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Monster of the Month: The Mummy
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The Mummy's Ghost

After letting its horror franchises languish in mothballs for the second half of the 1930s, Universal was persuaded to revive its monsters after a highly lucrative reissue of the original Frankenstein and Dracula (both 1931). New productions continued the exploits of those famous monsters but also created a star with Lon Chaney Jr. in 1941's The Wolf Man. The son of the famous silent star took over much of Universal's horror line, appearing in several "Inner Sanctum" mysteries as well as the iconic roles previously portrayed by Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Chaney played the Egyptian mummy Kharis three times, in a series of sequels that followed 1940's franchise reboot, The Mummy's Hand. All were produced on the cheap by Ben Pivar, one of the studio's low budget specialists. Barely an hour long each, the Chaney mummy movies are nevertheless generously padded with flashbacks, repeating scenes from the original Karloff The Mummy (1932). New lore was added to the mummy legend: Kharis's Egyptian handlers can control him with a magical fluid derived from tana leaves.

The third and best film in the series is The Mummy's Ghost (1944). Back in Egypt, George Zucco's High Priest dispatches his agent Yousef Bey (John Carradine) to the American town of Mapleton, with the cupid-like mission to reunite the undead mummy Kharis with his lost love Ananka. Kharis was seen to perish in a burning house at the finale of The Mummy's Tomb (1942), yet a professor in Mapleton writes his own death warrant when he experiments with tana leaves. The magic elixir draws Kharis from his hiding place in the woods. Exchange student Amina (Ramsay Ames), a local beauty of Egyptian extraction, has an extrasensory connection to Kharis that causes her to develop a white streak in her hair. The menacing Yousef Bey then arrives to take control of Kharis. They invade a New York museum to transfer Ananka's soul to Amina's body, and then successfully kidnap Amina to complete the process. Falling instantly in love with the woman, Yousef Bey foolishly tries to take Amina for himself. With Amina's boyfriend Tom (Robert Lowery) too late to intervene, Kharis carries Amina into the swamp.

Universal starlet Ramsay Ames reportedly got the assignment when the actress Acquanetta (born Mildred Davenport) fainted on the first day of shooting in August 1943. The reincarnation theme assures that all three leading men--Kharis, Carradine and Lowery --become obsessed with the gorgeous Amina. Critics noticed that by this time the mummy series had run out of ideas. Lon Chaney Jr. has little to do in his elaborate mummy makeup, but it is said that he played the wordless role for every scene, rather than use a stand-in. Writer Tom Weaver reported that Chaney complained about the sweaty costume, which generated day-long itches he couldn't scratch. Chaney would don his bandages one more time for final series installment The Mummy's Curse (1944), which followed just six months later.

Although it was presumably part of the screenplay, director Reginald Le Borg took credit for the film's impressively downbeat finale, in which Ramsay Ames' Amina meets a supernatural fate similar to that of actress Margo in Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937). The final chase to rescue Amina in the swamp disturbs when it becomes obvious that the posse will arrive too late. Most every monster movie before and since has ended with the rescue of the kidnapped heroine. The unexpected bleak finish of The Mummy's Ghost makes it the most memorable of the three sequels.

By Glenn Erickson

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