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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

October 20-21- The Lon Chaney Mummy Series (1942-44)

Hello everyone. For the sake of time, I'm going to condense these three movies into a single review. This is for the reason that the plots are very similar, and all three movies are rather short (about an hour a piece).

Off the success of The Wolfman and The Mummy's Hand, Universal Studios decided to add on to the series featuring the mummy, Kharis. These films: The Mummy's Tomb, The Mummy's Ghost, and The Mummy's Curse were released between 1942 and 1944, with the latter two both released in 1944, in July and December, respectively. 

Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis
In these 3 films, Kharis is portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr.. Although Chaney played Kharis on three occasions, he is noted for publicly stating that he loathed playing Kharis. Each day of filming involved sitting in the make-up room for up to 8 hours getting wrapped and transformed into the mummy by make-up legend Jack Pierce. The reason Chaney is not very recognizable in these movies is because, with the end of the old techniques drawing near, Chaney was given a rubber mask to wear for the longer shots in the films. 
Some recurring people from the first Kharis movie, The Mummy's Hand, are Dick Foran reprising his role as Steve Banning (in The Mummy's Tomb only), and George Zucco, reprising his role as Andoheb in both Tomb and Ghost. Also, Wallace Ford is back as "Babe" Hanson, when he played "Babe" Jenson in the original Kharis film. 

Turhan Bey and Lon Chaney Jr.
The Mummy's Tomb takes place 30 years after the first film, making the year 1970. Andoheb is shown to have survived, but is old and dying. He decides to pass the responsibility of keeping Kharis alive and seeking revenge on the Banning family and the others from the expedition onto Mehemet Bey (played by Turhan Bey). Andoheb then dies. Bey is sent to Mapleton, Massachusetts with Kharis to retrieve the mummy of Princess Ananka and to kill the Bannings. A string of murders ensue, and Kharis kidnaps a woman, this time it's Isobel Evans (Elyse Knox), who happens to be engaged to Dr. John Banning (John Hubbard). Bey plans to marry Isobel himself and produce an heir to the High Priesthood of Karnak. Bey is thwarted by an angry mob, and Kharis is trapped in a house, which is burnt to the ground. The Mummy's Tomb has received very negative criticism, which is, in my opinion, well-deserved. The plot is about the same as the first film, minus the finding of Kharis' mummy. In fact, the first 12 minutes of this 61 minute-long movie are spent retelling the events of The Mummy's Hand. It's clear that the people at Universal used this movie as a way to make money as fast as possible, using the name of a big star like Lon Chaney Jr. to draw people into the theater. I give it 1.5 generous points out of 5.

Ramsay Ames plays Amina Mansori
Kharis carrying Amina
The Mummy's Ghost also takes place in the year 1970, right after the events of The Mummy's Tomb. The movie again begins with Andoheb (George Zucco) passing the torch to an heir, this time named Yousef Bey (played by John Carradine). Also, instead of discussing the High Priesthood of Karnak, Andoheb and Bey are talking about the High Priesthood of Arkam. Bey is given the task of returning both Kharis and Ananka to Egypt. In Mapleton, Massachusetts, Professor Norman, returning from the previous movie (again played by Frank Reicher), discovers the secret to keeping the mummy alive and begins to brew tana leaves. Kharis, sensing the brewing of the leaves, ventures towards the Professor's house. Along the way, he passes the home of Amina Mansori (played by Ramsay Ames), who immediately begins following the mummy in a trance-like state. It is later revealed that Amina is the reincarnation of Princess Ananka. Naturally, she is the woman kidnapped in this film. Kharis recognizes her as the carrier of Ananka's soul, but Bey wants to keep Amina as his bride, using the tana leaves to keep themselves alive forever. Kharis is angered by this and murders Yousef Bey by throwing him out a window. After a mob chases Kharis and Amina into the swamps, Amina begins to age in Kharis' arms and dies. The two get stuck and trapped in a swamp, together again at last. This movie follows essentially the same plot as the last two films, with the addition of Amina as the reincarnation of Ananka and the ending where the two souls of Kharis and Ananka are reunited. This movie wasn't nearly as terrible as The Mummy's Tomb. My only complaint is the continuity issues with Andoheb appearing to 2 different heirs and then dying, as well as the fact that the High Priest of Karnak was changed to the High Priest of Arkam. I give this movie 3 mummies out of 5.

The Mummy's Curse is the last film in the Kharis mummy saga. Also released in 1944, this film somehow takes places in the swamps of Louisiana. This change is given no explanation whatsoever, and it is one of my biggest criticisms. It is also stated that this film takes places "twenty-five years" after the events of The Mummy's Ghost, making the year 1995. Having lived through the 90's, I find it slightly amusing that, despite being 1995, everything still looks like it came from the 1940's. 

Virginia Christie as Ananka

Anyway, this film begins with the mummies of Kharis and Ananka are discovered in a Louisiana swamp by a logging crew. Two representatives from the Scipp's Museum in Mapleton arrive to retrieve the mummies, Dr. James Halsey (played by Dennis Moore) and Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe). Zandaab is revealed to be a High Priest of Arkam, and meets with his follower Ragheb (Martin Kosleck) at a monastery, where the mummy of Kharis is being hidden. Zandaab explains the whole process of keeping Kharis alive (again). Meanwhile, Ananka (Virginia Christine) is awake and now appears to be young. She is found by Halsey, who finds her extensive knowledge of Ancient Egypt intriguing. Kharis, looking for Ananka, begins murdering people. Eventually, Halsey disappears and a friend Betty Walsh (Kay Harding), seeks Ragheb's assistance to find him. Ragheb becomes infatuated with Betty and plans to make her his bride. Zandaab finds out and demands the death of Betty Walsh, but is killed by Ragheb. Halsey finds them and struggles with Ragheb, before Kharis intervenes and attacks Ragheb for betraying his master. Kharis and Ragheb perish in a cell-like room when Kharis brings the walls down on top of them. 

The last time Chaney would play Kharis

This movie was just bad. I almost couldn't sit through it. Between the random change in scenery to just the fact that Ananka would awaken in the swamp as a young woman while Kharis still remains a mummy, to the fact that many plot points happen yet again. It's safe to say that this film was just a vehicle for Universal Studios to bank on the name of Lon Chaney Jr. Other than that name, this movie is 100% not worth watching. I give it 1 out of 5.

Overall, this is a series that just made me mad to watch. These three films were made over a span of 3 or 4 years, and I don't understand how they could have been so careless with the series. Between the confusing storylines, the monotonously repetitive plot points/movie events, the random change in scenery, and a host of other problems, this series has to go down as one of the worst bunch of movies made by a major American studio. These three films definitely qualify for B-movie status. I give the series as a whole a 1.5 out of 5.

1 comment:

  1. I agree whole heartedly with your assessment of the Chaney Mummy series. Such a fall from the sublime "The Mummy" with Boris Karloff, which is arguably the greatest in the Universal horror canon. "Bride Of Frankenstein" probably tops the list, with "The Mummy" a very close second. Although Paramount's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" with Fredrick March is the all time winner since it holds up as the creepiest to watch. It still packs a genuine punch and has the superior transformation scenes to Universal's Wolf Man changes.