Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Mummy's Ghost - 1944

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Director:                         Reginald LeBorg
Screenplay:                   Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher & Brenda Weisberg
Original Story:               Griffin Jay & Henry Sucher
Photography:                William Sickner
Makeup:                        Jack P. Pierce

Cast
Kharis:                          Lon Chaney, Jr.
Yousef Bey:                  John Carradine
Tom:                             Robert Lowery
Amina:                          Ramsay Ames
Inspector Walgreen:    Barton MacLane
High Priest:                  George Zucco
Prof. Norman:              Frank Reicher
Sheriff Elwood          :  Harry Shannon
Coroner:                       Emmett Vogan
Dr. Ayad:                      Lester Sharpe
Night Watchman:         Oscar O'Shea

 (Before you start reading, you really should go back and read the first 2 parts of this.  1st -"The Mummy's Hand",  2nd -"Mummy's Tomb".  Then you will be able to truly appreciate the grandeur of the story.  For that matter, start with "The Mummy".  You'll be glad you did.)

Here we go again!  A few stock shots of the Sphinx and the pyramids establish that we are supposed to be in Egypt. We have moved ahead from "The Mummy's Tomb" and meet some old and some new characters.  George Zucco returns to play the REALLY old high priest once more.  He sends a new young priest, Yousef Bey, on a mission to reunite the lovers, Kharis and Ananka.  He is played by everyone’s ninth or tenth favorite old horror actor, John Carradine.

Carradine had a half and half career – half distinguished, as in many Shakespearean roles on stage, as well as in great movies such as “Stagecoach”, "The Grapes of Wrath”, "Drums Along the Mohawk"; and half cheese-filled ham rolls like this one.   He was an actor of great ability, but who also had a great ability to chew the scenery like nobody’s business. In this he manages, for the most part, to remain dignified and slightly underplay his role.  I give him credit, since it can’t be easy for an actor to sell something like this:

“I swear by the mighty power of Amon-Ra, whose anger can shatter the
 world and by the dread horror of Set, that I shall never forsake my
trust as a Priest of Arkam. Nor shall I rest until the Princess Ananka
and Kharis are safe once more in the Hills of Arkam.”

In "The Mummy's Ghost" we seem to have wandered away from the Valley of the Seven Jackals, and the priests of the sect of the temple of Karnak have now become the priests of the sect of the temple of Arkam.  On an historical note:  This is actually the first documented instance of a successful sects change.  And isn’t Arkam the same place where H.P.Lovecraft said that Miskatonic University was located?  Ok, maybe not.

This time it is Ananka who was cursed and doomed, with Kharis buried with her as her guardian into eternity.  Her mummy was discovered and  removed by Stephen Banning in “The Mummy's Hand” and brought to the Scripps museum.  This one is fresh and unique since it does not rehash the back-story by showing the archival film from 1932’s “The Mummy”. 

As a matter of fact, as soon as the High Priest starts into his spiel, we dissolve to a university classroom back in Massachusetts, where Professor Norman is lecturing the students about Kharis, etc.  Professor Norman, appeared in “Tomb” as the scientist who determined that it was indeed a mummy who was murdering the good townsfolk of Mapelton.  His lecture provides the exposition needed to get us back on track.  We are introduced to our young heroine Amina, an Egyptian exchange student.  Guess whom she is going to be the reincarnated form of?  No…really….guess.  We know this for certain when moody music starts up and she looks worried when the word ‘Egypt’ is spoken.  Her boyfriend, Tommy says, “What’s wrong with Egypt?  It’s as modern and up to date as any other country.”  Were we courting Egypt as an Allied country in 1944?   We also meet the other major character and real hero of the piece, Tom’s dog Peanuts. 

After we leave the lecture hall things start to heat up when Kharis appears.  Apparently he’s just been wandering around the countryside unseen for the past five years.  Yousef Bey arrives and starts brewing up some tana leaf tea, which brings Kharis tout suite.  They agree on the usual game plan – find Ananka and take her back to Egypt.  They go to the Scripps Museum where her mummified remains are on display.  Kharis reaches into the sarcophagus to cop a feel (give him a break, it’s been a long time), but her body disappears, leaving only the wrappings.  Bey tells him that her soul has entered another form.  Kharis has a hissy fit and busts up the museum, kills a guard, you know - the usual. 

For all the good natured ribbing I am giving this movie, I have to say – Lon Chaney did a pretty good job with this one, even though it was one of his least favorite roles.  He was able to convey some actual emotion from underneath all that costume and make-up.  He uses hand gestures, posture, his head and body; everything except his face and voice.  He somehow conveys anger, grief, and frustration with some simple movements and makes a more sympathetic character than we have seen in the other episodes.  This was another actor who could turn in a great performance when given a chance: “Of Mice and Men” proved that. 

Prof. Norman now does a spectacularly stupid thing, considering he was in the last movie and is fully aware of the existence of Kharis.  He has been entrusted with the sarcophagus containing the tana leaves.  He follows the directions on the side of the package and brews nine just to see what would happen.  Needless to say, Kharis gets a whiff of the tana-tantalizing potion and hot-foots it over to the Norman home.  The Professor is strangled, and so does not have to appear in the next movie.  It is actually one of the most effective scenes in the series.  Norman is alone in his dark office, lit by a single lamp.  Kharis appears at the French doors, and we get some nice POV shots between the two characters as Kharis comes closer. 

Meanwhile, Amina has been awakened by something and in a trance, follows Kharis.  She faints outside the Norman home and is discovered there by the police.  Suspicion falls on her, and Tom tries to help by planning to elope with her to New York.  She has also developed a new birthmark on her arm, and has a new Bride of Frankenstein white streak in her hair which no one remarks upon.

While Kharis is looking for her, she takes another trance induced stroll.  He recognizes her and carries her off.  Aminas hair continues turning whiter in each scene, and it continues to not be noticed by anyone. 
Honey, LOVE what you've done with your hair!

Carradine (surprise!) is instantly overwhelmed by her beauty.  The oath that he took above is sort of fading away.  He then has a nice little hammy scene where he argues with himself for and against making Amina Mrs. Priest of Arkam and not returning to Egypt as planned.  Kharis overhears this screwy monologue and gets mighty peeved, realizing how hard it would be to start dating again after all this time.  He takes care of the priest with one punch and throws him out the window. 

And what has our little hero been doing this whole time?  Peanuts witnessed the abduction and starts barking his head off to awaken the landlady who calls Tom and the police.  Peanuts has followed Kharis and Amina so can lead the search party to the right place.  Tom attempts to fight Kharis but is coldcocked by one sweep of a 3000 year old hand, leaving Peanuts to carry on alone.  He then barks out orders and leads the search party to follow Kharis.  Really, this dog is a natural leader.  I almost wish I could say I was making this up. 
Our hero, Peanuts (center) gets some support from fellow actors.
Tom shows up just in time to see Kharis carry a now fully white-haired-withered-mummified Amina into the swamp and disappear under the water. That would be the swamps of Massachusetts.  I’ll let you think about that one for a minute.

Ready for our last stop?  Jambalaya…crawfish pie…file gumbo!  That’s right!  Me-oh-my-oh, we are headed next to bayou country, Louisiana U.S.A.  Son of a gun, gonna have big fun with "The Mummy's Curse”.


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