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Recently, [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313 acquired this Universal Mummy movies box-set, so we have been working our way through it.

2018-06-03 18.59.24.jpg

We saw the first one, The Mummy (1932) a couple of years ago, and really loved it (reviews here: LJ / DW), but two years is still recent enough that we didn't feel ready to re-watch it yet, so instead we plunged straight into the sequels. The first four of these were churned out in pretty rapid fashion during the early 1940s, and at times it's obvious that they were money-spinners produced as cheaply as possible. Certainly, none of them quite come up to the impressively fresh and intelligent standard of the original. They basically all have the same plot (mummy, brought to life by the latest in a long line of human devotees, murders a couple of secondary characters before carrying off a girl and then being destroyed) and they are rife with racist and colonialist cliches which the first film at least attempted to engage intelligently with (white archaeologists with a scientific understanding of the past vs. cowardly, superstitious and criminal 'natives', as they are literally called). But around that there is a lot of interest to the series, including some of the camerawork, the individual character portrayals and simply the opportunity to watch the genre evolving and its possibilities being explored and extended. They are certainly of interest to the Hammer fan, since it was really the four sequels, rather than the original film, that they used as the basis for their own The Mummy (1959), including the character names and the concepts of a mummy buried alive for trying to revive a dead princess, being reawakened himself by a modern-day disciple, being transferred out of Egypt to a western country and encountering the modern reincarnation of the princess there. More on all of this in the individual reviews below...


14. The Mummy's Hand (1940), dir. Christy Cabanne

This one kicks off the sequels and establishes the storyline of Kharis, Ananka and their modern devotees, but the setting remains in Egypt for now rather than going overseas. The main female lead also isn't Ananka's reincarnation, but merely an ordinary woman named Marta (played by Peggy Moran), and it isn't really Kharis himself who develops an obsession with her, but his modern devotee Andoheb, who uses Kharis to capture her.

Marta herself, the daughter of a travelling magician who goes by the stage name of Solvani but is really called Sullivan, is easily the best thing about the film. She is much more sharp-witted than her father, quickly wheedling out of him that he has put up their entire fortune to sponsor an archaeological excavation after a heavy session in a Cairo bar, and later figuring out that there must be a secret passage between Kharis' cave and Ananka's tomb from an ancient inscription. She is also a very good shot (though disappointingly nothing ever really comes of this) and sufficiently self-confident about pursuing her own desires to tell the male lead (Steve Banning, played by Dick Foran) that she fancies him and give him a swift peck on the cheek. Between all of these characteristics (sharp wit, sexual agency and marks(wo)manship), I think she comes across as a little bit in the mould of women in film noir, but I'm only really saying that on the basis of having seen The Maltese Falcon last year (LJ / DW) and read a lot of [personal profile] sovay's writing about women in noir, so that may be a misconception.

The cinematography is also good, making the most of the sets and doing a particularly good job of building up tension around Kharis stalking his victims - e.g. via a classic shadow-on-the-wall shot as he approaches Marta, sleeping in her tent, to capture her. Kharis himself is kept alive and / or activated via a potion made of magical tana leaves, rather than a scroll as in the later Hammer film. In fact, his driving need for the liquid compels him to burst into tents, kill people in pursuit of it and at the climax try to lick it up off the floor after a spillage, all of which comes across as a major drug addiction metaphor. It's thus quite surprising that Hammer didn't maintain the motif, given their explicit comparison of vampirism to drug addiction in Dracula only a year earlier, but maybe for that very reason they felt they had already covered it. Anyway, it works well here.

On the downside, there are some odd misfires, missed notes or un-joined-up dots. I could personally have done without the comic relief material inserted through Banning's side-kick, Babe, and Marta's father, Solvani / Sullivan. Indeed, their worst moment actively undermines the film's sense of peril. The first major sign that something is wrong comes when the mummy strangles an eminent Egyptologist who has come along to support Banning's excavation, but even though all of the characters are supposed to know about this, they show so little concern that Babe and Sullivan are found sitting around in the camp teaching each other magic tricks in the next scene. Our archaeologists are also strangely incurious about the wider landscape around the cave in which Kharis is buried, even though they know from the start he was associated with the Princess Ananka, apparently completely failing to notice a massive temple around the other side of the hill until they discover the secret passage which links the two. And a threatening scene in which Kharis' servant, Andoheb, darkly warns Babe that if he kills him he'll be stuck with a monster which only he, Andoheb, can control has no obvious pay-off - just like Marta's shooting skills.

In short, then, this film could have been better-plotted and more suspenseful, but for Marta, drug-fixated Kharis and the camerawork it is definitely worth watching.


[We watched She Done Him Wrong at the Cottage between these two (LJ / DW), hence the jump from 14 to 16.]


16. The Mummy's Tomb (1942), dir. Harold Young

The first twelve minutes of this film (which constitute one-fifth of the total running time) consist of a recap of the previous story. Since we had seen it only a week earlier, this proved pretty boring - and surely even people in 1942 must have been wondering when the real story was going to begin? There is direct continuity, in that the recap (complete with flash-backs) is narrated to his family by Steve (or now 'Stephen') Banning, the lead archaeologist from the previous film, supposedly thirty years after the events took place. But as with the previous film, not everything fully adds up - The Mummy's Hand was clearly set at the time of production, as Marta wears very 1940s clothes, but so is this one, which for example includes a reference to the male lead (Stephen's son, John) being called up for service in WWII. So I'm not sure when those thirty years are supposed to have taken place.

Once we have finally been fully apprised of the back-story, the action proper begins with Kharis being transported to the United States by a new devotee - a cue taken up by Hammer in their later film, except that they brought their Kharis to England instead. We still don't yet have a female lead who is supposed to be the resurrected Ananka, though - Ananka stays out of the story, and instead Kharis is again sent after a girl whom his devotee really wants for himself. However, he develops some sympathy for her, initially refusing to capture her and later helping her to escape.

Probably the best bit of this one is the fiery ending which consumes the entire Banning family home, although it starts a bit implausibly with a carelessly-wielded torch and requires us to suspend significant disbelief about how everyone manages to escape it by climbing down trellises etc. except for the mummy. Rather like the characters being utterly unfazed by their companions' deaths in the previous film, Banning junior doesn't particularly seem to mind that his house has been razed to the ground, and instead gets on with marrying his girl before going cheerfully off to start his military service.


17. The Mummy's Ghost (1944), dir. Reginald Le Borg

This one moves to a college setting, presumably in an attempt to appeal to youthful audiences, and for the first time gives us a character of Egyptian descent who is supposed to be the reincarnation of Princess Ananka. We noticed while watching that at one point when she was required to faint, she did it incredibly carefully, and a poke around Wikipedia afterwards revealed why. Apparently the role was originally to have been played by an actress called Acquanetta, but she gave herself concussion while performing a faint on the first day of shooting - presumably the same one - and had to be replaced. No wonder Ramsay Ames, who was drafted in to replace her, took the same faint very carefully in her turn. It was also noticeable that, unlike the white western women occupying similar roles in the previous films, this one who is explicitly part-Egyptian is treated by the plot as disposable. Her predecessors have all been rescued by the male lead from both Kharis and his modern-day devotee, but she is rescued by Kharis from the devotee, carried off into the woods while ageing rapidly as her ancient incarnation catches up with her modern body, and finally carried deep into the swamp to sink below its waters in Kharis' arms.

Other points of interest about this instalment include John Carradine playing the devotee. That unfortunately makes it a blackface role, which it wasn't in the previous film when the equivalent role was played by Turhan Bey of part-Turkish origin - but then again the role of the devotee in these films is always a negative racist stereotype, so I'm not sure it's made significantly better by having an actual person of visibly-Muslim appearance playing it. Anyway, it's always good to see Carradine at work, and he does a nice job here. Princess Ananka's reawakening into her modern-day reincarnation's body is represented by having her mummy, held in the (fictional) Scripps Museum, disappear / disintegrate, which reminded me strongly of a similar scene in The Awakening (1980; LJ / DW) when Charlton Heston's character tries to reawaken the mummy of an ancient princess only to have it crumble under his hands as he realises with horror that her spirit has actually transferred itself into his daughter - though it's quite likely that both scenes actually have their origins in Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars, on which The Awakening is based. Finally, the climactic girl-tied-up-and-threatened scenes which had taken place in an ancient Egyptian tomb in the first sequel, and a crypt in a modern cemetery in the second, are here transferred rather surprisingly to an industrial mill setting - perhaps simply because they found one which they could use, or perhaps going along with the shift to a college setting to lend the story as a whole a more everyday, real-life sense of threat than the previous deserts, museums, wealthy houses and cemeteries could achieve?


18. The Mummy's Curse (1944), dir. Leslie Goodwins

This is the last of the run of sequels which have any kind of plot connection to one another, and sees both Kharis and Ananka reawakened as the swamp which we saw them disappear into at the end of the previous film is drained. This involves yet another jump forward in time, as dialogue establishes that the area was troubled by a living mummy twenty-five years earlier. Given the similar thirty-year gap between the events of The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb, we should be in the 1990s by now, but of course we're not - the setting remains resolutely early '40s. This doesn't seem to bother the authors of its Wikipedia page, but they are quite right that it also seems to involve a spatial jump, from Mapleton, Massachusetts, where the college in the last film was located, to the Louisiana area as suggested by references to French Cajun characters and the bayou. I guess it makes sense of the swamp, and since swamp-related matters are more central to the story-line this time that justified the shift of focus. Continuity is for a world with home video facilities.

Anyway, the highlight this time is very much the young woman playing Princess Ananka - not Ramsay Ames again this time, but Virginia Christine - who wowed us from the off-set with a really compelling scene of emerging, wobbly and not entirely human, from the semi-drained swamp before setting off stiffly but determinedly through the forest. Later, cleaned-up and beautiful again, she demonstrates such an excellent knowledge of ancient Egypt that she becomes a research assistant to one of the Egyptologists who has come to try to find her and Kharis' mummies (without either him or her realising who she 'really' is). She also gets to wear an utterly gorgeous bias-cut silk dressing-gown ready for her inevitable scene of being carried away in a dead faint by the mummy. She still doesn't get to survive the film, though, as after the climactic show-down between Kharis and his devotee, she reverts once more to her mummified form.

Otherwise, there is some interesting stuff about capitalist exploitation, with some locals clearly unhappy about the decision to drain the swamp and all the more so after workers on the project start dying. There was also a lovely matte painting of the ruined monastery where Kharis' devotee hides him after he has emerged from the swamp, and where the climactic show-down takes place. It does have to be said, though, that by the time of this film, we have basically had the same plot four times in a row with minor additions and variations, and it was probably right to put the series to bed at this point. Or sort of...


There is one more Universal mummy movie from this (broad) era, Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). [personal profile] lady_lugosi1313, who has seen it before, says it's terrible and she doesn't want to do so again, and I entirely believe her. However, I've always been a completist, so she's let me borrow the box-set in order to watch that one on my own. I will indeed before long, but I've already watched two other completely unrelated films since, so I will close this review here and put that one up separately when I get to it.


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