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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942) -- Movie Review by Porfle

In 1942 came the second follow-up to Karloff's 1932 original film THE MUMMY. Unlike the first sequel, THE MUMMY'S TOMB brought a surprisingly downbeat and decidedly unsentimental aura to the series.

Gone was the comedy relief, along with the exotic Egyptian setting itself, and with it the security of knowing that certain characters were immune from the Mummy's wrath.

This is powerfully illustrated early on as the Steve Banning character from the previous film (Dick Foran in old age makeup), now thirty years older and living in peaceful retirement in the quiet New England town of Mapleton, is visited in his bedroom one night by a vengeful and somewhat singed Kharis and strangled to death.

The next night his elderly sister Jane, whose misfortune is to be of the same bloodline as a defiler of the Princess Ananka's tomb, meets the same fate (in a scene that must've been rather shocking for audiences at the time). 

Finally, Steve Banning's old partner Babe (Wallace Ford), whose last name has somehow changed from Jensen to Hanson, hears the news and comes to Mapleton to pay his respects.  Sure enough, the Mummy runs into him that very night, corners him in an alley, and gives him the old five-finger chokeroo.

Even when I saw this as a kid, I was aghast that these familiar characters from the previous film were getting killed off--this was eighteen years before Janet Leigh's fatal shower in PSYCHO proved that no one was safe.

Well, Steve Banning's goofball son John (John Hubbard) survives and goes skipping merrily through the woods with his fiancee' Isobel (the lovely Elyse Knox, who happens to be actor Mark Harmon's mom) while the new current High Priest of Karnak, Mehemet Bey (Turhan Bey) scarfs an eyeload of her and falls head-over-heels in puppy love just like his predecessor.

So, using Kharis as a sort of proactive go-between, Bey orders him to kidnap Isobel and bring her to the cemetary where he works as caretaker so they can share tana-leaf cocktails and go sailing off into eternity together. Which doesn't seem quite right to Kharis, but he does it anyway (in later films he'll get righteously fed up with such tomfoolery).

This eventually brings the usual gang of torch-wielding villagers down upon them and, in a fiery finale, John rescues Isobel while the Mummy is trapped on the balcony of the Banning home as it goes up in flames.

One odd aspect of the story is that nobody ever sees Kharis at first, but they do manage to see his shadow.  So often, in fact, that people start calling the town sheriff to report a strange shadow lurking around. 

Making a return here is the "greyish mold" that's found on the throats of the victims.  Babe is tipped off by this clue right away although the police, of course, scoff at the idea of a living mummy.  Kharis also seems to have an endless supply of loose wrappings to leave hanging from bushes to mark his passing.  

Most importantly, THE MUMMY'S TOMB establishes Universal's new horror star, Lon Chaney, Jr., as the Mummy for the remaining three films in the series, and the tall, beefy actor is definitely the most intimidating incarnation of Kharis.

He's big, mean, and vengeful, and somehow Chaney is able to convey this through the rubber mask now used by Jack Pierce to create the character, with a combination of body language and hand gestures along with his imposing physique. In short, he looks terrific in the role.

The film itself is a lean one hour long, with a full eleven minutes devoted to a recap of the previous film as recounted by the aging Steve Banning to his disbelieving houseguests right before his final encounter with Kharis, and there's also the traditional passing of the baton from one High Priest to another.

This time, it's George Zucco again, who somehow survived being shot two or three times by Babe in THE MUMMY'S HAND and managed to keep his job after having failed so miserably, handing things over to the young Turhan Bey, who proves to be a not-so-great choice himself.

But somehow, even with its brief running time and generous padding, THE MUMMY'S TOMB manages to generate a good deal of solid monster-type entertainment.

It also adds a curious element to the series' timeline.  If THE MUMMY'S HAND takes place in the forties, then how come THE MUMMY'S TOMB, which is supposed to be about thirty years later, also takes place in the forties? Hmm...

Read our overview of the entire original Universal Mummy series

THE MUMMY (1932)






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