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Your Guide to Universal’s Mummy Films of the 1940s

The Mummy's Ghost

Recently, I got a hold of Universal’s The Mummy: Complete Legacy Collection on Blu-ray, which gave me a chance to revisit not only the Karloff original, but also the 1940’s Kharis Mummy movies, which I had not seen since I was a kid.

Now released in HD for the first time, they sure look great, but – boy! – aren’t they a perfect example of the law of diminishing returns? Here’s a look back at the shuffling mis-adventures of Kharis, the ancient Egyptian avenger…

The Mummy's Hand

The Mummy’s Hand, 1940
Starring Dick Foran, George Zucco, Cecil Kellaway.
Director: Christy Cabanne.

Eight years after Boris Karloff donned bandages for Karl Freund’s The Mummy, Universal resuscitated the movie monster (now called Kharis, as Karloff’s Im-Ho-Tep had crumbled to dust) for four new adventures. Cowboy star Tom Tyler is the black-eyed Egyptian avenger restored to life (with the fluid from a handful of Tana leaves) by Andoheb, George Zucco’s-newly appointed High Priest of Karnak, to wreak revenge on the archaeological team who are trying to locate the tomb of the Princess Ananka (whom Kharis tried to raise from the dead back in 1472 BC, but ended getting buried alive with his tongue cut out).

Dick Foran is the archaeologist, Steve Banning, and Wallace Ford is his wisecracking sidekick, Babe Jenson; while Cecil Kellaway is the travelling magician who funds their doomed trip, and Peggy Moran is his daughter who gets carried away by Kharis (literally) when Zucco’s Andoheb decides to make her immortal – much to Kharis’ annoyance.

To save on the budget, Kharis’ back-story incorporates Karloff’s incarceration from the 1932 film, while the temple from Universal’s 1940 adventure Green Hell is also re-used as Zucco’s secret lair in the Hill of the Seven Jackals. Looking at it today, the film is a bit of a joke as there’s no real horror on display, suspense or drama (although Tyler’s weird black eyes still disturb). It plays more like a comical adventure serial, and nobody bothered to double-check the hieroglyphics (which are meaningless), the Arabic (misspelled), or doing any historical research (Zucco’s temple is more Mayan than Egyptian, and his character mistakes the Incas as coming from Mexico).

Except for the odd flash of inventiveness that recall Universal’s 1930s glory days when German expressionism informed its production design, it’s a poor start to the Kharis series. Thankfully, Hammer would put their own macabre stamp on the iconic creature when they used this film and its sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, as the basis for their 1957 Technicolor version.

The Mummy's Tomb

The Mummy’s Tomb, 1942
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Dick Foran, Turhan Bey.
Director: Harold Young.

30 years after the Banning Expedition desecrated Princess Ananka’s tomb in The Mummy’s Hand, Kharis (who survived his blazing demise) is transported to a cemetery in Mapleton, Massachusetts by Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey, aka the Turkish Delight), under the orders of George Zucco’s expiring Andoheb (who somehow survived being shot multiple times in the previous entry) to hunt down and kill the remaining members of the dig and their descendants.

Purists have often wondered whether it really is Lon Chaney Jr all the time under Jack Pierce’s make-up and bandages (as there are three stunt people also credited, including Eddie Parker); and whether playing a role in which he neither speaks nor is recognisable was a wise career choice. His shuffling Kharis is pretty poor. Moving at a snail’s pace with one lame arm, it’s incredible that any of his victims don’t just run away – instead they stay put (as though frozen in fear), or pretend to be cornered so that he can lunge at them with his one powerful arm (he was supposedly restored partially paralysed in the first film because of a lack of Tana leaf juice) and strangle them to death.

To keep the budget small and to fill out the running time, extensive flashbacks from The Mummy’s Hand are used before we get a repeat of the previous film’s revenge plot – only minus the wise cracks and pratfalls. The film does have some atmospheric cinematography and lighting effects, courtesy of George Robinson (Son of Frankenstein, Tower of London), especially the scenes set in the American gothic-styled cemetery. And it all looks a treat in this HD Blu-ray presentation, although it does show up the rubber mask on the Mummy as well.

Like the first film, it ends with a frightened lovely (Elyse Knox) dressed in another stunning Vera West gown being carted off by Kharis, so that the infatuated High Priest can make her his immortal bride. And, once again, the villain is shot while Kharis goes up in flames…

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy’s Ghost, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, George Zucco.
Director: Reginald LeBorg

My favourite of the Kharis mummy series, this one starts off just the last two, with George Zucco again playing the withered old High Priest (who seems to have more lives than a cat) who tasks another acolyte, this time a youthful John Carradine (as Youssef Bey) with bringing Ananka and Kharis back home to Egypt.

Bizarrely, Ananka’s protectors aren’t the High Priests of Karnak now, but Arkam. However, those Tana leaves are still lurking about – but with added mythology. Just as wolfbane can cure lyncathropy if prepared during a full moon, the fluid taken from the Tana leaves during the same lunar cycle can usher forth Kharis’ ghost (hence the title).

While the film is basically the same plot as the previous two, director Reginald LeBorg does stir things up by having the Princess reincarnated in the shapely form of former pin-up Ramsay Ames. She plays Amina Mensori, a student of Egyptology who is based in the very same town that Kharis shuffled amok years beforehand. LeBorg brings much flair to the proceedings, and there’s a real effort to make Chaney’s Mummy more menacing looking (BTW: his appearance ended up being used as the template for Aurora’s classic glow in the dark model kit that I have had since I was a kid).

In a clever nod to The Bride of Frankenstein, Ames gets a white streak in her perfectly-coiffured bonnet, which turns pure white as Ananka’s soul takes over (causing her to age rapidly) when Kharis ends up carrying her down into the murky depths of a nearby swamp in the film’s climax.

The Mummy's Ghost

The Mummy's Curse

The Mummy’s Curse, 1944
Starring Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Martin Kosleck.
Director: Leslie Goodwins.

Five months after the release of The Mummy’s Ghost, Universal rushed out this final sequel for a Christmas release, thus completing Lon Chaney Jr’s trio of turns as the shuffling undead Kharis (although he did spoof the character in an episode of Route 66 in 1962’s Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing). And – except for one sequence – this is the worst of the lot.

Unlike today, Universal had little care for their franchise and totally stuffs up the continuity and mythology by setting this follow-up in Louisiana instead of New England. When the swamp where Kharis and Ananka drowned is planned to be drained the Scripps Museum sends two representatives, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and an Egyptian colleague Zandaab (Peter Cobb), to retrieve their bodies. Of course, Zanbaab is secretly a high priest of the Arkam set, and he has help in construction worker Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), who has Kharis’ body interred at an old abandoned monastery.

Meanwhile, Princess Ananka emerges from a muddy coffin and ends up a Jane Doe in the care of Halsey and his girl Betty (Kay Harding). Of course, its not long before Kharis arrives on the scene and whisks her away for the final showdown at the monastery… which ends badly for one and all, especially poor Ananka.

This was a rare horror entry from British-born director Leslie Goodwins, who was better at low-budget comedies, and also marked the feature debut of Virginia Christine, who’d go onto light character roles. It’s quite poor, and reeks of racial stereotyping, especially the Cajun Joe character. Chaney only gets one good scene, at the end, as the monastery collapses on him (watch him keep his composure as a heavy brick smashes into his face); and the day-for-night shots are infuriating. But it does have one scene which still haunts, and that’s when Christine’s Ananka emerges from her resting place in the swamp. It’s a striking scene, especially in the way in which Christine plays it.

The Mummy's Curse

Of course, Universal couldn’t keep their Mummy down for too long. In 1955, Abbott and Costello got their chance to have a date with Klaris (a pun on Kharis) for their 28th and final film comedy, with Eddie Parker wearing what looks like a onesie decorated with a bandage motif. Except to fans of the comic duo and their verbal gymnastics, this was a poor end to their feature film careers.

Abott and Costello Meet the Mummy

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Split (2015) | James McEvoy displays incredible range in M Night Shamalayan’s twisted psychological thriller

Split (2016)

I have always been wary of M Night Shyamalan’s films as they always hold so much promise, only to disappoint in the final reel. So I went into Split with much trepidation. But, as the twisted psycho thriller unfolded, I found myself totally entranced – thanks to James McAvoy’s incredible turn in the lead role(s).

Split (2016)

McAvoy plays Kevin Crumb, a man suffering from dissociative identity disorder and possesses 23 distinct personalities – which are at threat of being dominated by a 24th, called The Beast, which is currently beginning to manifest itself.

The mystery starts in a shopping mall car park where one of Kevin’s personalities, uptight germaphobe Dennis, abducts three teenage girls and holds them captive in an unspecified underground bunker. Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy), whose own back story of being molested as a child is told in flashbacks, clicks to her captors’ different personalities, which include lisping nine year-old Hedwig, gay fashion designer Barry, and ice maiden Patricia.

With the help of her fellow abductees, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) and Marcia (Jessica Sula), Casey tries to play off the personalities in a bid to escape…

Split (2016)

Watching McAvoy is an acting master class in itself, as he displays great range, moving from childish charm to menace and pathos using an array of facial expressions and voices. And this certainly helps to paper over the cracks in Shyamalan’s pseudo psychological ideas that dissociative identity disorder is able to cause physiological changes in the body (it reminded me of Cronenburg’s rage-fuelled psychoplasmics concept in The Brood).

Posing the bizarre theory is Kevin’s shrink Dr Karen Fletcher, marvellously played by Betty Buckley, who scored a Saturn Award for the role. Imagine Angela Lansbury’s Jessica Fletcher fused with Oliver Reed’s psychotherapist Hal Raglan from The Brood, but played like Peter Cushing’s Lorrimer Van Helsing. She’s just a fantastic creation.

The final scene features a cameo from Bruce Willis as his Unbreakable character, and sets the scene for Shyamalan to complete his superhero thriller trilogy, with the next film being entitled Glass (based on Samuel L Jackson’s unbreakable character).

Split is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Universal Pictures UK from 5 June, and to Buy & Keep from 22 May and rent from 5 June on Sky Store

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Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign | A darkly comic memoir on some of Tinseltown’s forgotten faces

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood SignFrom Universal’s classic monster movies of the 1930s to the fleshpot romps of Russ Meyer in the 1960s, and the European arthouse antics of Fellini and Visconti in the 1970s, cult movies have become part of the fabric of contemporary culture, and we all have fond memories of them.

But what of the actors and actresses you recognise, but whose names you can’t quite remember? We’ve all heard of the King of Horror, Boris Karloff, but can you remember any of the players he starred with in The Mummy, like the exotic Zita Johann or the charming David Manners?

Remember when the late veteran actress Gloria Stuart became the oldest person to be nominated for an Academy Award for Titanic back in 1997? Did you know she worked for Universal in the 1930s (in classics like James Whale’s The Old Dark House), a period which also saw actresses like Gale Sondergaard at their peak before being caught up the McCarthy blacklisting fiasco in the 1950s. Remember her? And what about that great scene in 1978’s Damien: Omen II when Elizabeth Shepherd‘s reporter gets her eyes pecked out by crows. Did you know she was one of Britain’s leading stage actresses in the 1960s. Whatever happened to her?

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

From writer, historian and one-time agent, David Del Valle comes the darkly comic memoir, Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign, which follows his own personal journey over 25 years, meeting and befriending many of the old-time and obscure players whose dreams of fame and fortune never quite worked out the way they quite intended.

The late, great Vincent Price described Hollywood as one of the most evil cities on the planet, and he had witnessed enough in his lifetime not to kid around – unlike some of his contemporaries, who got burned on their journey through Tinseltown’s stratosphere. Reading Del Valle’s entries, you certainly get the picture – Hollywood is a Hell of a place to make a living.

Some tragic, some suprising, some plain shocking, the stories are many – too many to explore here in detail here. But whether they’re ancient silent movie actors whose only stage in later life are the cocktail parties they host or attend; or big name veteran stars like John Carradine, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price giving their honest take on living in this Hollywood Babylon, survival is the key theme.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

One of the saddest must be the tragic story of Johnny Eck, best known as the Half-Boy in 1932’s Freaks. After retiring from acting, Eck turned his hand to art and photography, but was left traumatized following a brutal home invasion. The incident left him housebound and fearful for the rest of his sad life. Then there’s Les Baxter, the undisputed king of Exotica. Baxter was living a lonely life in music exile when Del Valle met him. Depressed over unsuccessfully suing John Williams for lifting some of his music for his ET score, Baxter died before his style of lounge music became cool again.

There’s also some deliciously gossipy entries, including one in which Del Valle describes actress Hermione Baddeley and singer Martha Raye entertaining the patrons of a leather bar in West Hollywood, only for the German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder wanting to meet these grand dames. What a sight that would have been.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign

Del Valle also has some intimate encounters with some truly offbeat heroes. He gets high on gin and joints watching The Loved One with the film’s writer Terry Southern, the cool hipster immortalized on the Sgt Pepper’s album; trips on LSD with Timothy Leary over Charlie Chan movies; and gets a tour of Russ Meyer’s home, filled with memorabilia from his saucy sex films, including a giant bra.

It all makes for some revealing reading. And, despite the odd typo, I couldn’t put it down as each chapter offered a glimpse into the private lives of an actor, actress, writer, director, musician or muse who have given cinephiles everywhere such joy and excitement over the past 70 years. Less salacious than Kenneth Anger’s infamous trash bible Hollywood Babylon, but no less gossipy, Del Valle’s memoir is a truly touching portrait of the people that were very much a part of old Hollywood. Thankfully, Del Valle has given these fading characters their proper dues, making them shine for us film fans once more.

Lost Horizons: Beneath the Hollywood Sign is available from Amazon

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