Thursday, October 29, 2015

Universal's Mummy Movies of the 1940s

Jack Pierce's make-up, shown in
shadows here, is impressive.
The Mummy's Hand (1940) - Perhaps surprisingly, this reboot of Universal's Mummy franchise may be the most influential of all movies about the cloth-wrapped creature. It reinvents the ancient Egyptian backstory from the 1932 original, with Prince Kharis stealing tana leaves to restore life to his beloved, deceased Princess Ananka. When his plans go awry, he is arrested, mummified, and buried alive. Centuries later, when American archaeologists discover Ananka's tomb, a high priest revives Kharis to protect her. Strictly a "B" film, The Mummy's Hand has a running time of just 67 minutes--though it takes 38 of those minutes for the Mummy to make his first appearance! Dick Foran stars as the bland hero and Wallace Ford provides unnecessary comic relief. Still, there are a couple of old pros around to lend some credibility to the proceedings: George Zucco as the high priest and Cecil Kellaway as a magician who finances the expedition (his name is misspelled as "Kelloway" in the credits). Former cowboy star Tom Tyler makes an impressive Mummy; it's just too bad he wasn't in more of the film. The Mummy's Hand was a big hit for Universal and a new 1940s franchise was born. Incidentally, the effective music score was borrowed from 1939's Son of Frankenstein.

Elyse Knox.
The Mummy's Tomb (1942) - Thirty years after the incidents of The Mummy's Hand, Kharis (now played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) and a young high priest (Turhan Bey) seek revenge on the Banning family in a New England town. Despite an unnecessary eight-minute recap of the preceding film, I found this sequel entertaining thanks to an exciting, fiery climax and the atmospheric shots of Kharis trudging alongside white picket fences and across lonely nighttime landscapes. Alas, the blaze at the end of The Mummy's Hand has left Kharis with a blind eye to go along with his pronounced limp and bad left arm. He moves so slowly that it's hard to fathom why his victims just don't run away. On the plus side, Elyse Knox--who became Mark Harmon's mother--makes a fetching heroine. It's easy to see why Turhan Bey's character puts Kharis on the back-burner and shifts his interest to her. The aforementioned climax, featuring a posse with torches setting fire to the Bannings' mansion, oddly recalls the ending of 1931's Frankenstein. Finally, if this took place 30 years after The Mummy's Hand, that would make the year 1970--an interesting thought.

Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis.
The Mummy's Ghost (1944) - Amina, a young Egyptian woman who works at the Scripps Museum in Mapleton, gets "jittery" whenever someone mentions Egypt. The reason becomes clear when Kharis and another high priest (John Carradine) try to retrieve Ananka's mummified corpse from the museum. Just as Kharis reaches into the casket for his loved one, Ananka turns into dust and her soul is transferred into Amina. While the whole town searches for Kharis, the Mummy sets his sight on Amina, who has developed a white stripe in her hair (similar to the one sported by the Bride of Frankenstein). A lackluster entry in the series, The Mummy's Ghost limps along until it's almost redeemed by a nifty climax that's truly unique for the horror genre in the 1940s. Robert Lowery, who plays the dull over-aged collegiate hero, later became the second actor to play Batman in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin. He later had a lengthy career on television.

Virginia Christine as Ananka.
The Mummy's Curse (1944) - Following his swampy demise in the previous film, Kharis reappears when a bulldozer unearths him in the Louisiana Bayou. Yes, somehow the nearby town of Mapleton has been magically relocated from New England! Another young high priest and his unsavory assistant revive Kharis with the hope of reuniting him with Princess Ananka and transporting both back to Egypt. Meanwhile, Ananka--who is not quite a mummy yet--digs herself out of the swamp and reverts back to a beautiful, but very confused, young woman. The Mummy's Curse is the weakest of the four post-Karloff Mummy movies. It's a very repetitious outing (did we really need another flashback of Kharis' origin?). The Louisiana setting and a deserted monastery add a little atmosphere, but that's all this chapter in the Mummy saga has to offer. The only cast member of note is Virginia Christine, who played Ananka. She had a long career in supporting roles on films and in television, but may be best remembered as the Swedish Mrs. Olson in a series of Folgers coffee commercials in the 1960s.


This post of part of the Universal Pictures Blogathon hosted by our friends at Silver Scenes. Click here to view the entire blogathon schedule!

15 comments:

  1. Chaney's anger at being mummified adds to his performance, despite rumors of being doubled. Reportedly he broke thru real glass, injuring himself in the process, and his choking of a security guard uncomfortably convincing. In this series, neither being the heroes nor heroine saves you from death. In the second one he comes back after thirty years to murder the old duffers who'd caused him all that trouble in the first flick.

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  2. Great overview of these films, Rick! It's also fun to watch the Hammer version to see how much they borrowed from these earlier Universal pictures.

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    1. Jennifer, the Hammer Mummy (the first one) is my favorite Mummy movie.

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  3. Universal was onto a good thing with The Mummy. A little more money plus a little more effort and they could have had classics instead of merely classic fun.

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  4. Watched The Mummy's Hand because I wanted to see Tom Tyler playing the mummy. He was excellent as Captain Marvel and the Phantom in those serials.

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  5. Terrific post, Rick. I enjoyed reading it.

    I used to love these movies as a kid and even as a young adult, Rick. Luckily there was a TV station in NY - I think Channel 9 or maybe, 11 which used to show these all the time.

    But last year I tried watching THE MUMMY'S HAND for the first time in many years and just couldn't get through it.

    Sometimes it's better not to go back.

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  6. We had a Mummy marathon in our home and, like you, I thought the retelling of Kharis's story did seem repetitious. Another great post, just in time for Halloween!

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  7. I've not seen these post-Karloff mummy movies – because can anything live up to Karloff's character? However, they do look like they have merit...and who can resist a mummy movie?

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  8. Now, this is my kind of monster movie!! I love all those Universal monster films. I found "The Mummy's Ghost" to be the weakest of the lot and really enjoyed "The Mummy's Hand" and "The Mummy's Curse". I always have a soft spot for "The Mummy's Hand" because of what Tom Tyler went through at the end of his life.

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    1. I thought Tyler was a pretty good Mummy. t's too bad that he couldn't continue in the role.

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  9. One funny aspect of these movies that I have a hard time letting go of is the fact that the sequels keep jumping forward in time by decades, and yet no matter how far into the future the story progresses, it never looks any later than the early 1940s.

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    1. True, THE MUMMY'S TOMB doesn't look like 1972!

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    2. Right, and The Mummy's Curse looks pretty different from the mid-nineties that I remember.

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  10. I have been wanting to see The Mummy's Curse and tell myself every Halloween "this is the year!" and then I don't get around to it. The idea of a bulldozer unearthing Kharis sounds too good to pass up. These 1940s mummy films didn't have the eerie glamour of the original but I love them anyway. Thanks for including this post in the Universal blogathon!

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  11. I love all the Mummys - or is it Mummies? Anyway, these are the type of horror films that I absolutely adore. I like my scary films fun, not disgusting. Great post, Rick.

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