Sunday, March 27, 2011

Saturday, August 29, 1970: The Mummy's Hand (1940) / Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)

The Mummy's Hand

Synopsis: Archeologist Steve Banning (Dick Foran) and his sidekick / comic relief Babe Jenson (Wallace Ford) are down on their luck in Cairo. Unable to secure funding for their expeditions, they are preparing to return to America by steamship. But by chance Banning finds a broken pot at a bazaar that seems to indicate the location of the tomb of ancient Egyptian princess Ananka -- a remarkable find, should it prove to be true.

Taking it to the Cairo Museum, Banning's discovery is verified as authentic by museum curator Dr. Petrie (Charles Trowbridge). Unexpectedly, though, the influential Professor Andoheb (George Zucco) declares that the pot is a fake.

Professor Andoheb knows perfectly well the pot is authentic. But he's pulling double duty -- not only is he the recognized expert on Egyptian artifacts, he is also the high priest of a secret order, chosen to guard the sanctity of Princess Ananka's tomb.

Banning and Jenson are discouraged, but by chance they meet an American stage magician (Cecil Kelloway) who agrees to bankroll their dig. What's more, the magician has a beautiful daughter (Peggy Moran) who insists on coming along on the expedition.

Using the map on the pot as a guide, the expedition unearths a tomb - but it is not Princess Ananka's tomb. Rather, it's the tomb of Kharis. Unlike most mummies, Kharis has a job -- he is Princess Ananka's last line of defense. And it isn't long before Andoheb shows up at the site, to bring the mummy to life with a potion of tana leaves, and instruct it to kill all those who would dare defile the tomb of the princess....

Comments: Unlike its contemporaries Dracula and Frankenstein, The Mummy (1932) had no direct sequels. Rather, eight years passed before the release of The Mummy's Hand, a movie which might best be described -- in modern studio parlance-- as a "reboot" or "reimagining" of the original. None of the characters from the first film appear or are referenced in this one. Even though footage from the first film is used, and a forbidden-love subplot is borrowed, Kharis, not Im-Ho-Tep, is the titular mummy; Princess Ananka stands in for Ankes-en-Amon; the Scroll of Thoth disappears, replaced by the device of the tana leaves; and instead of the somber Whemple family, we have two archeologists so light-hearted that one can imagine them being played by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. (Well, I did imagine it; and spent the first third of the movie wondering if they were about to break into song or do their grating patty-cake routine with Andoheb's goons.)

Perhaps the most radical change is the concept of the mummy itself. Ardeth Bey was shown to be physically frail, incapable of doing much of anything as a mummy, even an ambulatory one. Passing himself off as a modern Egyptian, his main weapon was hypnotic control. In The Mummy's Hand, Kharis is more like a traditional zombie: largely unaware of its surroundings and incapable of reason. It is almost entirely under Andoheb's control, a slave to the tana leaf potion which is always placed, like so many dog treats, in the tents of the men it is ordered to kill.

The Mummy's Hand is clearly a lesser movie than its predecessor, but in spite of some glaring plot holes (why would the ancient Egyptians festoon pots and medallions with a map to a forbidden tomb?) it is still quite lively and entertaining.

Dick Foran is a passable though undistinguished lead, and Wallace Ford (whom you may remember from the goony Night of Terror) wears out his welcome rather quickly. Peggy Moran is supposed to be the love interest here, but she spends most of the time looking sour, marking time until she needs to be rescued in the third act.

All three characters are rather unceremoniously disposed of in The Mummy's Tomb, but that still lies in the future. For now, we can admire the work of Cecil Kelloway, who plays the Great Solvani with infectious enthusiasm; and that old smoothie George Zucco, whom you may remember as the love-sick professor from The Mad Ghoul. And Tom Tyler does as well as one can expect wrapped in bandages, with his eyes blacked out frame-by-frame in each of his mummy close-ups.

Ladies, perhaps you've dated better-looking guys. I admit he needs to work on his personal hygiene. But he's from a good family and he's very loyal.

THE MUMMY'S HAND can be felt via the DVD collection The Mummy: The Legacy Collection, which can be purchased on Amazon.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Synopsis: Two grave-robbers enter the family crypt of the wealthy Talbot family, looking for an expensive watch and ring left on the body of young Lawrence Talbot, a.k.a. the titular Wolf Man. As the full Moon peeks through the windows, the thieves are puzzled to find Talbot's body covered with wolfs-bane. They clear it off and begin searching for the ring. Suddenly, a hand reaches up from the coffin to grab one of the unfortunate thieves....

Later, a Cardiff policeman finds a man lying unconscious on the street in the dead of night, the apparent victim of an assault. At the hospital the next day, Dr. Frank Mannering (Patric Knowles) is shocked to discover that his patient -- on whom he had just operated hours earlier -- is now conscious and talking. The man says he is Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr) and does not know how he came to be in Cardiff. Checking Talbot's story, the police discover that Lawrence died four years earlier. That night, the full Moon rises over the hospital, and Lawrence changes into a werewolf. He takes to the streets of Cardiff, attacking a policeman. The next morning, Talbot declares that he committed a murder during the night and asks for the police. Thinking the man has lost his marbles, Dr. Mannering has him put in a straitjacket. He then goes with the local chief of police to the Talbot family crypt, trying to determine if the man in his hospital room is really Talbot; sure enough, they find the coffin empty. When he returns to Cardiff he finds that Talbot has somehow shredded the straitjacket with his teeth and escaped.

After a long search Talbot finally catches up with the Gypsy camp of Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya). Talbot knows that death is the only way he can be free of the curse, but Maleva tells him the only chance he has to die is to visit the guy who has harnessed the powers of life and death: the notorious Dr. Frankenstein. The two travel by horse-drawn wagon to Vasaria, the hometown of Dr. Frankenstein. Disappointed to find that Dr. Frankenstein is long dead, Talbot and Maleva decide to look around the ruins of the castle in hopes of finding Dr. Frankenstein's diary, which purportedly holds "the secrets of life and death".

Alas, a full Moon rises (again), Talbot turns into the Wolf Man (again), wreaks a good deal of havoc, falls through an opening near the castle and awakens (as Talbot again) in an icy underground chamber adjacent to the castle, where he finds Frankenstein's monster (Bela Lugosi), frozen like a TV dinner....

Comments: We last saw Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man back on December 13, and seeing it again I was struck by what a polished, economical little movie it is. It's usually lumped in with the monster rallies House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein. But it more closely resembles the Frankenstein sequels we've watched in recent weeks -- Ghost of Frankenstein in particular.

We've previously kicked around the idea that Ludwig in Ghost of Frankenstein was the sensible kid in the family -- seen by his family as a slacker because he didn't want to possess god-like power. In Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man the slacker in question is young Elsa Frankenstein. She clearly feels nothing but shame for her family's transgressions against nature. But because she is not trained as a scientist, there is nothing she can do about it*.

Nothing, that is, until she meets Frank Mannering, a doctor who not only understands Henry Frankenstein's notes, but who also understands the moral arguments for disassembling the monster.

A romance is clearly budding between Elsa and Frank, but when Elsa discovers Frank is trying to juice the monster up rather than destroy it, the look of betrayal in her eyes is palpable. Conned again, our Elsa -- she thought she'd found someone who could help her to atone for her family's crimes, and look where it got her. Grandpa would have loved this guy.

At the end of the movie she allows herself to be wrapped up in Frank's brawny arms and led away from the ruined castle (amusingly, the same castle gets destroyed at the end of every picture) and what we are left with is a woman who has resigned herself to yet another abusive relationship.

The lovely Ilona Massey plays Elsa, and I had no trouble buying that she is a baroness. Massey did very little film work outside of this picture, and that's a shame; I would have loved to see what sort of range she had as an actress.

It's great to see Maria Ouspenskaya classing up the joint as Maleva, but I still have not forgiven Patric Knowles for The Strange Case of Dr. RX. The less said about Bela Lugosi in this one, the better.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN can be purchased on DVD (in a disc that also includes House of Frankenstein) through Amazon now has an on-demand option as well -- you can rent the movie for 24 hours for $2.99, and purchase for $9.99.


*Elsa is identified as the granddaughter of Henry Frankenstein, and the daughter of another monster-building member of the family. I'm guessing she is Ludwig's daughter, since she mentions growing up in Vasaria.


kochillt said...

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN aired 9 times on CHILLER THEATER, while THE MUMMY'S HAND showed up 5 times (THE MUMMY'S CURSE was the Kharis champion, with 6). Roy William Neill really delivered the goods with this worthy sequel for Chaney's Wolf Man, it's just an insult to the memory of Frankenstein. Ilona Massey's career had already peaked, but she had earlier appeared in Universal's INVISIBLE AGENT (it's the same character played by Evelyn Ankers in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN). THE MUMMY'S HAND began the four picture Kharis series, the only one with marvelous George Zucco's high priest directing Tom Tyler's murderous Mummy (replaced by Lon Chaney in the other three). These characters are portrayed by an appealing cast, coupled with the best villains, vastly superior to its sequels. The care taken with Tyler's closeups allow him more range than Chaney, and the awful Mapleton hicks in THE MUMMY'S TOMB were simply obnoxious.

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