“The mummy's alive and he's dancing with the devil.” – Goobie
And so, we come to the final film in Universal’s Mummy series. The third and last time Lon Chaney would appear in a role he reportedly despised playing. By this point, to make matters easier for the disgruntled actor, Jack Pierce’s painstakingly elaborate and time-consuming make-up had largely been replaced with a rubber mask, that had conspicuously no “give” in it thus disallowing any change in expression, although it was clearly taken from a cast of Chaney’s face. But it meant that the only part of Chaney’s actual face visible to the camera was one eye. The Mummy’s bandages were a costume with a sometimes-obvious zipper running along the side.
Chaney himself was getting more prone to numbing himself for his performance, as if crashing through a real window and cutting his chin open wasn’t enough of a lesson to stick to the tana tea and stay off the hard juice. Look closely in this film and there are scenes clearly being performed by a much slimmer stand-in. Sadly, Chaney was becoming a paunchy Mummy.
The Mummy’s Curse was the second Mummy film to be released in 1944, and despite some very good scenes, it’s all too evident that the adventures of Kharis were fraying and unravelling. When we last saw them, Kharis and the rapidly ageing body of Ananka sank into a swamp located near the small town of Mapleton somewhere in New England. In the first of the film’s continuity problems, the swamp is being drained – and it seems to have relocated to the Louisiana Bayous. (Which there’s just no excuse for when you consider the films were released only a shade over five months apart.) Also, in the second continuity screw up – Mummy’s Hand was established as being set in the present day of 1940. The Mummy’s Tomb was established as happening thirty years later, and this is at least 25 years after that – by that reckoning, this movie should be set around 1995, yet it’s clearly not. We’re in 1944.
So, the swamp is being drained and workers are going missing. Superstitions abound that the Mummy and his Bride are walking the swamp at night. A museum sends two representatives to recover the mummified remains of Kharis and Ananka. One seems fine, Dr James Halsey (Dennis Moore) but the other, Dr Ilzor Zandaab (Peter Coe) uh oh, is wearing a fez – and we know what THAT means in Mummy movies.
Well, Kharis (Lon Chaney) has already been uncovered and the worker who unearthed him killed by a sneaky agent of the Cult of Arkam, Ragheb (Martin Kosleck) who has made sure he’s kept alive by brewing three…okay, we all know the recipe by now. (No mention what happens inbetween films – how did Kharis’s heart keep beating without the tea for 25 years, stuck in the mud?)
Ananka (Virginia Christie) however comes to life in the best scene in the film, her hand partially uncovered by an excavation just as the worker is quitting for the day. The hand jerks to life in the drying mud, then the other breaks the surface and the mud-covered head. The scene has a weird movement about it that’s both hypnotic and unsettling in equal measures – achieved by a slight undercranking of the camera to give an un-natural timing to the actress’s movements.
After cleaning herself in a lake, Ananka is discovered by one of the workers and taken back to the local bar to seek medical aid, which is where Kharis is also headed.
After that, the film becomes a dull and tepid series of near misses as Kharis is looking for his lost love, and keeps just missing her. Ananka has amnesia, but retains an incredible expertise in Egyptology and helps Halsey and Zandaab as an assistant, not realising that the latter is actually the High Priest.
This is the first time in the series that the leading actress is not the love interest of the leading actor. This is all about the pursuit of Ananka by Kharis, and as Kharis moves ponderously slowly, dragging one leg behind him, his chase isn’t exactly exciting. In fact, when he’s trying to attack and his would-be victims drive away not even realising that he was there behind them, lunging, it becomes unintentionally hilarious. Although never the nimblest of characters, or actors to play him, The Mummy has no depth here. Chaney barely turns in a performance other than shambling around slowly. Except for shuffling after his lady, he literally has nothing to do in the threadbare script.
At least Kharis has a decent send off in the final scene, bringing the villains’ lair down upon them like a bandaged Samson. In the process killing the last remaining person to know the secret of the tana leaves so he can’t be brought back and Ananka reverts to her mummified form in her sarcophagus.
And that, as they said in Ancient Egypt, is a wrap.
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