Sunday, January 15, 2012
THE MUMMY'S CURSE (1944)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *metaphysical*
The Universal horror film THE MUMMY (1932) is one of a very small number of films whose mythicity I'd rate as "excellent" rather than "good" (the highest rating accorded any film thus far reviewed here). None of the 1940s Universal "Mummy" films, indirectly spawned by the 1932 work, come anywhere close to that level, but they're always enjoyable time-wasters.
Probably the best way to review this series would be to start from the first one, but as it happens, I saw this one broadcast the other day. Much of the storyline is a reprise of the previous entry in the series, THE MUMMY'S GHOST, although with a major location-change. At the end of GHOST, the indestructible mummy Kharis walks into a Massachusetts swamp with a young woman, the reincarnation of the princess he loved in ancient Egyptian times. At the start of CURSE, Kharis (once again played by Lon Chaney Jr.)-- and somewhat later, the reincarnated Princess Ananka-- unaccountably arise from a swamp in Lousiana. Fortunately for the mummy, two Egyptian priests, wise in the ways of keeping mummies alive, happen to be on the scene, and they spirit Kharis away to a local tomb while they seek-- for reasons left vague-- to reunite him with his lost princess.
If one gets past the absudity of these pagan priests chasing mummies around Louisiana, a number of good set-pieces provide small blessings to CURSE.
Kharis, as is typical in these '40s mummyfilms, is unable to speak and his actions are generally limited to strangling offenders with his one good hand. Several times in CURSE his victims practically have to walk into his grasp because the mummy moves so slowly. However, there's one creepy death where he murders an old woman by coming at her from behind, an approach which renders his death-dealing more credible. In addition this film ends with a show-stopping moment in which Kharis literally brings down the house-- or rather, the tomb-- as he tears through stone and metal to reach one of his intended victims.
In GHOST John Carradine essayed a repressed Egyptian priest who compromised his duties to Kharis with his lusts for a young female, while his perceptor (George Zucco) remained back in Egypt. This time both priests are on hand for the action: dutiful older priest Ilzor (Peter Coe) and lustful younger priest Ragheb (Martin Kosleck, who gives the most enjoyable performance). Virginia Christine, portraying the amnesiac young woman who was Princess Ananka in a past life, also arouses sympathy for her doomed situation, in marked contrast to the predictable figures of the requisite handsome guy and pretty girl (Dennis Moore & Kay Harding). Moore does have two lively hand-to-hand fights with Kosleck, though, before Kharis interrupts.
Considering that most of the films directed by Leslie Goodwins were comedies, he handles both the action scenes and the creepy moments quite well. The reincarnation theme, which provides so much metaphysical symbolism in the 1932 Karloff film, is reduced to a gimmick to motivate the mummy and his priests. The most interesting thing about CURSE, like GHOST, is how oddly evocative it seems to see a mummy-- an entity that would never be possible save in an arid environment like Egypt-- rise from a swamp, which seems the closest thing possible to a midway point between earth and water.