Halloween Havoc!: THE MUMMY’S HAND (Universal 1940)

Universal revived The Mummy in 1940’s THE MUMMY’S HAND, but except for the backstory (and judicious use of stock footage), there’s no relation to the 1932 Karloff classic . Instead of Imhotep we’re introduced to Kharis, the undead killing machine, as the High Priest of Karnak (Eduardo Cianelli in old age makeup) relates the tale of Princess Ananka, whose tomb is broken into by Kharis, who steals the sacred tanna leaves to try and bring her back to life. Kharis gets busted, and is condemned to be buried alive! For he “who shall defile the temple of the gods, a cruel and violent death shall be his fate, and never shall his soul find rest for all eternity. Such is the curse of Amon-Ra, king of all the gods”. So there!

The High Priest croaks, making Andoheb (George Zucco ) the new High Priest. Meanwhile in Cairo, Americans Steve Banning (Dick Foran ) and his Brooklyn buddy Babe Jensen (Wallace Ford ) are stranded and trying to get home. Banning, an unemployed archeologist, buys an unusual cracked piece of pottery at the bazaar, and brings it to his friend Professor Petrie (Charles Trowbridge) at the Cairo Museum. Steve knows the hieroglyphic markings point the way to the Hill of the Seven Jackals, where lies Ananka’s tomb, and wants funding for an expedition that’ll bring fame and fortune, and return him to the good graces of New York’s Scripps Museum.

But wait, who’s that? Why, it’s ‘Professor’ Andoheb, who scoffs at Steve’s find, calling it a forgery and refusing funding, so Steve and Babe seek alternative backing. A chance meeting with a magician from Brooklyn named Solvani the Great (Cecil Kellaway in an amusing performance) leads to the boys talking the adventurous prestidigitator into a partnership, much to the chagrin of his beautiful daughter Marta (Peggy Moran), who’s been told by Andoheb the Americans are a couple of swindlers out to fleece dear old dad and leave him for dead! Marta is won over by Steve’s manly charm (as you knew she would be), and the expedition gets underway.

Steve, Babe, Marta, Solvani, and Petrie (who’s along for verification) find an opening and break the cursed seal, causing the native diggers to run off in fear, except for brave Ali (Leon Belasco). Inside, they find the sarcophagus of Kharis and a vat full of tanna leaves (“they smell like clover”, according to Steve, in case you were wondering). While Petrie examines Kharis’s body alone, guess who pops up? Yep, it’s Andoheb, vowing vengeance, and ordering Kharis to kill the poor prof. Now the mad Andoheb sets Kharis loose to dish out that “cruel and violent death” curse, while setting his own sights on the lovely Marta…

The script by Griffin Jay and Maxwell Shane has some gaps in logic and character continuity, but not enough to distract anyone from enjoying this fantastic and fun film. Christy Cabanne’s direction is workmanlike, but he keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. Cowboy star Tom Tyler resembled Karloff enough to match the footage used from the ’32 film, and he makes a demented monster (Tyler would later portray Fawcett Comics’ superstar CAPTAIN MARVEL in the 1941 serial). Foran makes a burly hero, and Moran a fine Scream Queen. Wallace Ford (Babe) is the comic relief; he was a top character actor in films from the early thirties to 1965’s A PATCH OF BLUE. Ford’s horror credits include the classic FREAKS , a pair of Bela Lugosi shockers (MYSTERIOUS MR. WONG and THE APE MAN), and a reprisal of his role here in the sequel THE MUMMY’S TOMB.

Bug-eyed George Zucco has what I think is his best horror part as Andoheb, the mad priest of Karnak in charge of Kharis. Zucco was a respected character actor during the 30’s, and made a fine Professor Moriarty in THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. But during the 40’s, the actor seemed to take any role available, and starred in some real dreck at Monogram and PRC. In THE MUMMY’S HAND, Zucco is restrained, and his Andoheb is a creepy character indeed, especially when he’s lusting after Peggy Moran (but then, who can blame him?).

THE MUMMY’S HAND was popular enough to merit a series of Kharis pictures and we’ll discuss each of them this Halloween season, but it won’t be Tom Tyler behind the bandages. Instead, it’s Universal’s newest horror star… Lon Chaney Jr!

 

Happy 100th Birthday Olivia de Havilland!: HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (20th Century Fox 1964)

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Today marks the 100th birthday of one of the last true Golden Age greats, Olivia de Havilland. Film fans across the globe are celebrating the life and career of this fine actress, who fought the Hollywood system and won. Olivia is the last surviving cast member of GONE WITH THE WIND (Melanie Wilkes), won two Academy Awards (TO EACH HIS OWN, THE HEIRESS), headlined classics like THE SNAKE PIT and THE DARK MIRROR, and costarred with dashing Errol Flynn in eight exciting films, including CAPTAIN BLOOD , THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, SANTA FE TRAIL, and THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON.

Olivia moved to Paris with her husband in the 1950’s and was semi-retired, acting in a handful of films. In 1962 director Robert Aldrich  scored a huge hit, a psychological horror thriller called WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, starring screen veterans Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. A new genre was born, featuring older actresses in suspenseful psychodramas. Olivia starred in one of them, 1964’s LADY IN A CAGE, about a woman trapped in her home as deranged youths ransack her house. Aldrich sought to capitalize on his success with another film to star Davis and Crawford titled HUSH… HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE. But Crawford bowed out, citing illness (gossip of the day suggested she didn’t want to work with Davis again). Bette placed a call to her old Warner Brothers friend Olivia, who read the script and accepted the role of scheming cousin Marion. The two Grand Dames, along with director Aldrich, had another hit on their hands, a Southern Gothic tale set in a decaying Louisiana mansion.

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The film opens in 1927, as Charlotte’s father Big Sam Hollis confronts John Mayhew. Mayhew has been having a clandestine affair with the big man’s little girl behind the back of his wife Jewel. Big Sam forces John to break it off at that evening’s big dance, and Charlotte doesn’t take it well, screaming “I could kill you!” Later, we see someone offscreen grab a meat cleaver and, sneaking into the music room where John sits alone, chop off his hand and head, violently hacking him to death. Charlotte enters the ballroom in a blood-stained dress as the partygoers are shocked, and Big Sam sadly walks her to her room.

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Fast forward to 1964. The Hollis home is scheduled to be demolished to make room for a new highway, but Charlotte brandishes a shotgun to ward off the bulldozers. Charlotte’s fiercely loyal maid Velma tries to talk some sense into her, but the emotionally wounded Charlotte refuses to leave. Enter Charlotte’s “last kin”, cousin Marion, who arrives back home to take care of things. Sweet natured Marion and family doctor Drew (who once were lovers) also try to convince Charlotte to leave the estate, but she’s having none of it, angrily still holding a grudge against Marion for telling Jewel Mayhew about her and John. Meanwhile, an insurance investigator named Harry Wills has come to town, seeking answers to why Jewel has never cashed in on John’s policy.

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The movie then becomes a nightmare of terror for Charlotte, as she sees John’s disembodied head show up in the music room, hears harpsichord music playing, and strange voices calling her. Dr. Drew gives her sedatives to calm her down, and Velma begins to get suspicious of him and Marion. When she finds an hallucinatory drug in Charlotte’s room, she puts two and two together. Velma tries to help Charlotte escape, but is stopped by Marion, who smashes a chair over her head and sends her crashing down the staircase to her death.

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Marion and Drew have been plotting all along to drive Charlotte over the edge in order to take control of her money. They concoct an elaborate ruse that ends with Charlotte pumping Drew full of lead (actually blanks). Charlotte pleads for Marion to help her get rid of the body, telling her she can have all the money. They dump him in a pond, but Charlotte’s in for a shock when Drew pops up at the top of the staircase, a shambling mess, causing her fragile sanity to crumble. The two lovers celebrate outside, drinking champagne and congratulating themselves on their wicked scheme. Charlotte comes out ton the porch and overhears them and, realizing she’s been duped, pushes a heavy planter on top of them, killing them both.

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Olivia de Havilland was 48 when HUSH.. HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE was made, still a very attractive woman. She plays Marion perfectly, all sweetness and sympathy at first, then showing her true rotten nature. Miss de Havilland shows a mean streak here, a far cry from Maid Marion and Melanie Wilkes. I think it’s the film’s best performance, and that’s saying a lot considering the all-star cast.

Bette Davis goes full-throttle as Charlotte like only Bette Davis can. Agnes Moorehead was Oscar nominated for Velma (the film was also nominated in six other categories). Moorehead’s  CITIZEN KANE costar Joseph Cotten plays the co-conspirator Dr. Drew. Mary Astor makes her final screen appearance as the widowed Jewel Mayhew, showing much restraint among all the Grand Guignol theatrics. Cecil Kellaway has the small but pivotal part of Wills; his scenes with Davis and Astor are standouts. Others in the cast are Bette’s BABY JANE costar Victor Buono (as Big Sam), George Kennedy Bruce Dern (as John), William Campbell, Wesley Addy, and Ellen Corby.

HUSH… HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE is a fine entry in the “older actresses doing horror” sweepstakes. Not quite as good as WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, it still manages to deliver plenty of chills, and it’s got a classic movie lover’s dream cast. Olivia de Havilland went on to make appearances in five more features (including THE SWARM ) and some television projects (winning an Emmy for ANASTASIA: THE MYSTERY OF ANNA) before retiring completely in 1986. Still alive and well and living in Paris, we salute you on your special occasion, Olivia. Here’s to a hundred more!

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Halloween Havoc!: Vincent Price in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (Universal 1940)

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Horror movies vanished from the screen in 1936 due to two factors. One was the ban on horror by British censors, closing a major market for the films. The other, a regime change at Universal, in which the Laemmle family sold the studio. The new owners attempted to reinvent the company’s image, but instead almost ran it into the ground. It wasn’t until 1939, when an enterprising theater owner exhibited a revival of the classics FRANKENSTEIN, DRACULA, and KING KONG, that Universal decided to plunge forth with SON OF FRANKENSTEIN. The third sequel was a success, and the floodgates opened for the second horror cycle. Universal brought their monsters back from the dead, and cast a young contract player named Vincent Price in THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS, putting Price on a career arc that would build to a long career as a horror star.

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Geoffrey Radcliffe is scheduled to hang for the murder of his brother. Family friend Dr. Griffin is allowed to visit Geoffrey in his cell at Langley Prison, while the condemned man’s fiancé Helen and his cousin Richard wait at home for a reprieve. Griffin leaves the cell, but when the guards go to check on Geoffrey, nothing remains of him but a pile of clothes! Inspector Samson is called in to investigate, and he recalls hearing the name Griffin somewhere before….

Samson goes to Griffin’s lab and tells the doctor he knows his brother was Jack Griffin (pulling out a file with a picture of original INVISIBLE MAN Claude RAains). Geoffrey was given an injection of duocane, the late Jack’s invisbility formula, and is now free to search for the real killer. But the drug has a dire side-effect: it slowly drives the user insane. Can Geoffrey, aided by Helen, find the culprit before he loses his grip on his sanity?

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Joe May was a pioneer German producer/director who, like many of his countrymen, fled Europe during the Nazi regime. His career in America wasn’t long or particularly successful, and he became a Hollywood restauranteur. Screenwriter and fellow ex-pat Curt Siodmak did much better in Tinseltown (see my post on  THE WOLF MAN for more on him). The cast was stuffed with fine character actors, including Sir Cedric Hardwicke as  cousin Richard (and with Hardwicke in the role, any doubt on who the real murderer was??). Nan Grey (Helen) earned her horror wings in 1936’s DRACULA’S DAUGHTER. Cecil Kellaway (Inspector Samson) was the charming Irishman with the twinkle in his eye in far too many films to mention here. John Sutton (Griffin) played in fright films RETURN OF THE FLY and THE BAT with Price later in his career. And Alan Napier’s (drunken foreman Willie Spears in this) credits stretch from CAT PEOPLE and ISLE OF THE DEAD, to THE MOLE PEOLE and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, but will forever be remembered as Alfred the butler on TV’s 60s smash BATMAN.

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS is a welcome return to the H.G.Wells-inspired theme. The movies don’t have a recurring character, it’s a different Griffin in every entry, which is probably why they weren’t as popular as Universal’s other monster series. It’s not particularly scary but enjoyable, and a chance to see Vincent Price in his first starring horror role. Errr… well, we don’t actually SEE him til the end of the flick. So it’s a chance to HEAR Vincent anyway. Uhhh, you know what I mean!