Monday, October 13, 2014

Mummy Monday | The Mummy's Tomb (1942)

Who's In It: Lon Chaney (The Wolf Man, The Ghost of Frankenstein), Dick Foran (The Mummy's Hand), Elyse Knox (the Joe Palooka movies), George Zucco (The Mummy's Hand, Tarzan and the Mermaids), Wallace Ford (The Mummy's Hand), and Turhan Bey (The Mad Ghoul, The Amazing Mr. X).

What It's About: Thirty years after the events of The Mummy's Hand, the guardians of Ananka seek revenge on the party who invaded her tomb.

How It Is: As the Mummy series becomes more throwaway (Tomb is only an hour long and 15 minutes of that is recapping Hand) it also becomes more fun. For better or worse, we're in full-on children's adventure mode now.

It doesn't make much sense why the evil high priest Andoheb (Zucco) has waited 30 years to go after Stephen Banning (Foran) and his buddy Babe (Ford), but as Tomb opens, Andoheb is way too old for the job. Hand started with Andoheb receiving his evil priestly commission from his predecessor and Tomb begins the same way, with Andoheb's passing it on to the next guy, a dashing fellow named Mehemet Bey (Turhan). Mehemet takes the mummy (Chaney, taking over from Hand's Tom Tyler) to the United States to murder Banning and Babe and all their relatives.

Unfortunately, Mehemet suffers the same weakness of the flesh that Andoheb did in Hand and falls in love with Isobel (Knox), the girlfriend of Banning's son. After a couple of murders, Mehemet deviates from his mission and diverts the mummy to kidnap Isobel. This leads to one of my favorite moments in the movie, where the mummy mutely (and unsuccessfully) tries to change Mehemet's mind. Through all of Hand and most of Tomb, the mummy is simply an instrument of the high priest, but in that one moment he has a mind of his own, which makes him potentially much more dangerous. I forget if the rest of the series follows up on that, but I kind of hope it does. Or maybe I don't.

It's not like the mummy would be more of a threat if he acted on his own. He's plenty deadly and plenty scary as the weapon of an evil cult. And as cool as Karloff's portrayal is in the original Mummy, I actually prefer Tyler and Chaney's cartoonish, silent, shambling versions that have more successfully infiltrated pop culture. And Chaney's is even more so than Tyler's, introducing the famous step-drag walk to the character.

There's nothing special at all about the plot of The Mummy's Tomb. Mehemet is a cool-looking villain, but he's dumb as dirt and reveals himself as the mummy's master in a ridiculously stupid way. But that lack of cleverness keeps the movie short and focused on what I came to see: the mummy shuffling around scaring and killing people. And I'm not sure I want it any other way.

Rating: Three out of five kidnapping, cognizant corpses.

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