The Mummy’s Ghost (1944) -**
Remember when I called The Mummy’s Hand a dumbed-down reworking of the basic idea behind The Mummy? Yeah, well, when I wrote that, I hadn’t seen anything yet. You want to see what The Mummy looks like with its brain removed from its skull, have a look at The Mummy’s Ghost. This third entry in the Kharis the Mummy series resurrects the royal reincarnation angle that was the mainspring of The Mummy’s plot, weds it to a script that could have been written by a seven year old, and compresses the whole thing down into a ludicrously brief 61-minute film.
This movie also introduces Universal’s contempt for inter-movie continuity (already displayed to fine effect in the Frankenstein series) to the mummy films— the screenwriter gets to work re-writing the back-story a mere five minutes in! After a short scene set in a college lecture hall, in which Professor Norman (Frank Reicher, who played Captain Englehorn in King Kong and The Son of Kong) recaps the events of The Mummy’s Tomb for his students, the setting shifts to a familiar ruin in ancient Egypt. Yes, it’s the tomb of Anankha again, and once more, a new priest of Arkan (apparently somebody finally told the writer that Karnack wasn’t a god, leading him to solve the problem by juggling the letters) has come to receive his marching orders from High Priest Andoheb (George Zucco, who played the same role in the last two films). This may come as a shock to those who saw The Mummy’s Tomb as recently as I have, in that the previous movie clearly showed Andoheb dying of old age after passing on the mantle of priestly leadership to Mehmet Bey. Then again, Andoheb had already survived being killed once before, at the end of The Mummy’s Hand, so what the hell... The new young priest is called Yousef Bey (John Carradine, the hardest-working, least discriminating man in all of Hollywood, who’s been in everything from The Grapes of Wrath to Vampire Hookers— has this guy ever turned down a role he was offered?), and like his predecessor, he is to go to America, retrieve Anankha’s mummy, and return it to its proper resting place in the tomb. Basically, it’s the same exact scene we saw in the last movie, but with a taller, skinnier, whiter actor taking over the Anankha-rescuing gig. They also wisely skip that whole death-of-the-old-priest thing. Clearly, somebody realized this wouldn’t be the last of the mummy movies.
Yousef Bey ships out to Mapleton, Massachusetts, with a big stock of tanna leaves and starts looking for Kharis (Lon Chaney Jr. again), who remains the priesthood’s ultimate weapon against those who violate the ancient tombs. Meanwhile, Professor Norman, into whose hands fell the stock of tanna leaves that Steven Banning didn’t actually bring home from Egypt two movies ago, is hard at work trying to figure out how they could possibly hold the power to reanimate the dead. He stumbles upon the answer while staying up way past his bedtime one night, figuring out at last that the hieroglyphic he couldn’t quite make out in the leaves’ instruction manual is the number nine. Aha! So that’s it! You’ve got to brew nine leaves before the trick will work! (One shudders to think what sort of experiments Norman’s been running that told him whatever he’d been doing with the leaves before wasn’t working...) Overjoyed with his eureka moment, Norman immediately starts boiling leaves, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any dead bodies lying around to try the brew out on. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that mummies can smell boiling tanna leaves from very far away indeed; the scent brings Kharis straight to Norman’s study, sealing the old prof’s doom. (And by the way, I must say that Kharis seems to be in very good health for a resurrected stiff who’s been burned to a crisp twice!)
Strangely enough, the boiling of the leaves also brings one of Norman’s students, a girl of Egyptian extraction by the name of Amina Mansori (Ramsay Ames), somnambulating over to his house. The girl sees Kharis on his way out of the building (don’t ask me how— I’ve never heard of an open-eyed sleepwalker), and lapses into complete unconsciousness in Norman’s front yard. She’s still there the next morning, opening the door to all sorts of hassles for her. Sheriff Elwood (Harry Shannon) figures her for either a suspect or a witness in the case of the professor’s murder, and will spend most of the movie vacillating back and forth between these two interpretations of her presence at the Norman place. Elwood places Amina under orders not to leave town without his say-so, and just for good measure, he extends the prohibition to her boyfriend Tom Hervey (Robert Lowery, of Revenge of the Zombies, who also appeared in a wartime Army sex hygiene film called, imaginatively enough, Sex Hygiene) when the boy starts making noises about how unfairly the sheriff is treating Amina.
But luckily for Tom and Amina, everybody in Mapleton remembers the events of the last movie, and suspicion rapidly shifts toward Kharis. (Nobody seems to concern themselves with the issue of his apparent destruction by fire, so I guess I shouldn’t either...) A higher-ranking cop from out of town, a certain Inspector Walgreen (Barton MacLane, from The Walking Dead and Cry of the Werewolf), arrives to take over the investigation at about the same time that Yousef Bey and Kharis finally link up. Thus it’s Walgreen’s problem when Anankha’s mummy vanishes from its sarcophagus in the Egyptian wing of Scripps Museum, leaving its untouched wrappings behind. Yousef and Kharis find said disappearance just as baffling as the policeman, but they, at least, have a partial explanation. Apparently, “the gods have chosen to make [Yousef’s] task more difficult” by pulling Anankha’s soul out of the mummy and transferring it to some living person. I guess the gods aren’t through punishing Anankha yet for that affair she had with the then-living Kharis, a “forbidden love” that the scripts for neither of the past two movies said anything about having been forbidden.
Obviously, there’s just one person in this movie who could be the newly-reincarnated Anankha. And just as obviously, that means Amina has a date with Kharis in her very near future. I’d say it was obvious, too, that Yousef Bey would end up falling for Amina/Anankha when he finally got her in his clutches, except that I really figured the folks responsible for these movies would have gotten tired of that trick by now. Just like last time, Kharis’s response to this development is the best thing in the movie. He’s standing outside his and Yousef’s hideout when the priest starts into the familiar speech about making himself and Amina immortal with the power of the tanna leaves, and the look on Kharis’s face is priceless. It’s a look that says, “No! No— not again! I am not going to get my ass set on fucking fire ‘cause my boss can’t keep it in his pants! Not one more time!!!!” And this time, the mummy has the good sense to make his displeasure known, though by the time he’s through with Yousef Bey, Tom, Walgreen, and every able-bodied man in Mapleton have tracked the mummy to his lair with the help of a yappy little dog. The twist ending that follows makes for a cool change of pace, even if it doesn’t really make any sense.
My impulse is to really clobber this movie for its foolishness, but I just can’t do it. The Mummy’s Ghost disarms any attempt at such an enterprise with a kind of confrontational candor. “Yeah, I’m stupid,” it says, “You got a problem with that?!” Its familiarity does breed just a wee bit of contempt, but it also has its moments of lowbrow fun. And hey, at 61 minutes, what do you really have to lose?