Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Mummy's Curse - 1944


Director:                          Leslie Goodwins
Screenplay:                     Bernard L. Schubert
Original Story
    and Adaptation:            Leon Abrams, Dwight V. Babcock,
                                             and TH Richmond
Photography:                    Virgil Miller
Camera Operator:           William Dodds
Photographic Effects:      John P. Fulton
Editor:                                Fred R. Feitshans, Jr
Song, "Hey You",
     Music:                           Oliver Drake
     Lyrics:                           Frank Orth
Make up:                          Jack P. Pierce

Kharis                         Lon Chaney, Jr.
Dr. Ilzor Zandaab       Peter Coe
Ananka                       Virginia Christine
Betty Walsh                Kay Harding
Dr. James Halsey      Dennis Moore
Ragheb                       Marrtin Kosleck
Cajun Joe                   Kurt Katch
Tante Berthe              Ann Codee

(Before you start reading, you really should go back and read the first 3 parts of this.  1st -"Mummy's Hand",  2nd -"Mummy's Tomb", and 3rd - "Mummy's Ghost".  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.)

Believe it or not, and why wouldn’t you, "The Mummy's Curse" takes place 25 years after the last episode of this four part undead epic, "The Mummy's Ghost". We have to be well into the 21st century by now, but it still looks suspiciously like 1944. Universal announced the start of this project even before the last one had been released. It was shot over a two week period at bargain basement rates. Every expense was spared for this one.

We are now in Louisiana among some very low rent Hollywood Cajuns who speak in a variety of accents and who are working on a government project to drain the swamp. They are whiling away their free time in a bar being entertained by Tante Berthe who sings a “French” song. Yes, this one has music.

Two stiffs from the Scripps Museum show up to try to recover the bodies of Kharis and Ananka which had slipped into the swamp in Massachusetts in the last movie, remember? Whenever I try to think that one through my head feels as if it is about to explode. Time and space are meaningless! I think we’ve hit a wormhole! Somebody call Stephen Hawking! One of the museum reps is a Dr. Zandaab, who in a stunning and unprecedented plot twist turns out to be a high priest of Arkam! And he’s really working to revive Kharis!! And find the princess!!! I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

Since in the last two films we have not revisited the old footage from "The Mummy”, Zandaab must think we are nostalgic for it. As he tells the tale to his new assistant/evil henchman Ragheb, we see the misty vision of the ancient story with Karloff still recognizable in some scenes and Tom Tyler standing in for the close-ups…

Jay Leno: So Kharis, does this clip need any set up?
Kharis: No Jay, you infidel dog, may your bones never find rest.
Leno: Hey, that’s what Conan said to me too. (Audience groans and laughter.) Ok, can we roll that?

A bulldozer moving earth uncovers the body of Ananka. Her resurrection from the swamp is probably the most striking and beautiful scene in the series. One hand appears out of the muck. Then very slowly her head and torso emerge encrusted with mud. As she painfully struggles to stand and then walk she is drawn by the warmth and light of the sun. She finds a pond, slips in and washes off the mud. We next see her wandering through the swamp looking as if she had just come from the beauty shop. I guess those mud pack facials do wonders after all.

She is played by Virginia Christine, who about 25 years later would get a much cushier gig as Folgers Coffee’s Mrs. Olsen.

One of the Cajun workers finds her and takes her to Tante Berthe who takes care of her and is killed by Kharis for her trouble.

 Ananka then finds refuge in the archeologists’ camp and impresses them with her knowledge of ancient Egypt and with her inability to know who the heck she is. Kharis tracks her down, and chases her. He stops to kill some bystander and Ananka escapes. He chases her some more, more bystanders are killed and she escapes again. Then the hero gets into the act, and he chases Kharis, and on and on. I think Kharis’ problem was a short attention span. He corners his princess and is within grabbing distance; he sees someone about 30 feet away and has to go strangle them, letting Ananka escape…again! Focus Kharis, focus!! Eyes on the prize!

This is probably as good a time as any to mention one of my favorite goofy bits from the mummy series. Kharis has one good arm and is dragging one foot. Whoever he is chasing is always moving like a running back heading for the end zone, but Kharis always catches up. He probably doesn’t even break a sweat worrying about it.

There is another little switcheroo at the end. This time it is not the high priest who falls for the charms of the heroine, it is the evil henchman. He lures trusting, innocent Betty away to have his evil henchman way with her. The high priest tries to halt these shenanigans so the evil guy kills him. This pisses off Kharis who then goes after evil guy. In their struggle the ruins collapse and the building falls down killing them both. What better way to end than to bring the house down? Kharis had to at least be grateful that he wasn’t set on fire again. Ananka is lying in her sarcophagus fully mummified for perhaps the last time.

Unlike the last movie where he did a good job of bringing some depth and pathos to his character, here Chaney looks tired and just shuffles through the role. It’s too bad more care wasn’t put into these movies in terms of decent scripts. Chaney might have been able to carry through and make Kharis his own unique monster, as he did with the Wolf Man. He also happens to be the most full figured mummy you will ever see.

I know I still sound as if I don’t like this movie. That’s not true. I say again that I love this series beyond the reach of any common sense. All the gaps in logic and continuity just add to their charm.

All right class, let’s have a final review before the test. What have we learned about mummy movies today?
1. If you are a scientist in the movie and you try something “just to see what happens”, you deserve what you get.
2. If you are the young hero and you have a dog – just relax and let the dog do the heavy lifting.
3. If you are the mummy always make friends with the film editor. That way it doesn’t matter how slowly you move, you will always catch up to your victim.
4. For the love of heaven, never brew NINE tana leaves!
Last and most important -
5. There is no more irresistibly alluring female on the planet than the heroine of a B-monster movie.

Well, there you have it. We have completed our marathon. Hopefully you are all still in one piece and have retained your sanity. As for me, I’m going to dust myself off and move on to something that will help me regain my faith in the goodness of humanity, something to help me make sense of the universe again, something wholesome and uplifting. What would that be? Zombie movies, what else?!

Have a comment about this post?  Please, be my guest.  Indulge yourself.  I would love to hear from you.  Click on “Comments” below.  Thanks!

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