Wednesday, October 05, 2011

“Three tana leaves to keep him alive, nine to give him movement.”

The first Kharis movie was successful and it took only 2 years for the next sequel, The Mummy’s Tomb, to come out. This time around, it’s a direct continuation of the story, only set 30 years after it. But despite this, things start to get a little…wonky.

Its 30 years later and an old Steve Banning is now a retired archeologist with a grown up son who’s got a girlfriend/fiancee of his own now. He tells a tale of his adventures as a young man, told through recycled footage of the last two films, and his son doesn’t really believe it. Meanwhile, Priest Andoheb is still alive and appoints a new priest to act as his successor and caretaker of the mummy, Kharis. Princess Ananka was taken to a display in America and the new guy is sent with Kharis to get her mummy back and exact revenge on those who defiled the tomb 30 years ago. The priest arrives in the town of Mapleton (which is somewhere in New England) and immediately starts sending out Kharis to do his strangling thing.

Steve Banning: Dick Foran continues to be likable, this time as a mustachioed professor-type who pretty much does a bunch expository narration over some flashbacks before becoming the first victim of the “Mapleton Monster.” Which I’ll admit, is kind of interesting. You bring the hero back from the last movie, then kill him off ten minutes in. Didn’t exactly expect that in a 40’s movie. Its also kind of a shame, since Foran’s performance is more nuanced in this one.

Dr. John Banning: John Hubbard is our actual hero. The skeptical son of Steve Banning, John’s a pretty boring character who doesn’t do anything except be the useless voice of scientific skepticism in a house where his dad straight-up fought a mummy in his youth. He’s kind of a useless character until he finally believes in Kharis, and then he finally does something about it (like helping organize an angry mob). It just takes several deaths to get him there.

Isobel Evans: Elyse Knox plays John’s girlfriend. She’s a bit more intrigued by Steve’s stories, but other than that she’s another standard character without much personality. Pleasant, virtuous, and eventually the object of Mehemet Bey’s affections, she’s more of a plot device than a real character.

Babe Hanson: Wallace Ford returns. I have no idea why his last name’s “Hanson” instead of “Jenson” this time around but whatever. He arrives in Mapleton, also wearing a dapper moustache (and spectacles) after Steve’s murder and he knows exactly what’s going on: Kharis followed them to America and wants revenge. Except nobody believes him. Though the newshawks that descend on Mapleton for the story are eager to hear his tale. He too becomes a victim of Kharis’ wrath.

Andoheb: George Zucco returns. He survived the gunshot that took him out of the last movie and here is shown under a lot of old-people makeup. Humbled from his attempt to use a mummy to steal a girl for himself, he tasks his successor to finish his job, but not before warning him to stay true to his vows and avoid temptation. Guess how well that works out?

Mehemet Bey: Turhan Bey (who’s half-Turkish; which is as close as the series gets to an actual Egyptian High Priest), is our villain this time. He’s a young High Priest of Karnak following his mission. He’s an interesting character since he’s quite polite, kind of nice and not really intimidating in the way you’d expect the handler of a thousand year old mummy to be. He’s fairly level-headed and treats his mission like the job it is. He’s got nothing personal against Banning and company. That all changes when he spots Isobel. His heart goes aflutter and the plan starts to go off the rails.

Kharis: Lon Chaney Jr. takes up the mummy mantle (and continues to do so from here on out). His Kharis is a little bit singed and one eye has swollen shut, but he’s still mute and shambling. Sadly, they didn’t bring back the rotoscoped effect for his eyes this time. It doesn’t feel like Chaney found his footing with Kharis this time around, though the mummy is surprisingly spry and capable of climbing a trellis to the second floor of a house.

Directed by Harold Young, the movie has a workmanlike quality to it that isn’t bad, but lacking in any real identity. It is kind of novel bringing Kharis to an American setting, and the Jack Pierce makeup effects are still top-notch, but it lacks the wit of the previous film and the artistry of Freund’s film.

Story by Neil P. Varnick and Screenplay by Griffin Jay and Henry Sucher. The story is…okay. It recycles a few beats from the last one (and a lot of footage) in that the mummy’s handler falls for a woman and succumbs to temptation and then suffers for it. Like I said above, the real interesting element at play here is bringing in the heroes from the last movie and murdering them, which kind of displays the mummy’s patience and persistence at getting his revenge (though in a lot of ways Kharis is just a tool of the Priests of Karnak). What’s also interesting is that the internal continuity of the series is beginning to, ah, unravel, with Babe’s sudden change in last name. Oh, and big surprise, but there’s an angry mob in the movie.

This happens a lot in the series

Musical Director Hans J. Salter, and the score is really nice and appropriate. Pretty much the stuff I said for the last movie applies here as well. A good, solid score.

The Mummy’s Tomb is a pretty weak entry into the series. Its watchable, certainly, but it lacks real vitality to make it stand out. It’s got a strong start and then only picks up again at the end when a house is lit on fire with the mummy in it. Also, the movie wants you to buy War Bonds.

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