“Kharis, you shall rise again, to find your Princess Ananka. That is our vow to you…”
Director: Leslie Goodwins
Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, Virginia Christine, Peter Coe, Dennis Moore, Kay Harding, Addison Richards, Martin Kosleck, Kurt Katch, Ann Codee, Holmes Herbert, Charles Stevens, Napoleon Simpson, William Farnum
Screenplay: Bernard Schubert and Oliver Drake (uncredited), based upon a story by Leon Abrams, Dwight V. Babcock and Ted Richmond (uncredited)
Synopsis: Trouble brews in a remote corner of Louisiana, where the engineering project headed by Pat Walsh (Addison Richards) stalls when the local workers refuse to enter the nearby swamp-lands on the grounds that they are haunted. Walsh waves away the stories about the mummy and the woman he carried into the swamp some twenty-five years ago, and angrily orders his foreman to get the work started or else. The men stand their ground, however: one of them, Achilles (Charles Stevens), egged on by his co-worker, Ragheb (Martin Kosleck), shouts out that a man called Antoine has disappeared. Walsh becomes even more exasperated when Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) and his colleague, Dr Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe), from the Scripps Museum in New York, arrive with permission to search for the mummies believed buried in the area. Halsey promises that their work won’t get in the way of the swamp-drainage project. Walsh is still reluctant, but gives in when his secretary and niece, Betty (Kay Harding), argues in Halsey’s favour. One of the workers, Goobie (Napoleon Simpson), breaks in to announce that the missing Antoine has been found dead, stabbed in the back. When the site of the murder is inspected, a large, man-shaped depression is found nearby: as if a giant had risen up out of the mud. Dr Halsey also finds a torn strip of bandage… Late that night, Dr Zandaab rows himself through the swamp to an isolated locale, where he meets with Ragheb. Ragheb leads the way to a deserted, crumbling monastery, where Kharis the mummy (Lon Chaney Jr) lies inanimate within a sarcophagus. Zandaab dons his robe and medallion, the insignia of his position as High Priest of Arkam, and instructs Ragheb in the correct use of the tana leaves. He also tells him the story of Kharis and the Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine); how Ananka’s mummy was brought to America; and how the High Priests of Arkam strove, with the help of Kharis, to find and return her to Egypt. The two men are interrupted by the self-appointed caretaker of the monastery (William Farnum), who denounces them and orders them out—only to fall at the hands of the newly risen Kharis… At the end of the working day, the bulldozers which are excavating the drained swampland are packed away, and the men stream into town. In one patch of exposed earth, there is suddenly a stirring—and the Princess Ananka wakes from her long sleep…
Comments: Hoo, boy! – just look at those screenwriting credits, would you? – for a sixty-minute film. Talk about a giveaway. Really, I think Revolt Of The Zombies had the right idea, not including any credits at all. It means the same thing, and is so much less embarrassing for those involved.
Then again—they do rather deserve to be embarrassed…
The Mummy’s Curse was released only five months after its predecessor, The Mummy’s Ghost, in December of 1944. You sure can’t tell from watching it, though. The film instead gives the impression that the people who wrote it were doing so from vague memories of something one of them might have seen in his childhood, perhaps while watching the Midnight Movie half-asleep.
It is notable that none of the people responsible for this film were involved in any capacity with the three earlier ones; frankly, jokes aside, I’m not convinced that they’d even bothered to see them. The Universal B-movies of the 40s always did have a bit of the slapdash about them – to say the least – but what The Mummy’s Curse serves up goes beyond carelessness into the realm of contempt: for the material, certainly; for the audience who would pay to see this, very nearly as definitely. How else are we to interpret the fact that, after watching Kharis and Anaka sink into a swamp in Massachusetts, at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost, we are asked to take without a blink their re-emergence, at the beginning of The Mummy’s Curse, from a swamp in Louisiana?
Mind you— We are not immediately aware of our surroundings. The film starts joltingly, with a song in French-accented English being performed by one Tante Berthe, at her café of the same name. It is not until a customer pipes up in what we take to be an attempt at a Cajun accent (the character being dubbed “Cajun Joe”, presumably as a helpful hint) that we are sure of our locale. We hear obliquely about the plan to drain the swamps nearby, and the locals’ conviction that the project is doomed to failure – at best – because the swamp is haunted. Not by any of your standard spooks and hants, though:
Achilles: “On the night when the moon is so high in the heaven, the mummy and his princess, they walk!”
Cajun Joe, the pragmatist of the group, guffaws at this, despite the supporting evidence of the disappearance of Antoine, one of the workers. Achilles’ proves to be the majority voice, though, as we discover when the workers rebel against their boss, engineer Pat Walsh, who ridicules their stories of the mummy, and the woman he carried into the swamp some twenty-five years before.
(Here we find ourselves dealing with the same temporal dislocation that afflicts The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb, supposed set some thirty years apart but self-evidently unfolding at precisely the same time. Welcome to Universal-Land!)
This scene offers a flurry of introductions. First we see Ragheb, played by Martin Kosleck, one of my favourite character actors of this period—despite the fact that his poor timing condemned him to playing mostly Nazis. (Though one might argue he was better off there than he is here, where 90% of his dialogue consists of, “Yes, master.”) Ragheb here acts as something of an agent provocateur, encouraging Achilles to speak up about the disappearance of Antoine; and, what’s worse, he’s wearing a highly suspicious floppy cap.
Next up—oh, dear Lord. That’s what this franchise has been missing, all right: a cowardly darkie.
A cowardly darkie called “Goobie”.
Seriously, you people…
…trust me, they don’t get any less dumb with repetition…
Goobie gets no chance to speak at the moment: he is still in the preparatory phase of bugging his eyes out when two more new characters arrive, in the shape of Drs Halsey and Zandaab. We are then further introduced to Pat Walsh’s niece, Betty, who acts as his secretary. Romance usually is given short shrift in these B-movies, though they generally still insist upon having one; but you’ll rarely see anything as perfunctory as this: Betty takes one look at Halsey, sees that he’s got two legs, a nice suit and a Y-chromosome, and decides, yup, he’ll do.
As for Zaandab— He’s wearing a fez; and we all know what THAT means, right?
Promising that their work won’t get in the way of Walsh’s, Dr Halsey explains that the pursuit of the mummy and the girl he carried off by the sheriff’s posse and some townspeople, and their disappearance into the swamp, was well-documented in the newspapers of the time. (Maybe so; but alas, there will be no papers in this film, and no headlines of any kind…) Obviously this ties to the climax of The Mummy’s Ghost, at least in outline; but without any acknowledgement of those events’ cross-country setting; or, indeed, any allusion to a subterranean wormhole, which would seem to be the only reasonable explanation for such an abrupt leap in time and space. Meanwhile, Halsey goes on to describe Kharis as “a documented fact” and “a legend” within the same breath.
Goobie then bursts in to announce the discovery of Antoine’s body. Walsh sends him to find Cajun Joe and the local doctor, Cooper, who estimates that Antione has been dead at least twenty-four hours.
Halsey – who’s wearing a pith helmet; because he’s an archaeologist, you know! – then points out the man-shaped depression near the body; theorising that the excavation work uncovered the mummy, and that whoever removed it murdered Antoine.
Nothing’s more perilizing than a spoon!
Halsey shows a piece of torn bandage to Zandaab, who agrees that it might be mummy wrapping, but adds that they will need to examine it microscopically to be sure.
Goobie: “The devil’s on the loose and he’s dancin’ with the mummy!”
That night, Zandaab rows himself to a secret meeting with Ragheb, who leads him to the crumbling old monastery that he has chosen as their hideout. He explains that while he hid the bodies of those who helped him carry the sarcophagi into the monastery, with Antoine he had to move quickly. Inside, after donning his robe and medallion (which represent either “priests of Arkam” or “the High Priests of Amon-Ra”, he can’t seem to decide), Zandaab demonstrates the use of the tana leaves—and we find that we’re back in the realm of “three to keep him alive, nine to get him up and around” recipe from the first two films: a choice which somewhat paves the way for the interpolation of the entire flashback / retconning sequence from The Mummy’s Hand (lots of Boris and Not Boris), plus a brief verbal resume of the preceding three films together.
Yet, despite having just reminded themselves of the premise of the franchise, the plethora of screenwriters attached to The Mummy’s Curse will promptly forget about the whole “eternal punishment for sacrilege” thing, and turn this film into an attempt to manufacture a happy-ever-after ending for Kharis and Ananka.
Thus, addressing the mummy, Zandaab muses, “Two High Priests of Amon-Ra came to America to bring you and Ananka home to Egypt, to repose together in eternal and immortal peace.”
(To be fair, the writers of The Mummy’s Ghost likewise forgot that Ananka was not being punished!)
To Reghab, Zandaab further explicates the two previous High Priests sent on this mission both failed and died:
Zandaab: “We shall fulfil our sacred duty, or die by violence!”
Place your bets now.
Just as Zandaab is raising Kharis with the tana-fluid, a stranger barges in, proclaiming himself to be Michael, “self-ordained caretaker” (?) of the monastery:
Michael: “In a room beneath the chapel I found the bodies of freshly murdered men. Never has this happened before!”
Michael is so busy denouncing the “pagan customs” and “sacrilegious things” of the intruders, he somehow fails to notice the reanimated mummy climbing out of a sarcophagus, and suffers the consequences.
At the Walsh project, the working day comes to an end, equipment being shut down and men drifting away, before the camera pans to a newly drained and excavated stretch of land, where a hand pushes its way from beneath the soil… After a struggle, a woman stands up, tearing herself free of the earth that holds her. Already exhausted, she collapses—only to be roused again by the rays of the sun… She staggers to her feet and, her eyes still encrusted and closed, feels her way hesitantly into the surrounding bayou…
This is the one truly effective sequence in The Mummy’s Curse, thanks to some excellent physical acting by Virginia Christine, who makes Ananka’s recovery slow, painful and uncertain, and gives a genuinely unheimlich feel to the scene via the simple expedient of holding her head at an unnatural angle. Jack Pierce’s makeup, which somewhat resembles his work for Boris Karloff as Ardeth Bey in The Mummy, is also very good
However, while the woman risen from the swamp is definitely Ananka, it is never clear whether this is also supposed to be Amina, who Kharis carried into a Massachusetts bog in The Mummy’s Ghost, after recognising her as the reincarnation of his lost love. The screenwriters take the soft option of giving the recovering woman amnesia, so they never have to make a call about her identity; while her behaviour leaves the viewer in even greater doubt.
Besides this, there is the issue of Amina ageing into (presumably) the mummified form of Ananka; whereas this film resurrects her as a young woman again. It is easy enough to accept a pair of mummies being preserved in mud for twenty-five years, but in the case of a seemingly healthy young mortal woman, not so much.
Anyway— Ananka – for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just call her “Ananka” – continues to stagger onwards, drawn instinctively towards the sun, until she wades into a pool of water which begins to wash the mud from her body and clothes…
Some time later, Cajun Joe spots a strange woman wandering in the bayou. She is exhausted and unresponsive, and her long dress is torn and stained; but she seems to be uninjured. Putting his coat around her shoulders, Joe leads her away with the intention of taking her to Tante Berthe. As they make their slow way along, they pass Ragheb—and just at that moment, the woman starts calling out: “Kharis! Kharis!”
At the café, Joe leads Ananka around to a side-door—which, it transpires, is not only kept unlocked, but opens directly into Bethe’s bedroom! Making Ananka lie down, he slides out through the opposite door, into the café, and catches Berthe’s attention. She is understandably upset at seeing that Joe has invaded her bedroom (though really, it’s her own fault), but is soon won over by concern for the strange woman. She sends Joe to get the doctor, while she undresses her unexpected guest and puts her to bed.
(Leaving her shoes on…all the better to facilitate a hasty exit, of course…)
By this time Ragheb has reported in to Zandaab, who sends Kharis out to collect Ananka, after giving him a parting dose of tana-fluid (which is doled out in a manner completely contradicting “the rules”). Kharis shuffles off; and though, like Reginald LeBorg before him, Leslie Goodwins spares us the sight of Kharis making his creaky way down the long flight of crumbling stairs leading up to the monastery, we are again left to ponder whether his so-called servants could possibly have found a more inconvenient hiding-place.
At length arriving at the café, Kharis lets himself in through that unlocked side-door and obeys very literally Zandaab’s last order, to kill anyone who gets between himself and Ananka. We note, in fact, that if Kharis spent less time strangling and more time carrying off, he could have secured Ananka well before he eventually does. Instead, he keeps giving her a chance to slip away, as she does now, as the unfortunate Berthe is having the life choked out of her.
Ananka runs off into the woods, finally collapsing, conveniently enough, at the side of the area’s only road, where, even more conveniently, James Halsey – who apparently wears his pith helmet even when on a date – and Betty Walsh just happen to be driving by. They stop to help the unconscious girl, lifting her into the back-seat of Halsey’s car; and we get one of those idiotic scenes, supposed to be suspenseful, where people carry on oblivious to a threat that’s basically in plain sight—and, given the mummy’s dragging left leg, plain hearing—as Kharis lurches out of the woods and up the road towards the parked car. Halsey drives away just as his clutching fingers are about to close upon Betty and Ananka.
Wow. And I thought I had poor peripheral vision!
At the café, Dr Cooper finally shows up, there being nothing left for him to do but pronounce Berthe dead; while, in typical under-directed B-movie style, Cajun Joe barely reacts to having been the inadvertent cause of his good friend’s murder, instead commenting rather coolly about the strange marks on her throat; which, Cooper agrees, look rather like mould…
Before we see him again, Cooper has had time to examine Ananka out at the archaeologists’ camp. He confirms that there is nothing wrong with her physically, but adds that she has suffered a bad shock, which is probably causing her amnesia. To her he prescribes rest; to Halsey and Betty, that they find some way of occupying her mind and keeping her busy.
“She could help me with my laboratory work,” suggests Halsey.
Because laboratory work is just that easy!
Oh. Well. Apparently it is, too, because the next time we see Ananka, she’s staring down a microscope.
So much for those years at uni. More fool me.
Halsey is less impressed with Ananka than I am, telling her patronisingly, when she explains she has been reading his notes, that, “You probably wouldn’t understand them.” Ananka promptly puts him in his place, revealing that she understands a great deal better than he does: lecturing him about the weave of the suspected mummy wrapping, and adding that its characteristics mark it as cloth woven for a member of the royal house, during the reign of King Amenophis; in fact, no less a member than Prince Kharis.
But while we take some pleasure and amusement from this little interlude, it only serves to underscore the black hole in the middle of this film, the question of Ananka’s identity and what she remembers. A very remarkable combination of reincarnation and amnesia she must be suffering from, if it allows her to recall fine details about Egyptian weaving in the time of Amenophis, but not that Amenophis was her father; and if she knows of Kharis as an historical figure, but not as her once-lover—or as the mummy in pursuit of her.
And if anything was going to cure her amnesia, you’d think it would be the sight of an ambulatory mummy. But, no: though she comes out of her twenty-five-year-long mud-bath murmuring Kharis’s name, she never reacts to the sight of him with anything other than terror, and by running away.
Helps to drag the film out, of course…
As Ananka is struggling with her elusive memories, she looks up to see Zandaab watching her—and glides towards him in an almost trance-like state. He bows; she inclines her head, making a strange, formal gesture with her hands. Halsey, observing, quickly intervenes—as if the screenwriters have forgotten it’s Betty he’s interested in, not Ananka, and he’s jealous. An imperturbable Zandaab glides away; Ananka tries to go after him, muttering, “Kharis! Kharis!”, which causes Halsey to grab her and shake her roughly.
Rather exceeding your remit, Dr Halsey, aren’t you?
Anyway, this brings Ananka out of her trance, and of course she’s forgotten everything. Halsey tells her eagerly that she was saying “Kharis”, but she responds calmly, “Was I?”
The suggestion here is that Zandaab is able to “call” Ananka. As with the one-by-one murders in The Mummy’s Hand, you do feel that there was a more efficient option available than sending out Kharis night after night…
But anyway— That night, Zandaab sends Kharis out after Ananka yet again. Ananka, who is sharing a tent with Betty, wakes suddenly in one of her “Something’s wrong” moods. She puts on a flimsy robe (once again, she’s already wearing shoes!) and slips out of the tent just in time to see Kharis shuffling towards it.
A completely idiotic moment follows, as Ananka runs into Dr Cooper’s tent, telling him, “I need help desperately!”—instead of, say, “There’s a homicidal mummy after me!”—and then goes on to have an abstract conversation with him about how sometimes she feels like two different people, from two different worlds. So naturally Dr Cooper is the next poor schmuck whose murder gives Ananka the chance to escape.
Eyes on the prize, pal. Seriously.
We learn the next morning, as Walsh confronts Halsey over the rash of deaths, that Halsey has already accepted that a reanimated Kharis is the killer (of Tante Berthe and Dr Cooper, at least, no-one’s blaming the knife in the back on him). Halsey also concludes that they need to find the missing Ananka, since there is evidently some connection between her and the mummy. Zandaab tries to persuade him that Kharis showing up wherever Ananka is, is just coincidence, but not even Halsey is that dumb.
A search party is organised, but yields nothing. As it breaks up, Cajun Joe, worried about Ananka and, perhaps, feeling guilty about Berthe, and knowing the swamps better than most, goes on alone. He does indeed spot Ananka, wandering about to no purpose (as she must have been doing for the past twenty-four hours, though there’s not so much as a splash of mud on her). She doesn’t seem to be in a trance, but she does not respond to Joe’s calls—and not does she seem to see Kharis, when he lurches out of the woods nearby, and again diverts to kill a random passer-by, instead of grabbing Ananka.
I tell you, it’s getting harder and harder to sympathise…
Ananka’s wanderings finally lead her back into Betty’s tent. She doesn’t bother to let anyone know, and is therefore the only witness when Kharis, inevitably, comes shuffling in.
Leslie Goodwins slips up here on the “polite cutting away” front: having carried his crippled arm through three-and-a-half films, when Kharis needs to pick up Ananka, he simply reaches down and does it. At this point the disinterest of everyone involved is uncomfortably apparent.
Meanwhile— I know. There’s no pleasing some people. Much as I’ve complained over the years about heroines who scream too much, Betty’s problem is that she doesn’t scream enough. Here, for instance, she simply stands there staring as Kharis carries Ananka away, instead of crying out for help.
Ragheb is an interested spectator of all this, and becomes even more interested when Betty fights her way out of her collapsing tent. He offers to lead her to Halsey, and Betty obediently trots along beside him when this turns out to entail a lengthy walk through the woods, and a long climb up the stairs into a deserted monastery…
Not too bright, our Betty.
Halsey gets back to find the girls’ tent collapsed, Betty gone, a line of large, smeared footprints leading away from the scene, and another bit of torn bandage. (How Kharis isn’t perfectly naked by this time is beyond me.) Halsey decides to follow the footprints, sending Goobie to round up Walsh and the others, which he does in his own inimitable style:
Goobie: “The mummy’s on the loose! He’s dancin’ with the devil!”
Inside the monastery, Kharis places the unconscious Ananka in the second sarcophagus, as Zandaab beams at them. The High Priest then begins to dose Ananka with tana-fluid, to prepare her for her journey.
In the next room, the penny is finally dropping for Betty, as Ragheb turns on her the evil smirk that made Martin Kosleck the leading screen-Nazi of his day. He is just laying hands on the frightened girl when Zandaab interrupts, berating his underling for his violation of his vows and dereliction of duty.
I must say, it’s refreshing to find a High Priest keeping his mind on the job…even if yet again the final phase of a mummy film turns upon a nefarious scheme to possess a girl with whom the man in question has barely exchanged two words. On the other hand, Ragheb certainly doesn’t mean marriage…
I’m not sure who comes across as stupider here: Ragheb, who seems surprised to find Zandaab on the premises, or the easily distracted Betty:
Betty: “Dr Zandaab! Those robes!”
—or Zandaab himself who, after pronouncing Betty’s doom and spelling out the various horrors in store for the treacherous Ragheb – “Your tongue shall be torn from your mouth! The vultures will pick the flesh from your bones!” – turns his back.
Sure enough, Ragheb produces a knife and dispatches his High Priest, while again, Betty just stands there staring.
Ragheb then turns his attentions back to Betty but, just at that moment, Halsey arrives, demanding to know what’s going on. “He brought me here. I was looking for you,” is Betty’s response—rather than, say, “Look out, he’s got a knife!” Ragheb strikes at Halsey, and an unconvincing fight ensues. Halsey knocks Ragheb down and disarms him, but then adopts a move from the Zandaab playbook and turns his back, allowing Ragheb to knock him out.
At this point, Kharis – his quiet time with Ananka thus rudely interrupted – comes shuffling in. It’s Ragheb he goes for, saving Halsey’s sorry ass in the process. Ragheb tries to hold him off by pointing out that, as things stand, he is the only one alive who knows the secret of the tana-leaves, and thus Kharis needs him alive. Kharis, however – possibly remembering that, in fact, there are people back in Mapleton MA who also know the secret – closes in remorselessly. Ragheb dodges through a heavy wooden door and slams a solid bolt shut—only to realise that he’s locked himself into a small cell, with nowhere else to run…
Okay. Ragheb wins The Stupids.
Kharis sets about tearing his way into the cell, and does it so enthusiastically that just as he gets his hands on Ragheb, the ceiling and wall of the cell collapse, burying the mummy and his weaselly servant under a huge mound of stone blocks…
Just at that moment, Walsh and his party arrive. Most of them rush up to Betty and Halsey, but Goobie sees Zandaab’s body and recoils in terror, seizing this last opportunity to bug his eyes out one more time.
Oh! – I tell a lie. It is also Goobie who discovers what’s in the next room, allowing for yet one more bug-out. The rest rush in, discovering the tana-leaves, the brazier and the sarcophagi—one of which holds the mummified body of a woman…
The Mummy’s Curse is one of those B-movies that manages to be something of an endurance test despite being only an hour or so long, its single outstanding feature being its air of tired disinterest. It also offers the conceptual contradiction of feeling overpopulated and over-plotted, even while nothing much ever seems to happen. Too much of its total running-time, indeed, is taken up with the lengthy flashback, and scenes of Kharis and/or Ananka wandering through the bayou.
Virginia Christine tries hard in the woefully underwritten role of Ananka, but Lon Chaney is clearly fed up with the whole thing as Kharis—though that said, he still manages a poignant touch or two as the perpetually romantically thwarted mummy. (Even when his screenwriters seem to be trying to bring him and Ananka together, they can’t quite manage it.) Peter Coe was on a hiding to nothing as Zandaab, stepping into shoes previously filled by George Zucco, Turhan Bey and John Carradine; and while, as mentioned, it’s nice to have a properly dedicated High Priest for once, Zandaab’s habit of staring up and into space whenever he speaks becomes increasingly absurd. Martin Kosleck has a couple of fun-slimy moments as Ragheb, but otherwise, the cast is eminently forgettable.
With this, its fourth film, Universal’s mummy franchise stumbled over the finish line and collapsed. The Mummy’s Curse would be the studio’s last such film for eleven years, and even when they did bring Kharis back again, it would be to suffer all-new indignities at the hands of Abbot and Costello. It would be another four years after that before Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee got together to show the world the right way to make a mummy movie.
Want a second opinion of The Mummy’s Curse? Visit 1000 Misspent Hours – And Counting.