The Mummy’s Tomb
THE MUMMY’S TOMB
Notes: Universal. 71 minutes.
Kharis, The Mummy: Lon Chaney, Jr.
Stephen A. Banning: Dick Foran
John Banning: John Hubbard
Isobel Evans: Elyse Knox
High Priest: George Zucco
Babe Hanson: Wallace Ford
Mehemet Bey: Turhan Bey
Aunt Jane: Mary Gordon
Kharis stuntman: Eddie Parker
Screenplay: Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher
Story: Neil P. Varnick
Produced: Ben Pivar
Directed: Harold Young.
Pre-Commentary: “‘I didn’t like the part at all,’ Chaney told writer Ron Haydock during the mid-1960s. ‘There wasn’t anything you could do with the Mummy. You just got into the make-up and bandages and walked around dragging your leg. I liked playing the Wolf Man a lot better, and making those Inner Sanctum films. You had a chance to do some acting, and you had dialogue. All they ever wanted the Mummy to do was put his hand way out in front of him and then grab somebody, and start strangling him'” (qtd. in Glut 175). For a very enthusiastic reading of these ’40s mummy films plus lost scenes from the scripts, see Thomas M. Feramisco, The Mummy Unwrapped: Scenes Left on Universal’s Cutting Room Floor (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc., Pub., 2003).
Summary: Even though I distinctly remember the “contract” in the previous film, The Mummy’s Hand, sporting a May 12th, 1940 date, this 1942 film supposedly takes up the story 30 years later (and believe me, this is not 1970!). Stephen Banning is an old moron now, without much more dignity than himself as a young moron. He sanctimoniously narrates the story of the discovery of Kharis, with the help of bountiful scenes from the previous movie, to his son John, John’s girlfriend Isobel, his own sister Jane (Mary Gordon, who played Mrs. Hudson in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films), and a couple others. Banning claims his realization of the crucial secret passage came from potsherds, covering up the fact that these particular map skills actually came off an amulet on the person of the beggar he shot to death. He ends by saying they brought back the remains of Princess Ananka, and Marta (whom he married and now survives), but not the mummy. One of the listeners remarks, “Why, it’s like hearing from a world beyond.” “At least I had the satisfaction of having destroyed a terrible monster and in doing so rid the world of an awful curse.”
Coincidentally, Andoheb (an aged George Zucco, also from the last film) is palsiedly preparing to pass on the high priesthood to Mehemet Bey. Oh, yes, “an infidel sought to destroy me,” and he looked dead, but “the bullet [but there were several!] only crushed my arm [but what about the stone staircase tumble?], and the fire merely crippled and maimed Kharis.” He passes on the family recipe: “three leaves will keep him alive; nine leaves will give him motivation [did he mean ‘motion’?].” Kharis, who “lives for the moment he can carry death and destruction,” must now be used for revenge against those Banning idiots (but why now? They’ve deserved it for decades!).
Andoheb passes away, and Mehemet Bey travels with his mummy to Mapleton, Massachusetts, excusing his weirdness with the claim that “The ways of my people are strange to Western minds.” He must pray so that the dear departed won’t wander “lonely and forgotten through the spaces of time.” And to Kharis, he asserts, “Nothing will stand between us and the fulfilment of our vows: nothing, Kharis, nothing!” So he becomes a graveyard caretaker at Mapleton.
Mehemet tells the mummy, “The moon rides high in the sky again, Kharis; there’s death in the night air. Your work begins.” He stews a pile of leaves. Soon, Kharis is limping along suburbia, giving the creeps to a couple making out in a car, an older couple in bed(s), a horse, and, while Dad whoops Junior’s ass at the manly game of checkers, the Banning kennel. The mummy climbs a remarkably sturdy trellis and kills old man Banning (yahoo!). Mehemet Bey keeps tally: “One is dead. Three remain. Only three.” He prays to his gods for “strength to resist any temptation that may be thrown across my path.”
Old Babe Hanson comes to town, although no one is very upset except about the gray dust on Daddy’s neck. Jim, the kennelkeeper shoots at the mummy and faints into a perpetual paralysis shock. The mummy kills Aunt Jane. Babe insists it’s not dust but mold from the mummy being found, and warns John to leave town, but John “can’t believe in a live mummy.” So Babe tells a reporter and is overheard by Bey. When all rush out at the news of the latest mummy sighting, Kharis traps Babe in an alley and kills him.
John finds a rag delicately placed on a bush and brings it to Professor Norman at the university who notes mold, myrrh, and embalming “chemicals” 3000 years old: “Like it or not, we’re dealing with the presence of the living dead.” (Why would I like it?)
John is drafted and Isobel wants to get married. Bey spies on them, has visions of Isobel’s face, and worries about another Banning heir. Kharis, such a good listener, is taken aback by Bey’s announcement that he himself will have a wife: “together, we three, until the world crumbles.” Kharis is sent to kidnap Isobel, and, with a plagiarism from Nosferatu (1922), the shadow of his hand sweeps up the bed in which she sleeps. Meanwhile, a mob forms and is warned about “a 3000-year-old monster … and it’s brought death with it.” Torches are handed out, and an old geezer blabs about an Egyptian working up at the graveyard and “quoting a lot of passages from his Egyptian bible.”
Bey has Isobel strapped down and yammers about it being her “destiny to achieve the greatest honor that can come to a woman,” that is, being the wife of a high priest after being made immortal with the tana fluid: “What I can do for you I can do for myself.” He says, “You will give me a son” who eventually will be the new high priest (but I thought this guy was going to be immortal).
The mob approaches, so the operation is interrupted and Kharis takes Isobel away while Bey confronts the mob. When he pulls a gun on John and announces that for those who defile the tombs of Egypt “a violent death shall be their fate,” someone shoots him. The mob pursues Kharis to the Banning home. He zips up the trellis, knocks John down the stairs and then onto a bed while torches fly about. Isobel escapes down the trellis, some shots distract Kharis, everyone gets away, and the mummy is consumed in flames (again).
The newspapers announce “Reign of Terror Ends in Flames,” and “Romance Scores Triumph Over Terror Reign,” and people throw confetti on John and Isobel. No one has anything to say.
Commentary: Sub-themes of the mummy seem accidentally manifested in what could have been artsy ways. Andoheb clearly died in the previous film, yet has been “resurrected” here (where he dies again but will appear in the next film, The Mummy’s Ghost). Banning and Babe have been aged, so longevity, and even the dead wife, could have resonated but don’t, and the time lapse is never justified or explained.
The juxtaposition of a mummy shuffling around in New England ought to inspire a frisson of inappropriateness, but the town is too horrifyingly homey, so complacent that hardly anyone ever bothers catching a glimpse of this lumberer. No one is ever even upset about any of the deaths of members of their own families. Ultimately, no one cares.