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THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942)

"Kharis still lives! – lives for the moment he will carry death and destruction to all those who dared violate the tomb of Ananka!"





  Director:
 
Harold Young

  Starring: 
Dick Foran, John Hubbard, Turhan Bey, Lon Chaney Jr, Elyse Knox, Wallace Ford, Mary Gordon, George Zucco, Cliff Clark, Emmett Vogan, Frank Reicher, Virginia Brissac, Paul E. Burns

  Screenplay: 
Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher, based upon a story by Neil P. Varnick

Synopsis:  Archaeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) tells to an audience consisting of his sister, Jane (Mary Gordon), his son, John (John Hubbard), John’s girlfriend, Isobel Evans (Elyse Knox) and Mrs Evans (Virginia Brissac) the story of his discovery of the long-long tomb of the Egyptian Princess Ananka; of the living mummy, Kharis, which guarded the tomb, and took a violent revenge upon those who opened it; and of the final destruction of Kharis and the High Priest who controlled the mummy. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the High Priest Andoheb (George Zucco) speaks bitterly of his near-death many years before at the hands of Banning and his partner, Babe Hanson (Wallace Ford). He passes to his successor, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey), the secret of the tana leaves by which Kharis is kept alive and animated, and tells him that his passage to America has been arranged. Once there, he must use Kharis to kill the desecrators of Anaka’s tomb and their relatives... Mehemet Bey travels with the sarcophagus containing Kharis to the small town of Mapleton, Massachusetts, where arrangements have been made for him to take over the position of cemetery caretaker; the crypt offering a suitable hiding-place for Kharis. As soon as they are settled, and the moon is full, Mehemet Bey prepares a fluid from nine tana leaves, and sends Kharis out on his mission of revenge.... At the Banning house, after an evening spent together, Steve Banning and his sister prepare to retire for the night, while John offers to see Isobel home. The family’s animals are upset by something – the horses agitated and the dogs barking incessantly – and John promises to see what’s wrong. In his bedroom, Steve Banning takes a puzzled look out of his window before turning away, while below in the shadows, Kharis prepares to climb up a trellis to the second floor... Suddenly, Banning finds himself confronted by a nightmare from his past. He freezes, staring in incredulous horror as Kharis moves towards him, and manages only a single, terrified scream before a hand seizes his throat.... At the sound of the scream, John and the Bannings’ caretaker, Jim (Paul E. Burns), rush into the house and up the stairs, ordering Isobel and Jane to stay where they are. To his horror, John finds his father lying dead on his bedroom floor, the marks of a tremendously powerful grip on his throat, as well as a series of strange grey streaks.... Back in the crypt, Kharis returns to his sarcophagus as Mehemet Bey gloats that one is already dead, and three more are to die....

Comments:  This first sequel to 1940’s The Mummy’s Hand is in a number of ways a very strange film. Although of course a Universal film, with all that that implies, The Mummy’s Tomb often feels more akin to the slapdash contemporary productions emanating from Monogram and PRC---not on the level of its production values, though the budget was obviously low, but rather with respect to its brief and breathless style and its often startling disregard of “the rules” – including the most basic rule of passing time, as we shall see. The most unexpected aspect of this film is certainly the ruthlessness with which it sets about disposing of the returning cast members from The Mummy’s Hand, who were then – presumably – the audience’s identification figures; a quality that, in conjunction with Mehemet Bey’s countdown of potential victims, makes it feel like a proto-slasher movie. The other notable thing about The Mummy’s Tomb is that it is quite free of the painful comic relief that undermined the action of the preceding series entry. The result is a fast-moving, grimly entertaining little horror film.

 

We open in the small town of Mapleton, Massachusetts, where Steve Banning, the famous discoverer of the tomb of the Princess Ananka, is now a man of about sixty with a grown son, John. Since there was no indication in The Mummy’s Hand that the action was set any earlier than the time of the film’s production, 1940, that should place the action of this film in about 1970 – and make “the war” mentioned the Vietnam war – but as you probably won’t be surprised to hear, we’re still somehow lodged in the 1940s. Steve Banning is now a widower, whose older sister, Jane, keeps house for him. (We do get one glance at a photograph of Peggy Moran.) As the film opens, Steve is recounting the story of his adventures for the benefit of his potential daughter-in-law, Isobel, and her mother, Mrs Evans. Steve’s son, John, is a tolerant listener, but he’s heard it all before – and besides, being a hard-headed, rationalist doctor, he doesn’t believe a word of it.

Rather than yet again regurgitate the flashback footage from The Mummy in order to fill in its background (and save a few bucks), The Mummy’s Tomb uses lengthy excerpts from The Mummy’s Hand to illustrate Steve’s story – the finding of the tomb, the revival of Kharis by Andoheb, the killings, the shooting of Andoheb by Babe, the rescue of Marta, and the immolation of Kharis. “At least I have the satisfaction of knowing I helped destroy a monster,” concludes Steve.

Ah-oops! Spoke too soon. In Egypt, a likewise much older, as well as bitter and twisted, Andoheb is telling his successor as High Priest, Mehemet Bey, how Babe’s bullets only crippled his arm, and how the fire didn’t destroy Kharis, but left him “seared and twisted and maimed” – which is presumably the film’s way of accounting for the substitution of Lon Chaney Jr in the role previously taken by Tom Tyler: Chaney is a lot shorter, and an entirely different body shape. Chaney hated playing the mummy, and you can’t really blame him. Although he does get the chance to do one excellent piece of silent acting later on, for the most part it could be anyone under the makeup – anyone willing to sit through Jack Pierce’s eight-hour makeup sessions, that is.

 

And it is, likewise, George Zucco under the makeup as Andoheb; a nice touch, if not entirely necessary. He inducts Mehemet Bey into his new duties and reveals to him the secret of the tana leaves, before ordering him to pack up Kharis and take him to America, to carry out the long-delayed vengeance upon the desecrators of Ananka’s tomb. (We assume it took them that long to grow a new High Priest.) “The preparations are complete to the last detail,” reports Andoheb. “The position as caretaker of the little cemetery at Mapleton has been arranged.” Really? I’d very much like to know how. But instead of telling us how, Andoheb has Mehemet Bey swear, “by the sacred gods of Egypt”, that he will not rest until the entire Banning family, and the others who took part in the opening of Ananka’s tomb, are dead.

Mehemet Bey swears his oath, and Andoheb prays to the gods to make the younger man worthy of his sacred trust, and, “To keep him from any temptation that might destroy him – as it nearly destroyed me.”

That would be the late Mrs Banning hes referring to.

And so Mehemet Bey and Kharis set out for Massachusetts, with both spending most of their time in the hold of their ship, so that Kharis can be dosed with the fluid from three tana leaves when necessary.

This is, by the way, the first and only time in this series – and, indeed, in Hammer’s subsequent mummy series – where we get a High Priest who actually looks like he might be Egyptian; though in fact, Turhan Bey was born in Vienna of a Turkish father and a Czechoslovakian mother, who emigrated to the US in 1940. Here, in spite of the prominence of his role, his “exotic” (that is, non-white) appearance sees him banished to the bottom of the cast list, even below George Zucco and Wallace Ford, who appear only briefly; a fate often suffered by black actors at this time, too.

 

In Mapleton, Mehemet Bey takes over from his predecessor at the cemetery, an elderly man who can’t understand why anyone so young would want to accept such a lonely post. Left alone, he manoeuvres Kharis’s sarcophagus into the crypt – although how exactly he manages to move that thing around by himself is left to our imaginations.

Soon it is the night of the full moon, and a jackal howls as---

Wait a minute: they have jackals in Massachusetts!?

Anyway---something of the canine persuasion howls in the night, disturbing the residents of Mapleton. Mehemet Bey makes his way out to the crypt, where he revives Kharis with the fluid of nine tana leaves. The Mummy’s Tomb takes a cue from two of its famous forebears here, offering up a hand movement as the first sign of life à la Frankenstein – and scrupulously avoiding showing us the disillusioningly ungraceful process of the undead getting in and out of a coffin, à la Dracula. Kharis, with one crippled arm and one dragging leg, sets out into the night....

And---- OH MY GOODNESS

The first people that Kharis encounters are a young man and woman necking in a parked car by the cemetery, who after his shadow falls across them have the following exchange:

Girl:  “What was that?”
Boy
:  “I don’t know!”
Girl
:  “Let’s go home – I’m scared!”

Seriously – is this the earliest horror film to feature a version of this seminal scene? Can anyone think of an earlier one?

And indeed, you can tell how very early this is in the overall scheme of things, because (i) the boy doesn’t insist on staying anyway, and (ii) Kharis doesn’t kill the pair of them just on principle.

 

He does, however, bother some other people in the course of his wanderings, a farming couple who afterwards call (and wake up) the sheriff, but are given short shrift when they can only nervously report “a shadow”. So Kharis goes on his unhindered way to the Banning house – which is rather impressive: I guess they were just allowed to keep the proceeds after finding Ananka’s tomb. All the animals in the vicinity show signs of terror, except the human animals which as usual are fatally slow on the uptake.

Inside, Steve is cleaning John up at checkers, as Isobel and Jane look on. (Why Jane has a Scottish accent while Steve sounds New York-ish is a minor mystery.) The evening breaks up, with Steve retiring and Isobel chatting to Jane while John goes outside to see what’s upsetting the dogs. Kharis, meanwhile, approaches from the other side of the house, and in spite of his disabilities manages to scale the trellis that is helpfully built into one wall and pull himself onto the second-floor balcony, entering Steve’s bedroom through the French windows.

We get another clear look at Chaney’s makeup job here, and I must say, I regret the loss of the blacked-out eye effect. It’s scary enough for Steve, though, who can only gasp disbelievingly, “Kharis!” – and then give one scream before a hand closes about his throat. Kharis is gone by the time John gets there, to find his father dead on the floor with finger-marks on his throat, as well as some strange streaks of grey....

The grey substance is subsequently analysed by a police chemist – SCIENCE!! – although he can make nothing of it, beyond determining that it is not a soil sample from the surrounding area. The analysis is clearly John’s idea: the coroner dismisses the substance as some sort of dust, while the sheriff concludes that Steve’s death is, “Just another one of those fiend murders.” Another? Just?

The sheriff does, however, extract the “shadow” stories from both the necking couple and the farmers, unsatisfactory as they are. Meanwhile, the reporters are gathering. (Was a small-town murder, even of a famous archaeologist, really front-page news in 1942?).

 

Elsewhere, rationalist John is so frustrated by the seeming senselessness of his father’s murder that he’s been neglecting both his practice and Isobel. The latter finally drags him out for a day in the countryside nearby; an act which has serious consequences, as a passing Mehemet Bey gets his first good look at Isobel – and comes over all funny....

A telegram arrives announcing the imminent arrival of Steve’s former partner, Babe (who has mysteriously changed his surname from “Jenson” to “Hanson”). Those of us who suffered through Babe’s unfunny antics in The Mummy’s Hand will hardly be glad to see him again – but this film gives us an older, graver Babe, crushed by his friend’s death and without a bad joke in him. John collects him from the station and tells him everything – and as soon as Babe hears about those grey streaks, he knows what the truth must be. He’s seen those before....

But it’s the full moon again, and Kharis is out and around. Jim, the Bannings’ caretaker, is trying to quiet the dogs when he turns to find the mummy looming over him – and after firing several unavailing rifle shots, he collapses in a heap. Kharis, uninterested in Jim, simply moves on to seek out his real victim: Jane Banning.

I bet audiences of 1942 weren’t expecting to see the strangulation murder of sweet old Mary Gordon!

A series of newspaper headlines show us that the story of the murders is spreading – and those do not look like war-time papers – Home sales increase? School Board Advocates Revolutionary Changes? – although it’s shortly confirmed that they should be, as a hoard of specialist crime reporters descend upon Mapleton – one of them explaining wryly that he was offered the choice of Mapleton or “the Russian front”. (That’s rather daring: jokes on the subject of avoidance of service of any kind were not generally appreciated at this time.)  Jim, the only living witness, has been stricken with “hemiplegia – a form of paralysis caused by severe shock”, so it is up to Babe to try and get people to accept the truth of the killings – but no-one, not the sheriff, not the coroner, not even John, will believe him. Babe tries to talk John into leaving town, but gets nowhere in that respect, either.

 

Disgusted, Babe rolls into the hotel and demands a beer. One of the reporters recognises him, and without hesitation Babe repeats his story - and whether or not they believe him, the reporters are at least willing to listen. However, Mehemet Bey is also present, having a cup of tea – and immediately promotes Babe over John on his enemies’ list.

A short time afterwards, a panicked citizen reports “a shadow”, and whatever the sheriff thinks of the mummy stories, he’s not prepared to let any lead, no matter how slender, slip away. Word reaches the hotel, and the reporters and others gathered pour into the street. Babe stays behind to pay for his drink, and then wanders out in the opposite direction – straight into Kharis. As usual, the film-makers have to find some way for their lumbering mummy to catch up with a spry potential victim, and here they have Babe run into a blind alley – only to be dragged back down when he tries to climb over the fence....

Ah, jeez.... You know, I spent the whole of The Mummy’s Hand begging for someone to kill this unfunny idiot, but no-one would listen; but here, where he is not trying to be funny, and is not annoying, they kill him off halfway through. It’s an unjust world we live in.

Babe’s death does have the effect of more or less proving his theory about the mummy, and the newspapers pounce. (Murder attributed to supernatural being, reports the Mapleton Daily News primly.) Soon afterwards, John spots a piece of bandage caught on a bush outside the Banning house – and for the first time in this film, does something sensible: he takes it to a scientist.

Thank you.

Professor Norman at “the university” turns out to be one of those wonderfully multi-talented movie scientists, able to confirm that the mould on the bandage is the same as that found on the victims, and that it’s centuries old; that the cloth itself is impregnated with myrrh, cedar oil and sodium carbonate, all ingredients in the Egyptian embalming process; and that the small hieroglyphic on the cloth is the same as one found on the mummy of Ananka, and dates back 3000 years to the time of her father, Amenophis.

 

The still-sceptical coroner tries to argue, but this open-minded scientist isn’t having any. “Whether you are ready to accept it or not,” he insists, “we’re dealing with the presence of the living dead!”

While the capitulating sheriff starts searching for an ambulatory mummy, John gets his call-up to the army medical corps – which he wants very much, although he deplores the timing. The immediate effect of this is to accelerate John’s relationship with Isobel: they decide to get married at once, so that she can leave with him; and the effect of that, in turn, is to cause Mehemet Bey to snap. While wandering around aimlessly, as usual, he sees John and Isobel share a kiss, and hears John say something about “wedding preparations” – and he makes up his mind that Isobel will be instead his bride; that she will bear “a future High Priest”; and that the two of them will live together in tana-induced immortality.

Do I need to remind you that he has seen no more of Isobel than two brief glances? At least Andoheb had an actual conversation with Marta before deciding that they would spend eternity together.

Anyway, fortunately for Mehemet Bey, though unfortunately for Isobel, John rejects her suggestion of an immediate trip to the judge’s office in favour of a proper ceremony at the house in three days. After brooding on the thought of Isobel for some time, Mehemet Bey summons Kharis and tells him that he is to go out on “a mission of life” – that he is to kidnap Isobel and bring her to the crypt.

This is, certainly from the point of view of Lon Chaney Jr, one of the best if not the best scene in the film (I’m biased in favour of Professor Norman, of course), as Mehemet Bey continues to try and justify the abduction of Isobel, mostly in terms of the need to produce more High Priests, and a thoroughly unimpressed Kharis, purely through his body language, fumes, “What, are you nuts? This is exactly how Andoheb got himself shot, and me set on fire! Feh! – the living!”

 

But, disgusted or not, Kharis can’t disobey orders, and so shuffles off into the night to collect Isobel. Mrs Evans just catches sight of her daughter being lifted through the window, however – and besides, on his way Kharis bothered that farming couple again – and this time you know the sheriff’s going to listen.

In fact, the sheriff is already busy assembling a torch-bearing mob; one of those marvelous Universal Studios mobs that wears perfectly tailored suits and hats while waving pitchforks and pursuing monsters. (I suppose, if we must have mob violence, we can at least be civilised about it.) The men need surprisingly little convincing about the whole 3000-year-old-mummy thing – any excuse for a little torch action, I guess. Then, when John fills in some of the background, one of the mob pipes with some helpful information, revealing that “the new caretaker at the cemetery” has been rather chatty, and talked, “All about Egypt, and quoted a lot of passages from his Egyptian bible.”

So I guess the abduction of Isobel is only the second stupidest thing that Mehemet Bey has done lately.

Hard on the heels of this revelation, a breathless Mrs Evans runs up with the bad news. On the sheriff’s orders, John dispenses clubs and torches, and the violently angry (though immaculately dressed) torch-bearing, club-wielding mob sets out in pursuit of a little rough justice.

In the crypt, Isobel comes to (she fainted, of course) to find herself strapped securely to a coffin. As Kharis looks on more in sorrow than in anger, Mehemet Bey tries to convince her that, “It is your destiny to achieve the greatest honour that can come to a woman!”

That old line.

 

The tana fluid is at Isobel’s lips when the mob arrives. After ordering Kharis to carry Isobel out and hide her, Mehemet Bey slips a gun into his pocket and quietly exits the crypt. He comes up behind the angry mob, which is trying to force its way into the caretaker’s cottage, and tries to stall for time by denying all knowledge. However, a member of one of the other search parties has spotted Kharis carrying Isobel, and reports as much. Mehemet Bey then pulls his gun and tries to kill John – but is shot dead by the sheriff first.

Meanwhile, Kharis has been driven towards the Banning house, and he climbs inside by way of the trellis. The mob catches up, and John runs into the house – only to meet Kharis halfway up the stairs and be tossed back down again (the stuntman, presumably, landing squarely on “John”’s still-burning torch – owie!). Kharis retreats to the balcony with Isobel still clutched in his arms, and is spotted by the mob – which starts lobbing flaming torches at him – and through the windows into the house – and onto the porch.

Uhh...guys?

I hope the Bannings have good insurance. For that matter, I hope Isobel does too.

John, meanwhile, has recovered from his fall. He picks up his torch and runs upstairs to where Kharis, still carrying Isobel, has been driven back into the bedroom. In his eagerness to kill John, Kharis puts Isobel down; but John manages to hold him at bay with the torch, while half-carrying the dazed Isobel out onto the balcony towards the trellis. Having lifted her to safety, John turns to confront the pursuing Kharis; a brave gesture that very nearly costs him his life.

The sheriff and one of his men rush into the burning house and upstairs to the bedroom, emerging on the balcony. The sheriff starts shooting, which does Kharis no actual harm, but provokes him into letting go of John’s throat and turning on his new attackers.

   

As John and Isobel climb down to safety, the others manage to attack Kharis with fire and to skirt around him, also making their escape down the trellis. As soon as they are safely down, the sheriff sets it alight, effectively trapping Kharis who – in a scene that owes more than a little to the ending of Frankenstein – goes up in flames. Again.

A series of newspaper headlines then reassures everyone that the “reign of terror” is over; and on the back of what has been a fairly grim tale, we have a sweet little coda of a newly married John and Isobel slipping away to the train station, only to be ambushed by a cheering group of rice- and confetti-throwers.

To this, however, I confess I paid scant attention. I was too busy trying to remember what other film I’d seen in which a mock-up newspaper bore a small heading proclaiming, New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered.

Answer – Gigantis, The Fire Monster.

The hell!!??

 
 
Professor Norman - my hero.
 
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----posted 01/04/2012