Sunday, October 25, 2020

Monsterpiece Theater: Universal Monster Mash- The Mummy

by Rustbelt

And we’re back! After a yearlong delay, (for a variety of reasons), our October block party, otherwise known as the Universal Monster Mash, is back on! The good news is that there’s plenty for us to cover this month, including some films that are just a bit off the radar. The bad news is that we’re starting with the Mummy... the red-headed stepchild/black sheep of the Universal Monster Canon. The former member of the Egyptian household reduced to the aftermath of modern-day frat hazing. The walking, untalking advertisement for the identity-concealing powers of Ace bandages. Yeah, it’s the Mummy.
Two years ago, we discussed some Monsters who started off strong, only to lose their staying power as the sequels piled on. The Mummy, by contrast start off…okay. And then fell off a cliff steeper than the façade at the temple of Abu Simbel. (And for a reason that will show you that Hollywood was just as insane then as it is today.) So, with all that in mind and without ado, I give you Universal’s first attempt at a featured creature not based on a work of literature. (The Wolf Man came nine years later.)

The Mummy (Universal, 1932) (Trailer)

Plot: It’s 1921 and British archaeologist Sir Joseph Wemple (Arthur Byron) is examining an unusual mummy, that of a high priest named Imhotep. His colleague, Dr. Muller (Edward van Sloan), arrives and deduces that the mummy- whose coffin was damaged and had been buried with a manuscript called the Scroll of Thoth- is cursed and should be avoided. However, Wemple’s foolish young assistant Ralph (Bramwell Fletcher) opens the scroll and reads a life-giving incantation which causes the mummy to awaken, take the scroll, and leave. The Doc and the Sir arrive to find the mummy gone and Ralph laughing himself into insanity.
Fast forward ten years to 1931 in Cairo, where the younger Wemple, Frank (David Manners), and his boss, Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie) are about to wrap up an unsuccessful dig. Just then, an Arab-ish-looking man with a skull-like face, broad shoulders and a Fez! named Ardath Bey arrives and directs them to find the tomb of Princess Anuk-es-en-Amon. The discovery makes them famous. But Bey has other plans.

Muller arrives and soon discovers Bey’s secret- that he is actually Imhotep. Wemple also reveals that the museum now has the Scroll of Thoth, which Muller demands be destroyed. Imhotep uses his powers of mind control to make Wemple’s Nubian servant his own, and then kill Wemple before he can destroy the scroll. As this happens, Imhotep begins pursuing a woman named Helen (Zita Johann), whom Frank has taken a liking to.
Imhotep finally takes the scroll back from the Wemple residence and brings Helen to the museum. He reveals that Helen is the reincarnation of Anuk-es-en-Amon, and that when he tried to bring her back to life with the school of Thoth, he was caught and sentenced to being buried alive as a cursed being ). Imhotep then tries to kill Helen and revive her as a living mummy like himself. While holding off Frank and Muller, Helen (her Egyptian memories reawakened), prays to Isis to save her. A statue of the goddess suddenly points at Imhotep and his body crumbles into dust
Thoughts and Background: After all the name-calling I did a few paragraphs ago, you might think that I believe all these movies stink out loud. Well, to be honest, this first entry in the line of mummy movies isn’t that bad. It’s limited but it has an atmosphere reminiscent of ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ common to Universal’s early 1930’s horror movies. Maybe if I add some info I can explain.

‘The Mummy’ was originally going to be a film about an immortal, revenge-seeking magician until screenwriter John Balderston was assigned to it. As a reporter, Balderston had covered the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Canarvon in 1925 and had a genuine love and knowledge of Egyptology. So, he kept the outline of the story, but changed the setting. Karl Freund- the man who saved ‘Dracula’ just two years earlier- was made director. But the project was given just a three-week shoot. As the saying goes, “’The Mummy’ was green-lit on a Saturday, casted on a Sunday, and began filming on a Monday.” This, I think accounts for the film’s shortcomings. Almost all the scenes feel like tight, confined sets. The lack of extras for most of the feature reveals the empty space, stage-like feeling. You can tell this was a rushed film that Universal execs weren’t putting a lot of effort into. But it still works.

Freund uses many of the same German Expressionist techniques that he used on ‘Dracula,’ particularly with Karloff’s face and the lighting in the tomb and the museum. But that’s not the only Transylvanian connection here. Screenwriter Balderston had previously co-written the Dracula stage play that served as a basis for that film. (You can see a lot of that movie’s film structure in ‘the Mummy.’) And van Sloan does a near carbon copy of his Van Helsing character for Muller. The rest is pretty good, though not that memorable. Many people praise Zita Johann for her as Helen, but I think she was par the course for 1930’s actresses. And speaking of actors…
Karloff (the Uncanny) as the Imhotep/Adath/Bey: Boris’s one and only appearance as the Bandaged One might surprise people. Particularly since he only wears the bandages for a few brief moments in the opening scene. That was probably to his relief, as it took Jack Pierce eight hours to apply the cotton, clay, spirit gum, and linen wrappings to create the look. Then seven hours to shoot the scenes. And another two hours to remove the stuff. And what did Karloff have to say about to Pierce about the look? “Good job, Jack. But you forgot to give me a fly.”

He spends the rest of the film either in either Arab garb- with a Fez!- with tissue paper in his face (to create he dried-out appearance) or in ancient Egyptian clothes for the flashback to Imhotep’s cursed punishment. But believe me, this is a good thing.
Karloff uses his facial expressions and mere presence like few actors can. (Although Christopher Lee comes to mind.) Using a brooding manner, Karloff draws in the viewers’ attention. Imhotep thus has an almost ethereal presence, hanging over the other characters and using his magic as a puppet master and creating a formidable opponent for the heroes. If only this was how the series continued…

The Mummy’s Hand (Universal, 1942) (Trailer)

Plot: It’s time for a changing of the guard at the local Egyptian Cult Club. Andoheb (George Zucco), who wears a Fez! while traveling by camel across hilly, grass-and-forest encrusted hills of Californee, uh, Egypt, arrives to meet with the cult’s dying high priest. It seems the cult guards the tomb of Princess Ananka. The main guardian is Kharis, a former high priest of Egypt who was in love with Ananka and tried to use sacred tana leaves to bring her back to life, but was caught and sentenced to be buried alive and cursed and…you just rebooted the series!
Soon, we’re introduced to a pair of ne’er-do-well “archaeologists,” Banning (Dick Foran) and Jensen (Wallace Ford) come across a broken vase in Cairo which they think will lead them to Ananka’s tomb. To finance a dig, they convince a down-on-his-luck magician (Cecil Kellaway) to fund them. The magician’s daughter, Marta (Peggy Moran), thinks they’re unreliable (smart lady) and tries to get the money back by confronting the duo in their hotel and firing twenty shots from a six-chambered revolver. Banning charms her and convinces her to join them. (stupid lady)
I should also mention that Andoheb keeps Kharis alive with a mixture of three tana leaves a day. Nine leaves on a night of the Full Moon make him walk again. Also, Andoheb works at a museum and tried to keep Banning and Jensen from…no, no. I have to say it. The filmmakers are trying to pass these two off as a comedy duo. A terrible comedy duo. So, from now on, they will be known as NotAbbott and NotCostello.

The team arrives at Ananka’s tomb, where Andoheb has Kharis kill the only competent scientist in the group. In fact, he’s strangled with the Mummy’s hand! We have a title! And in a further plot twist, Andoheb has decided he’s in love with Marta and will use tana leaves to give them both immortality. Calm down…calm down… But lucky for us(?), NotCostello shoots and kills Andoheb and NotAbbott destroys Kharis’ tana fluid. Then he sets him on fire. The team loots the tomb and heads home filthy, stinking rich.
Background and Thoughts: What is there to add? I mean, really? The Mummy was a one-trick bad guy and they probably did the best they could with the Karloff movie. Now, to make up for the lack of substance, they add bad humor (“we got nothing!”) and a cult (the last resort of all featureless horror films). In fact, this movie suffers from multiple personality disorder. It doesn’t know if it’s supposed to be a comedy (with NotAbbott and NotCostello) or an honest attempt at a horror flick (with Andoheb and the cult). And it fails at both. Not to mention this is the first of THREE- not one, not two, but THREE reboots of Universal’s Mummy character. Truth be said, I liked Brendan Fraser’s 1999 film. And while you couldn’t bribe me to see the Tom Cruise version, I’d bet it’s still better than this one!
Tom Tyler as Kharis: And for the cherry on top, the Monster of the title is reduced to being a henchman. Does this make this the first movie named after a henchman? And, of course, we finally get the mummy you’ve all been expecting: wrapped up in bandages, plodding, dragging its feet, and going for the throat (with hands). Kharis is an unworthy successor to Imhotep. Imhotep ran the show; Kharis is Fritz to Abdoheb’s Doc Frankenstein. So, in both literal and slang terms, the Mummy has become a tool.

The Mummy’s Tomb (Universal, 1942) (Trailer)

Plot: As much as I don’t want to, out next story picks thirty years later after the last movie. And at his home in Massachusetts, NotAbbott (Dick Foran) spends- I think- about ten minutes recounting the last movie for his sister, son, and future daughter-in-law. One thing: I just reviewed this movie! I DON’T NEED TO SEE IT AGAIN! Meanwhile, in Egypt, Andoheb (George Zucco), having survived what I’m guessing was a just a flesh wound inflicted by NotCostello thirty years ago, passes on his high priest title to Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey). Of course, he also explains how to remote control Kharis (who, it seems, didn’t burn up after all). Bey then packs Kharis into a crate and heads to the States for a little revenge- reanimated mummy style- against those and the descendants of those who desecrated Ananka’s tomb.
Bey gets a job as cemetery caretaker (because only Scotsmen are allowed the title of ‘groundkeepers’), and sets up shop. He orders Kharis (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to kill NotAbbott. And he succeeds! Attaboy, Kharis! Oh, and Marta died between movies, BTW. NotCostello arrives in town to pay his respects and when he hears of the manner of NotAbbott’s death, and especially after the death of NotAbbott’s sister, he is convinced it’s Kharis. No one believes him, naturally. Thus allowing Kharis to kill him, too. Here go, Kharis! Here we go! Whoo! Hoo!

Mummy-esque mold form the victims’ necks is all it takes to convince local officials that a reanimated mummy is on the loose and, killing at will in New England. (Perhaps since Stephen King hasn’t written ‘It’ at this time, it’s only the most logical conclusion in this part of E Pluribus Unum.) Bey has- what else?- taken a fancy to Isobel (Elyse Knox), fiancée of NotAbbott’s son, John (John Hubbard). Of course, he wants to marry her and use tana leaves to make them immortal.
To wrap things up- see what I did there?!- John, the sheriff, and a Pitchforks-and-Torches Mob arrives at the cemetery. Bey confronts them and is quickly shot by the sheriff. (But not the deputy.) Kharis is spotted with Isobel at the house. So, of course, the Mob sets it on fire. I mean, why see to the lady’s safety first? John rescues Isobel and Kharis seems to perish…though we don’t actually see this happen! Of course, that can only mean one thing… And in the denouement, John and Isobel marry before John, a doctor who’s been drafted to serve in the Army medical corps against the Nazis, leaves to join his unit.
Thoughts and Background: …have just a few questions here. You mean World War II is going on in this movie? That means ‘Mummy’s Hand’ took place in 1912! Well, I must say, Egypt has got to bet he most technologically advanced country on Earth, what with having 1940’s technology and clothing before the sinking of the Titanic and all. So, we went from a reboot to a sequel that’s just a remake of the reboot? You know, I’m going to stop being so hard on these filmmakers. They knew how to make money. How? Simple. They invented the ‘Friday the 13th’ formula years before the invention of the hockey mask. With only minor tweeks, just keep making the same film over and over again. Genius!
Lon Chaney (, Jr.) as Kharis: Nothing much to say here. Due to the restrictive nature of the Mummy costume, there wasn’t much Chaney could do other than use motions similar to the ones Tyler used in the film before this one. I will give kudos to the costume and makeup department, though. In keeping with the last film, Kharis appears burned and is missing his right hand. So, the last film wasn’t completely ignored. Okay. Not bad. Also, did you notice that this makes Chaney the only actor to play four classic Universal Monsters? Yep. He was the Count in ‘Son of Dracula,’ the Monster in ‘Ghost of Frankenstein,’ the Wolf Man in ‘the Wolf Man,’ and now he’s the Mummy. (At a close second is Christopher Lee, who played the Count, the Monster, and the Mummy for Hammer Studios.) Oh, about the parentheses in Chaney’s name? That was a studio decision. Chaney had reluctantly changed his name from Creighton to Lon, Jr. at the endless requests of studio bosses in order to benefit from the reputation of his late, great father. Now, for this film, they took away the ‘Jr.’ to capitalize on the father’s fame even more. It was something the younger Chaney deeply resented.
And about Karloff’s credit further up…Boris became an instant superstar after ‘Frankenstein.’ In fact, he became so big that Universal simply billed him by his last name only. Either that, or ‘Karloff the Uncanny,’ due to his roles in horror films. What studio execs will do for a few extra bucks, I tell you.

The Mummy’s Ghost (Universal, 1944) (Trailer)

Plot: In Eternal Aegypt, High Priest Andoheb passes on the duties and title of high to Yousef Bey (John Carradine) and gives him the task of inflicting revenge on [fill in the balk] with Kharis and…oh, here we go again. Didn’t we just do this?! I…I... All right. All right. To give this film the benefit of the doubt, Mehemet Bey was killed in the previous film, so a new high priest is obviously needed. (Though how Andoheb knew this is anyone’s guess.) But what’s with the nepotism here? Can only members of the Bey family succeed to the title of high priest in the 20th century?

Back in New England, Professor Norman (Frank Reicher), who helped defeat Kharis in the last film, finally figures out how the tana leaves are used to summon. And showing all the logic we’ve come to expect from this series, he lights the leaves and brings back Kharis, who strangles him. You know, that’s the second time this series has killed off characters from the previous film. And I thought the MCU was bloodthirsty…
Unlike other films, the good guys immediately realize a monster is on the loose and spare us the usual collecting-evidence- to-convince-the-officials subplot. What is new is that Amina (Ramsay Ames), a student at the college, is having strange dreams about Egypt. She even finds herself following Kharis when Professor Norman first wakes him up. At the same time, Bey- did I mention he wears a Fez!?- takes Kharis to the museum to view Ananka’s body- only to see it disappear under the wrappings! Kharis throws a fit while Bey deduces that Ananka’s spirit must have just been reincarnated in another body. Of course, it turns out to be Amina, who Kharis promptly kidnaps her and takes her to the mill where Bey will complete Ananka resurrection. Except…dissention!
Bey decides to use the tana leaves to instead preserve Amina’s beauty and then wed her. Naturally, Kharis doesn’t take his forced breakup well and kills the Fez!-wearer by throwing out a window. A Pitchforks-and-Torches Mob arrives, but it’s too late. Kharis carries Amina to a Swamp, where she promptly dries out and ages one hundred years into a mummy(?). They then sink into the swamp and that’s it.
Thoughts and Background: Again, we’re hit with Kharis finding a version of his long-lost love. However, having a body disappear and the spirit jumping into another living person…I’m no Buddhist, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how reincarnation works. Everything is, well, pretty much a rehash of the previous film. The only notable thing I can take away is that it’s the only film in this series that seems to not have a full generation gap in between, as several characters return and are ready for Kharis’ return. Not much else to say here.
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis: Pretty much the same as his last appearance as the Mummy. I wasn’t able to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure this is where Chaney started to get P.O.’d with the makeup department. Due to the nature of the makeup/costume (which still took eight hours to apply in full), he despised this character. But he did it because he was a contract player. I’ve heard that makeup boss Jack Pierce and director Reginald Le Borg developed a system so that only the parts of Chaney’s body that would be seen in any given shot would have to wrapped up for that days’ shooting. I suppose that might have made things easier. But despite that, Chaney was a trooper. In the scene where Ananka’s body is found to be missing, Kharis destroys the room in a fit of rage. Apparently, one of the case props for the room was made with real glass. And Chaney, not realizing this, smashed it anyway and sliced his hand. Ouch! But being a pro, (and knowing he only had one shot for the scene), he continued and finished going all Tommy Wiseau on the set.

The Mummy’s Curse (Universal, 1944) (Trailer)

Plot: Did you know mummies have the power of teleportation? Well, this movie will convince you that they do! You see, it starts in a Swamp that is being drained, but the workers are weary for fear of the two mummies that disappeared in it a generation ago. (Well, I’m guessing it was a generation ago.) All good and dandy, so far. Except that everything- the weather, the accents, and the company name, ‘Southern Engineering Company’- point to it taking place in Louisiana! Yes, it seems Kharis and Ananka sank in a New England swamp in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s and are about to emerge in the Louisiana bayou in in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. The presence of the mummies is confirmed by a pair of experts who arrive from the local museum where the mummies were previously kept. (Just roll with it. We’re almost done.) However, late that night, one of the experts, accompanied by a creep-looking guy (Martin Kosleck), climbs a hill to an abandoned monastery. Could he…is he…could this guy possibly be wearing the Mark of Evil itself? -a Fez!?
Yes! Yes, he is! He then gores into the monastery. And what do we get to see in there?
-Scooby-Doo and the gang running between a series of randomly opening doors along with the most famous ghouls they’ve ever faced?
-Pete Best- having already captured and now torturing the souls of John and George- now summoning Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep in order to carry out a final revenge against Paul and Ringo?
-The missing artworks stolen from the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston?
No, of course not. We get a friggin’ flashback! Yes, it seems our villain and new high priest, Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe), feels people watching this movie may not have seen the earlier Mummy movies. Though he may be right, I am in no mood at this point to suffer through all again. Die in a fire, all of you!
Okay, this going on too long. Let’s do this: Ananka (Virginia Chrsitine) rises out of the swamp and becomes young and becomes an assistant to the scientists due to her uncanny knowledge of Egyptian artifacts found in Louisiana but not before Kharis comes for her, killing workers and scientists alike before taking the seemingly amnesic Ananka to the abandoned monastery where the creepy-looking guy turns on Zandaab in order to get close to a lady whom Ananka befriended at the scientists’ camp, thus prompting Kahris to trap him in a room that collapses on both of them while the rest of the group finds Ananka’s newly-remummified re mains nearby.
Thoughts and Background: This is the epitome of laziness. Just another B-movie sequel squirted out to get the wartime audience to part with a couple of coins. No explanation for the inane change of location while watching yet another set of characters try to figure out what we, the audience, have already known for four movies now. (Suddenly, the previous film seems almost better for having done away with that.) About the only real difference here- other than the southern location- is that we don’t have a passing-the-high-priest-title scene in Egypt.
Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis: It’s pretty clear that Chaney’s career is already showing signs of his multi-decade decline. From everything I’ve learned about him, Chaney’s alcoholism was beginning to take center stage at this point, with him showing up drunk to work on the set. (There are even some stories that he could only remain sober until noon. Then, he would begin taking shots he’d already up on the shelves of his dressing room.) Critiques of Chaney’ acting skill are all over the place, with some calling him limited, others believing he was an under-used genius. Either way, a sad end for a once-promising career.
But instead of that downer, let’s end the Mummy’s run on a more positive note of trivia.

Did You Know? the poster for the original 1932 ‘The Mummy’ was once the most valuable movie poster in history? It’s true. In early ‘90’s, an original poster from the film’s release sold at auction for a then-record $453,500. This was only surpassed in 2014 when a poster for the 1931 ‘Dracula’ film sold for $525,800. Another Mummy poster was found and put up for auction at Sotheby’s in London in 2018 and was expected to set a new record. (Some predicted it would fetch as much as $1.5 million.) However, the minimum asking bid of $950,000 wasn’t met and the poster went unsold.


wulfscott said...

Nice to see the site back!
I have seen one or two of these a looong time ago on a Friday Night Creature Feature on a local tv station. I say one or two because I remember Boris Karloff as the mummy , but I also recall the scene of a mummy carrying the love interest into a swamp, so I probably saw The Mummy and The Mummy's Ghost and ran them together in memory.
The film(s) were influenced by the short story "Lot 249", about an English Egyptology student at Oxford who buys a mummy at an auction of artifacts and revives the mummy to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This story, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who also wrote a few other things ;) was praised, IIRC, by Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Ann Rice, showing how well this story has held up over the years.
That said, I may look for the original to watch, but I'll still prefer the 1999 remake which is just so much fun, despite its flaws.

ArgentGale said...

Glad you were able to get one of these in this year, Rustbelt! Mummies creeped me out like you wouldn't believe when I was a little kid between the look of the character and actually learning about the mummification process in elementary school so I never did spend a whole lot of time on this particular monster. Yeah, I was that much of a scaredy-cat as a kid and it took the original Mortal Kombat for me to get over the bloody parts of horror (even if it was more bloody martial arts B-movie as a game than actual horror) and some Dean Koontz for me to make the final push. =P I still never did get into the Fraser movie, though, since I still hadn't quite shaken off the revulsion by then. Seeing the pictures here, though? Makes me wonder why it took so long to just put them in the normal monster box.

Still, it doesn't sound like I missed much by keeping away from the old Mummy movies even if it was for dumb reasons. I have heard similar thoughts on how much the series declined, though, and Kharis being a much less intimidating villain than Imhotep comes up a lot, too, for understandable reasons. Looking up the historical Imhotep might make for an interesting pursuit sometime if I can knock a few things out of this gaming backlog and/or I don't end up involuntarily committed because 2020!

Also, meant to say this on an earlier post, but you'll have to find a different Georgian to go in with you on a college football rivalry concerning the Dawgs, BTW. I spent far too much time in the People's Republic of Athens to stay attached to them. =P It is nice to see them do well, though I'm also not much of a sports fan in general. I think Georgia sports teams either sucking the whole season long or doing great only to fall apart at the last minute at the big game might have something to do with this.

- Daniel (under a proper account name)

Rustbelt said...


Creature Feature time slots are about the only place where most of these belong. Yet, oddly, the sequels do have a dedicated fanbase. I honestly am not sure why.

Never heard of "Lot 249" before. However, with ACD as the author, that automatically warrants a look. Thanks for the recommendation!

And while I do recommend giving the 1932 original a look, (mainly for Karloff's performance), I agree the 1999 remake is probably better simply because it's so much fun.

Rustbelt said...


I was glad to squeeze one in, too. For a while, I wasn't sure if Andrew would be able to post any. Thankfully, he's back up and running. And that's what matters most.
That being said, I really don't think I can continue the series into November. I'm just never in the mood by then. However, there is one November-themed film I've meant to review for a while. (Note to self: mention this to Andrew.)

No dishonor in fearing the mummy as a kid. The Terror Dogs from Ghostbusters gave me plenty of sleepless nights. MK and Dean Koontz? Well, we all do it one way or another. In my case, I recorded several Friday the 13th films one night on VHS- dear God, I'm old!- and then forced myself to watch them over the weekend. (Still, it was USA Network. So, not quite the full experience.)

You're not missing much as far as the sequels go. As I mentioned to wulfscott, the 1932 original is really the only one worth watching. That, or a history book on the real Imhotep. Designer of the pyramids. Posthumously deified as the Egyptian god of medicine. This guy was a true renaissance man.

(as Lenny from the Simpsons) Ah, nuts. So hard to get good things going sometimes. (People's Republic of Athens? Good one!) However, as a Pittsburgher, I can sympathize with the pain, agony, and apathy of long-term sucking. Two words: Pittsburgh Pirates.

Rustbelt said...

Just found out:

R.I.P. Sir Sean Connery, 1930 - 2020

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