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THE MUMMY'S GHOST (1944)

“Swear by the ancient Egyptian gods, that you will never rest until the Princess Anaka and Kharis have been returned to their rightful resting place, in these tombs...”





  Director:
 
Reginald LeBorg

  Starring: 
Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, Robert Lowery, Ramsay Ames, Barton MacLane, Frank Reicher, Harry Shannon, Emmett Vogan, George Zucco, Claire Witney, Lester Sharpe, Oscar O’Shea

  Screenplay: 
Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher and Brenda Weisberg, based upon a story by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher

Synopsis:  Andoheb, High Priest of Arkan (George Zucco), gives to Yousef Bey (John Carradine) the task of travelling to America to find Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr) and the mummy of the Princess Ananka, and bring them back to Egypt. Andoheb explains to Yousef Bey how Kharis was not destroyed, as it was believed, and nine tana leaves brewed during the full moon will draw Kharis to him from wherever he is concealed... In Mapleton, Massachusetts, Professor Norman (Frank Reicher) tells a class of university students about Kharis’s reign of terror, and how the mummy was destroyed by fire in the ruins of Professor Banning’s house. He also mentions that the tana leaves found at the Banning house were given to him for scientific research, but as yet he has not been able to determine how they confer immortality. The students are sceptical, but Norman tells them solemnly that he was a witness to all he asserts. Tom Hervey (Robert Lowery) meets his girlfriend, Amina Mansouri (Ramsay Ames), at the university library; as she is Egyptian, he repeats to her some of what Norman told the class – only to find her distressed by it, as he has noticed she becomes at any mention of Egypt. At his house, Professor Norman continues to devote himself to his tana leaf research: he attempts to translate the inscription on the casket in which the leaves were kept and finally determines that a mysterious hieroglyph indicates nine---nine tana leaves must be brewed during the cycle of the full moon. Ignoring the pleas of his long-suffering wife to come to bed and leave it until another day, the Professor puts nine leaves on to boil... From out of the woods around Mapleton, Kharis emerges, irresistibly drawn to Professor Norman’s house. As he makes his way there, he passes the boarding-house where Amina lies in an uneasy sleep. When Kharis’s shadow falls across her through the window, Amina rises from her bed and also begins to walk towards the Professor’s house, she eyes wide but unseeing... Professor Norman turns from his experiment to find Kharis standing in an open doorway. The mummy shuffles forward, one hand inexorably extended... As Professor Norman’s body slumps to the floor, Kharis reaches for the brewing tana leaves; while outside in the grounds, Amina suddenly collapses. Curiously, a birthmark has appeared on her wrist... News of Professor Norman’s murder spreads like wildfire; and for Tom, to the horror and bewilderment of the crime is added the fact that Amina was found unconscious at the scene. The coroner (Emmett Vogan) and the sheriff (Harry Shannon) inspect the body. The cause of death is clearly strangulation, and mould is found on Norman’s throat. Both men have seen that mould before. “The mummy,” says the sheriff grimly...

Comments:  I’m tempted to open this review with a philosophical rumination over whether a 3000-year-old undead mummy can in fact have a ghost...but I think instead I’ll simply give a nod to this tacit admission on the part of the makers of The Mummy’s Ghost that they had no right to resurrect Kharis once again after his comprehension destruction at the conclusion of The Mummy’s Tomb. That the screenwriters had written themselves into a corner – and recognised that this was so – is amusingly evident in the fact that no attempt whatsoever is made to explain just how Kharis survived the conflagration at the Banning house: when the time comes in The Mummy’s Ghost, he simply shuffles out of the woods surrounding Mapleton where, apparently (and somehow having evaded the torch-bearing mob that watched him go up in flames along with the house), he has been twiddling his thumbs and waiting for yet another High Priest of Karnak to turn up and tell him what to do.

The Mummy’s Ghost isn't up to the standard of its predecessor: theres not enough mummy action, and a bit too much aimless running around; not good, in a film barely sixty minutes long. The screenplay is also guilty of constantly tweaking what the previous two films taught us were “the rules” of this franchise. On the other hand, like The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost eschews Odious Comic Relief and sticks to straightfaced horror, which is a significant mark in its favour.

The film opens with the inescapable Egyptian stock footage, followed by our third time of watching a be-fezzed George Zucco walking up the steps of the Temple of Karnak; although miraculously, by the time he gets inside he’s transformed into a be-fezzed John Carradine. Even more miraculously, George Zucco is already inside, buried under about ten pounds of latex as the aged and shaky Andoheb (who, by the way, died in both the preceding movies).

Somehow – or, as the screenwriters prefer to put it, “through the sacred message brought to us by the most holy spirit of Amon-Ra” – word of Kharis’s survival has reached Egypt (as well as, presumably, the embarrassing failure of Mehemet Bey, although Andoheb has too much class than to mention it). Andoheb therefore prepares to send in yet more troops to try and get the job of bringing the Princess Ananka home done.

I said that we’re in the Temple of Karnak, but if so, this film doesn’t mention it. In fact, in place of the High Priests of Karnak who populated the two earlier entries in this series, we are now dealing with the Priests of Arkam, a “secret cult”. (Perhaps someone finally managed to explain to the screenwriters that Karnak is a place, not a god.) Likewise, the potential replacement for Mehemet Bey, “Yousef Bey, son of Abdul Melek”, has not been trained for his mission and doesn’t even know the story of Ananka and Kharis, which conveniently enough allows Andoheb to re-hash it once again for the benefit of those late to the party.

 

Here we get another tweak: the screenplay eliminates the need for Kharis to be maintained via doses of three tana leaves, and turns the nine tana leaves from the means of his reanimation into a kind of “homing brew”, to which Kharis will be drawn. Presumably this is their way of getting around the fact that Kharis is now fully animated at all times. 

(In The Mummy’s Tomb, Turhan Bey was dropped to the bottom of the cast list, presumably for the heinous crime of actually looking like he might be Egyptian. Here, the cast list is topped by John Carradine in a touch of brown face.)

The setting-up of this film’s premise is divided between Andoheb in Egypt, and Professor Norman in Mapleton, Massachusetts. When we met Norman previously, every indication was that he was a professional scientist, perhaps an analytical chemist; now we find him lecturing as a Professor of Egyptology. Professor Norman was my favourite character from The Mummy’s Tomb, which found him proving the existence of the undead through science, and part of me was delighted to see him back again. The other part, however, remembered this franchise’s tendency to gruesomely kill off all the surviving characters from the previous film...

We find Professor Norman lecturing a group of frankly rather elderly-looking university students. Let’s be charitable and suppose that these are returned servicemen taking advantage of the provisions of the G. I. Bill. Given that, in contrast to the chronological leap between the first two films, the events of The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost are more or less consecutive, Norman finds himself with a surprisingly sceptical audience; although they prove very good at posing Dorothy-Dix-ish questions that allow the Professor not only to insist upon the reality of Kharis, but to reveal that he was given the tana leaves found amongst Steve Banning’s effects after his death to experiment upon. The Professor has not yet been able to determine how the tana leaves kept Kharis alive but, he concludes wistfully, perhaps some day...

"The sacred message brought to us by the most holy spirit of Amon-Ra says that I'll end up making a lot of movies much worse than this!?"

(One of Norman’s students is played by Martha Vickers who, after several uncredited bit parts like this in the early 1940s, found sudden and startling fame by trying to sit in Humphrey Bogart’s lap while he was standing up.)

Although this franchise overall diverges enormously from the plot of The Mummy, at this point it brings back the reincarnation premise surprisingly absent from the preceding two films, but which would appear in pretty much every subsequent mummy film (not to mention pretty much every genre film that mentioned “Egypt” for any reason at all; or rather, mentioning Egypt became lazy-screenwriter justification for a reincarnation subplot).

One of the things I like about The Mummy’s Ghost is its handling of the character of Amina Mansouri, who somewhat unexpectedly is introduced as the Egyptian girlfriend of the film’s putative hero, Tom Hervey. Although, in the nature of things, the relationship between Tom and Amina ends in tears, it is pleasing to note that there is no real subtext here of, “You should have stuck to American girls, son!” I also like the fact that Tom gets exasperated when one of his friends suggests that because Amina is Egyptian, she must know everything about Egypt, living mummies included.

On the other hand we never find out what Amina is doing in America – and in Mapleton, of all places: a strange choice for a girl who becomes distressed by any mention of Egypt, much to Tom’s puzzlement.

(No more than Turhan Bey was Ramsay Ames Egyptian: though American, her slightly “foreign” looks were derived from a Spanish background.)

   

   Exit Kharis.................................................................Enter Kharis. 

That night finds Professor Norman still trying to solve the mystery of the tana leaves, by translating the hieroglyphics on the small casket containing them. (Norman may have had a late-life career change, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots: nearly on the table sits an otherwise inexplicable rack of test tubes.) Naturally enough, the Professor has a dedicated but uncomprehending wife whose mission in life is get her husband to put down his experiment and come to bed; naturally enough, she fails at it – this time because Norman finally has a breakthrough: “Nine tana leaves must be brewed during the cycle of the full moon!”

Mrs Norman gives up, and leaves her husband dropping nine tana leaves into a ceremonial dish which (in a nice touch) he has perched on a tripod over a Bunsen burner.

The aroma of the brewing tana leaves drifts out into the night air...and somewhere on the fringes of Mapleton, Kharis appears...

Yes, just like that.

Kharis shuffles determinedly in the direction of Professor Norman’s house. On the way, he breaks through a barred fence (which, in a sloppy bit of art direction, has the slats holding together the pre-broken fence towards the camera) and passes by the boarding-house where Amina lies sleeping. His shadow is cast through the window of her bedroom; as it passes across her, Amina wakes. She climbs out of bed and leaves the house, also moving in the direction of Professor Norman’s house...

(As Amina walks slowly forward, a black cat runs across her path. I resent the implication, but it’s a cute and unexpected touch. [As an Egyptian, Amina would be the last person to buy into that sort of nonsense...])

   

Homicidal mummies and undying love across the centuries notwithstanding, these two are what you'll remember about The Mummy's Ghost.
[And I don't mean Tom and Amina...]

Kharis arrives at Norman’s house and enters through the open doors of his study, one hand reaching out remorselessly... As Norman’s body slumps to the floor, Kharis turns and greedily consumes the tana fluid.

Outside, Amina has also arrived at the scene. She is standing on the shadows on the lawn when Kharis shuffles out of the house and disappears into the night. She stares at him in horrified disbelief – then faints. As she lies on the ground unconscious, a birthmark appears on her wrist...

(With hindsight, I think the birthmark is supposed to replicate the symbols on the medallion worn by the Priests of Whoever in all three films, but we are never given a close look at it.)

The next morning, Tom’s friend breaks the horrible news of Norman’s murder – and the still-more-unwelcome news that Amina was found at the scene and is now the prime suspect.

Well---not really. The authorities want to know what she was doing there, all right, but the sheriff and the coroner have both been through this before, and one glance at Norman’s throat is enough to reveal to them the terrible truth.

And this, I think, is what I like best of all about The Mummy’s Ghost. Granted, at only sixty-minutes long there’s not much leeway for time-wasting; but it’s refreshing that no-one refuses to believe in Kharis’s return while the bodies continue to pile up around them. They just accept the evidence and get on with the job of trying to stop him.

   

He should have stuck with SCIENCE!!

The sheriff questions Amina; he’s particularly interested in what made her faint, but she insists she remembers nothing after she went to bed. Tom barges in, behaving more pugnaciously than the sheriff’s firm yet considerate handling of Amina warrants, but he can’t alibi her for the time of the murder. The sheriff finally lets Amina go, but warns her not to leave town. As Tom helps her up, he recoils from her involuntarily: one long lock of Amina’s hair has turned completely white overnight...

(Weirdly, this is never acknowledged in-film.) 

We then get a dose of my favourite movie-props, mock-up newspapers, announcing the return of the “Mapleton Monster” (and one that rather oddly prefers to blame it on Amina; since it specifies that she’s Egyptian, we guess that this particular paper has an editorial policy about “foreigners”). One paper announces that all “able-bodied men” are being recruited to make up patrols. Again, none of the Mapletonians expresses any scepticism: the men all sign up as requested, while their wimminfolk start to fret.

Nearby, looking on in interest, is a very dapper-looking Yousef Bey. No-one notices him, although considering all the misdeeds committed by his predecessor, you’d think the Mapletonians would have a weather-eye out for mysterious lurking Egyptians.

Actually, given how we know he can wield the hambone, it is surprising to have to report that, if anything, John Carradine underplays in The Mummy’s Ghost, spending most of his screentime either smiling in a smugly superior manner, or addressing flowery nonsense to, variously, Amon-Ra, Isis, Osiris, and “the almighty gods of Egypt” in general.

 

Which of these two headlines do you think sold the most copies? 

Night-time finds Yousef Bey out in the woods brewing tana leaves and intoning gobbledegook to a variety of gods. We get a clumsy false scare-scene here. Tom and Amina have been out somewhere, and Tom decides to stop for no reason – well, okay, for some reason – on a deserted stretch of road that just happens to be more or less between Kharis and the brewing tana leaves. One is rather inclined to question the wisdom of parking in the middle of nowhere while a homicidal mummy is on the loose, but I guess hormones will be hormones.

As Tom and Amina talk, we cut to Kharis shuffling through the woods – but once again the only contact is a shadow thrown across Amina (though she and Tom don’t see Kharis – good trick!), while the rustling in the bushes nearby is a farmer, Ben Evans, who “tripped over a stump and rolled” (!) while taking a shortcut home after his duty on mummy-watch.

(As with Amina’s unacknowledged hair, there is a reference here to Amina “hearing voices out of the blue” in this scene that connects to nothing in the completed film. No time! No time!)

Kharis wanders into the Evans farm, causing the dog to bark hysterically (and wag its tail frantically; the black cat is a much better actor). Kharis shuffles into the barn in time to evade the sight of Mrs Evans, leaning out of her window. The unfortunate Ben arrives home just at this juncture, and goes to see what the dog’s worked up about...

Kharis, evidently a great believer in the shortest distance between two points being a straight line, smashes his way through the back of the barn and continues his journey through the surrounding woods. He finally finds Yousef Bey, but is barely given a moment to scarf down the tana fluid and catch his breath before he’s being hauled back through the woods again.

After 3000 years of unshakeable fidelity, a guy's entitled to cop a feel...

We then cut to the Scripps Museum, where the mummy of the Princess Ananka is on display. (Another notable early career bit part: Ivan Triesault as a museum guide.) Most of the party that has been gawking at Ananka moves away, but one person stays behind; Yousef Bey apologises to the “gods of Egypt” for the “laxity” of the Priests of Arkam, which has resulted in Ananka being exposed to “the gaze of heretics”. (“Heretics”?)

A grimly funny bit of business follows, with a museum guard settling in beside his favourite radio program: “This is The Hour Of Death! The forces of evil stand at the threshold! A man shall die tonight---” In an odd, even more in-jokey touch, the program is about “Dr X, the mad doctor of Market Street”, thus referencing two Lionel Atwill films at once.

As he did in The Mummy’s Tomb, despite being silent and bandaged Lon Chaney Jr manages to steal a scene or two in this film. One of the high-points of his performance is this sequence, which has a genuine emotional resonance. Kharis shuffles into the mummy-room, tentatively approaches Ananka’s sarcophagus. But as he reaches in to touch her gently---

---in Mapleton, Amina awakes with a scream---

---while in the museum, the bandages enclosing Anaka’s body collapse in a heap: there is nothing inside...

Kharis, distraught, begins trashing the mummy-room. Yousef Bey calls him sharply into line, concluding that, by the will of Amon-Ra, Ananka’s soul has “entered another form”, and that, “The gods have chosen to make our task more difficult.” That sounds about right. Before the two of them can make their escape, however, the noise brings the security guard away from The Hour Of Death to, well, The Hour Of Death...

 

Suddenly, Sheriff Elwood found himself overcome by hat-envy...

Back in Mapleton, Amina is being comforted by her landlady, to whom she confides that she was sure someone was in her room---she could feel him touching her...

The investigation of the tragedy at the museum falls to Inspector Walgreen , who is forced to admit that the evidence replicates that of the Mapleton killings. Walgreen consults Dr Ayab, “an Egyptian and an expert”, who points out that Ananka’s body cannot have been stolen, as the empty bandages have not been unwound or cut.

Dr Ayab translates the hieroglyphics inside the sarcophagus for Walgreen’s benefit, and we learn that since Ananka has been removed from “the hills of Arkam”, she has been able to escape the eternal imprisonment imposed upon her for her violation of her vows, and to reincarnate in order to seek salvation.

The characterisation of Walgreen is another of this film’s stronger points. He’s a hard-headed, no-nonsense cop who doesn’t want anything to do with living mummies or reincarnated princesses, but who nevertheless accepts the evidence and actually listens to the expert he’s called in. Furthermore, having concluded that his investigation should move to Mapleton (mummy capital of New England), he invites Dr Ayab to go along as his advisor.

Sheriff Elwood is glad enough to have help, and takes the city cops to Dr Norman’s house, where they re-question Mrs Norman, and Dr Ayab suggests that they re-enact Professor Norman’s experiment with the nine tana leaves. Walgreen in turn suggests turning the experiment into a trap, and has his men dig a camouflaged pit outside Norman’s house, on the theory of, First catch your mummy...

   

You know, I bet if he'd tried real hard, Yousef Bey could have found a secret hideout that was even more inconvenient!

Meanwhile, Tom has had enough: he decides that in violation of the sheriff’s orders, he’s going to take Amina away. In fact, they’re going to visit his family. In fact, they’re going to get married. They’ll leave first thing in the morning...

Yeah, right.

Unfortunately for Tom and Amina, Yousef Bey and Kharis are back in town, the former imploring help from Amon-Ra to recognise Ananka in her new form. He gets the sign he wanted, though I must say it remains obscure to the viewer. But anyway, he sends Kharis out to find his princess---and we discover that he has chosen as their secret hideout an abandoned mining shack on a hillside that requires Kharis, bum leg and all, to drag himself up and down tracks on a forty-five degree slope in order to enter or leave.

But just at this time, Dr Ayab is reproducing Professor Norman’s tana-leaf experiment, which puts Kharis in quite a bind: the girl or the grog?

Most unromantically, the grog wins out: he turns towards the Professor’s house and shuffles off after the tana brew. As before, he passes Amina’s boarding-house and, as his shadow falls across her, she is compelled to rise from her bed and walk outside. The two of them stop for a moment and gaze at one another: Kharis becomes agitated, and Amina---who is now revealed as having two white streaks in her hair---faints, giving him the chance to pick her up and carry her away.

(Although in light of his bum leg and crippled arm, director Reginald LeBorg kindly cuts away at this point.)

"I see you've been going to Elsa Lanchester's hairdresser."

Now---I haven’t yet mentioned perhaps the hardest working and most talented member of the cast of The Mummy’s Ghost, the small scruffy terrier known as Peanuts, who belongs to Tom but has been given the task of guarding Amina – or at least acting as alarm-dog. As Kharis carries the girl away, Peanuts’ yapping wakes her landlady, who puts in an hysterical call to Tom and then runs towards the Norman house to alert the sheriff. (Walgreen’s men head her off – just – before she plunges into the pit.)

Tom, also informed that Kharis carried Amina off “across the fields”, is heading more or less in the right direction, but somehow the tortoise-like Kharis has managed to put sufficient distance between himself and his pursuer to leave the panicky Tom stranded and despairing. However, the loyal and brainy Peanuts is on the case and, having tracked Kharis and Amina to the shack, now turns back to find Tom and lead him in the right direction. (Lassie’s got nuthin’ on Peanuts!)

In the shack, Yousef Bey examines the birthmark on Amina’s wrist and knows that Kharis has found his princess. He begins to tie Amina to a table, though I’m not sure why. Amina helpfully stays unconscious until she is safely bound, and then immediately wakes up to the news that she’s destined for the hills of Arkam.

Or is she? Yousef Bey has been staring at Amina – whose hair turns completely white during this sequence – with a mixture of lust and reverence, and now starts having an argument with his own worst nature: a debate which I’m sure you won’t be in the least surprised to hear involves an alternative outcome for Amina of tana-leaf tea and life as Mrs Yousef Bey.

   

"But, Lon! It wasn't me who decided the billing!"

Okay, granted---a “Priest of Arkam” falling instantly for the reincarnated Princess Ananka is at least a little less ridiculous than a “High Priest of Karnak” violating his sacred vows on the strength of one or two glances at some random American chick; but on the other hand---

Hey, Yousef Bey: do you REALLY think Kharis is just going to stand there and let you steal his girlfriend??

Not hardly.

Kharis comes back into the room just in time to hear Yousef Bey explaining to Amina that they will be spending eternity together. “Has any man ever offered his bride the gift of eternal life?” he inquires rhetorically. Well, yes: Mehemet Bey and Andoheb, to name only two. But as Yousef Bey lifts the tana brew to Amina’s lips, Kharis intervenes – forcefully.

Outside, Tom arrives on the scene just in time to witness Yousef Bey take a round-arm across the face, and get tossed out of the window of the elevated shack. Kharis then limps outside to meet the new threat posed by Tom (and Peanuts). It isn’t much of a threat, really, but the Hero’s Death Battle Exemption© intervenes to leave Tom battered and bruised but alive, as Peanuts scampers off to gather reinforcements.

This lull in proceedings gives Kharis the chance to scoop up Amina and carry her off out the back way. (And as the mummy carries the unconscious girl down a rickety wooden ladder, Reginald LeBorg kindly cuts away again.)

   

While there were certain disadvantages to having a homicidal mummy for a boyfriend, Ananka appreciated the fact that Kharis wasn't just interested in her physically...

Peanuts intercepts Inspector Walgreen and his, not torch-bearing, but lamp-carrying mob, and brings them to the shack. The humans are distracted by the injured Tom, but Peanuts spots Kharis making his getaway, and barks an alert. With the dog’s help, the mob tracks Kharis across the grasslands that lead to a nearby swamp. Throughout this sequence we are given glimpses of Amina’s hands and feet, which reveal that she is showing signs of rapid and extreme ageing...

Reaching the edge of the swamp, the mob closing in, Kharis does not hesitate, but wades directly in. By the time the others, led by Tom, get there, the muddy waters are closing over the head of the long-dead lovers. We get one last glimpse of the ancient visage of Amina – Ananka – before she disappears, held tightly in Kharis’s embrace...

Well---it’s a happy ending of sorts, I guess. At least as far as Kharis is concerned. Anyway, it beats being set on fire because a High Priest can’t keep it in his pants...
 
"Nameless! Fleshless! Deathless!" As Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman point out in Ghastly Beyond Belief, that's three lies in as many words.
 
----posted 12/04/2014