(From now until Halloween, the Canadian Cinephile will be taken over by pure, unadulterated FEAR. No, I’m not commencing an Adam Sandler marathon. I will be reviewing some of the most spine-chilling, bloodcurdling horror movies, with this year’s trip covering those freaky films released prior to 1970. There will be a special focus on Universal’s classic monster pictures, so bring your hot cocoa. It’s going to be a dark and scary ride. Sort of.)
Universal shambles back once more with The Mummy’s Ghost, one of two movies in 1944 to feature the laboured monster. Austrian director Reginald Le Borg does the honours, helming this journey of the ponderous mummy and his Egyptian comrade. This time out, Griffin Hay and Henry Sucher are responsible for the screenplay.
The Mummy’s Ghost posits a world where almost everyone knows about the mummy and almost everyone expects him to arrive at some point or another. There are young people who don’t believe, sure, but for the most part the world of Mapleton is set for the mummy and doesn’t exactly exhibit any surprise when the wrapped thing arrives in town.
The picture opens with Andoheb (George Zucco) passing on his duties as High Priest to Yousef Bey (John Carradine). He also wants Bey to drag the mummy (Lon Chaney, Jr.) to the United States for the usual reasons. Back in Mapleton, Massachusetts, Professor Norman (Frank Reicher) is studying hieroglyphics and tana leaves. He’s in the middle of brewing the leaves when the mummy appears and kills him.
But the mummy’s main point of interest is Amina (Ramsay Ames), who is of Egyptian descent and therefore must be mixed up in everything. She’s dating college boy Tom (Robert Lowery), but the arrival of the mummy is driving her crazy. Soon, it becomes apparent that the soul of the mummy’s original lover has been reincarnated in another body.
The mummy sequels have all sprouted from the 1940 film The Mummy’s Hand, where Steve Banning and his pal Babe screwed everything up by disturbing the Egyptian mythology and awakening the High Priest of Karnak to a state of awareness. Said High Priest is now the High Priest of Arkam, by the way, but nobody expects anyone to keep track of such trivialities.
The Mummy’s Ghost ensures that the plot is essentially the same as the rest of the series: the mummy is awakened, given a handler, dragged to a place to stalk people until his eventual demise. There is one final turn, however, and that gives Le Borg’s movie an ending that is less than cheery. It’s a wise decision and a dark one.
Apart from the conclusion, The Mummy’s Ghost walks down all the usual Universal Monster avenues. It features a collection of old men studying things, a young man trying to protect his girlfriend from the things the old men are studying and a seemingly unstoppable force that is actually remarkably easy to defeat.
The good news is that The Mummy’s Ghost only takes up about an hour of time. For some, this will seem like an eternity. And Le Borg is in no great hurry to pick up the pace, with the mummy stalking across a series of wide shots with his arm tilted at about chest height. This gives the impression of Chaney, Jr. doing a sort of slow jazz dance as he roams Mapleton, especially when he shuffles sideways.
The hero is supposed to be Tom and perhaps his dog, which is named Peanut or Peanuts or some other such thing. He’s desperately in love with Amina, so he’s kind of burned when the mummy rolls around and cherry-picks his lady because she’s Egyptian and whatnot. Losing out to a lumbering mute wrapped in toilet paper is always a tough pill to swallow.
Speaking of Amina, she passes out early and gets to add a streak of white to her hair. This is because she’s aging rapidly, see. The problem is that the streak initially makes her even more attractive. Also, nobody really notices. For her part, Ames was mostly known as a model and as an actress in several B-movies. This is right in her wheelhouse.
But this isn’t a good movie by any stretch of the imagination. It features a useless pit trap, a whole lot of running around and a nondescript monster. Its gloomy ending is gloriously out of character for Universal films of this era, though, and that counts for something when everything else on the landscape looks like the same old desert sand.