Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saturday, September 19, 1970: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) / The Mummy's Curse (1944)

Synopsis: On a stormy night in the early 19th century, Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester), her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and their friend Lord Byron are discussing Mary’s just-completed novel Frankenstein. Lord Byron marvels that the ladylike Mary could have penned such a ghoulish tale. He eagerly describes the plot of the story, and we see a recap of the original film. Lord Byron concludes by wondering what might have taken place after the monster was destroyed in the burning windmill.

Mary then tells the men that she has indeed devised a continuation of the story, and she begins to narrate a tale that begins where the 1931 movie ends.

As the flames of the windmill fire begin to die down, the pitchfork-bearing mob disperses. But the father of the young girl who drowned in the first film remains. He refuses to accept that the monster is dead until he sees its charred bones, and he begins to pick through the ruins to find them. The floor of the windmill gives out from under him and he falls into a flooded chamber below. The monster (Boris Karloff) appears nearby, evidently having been saved by the water in this subfloor, and the enraged creature drowns the man. The creature climbs up out of the ruins to find the man’s wife searching for her husband, and the monster kills her as well.

As the creature wanders the countryside, Henry (Colin Clive) recuperates at home. He is sorry for what he has done, but still gets that crazy gleam in his eye when he talks about the god-like power he had briefly harnessed. One night he is visited by Dr. Pretorious (Ernest Thesiger), a “professor of philosophy” who was fired from Henry’s university "for knowing too much”.
Pretorius wishes to form an alliance with Henry in order to create a new race of artificially-created humans. Henry has the power to restore dead tissue to life, but Pretorius claims to have mastered an entirely different trick – he can create new life out of inert material. To demonstrate this he takes Henry to his home, where – in a very odd scene – he unveils a series of tiny people he has grown in glass jars.

Meanwhile, the public learns that the monster still lives. It is captured and hauled into the village, but it soon escapes, leaving a trail of destruction behind it. Later it happens upon the cottage of a blind hermit, who befriends the creature, teaching it to speak a little, and to appreciate the finer things in life – namely, smoking and drinking. But a couple of townsfolk come looking for the monster, and in the course of the monster’s escape the cottage is burned down.

Pretorious wants Henry to use his knowledge of reanimating cadavers in tandem with his own knowledge of building new tissue. His plan is to procure the body of a young woman and create for it a blank brain that Pretorius has constructed. With a female, the monster will be able to reproduce and start a new race. Henry is tempted by the possibilities, but racked with guilt and uncertainty.

The monster stumbles into a vast crypt just as it is being raided by Dr. Pretorious and his assistants. Pretorious is not afraid of the monster in the slightest, and offers it a drink and a cigar, which the monster greatly enjoys. He brings it back to Henry’s estate, knowing that if Pretorious cannot force Henry to bring the new woman to life , the monster can….

Comments: This is Horror Incorporated's second broadcast of Bride of Frankenstein, and watching it again I am struck by how overtly it wears its religious symbols. Mary Shelley insists in the very first scene that her book will be published when it is understood that she is teaching a moral lesson, not just telling a spooky story.

From there the movie follows the monster emerging from the ruins of the windmill and wandering the countryside. As in the first film, its rage and frustration is mitigated by its childlike innocence, and when it is trussed up and then hoisted into the air by the angry mob, the Christ-like visual is only momentary, far too brief to become cloying.

Just as the monster died for Henry's sins in the first movie, now it is forced to suffer for his sins again -- in spite of his promises to be good, we know that Henry is going to go back to his old ways with the help of our cinematic snake in the garden, Dr. Pretorious.

Henry quickly identifies Dr. Pretorious' methods as black magic, and Pretorious does not deny this; and in speaking about the homunculi he has created, he says his favorite is the Devil, and notes that it bears a strong resemblance to himself. "Sometimes", he says, "I have wondered whether life wouldn't be much more amusing if we were all devils -- no nonsense about angels and being good."

Keeping himself amused is a job Pretorious takes very seriously. He laughs at the sight of another homonculus, this one dressed as a bishop, shaking its finger disapprovingly as the other little creatures have a good time. It is apparent that what got the professor kicked out of University is the same sort of worldly knowledge that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden: the knowledge that God's meticulously ordered universe of arbitrary rules is, quite simply, a joke.

Horror films are by their nature conservative, even reactionary, and the chaotic Pretorious is held up as worse than Henry because Henry at least has the decency to agonize about his dark acts before he carries them out. For Pretorious, death and resurrection are, like life itself, the stuff of comedy. The man is so cheerfully amoral that we can't help but enjoy his company. Like Satan in Milton's Paradise Lost, he becomes the most interesting character by default -- everyone else is just so damned dull.

The impish Pretorius seems to embody Whale's sly sense of humor, which gets a bit more rope than it did in the first film. Pretorious' amusement at the sudden appearance of the monster in the crypt is perfectly done; and Dwight Frye's constant, nervous jabbering to himself is a brilliant touch. Una O'Conner offers the most blatantly slapstick bits in the movie, but they come at just the right moments, and never seem out of place.

Elsa Lanchester has got to enjoy the highest fame-to-screentime ratio in Hollywood history: she only played the Bride for a few moments, but they are unforgettable ones.

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN can be found wherever fine monster movies are sold.

The Mummy's Curse

Synopsis: A construction crew is draining the swamps near a Louisiana village, and a number of men working on the project are nervous. There are tales of a mummy that roams the area at night, in the company of the Egyptian princess he carried into the swamp twenty-five years ago. Some of the locals dismiss it as the talk of superstitious yokels. Unfortunately, most of the guys working on the project are superstitious yokels.

Oh sure, the skeptics concede, we all know that a mummy did carry an Egyptian princess into the swamps, but that was a long time ago. You don't expect that sort of thing to get in the way of a federally-funded construction project.

An archeologist from the Scripps Museum named James Halsey (Dennis Moore) arrives on the site, bearing a letter that permits him to search the local swamps for traces of the mummy. Foreman Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) is annoyed by this sort of tomfoolery, but he must allow Halsey and his fez-wearing sidekick Ilzor (Peter Coe) to do as they please. The arrival of Halsey is not lost on Pat Walsh's beautiful daughter Betty (Kay Harding).

Almost immediately, mysterious mummy-related events begin to unfold. One of the workmen is found murdered, near an impression in the ground that is the same shape as a man -- as if a bulldozer had uncovered the body of a mummy.

Meanwhile, we learn that Ilzor is a member of the secret priesthood sworn to protect Princess Ananka*. He sets up shop in an abandoned monastery nearby, and aided by his henchman Ragheb (Martin Kosleck) revives the mummy Kharis.

Ilzor's plan is to use Kharis to track down Princess Ananka before Halsey does. But Ananka rises from the swamp and wanders into the village, suffering from amnesia. Her knowledge of ancient Egyptian artifacts impresses Halsey, who puts her to work on his archeological crew.

But the mysterious young woman is troubled by strange dreams, and a string of murders has been occurring, the victims found with ancient mold clinging to their broken necks....

Comments: The Mummy's Curse was the last -- as well as the shortest -- entry in Universal's original mummy franchise. It premiered in December 1944, just six months after the previous entry in the series, The Mummy's Ghost (which Horror Incorporated hasn't yet broadcast).

This final effort is entertaining enough, but the seams are clearly starting to show, as more and more plot contrivances are thrown in with a shrug of the shoulders . In one of the more remarkable continuity lapses between sequels, Kharis, who had descended into a New England swamp at the end of the last picture, emerges from a Louisiana swamp at the beginning of this one. Aw, what the hell! A swamp's a swamp, right?

And what better way to start off a horror movie than with a cheerful little polka? Tinde Benthe, proprieter of the eponymous cafe, serenades the Louisiana day laborers with a ditty called "Hey You!". This is not, by the way, the morose Pink Floyd song of the same name.

As a public service, I have transcribed the lyrics in question:

Hey you, with the naughty eye

As you pass us by we just have to cry

Hey you -- yoo hoo!

When we see you smile in that sweet profile

We dream all the while of you

Hey you!

Did we meet again at the Place de la Madeleine in the rue Lorraine?

We two! And if you care for me

And be my sweet cherie

YOO HOO! I go for you!

The patrons don't all get up and walk out during this number, but let's admit it: entertainment options are presumably limited in the bayou.

Nevertheless, once things get rolling we have a pretty good time. Much of the action focuses on the travails of an amnesiac Princess Ananka, played here by Virginia Christine. You would have needed to see The Mummy's Ghost to know that she was in fact a woman named Amina Monsouri, an Egyptian college student imbued with the spirit of Princess Ananka. The role was originally played by Ramsey Ames, whom I wound up liking a good deal more than Christine. But then, you never get over your first Ananka, do you?

Martin Kosleck does a yeoman's job as Ragheb, the guardian of Ananka whose earthly desires proves to be his undoing (again -- the same fate befell previous Ananka guardians George Zucco in The Mummy's Hand, Turhan Bey in The Mummy's Tomb, and John Carradine in The Mummy's Ghost).

Interestingly, the song "Hey You!" was co-written by the movie's producer, a Hollywood jack-of-all-trades named Oliver Drake.

Drake started his career as an actor in silent westerns, eventually writing, producing and directing cheap oaters himself for the poverty row studios until TV pushed the genre out of the theaters. He wrote songs for his movies too, with titles like "On the Prairie", "Moonlight on the Painted Desert," and "Out On the Lone Star Trail."

Drake did a fair amount of TV late in his career. He directed his last film in 1974, an X-rated feature called Angelica: The Young Vixen. Presumably taking a lead from Son of Dracula, he was credited as Revilo Ekard.


*They're doing a heck of a job, aren't they? Not only did they fail to protect the sanctity of the Princess' tomb, they are now mucking around in the Louisiana swamps after losing track of her for a quarter of a century.


kochillt said...

Favorite line from BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: "this is no life for murderers!" Sure looked like fun to me! THE MUMMY'S CURSE aired 6 times on CHILLER THEATER, surpassed only by the 1932 original, which was shown 10 times. TV viewers of that era rarely saw the films in their proper order, so it came to pass that this was my introduction to all the mummy features. I still believe it to be the best of all three Chaney sequels, with a more interesting setting, and a fine cast. Peter Coe is relatively weak compared to George Zucco or John Carradine, but Martin Kosleck is on hand to supply all the mayhem that the Mummy cannot. Virginia Christine, a brunette wig covering her blonde hair, later became famous playing Mrs. Olson in the Folgers coffee commercials (she was married to Fritz Feld). This being the last in the series, it's also the only one to present Ananka as an actual character, whose very presence means death for those around her. She went on to appear in 1946's HOUSE OF HORRORS (as a sexy hooker!), 1955's INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and 1965's BILLY THE KID VERSUS DRACULA, all from CHILLER THEATER.

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