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Monster of the Month: The Mummy
Remind Me

The Mummy's Curse

Universal Pictures got a lot of mileage out of its famed monsters, most of whom made their debut in the 1930s with franchises that lasted many years. This was the fifth entry in the series that began with The Mummy (1932), and although Lon Chaney Jr. had taken over the monster role from Tom Tyler and Boris Karloff beginning with The Mummy's Tomb (1942), footage from the original picture and The Mummy's Hand (1940) was recycled for use here.

This gets a little confusing: Karloff's character in the original Mummy film was called Imhotep. When Universal rebooted the story with The Mummy's Hand, the character (played by Tyler, a former Western star of silent and early talkies) was called Kharis, with little or no connection to the original film. Chaney Jr. took the role in the next three sequels, and The Mummy's Curse was the last of the series produced by the studio, although he did make an appearance under the name "Klaris" in the spoof Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955). Other Mummy characters, of course, have been woven into numerous movies since then.

Muddling matters even further, the plot of The Mummy's Tomb takes place years after its predecessor The Mummy's Hand, leading some observers to note that The Mummy's Curse must take place somewhere between the late 1960s and the late 1990s. Are we all following this now?

But wait, there's more! Because earlier footage was incorporated into this picture, that means the Mummy is played here by three different actors (Chaney Jr., Tyler, and Karloff) - not counting stunt doubles, one of whom, Eddie Parker, played the menacing immortal in the Abbott and Costello comedy.

The plot of The Mummy's Curse centers on a romantic dilemma when Kharis's ancient love, Princess Ananka (Virginia Christine), is restored to youthful, much alive beauty and no longer cares for him. Christine (famous late in the 20th century as Mrs. Olsen from the Folger's coffee commercials) likely didn't find Chaney Jr. too attractive. She later said that he was drunk through most of the filming. To make it easier for him to carry her in one scene, she was placed in a harness that went around his neck. Because they were attached, she was afraid that in his drunken state, weaving and wobbling on uneven steps, he would fall with her in his arms and injure them both. The director, Leslie Goodwins, eventually halted shooting and had Chaney Jr. replaced with a stunt double.

The Mummy make-up was created by Universal's resident monster expert Jack P. Pierce, who had been key, to one degree or another, in the looks of Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man and other horror characters launched by the studio. In the pre-Chaney Jr. films, the actors' facial features were still somewhat discernible under the make-up. For Chaney Jr., however, Pierce created a face-obscuring mask. In fact, although he is seen as both the human and monster versions of Larry Talbot in The Wolfman (1941) and its sequels, here he is only the heavily disguised Mummy, while flashbacks to the character in ancient times (prior to embalming) use footage of Tyler from the earlier pictures.

Pierce's Kharis mask is reportedly the only remaining physical remnant of his work, preserved by Bob Burns, an archivist and historian of props, costumes, and other screen paraphernalia from science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies.

While Pierce was Universal's go-to artist for monster make-up, his work extended to just about every other genre. He created Irene Dunne's looks in the melodramas Back Street (1932) and Magnificent Obsession (1935) and the musical Show Boat (1936); teen musical star Deanna Durbin's in Three Smart Girls (1936); Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and company in Dressed to Kill (1946); Ginger Rogers as Dolly Madison in the period drama Magnificent Doll (1946); and Ingrid Bergman's Maid of Orleans in Joan of Arc (1948). His last credited work was on the 1960s TV talking horse comedy Mister Ed.

The creepy, almost animatronic look of the scene where Ananka rises from the swamp was achieved by undercranking the film to give it a choppy, sped-up look. The trick is evident in the overly fast jerkiness of the leaves and shadows.

Filmed from June to August 1944 under the title The Mummy's Return, the picture is credited as being shot primarily in studio with some sources claiming a few scenes were shot in the swamps of Louisiana, a questionable assertion.

Director: Leslie Goodwins
Producers: Ben Pivar, Oliver Drake
Screenplay: Bernard Schubert
Cinematography: Virgil Miller
Editing: Fred R. Feitshans Jr.
Art Direction: John B. Goodman, Martin Obzina
Music: William Lava, Paul Sawtell Cast: Lon Chaney Jr. (Mummy/Kharis), Peter Coe (Dr. Ilizor Zandaab), Virginia Christine (Princess Ananka), Kay Harding (Betty Walsh), Dennis Moore (Dr. James Halsey)

by Rob Nixon