark. That old straight guy/fun guy thing really working full speed.
Tommy needs to go to the Doc’s place and ends up getting injected with invisibility serum. He needs the comedy duo to help find out who murdered his manager, a murder in which he has been convicted of. They agree and drive him to meet Dr. Phillip Gray, the posh doc played brilliantly by Gavin Muir. His accent is just sublime. I just wish he was in the film more.
The Doc refuses, the cops arrive, and Tommy takes the serum on his own. It doesn’t work straight away but it eventually does when he is alone with Lou and the handshake scene is priceless. It’s the first glimpse of how the invisibility effects are going to pan out. They work, there is no denying that. I don’t think there is one moment throughout the film that features the invisible man that you think, yeah, I know how they did that or I can see the strings. It doesn’t happen. I won’t list them here but each invisible man sequence is perfectly done and when you watch it you will agree. Be it spaghetti or playing cards.
A character that has to be mentioned is the detective played by William Frawley. His lines are sharp, delivered well and his frustration with Lou is just class. He sends him to a psychiatrist and Lou ends up hypnotizing everyone he comes across in a scene which includes a reference to a nursery rhyme about mice running up a clock. Again, I don’t want to give much away but it’s funny as hell.
This is where the film falls into two segments, the build-up to the big fight and the fight itself. We find Lou and Bud in a fancy restaurant with Tommy (invisible) at the table. They order food and the food scenes are the funniest and best scenes in the whole film. It is also the first time we see that Tommy might be starting to lose his mind a little. He gets this huge ego thing going and Lou and Bud try to keep him cool. It doesn’t work and all hell breaks loose in the restaurant, resulting in Tommy getting knocked out by some revolving doors. They get him back to the Doctors. Tommy is full of remorse, well acted by Arthur Franz who is a constant star throughout the film. A straight talking guy that compliments Lou and Buds slapstick brilliance.
Here we go then, fight night. You know what’s going to happen. Fight scenes will ensue, Lou Costello will camp it up and bounce about the ring like a fool but it will entertain you, it will make you smirk, maybe not laugh, but smirk and the bad guys will get their just reward. I can’t be bothered detailing all the scenes and quotes that matter, there’s no point. If you want to watch it then do so. I recommend that you do.
I’d like to say one final thing about this film, Abbot and Costello Meet The Invisible Man, this is not a horror movie, it’s not even a comedy. It does entertain, it has those old moments, those, ‘Why, I outta…’ moments, but that’s standard with an Abbot and Costello film. You know what to expect. Did I enjoy it? Yeah, of course, I did but I’m not going out of my way to talk it up like a lot of folks do. It is what it is. I’m a fan but if I had the choice of spending my Saturday afternoons watching this or a Marx brothers film, I would go all out Groucho. That’s just me. I like horror and this isn’t. I like comedy and this is dated. Worth a watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon if you have nothing else to be doing but don’t go out of your way to check it out. It is what it is. Too much film on a really slim plot.
My rating: 3/5
Lewis Duncan is an up and coming writer and graphic artist. You can find his work on numerous book covers recently released this year, including books by Dawn Cano, Duncan Ralston, and myself (Thomas S. Flowers). He also has upcoming projects with the likes of Kit Power and Rich Hawkins. Some of Lewis’s publishing work includes Violent Delights, in which he co-wrote with Dawn Cano. He is an avid reader and supporter of fellow indie writers. His artwork is stylized in a retro, space-age grunge, 70s grindhouse. You can follow Lewis on Facebook to keep up with all his latest work.
On today’s agenda, we bring you, The Mummy’s Hand (1940), directed by Christy Cabanne and produced by Ben Pivar. Another first screening for me on this journey through the classic Universal Monster pictures. Thus far, we’ve seen the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and even one of the famed Abbott and Costello flicks, as well as some of the lesser knowns, the sequels to the great pillars of horror. Last week, we had Dracula’s Daughter, which turned out to be a direct sequel from the original film. On this episode, we’ll take a closer look at a movie I doubt many have seen, unless they count themselves among the shuffling, perhaps even undead, prolific Universal aficionados. If you have, bravo. And I hope you enjoy the review. If you haven’t, well, read on and decide for yourself if this of many Universal Monster movies would be something you fancy yourself watching on a dark night during a thunder storm. The Mummy’s Hand was one of my personal picks when contacting fellow writers and bloggers to help with this monumental task of reviewing Universal’s macabre lexicon. Why? Well, I’m glad you asked. It is strange for me to say, the Mummy is one of my favorite monsters, especially considering how most of my published work thus far has focused on creating my own Wolfman’s and Frankenstein’s (though as a side-note and shameless self promotion, stay tuned for later this year when one my stories with my very own version on the Mummy gets published, wink wink). Regardless, the story of the Mummy is fascinating, to me at least. And I’m thinking on the boundaries of the Boris Karloff version, the brooding Imhotep willing to suffer live burial and a cursed death for his betrothed Anck-su-namun. With today’s adaptation, The Mummy’s Hand shares many similar attributes equally as it likewise differs wildly.
Here’s a quick fire synopsis to get us all on the same page.
In Cairo, amateur wannabe archaeologist Steve Banning (played by the very stoic but still fantastic Dick Foran) discovers a vase at a local market with his good pal Babe (played by funny man Wallace Ford), which he believes could lead them to the ancient tomb of Princess Ananka. Steve contacts his colleague Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) who believes, like Steve, the vase is a map to the tomb of Ananka. However, unknown to Steve and Dr. Petrie, fellow professor of Cairo Museum Andoheb (played by the steely eyed George Zucco), who happens to also be the High Priest of Karnac, a cult order of priests who hold the secrets of Karas, a mummy (played by future spaghetti western star Tom Tyler) who guards Ananka’s tomb. He attempts to persuade them the vase is a fake. When that fails, throughout the movie, he does everything he can to thwart the excavation of the ancient crypt. However, upon receiving funds from magician Solvani (Cecil Kellaway) and his daughter, Marta (the famous Peggy Moran), Steve, his sidekick Babe, and the Solvanis, embark on an expedition to the grave site, where Karas awaits slumbering. Andoheb is then forced to summon the shambling corpse to keep the Hills of the Seven Jackals (or some such nonsense) and the Temple of Ananka safe from outside encroachment, because, as every fan of Mummy movies knows, while science may reveal some secrets, there are other truths which must forever remain unknown.
I’m not going to sugar coat my review here, and up front I want to be honest that I had some wild expectations when walking into this movie. Mostly because of my love for the Karloff version, and secondly because of my fascination with the mythos itself, and third, I’d heard or read somewhere the film was actually quite horrifying. And while I will not argue there are some rather dark and terrifying scenes, especially during close-ups of the Mummy when it looks as if the creature has hollowed out eyes, I’d say The Mummy’s Hand was far from being a true horror movie. If I had to categorize the film, it’d be right next to the Abbott and Costello pictures that would eventually release in the mid thru late 40s. The comedy, while at times actually humorous and well blended, did not seem to mesh well with the entire scope of the film. The relationship between Steve and Babe felt as if I was indeed watching an infant version of Bud and Lou. Perhaps, in retrospect, maybe my critique is due to my expectations, after all, the Karloff version had absolutely zero comedy and was altogether serious, due more or less to the decade of depression than anything else. Still, I found more things jarring then I did entertaining. Here are a few of my least favorite things about The Mummy’s Hand:
- Reboot. Yup, pretty much is. Sure, they changed the names, but the first scene backstory is pretty much a shot-for-shot of the story of Imhotep attempting to bring to life Anck-su-namun. Getting caught. And being buried alive. They simply replaced Karloff with Tyler. Some of the scenes actually look identical to the original. To me, this is lazy story telling.
- Full moon? What is the deal with everything involving a full moon with this movie? If I wanted a werewolf I’d watch something with Lon Chaney Jr. in it. This is the Mummy for crying out loud! And the moon is never really fully fleshed out, just given random references from the supporting cast, something about an elixir given to the “sleeping” mummy every full moon or something like that to keep him alive, or rather, undead. And then there was something about Jackals or whatever. And of course, who can forgive the Bela ripoff as the former high priest paraphrases Dracula with a “children of the night” quote. Ugh!
- Motivation. When writing characters, one must make them believable, the reader or audience must understand the motivation of the characters. They don’t have to agree with them, but the motivations must be plausible. I was actually able to follow along with The Mummy’s Hand through half of the movie. Yes, I get it. Steve got canned from the university and is looking prove himself as an budding archaeologist. Andoheb wants to protect the tomb in which the greedy men and woman are attempting to “steal the secrets,” and after watching them sledgehammer and manhandle their way into the tomb, I don’t blame the guy, seriously! Regardless, when the mummy starts taking them out, one by one, and we can certainty cheer during these brief moments of horror, the motivation of the mummy seems dull. The mummy obeys because it wants the elixir? Really, that’s what you’re going with? And what the heck is going on when the mummy kidnaps Marta, aka Peggy Moran? Okay, we can probably chock it up to a classic monster trope, but why, oh why is Andoheb suddenly attracted to her? He plans on making them both immortal, because, as he says, she is so beautiful. While the Elixir of Immortality is an interesting concept, it was very really played up enough in the movie for it to become a prime motivation for the story. It made zero sense.
- Babe straight up murderers an unarmed Andoheb and nothing is said about it or comes about.
- Category. I’m really not sure how to categorize this film. Is it a black comedy, is it horror, or is it something of a noir film as it seemed most of everyone was costumed in those sleek fedoras. Or maybe the film was a hybrid horror, comedy, spaghetti-western (the ending will explain this for you, six-shooters and all, and noting how pretty much the entire cast went on to make a dozen of those grainy wagon wheel movies).
Certainly, there was plenty wrong with The Mummy’s Hand. I had expected serious horror and got instead a strange brew (no pun intended) of dark comedy and noir-western. However, we cannot discredit the film as being both moderately entertaining and a member of the Universal Monster classics. Watching the film for a second time, I did everything I could to remove all expectation and truly found myself enjoying the movie more than during my first screening. Some of the issues cannot be ignored, but altogether The Mummy’s Hand was still a monster movie, and in of itself had inspired later monster pictures, including a very reminiscent 1959 Hammer film titled simple, The Mummy starring both Peter Crushing and Christopher Lee (but in all honesty, Hammer did it waaaaaay better). The comedy of Wallace Ford (also marvelous in Tod Browning’s Freaks) playing the part of Babe was fantastic, in its own right. Dick Foran as our leading man was…okay, he did seem to be a bit stoic, and as I understand it he returned to the Mummy lexicon for one more picture in The Mummy’s Tomb with Lon Chaney Jr. taking on the role as Mummy. Peggy Moran was, to be blunt, kind of a prune, yet surprisingly strong and willful, until the end of course when her character Marta falls into the inevitable monster movie trope for women, which sadly still seems to go on into modern horror movies today. What can we say about Tom Tyler, who donned the bandages of the Mummy? His actions were certainly creepy, but the character in itself was mute, in more ways than one—sort of betrothed just as the movie was.
My Rating: 2/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.